Broken River Joinery

Add lightness…and simplify. -J. Brown

Walnut Shaker Meetinghouse Bench

After making the smaller Cherry Shaker Style bench, I scaled up to make this Walnut version to sit at our dining room table. It will be about  5′ long by 13″ wide by 19.5″ tall.

Here’s the rough lumber getting measured for the first cuts and jack-planing.These two boards will be joined to form a 13″ wide bench top.

After edge-jointing the pieces and some rough jack-planing the edge surfaces are placed together to ensure a completely flat fit, sans any gaps.


A close up of the edges dry fit for accuracy.


Planing down each piece of the bench top for flat and square prior to glue-up.


And glue-up, complete with 3 sets of cauls to ensure flatness. The clamps aren’t too tight-just enough to push the glue out.


And now for the two legs. The lumber for the bench top was kiln dried and from somewhere in the Midwest. The wood for the two legs and the four knee braces came from an urban tree in Davenport, IA, and has been drying in my garage for about two years. I did an initial planing of it about a year ago and there was some slight cupping. So now a second round of planing to level it out.


After everything has been cut to size and rough planed, it undergoes a couple of days of sitting flat with some Osage Orange and White Oak for weight.


Cutting the sliding dovetails on the legs to be joined to the bench top.



And removing the mating space for the sliding dovetail joints on the bench top. Getting the matching angles just right takes some time and patience.


The two legs and the top dry-fit to check for square. The piece is quite elegant without the knee-braces but given the size of the bench and the assumed weight of three adults, necessitates a bit more support.


Sizing up the knee-braces.


Dry-fitting the four knee-braces to the tops and legs.


And everything dry-fit prior to glue-up. The knee-braces sit proud on purpose. They will be planed down with a low-angle block plane prior to applying the beeswax finish.



Knee-brace end prior to trimming…


…and trimmed flat with the bench-top.


The bench is now ready for the wax finish.


But first, a slight chamfer on the top of the bench.


Gotta love those long curly-cues from chamfering.


And the beeswax finish applied and drying.






A Bench You Can Sit Upon

Finished up the Cherry and Walnut Shaker Bench this Labor Day Weekend. The corner braces are still proving to be the most difficult part, more so than the sliding dovetails. Here’s a few final photos.

The first two are prior to assembly and applying the finish respectively.









More Cherry Bench

Router planing out the leg and top mortises for the diagonal braces on the Cherry Shaker bench.





…and dry-fitting the legs and 1st black walnut corner brace.


Cherry Bench Beginnings

Putting together a small Shaker-style Cherry Bench with sliding dovetails to connect the legs to the top, including a small poplar test-joint.DSCF9345 (1)






Ash & Walnut Stool

I made it home last night from Wisconsin after a solid two-day stool making workshop with Fabian of Fabian Fischer Handcrafts, with just a little sanding left to do and a final coat of finish to complete the piece. All told we spent about 18 hours in 2 days starting with the seat blank, 4 square legs, and 3 square stretchers. I didn’t grab lot of photos of all the steps but there’s a few to give you the idea of how it went.

We started with marking out the shape of the seat on the blank-I chose Black Walnut for mine-using a paper template that also included the center line and the 4 points where the legs would go. Once all the marking was completed on the blank, we headed over to the bandsaw and cut out the rough shape. From there we learned about the different angles of the legs, i.e. splay and rake and how we needed to bore those out using the drill press. Christopher Schwarz has a short and sweet blog entry that does a nice job of explaining those two terms. Essentially if you are looking at a chair or stool from the front, the side to side angle of the legs is the splay and if you look at it from the side the front to back angle is the rake.

What this translates to is drilling compound angles in the right directions for the left and right, front and back legs. It’s a little confusing and I’m guessing it takes some practice to get right. Fortunately I had a great teacher to walk me through the process. The next step prior to shaping was to set the depth of the seat using a cordless drill. We then used a large compass to mark out the arcs on the front and back of the seat where we would be creating different profiles and not scooping out.

Once all the holes were drilled the remainder of the 1st day was spent entirely on shaping the seat by hand. We started with the travisher set to a fairly thick, rough cut to scoop out the seat to the depth of two cordless drill marks. It took a lot of concentration and eyeing the seat to make sure things were symmetrical and even. Once the rough scooping was done we moved to a travisher set to a finer cut and smoothed it out as best we could. I should mention here that Fabian built a stool along with us so that he demonstrate on his own piece to explain what each step was in the process. This was extraordinarily helpful in visualizing each step.

Here’s the seat scooped out:


Next up was to use the travisher to carve out the two spaces where one’s legs would rest, which are located at the top of the seat in the above photo. After I was happy with the sweep of the leg rests, I used a compass plane to smooth them off and then moved on to the spoke-shave to create a clean profile.


With those steps done, I moved on to use a couple different scraper cards to really smooth out the tool marks. I had never used scraper cards before so that was a learning experience. There’s a bit of curve to figuring them out and then sharpening them is an entirely different endeavor.


I then flipped the seat over and using a fore plane shaved off the bottom exterior edge to kind of lift the over-all profile. The next to last step on the seat was to then shave off the back angles on the top to create a nice, crisp profile towards the back. I’m guessing there are actual terms to describe these parts but I’m not quite there yet. And lastly I took a spoke shave to the outside edge and cleaned that up. I think one of the best parts of this process was not only the chance to sculpt curved lines, but to learn to be OK with not having everything perfect, and instead aiming for a more cohesive whole that overall is pleasing to look at and use and touch.

Day 2

With the seat done it was on to the legs and stretchers. I started with leg and stretcher blanks and after marking them, Fabian used a tenon cutter to create the tenons. That done, we then marked out the location for the front stretcher and taking into account the angles of the legs in the seat, marked where to drill. With the holes drilled it was over to the shave horse to rough shape the stretcher tenons with the draw knife and then use a hand-turn tenon cutter, making sure to make the tenon long enough so that it would stick through the mortise in the leg so that it could be later wedged. After shaping the tenon it was back to the shave horse with the draw knife and spokeshave to shape the stretcher. The last step here was to ream out the inner side of the mortise to properly accept the angled tenon. Once the first stretcher was done and dry fit it was on to the two side stretchers. I opted to angle mine down to the front of the stool just based on the way I usually sit on a stool and that I’ll be using it as my banjo/guitar playing stool. The side stretchers were a little trickier, again because of the angles. When I was done with those, it was on to shaping the legs themselves.


After everything was shaped and dry fit, Fabian cut the slots in all the tenons using the band saw and cut the Black Walnut wedges to contrast with the Ash legs.

It was then time for glue-up, which is always my least favorite part of the process but having two sets of hands to get everything together and quickly and get it wiped down helped a lot. We then clamped everything together just get all the parts squeezed tightly together and let it sit.


Once it was dry, I sawed off the tenons and spoked shaved the ones on the legs to smooth them out. For the top Fabian suggested using a gouge to create a rough-ish looking design on the top tenons. It was something that another student came up with and when I saw an example, I really liked it.

So with that done it was already 5:30PM on Sunday and time to head home. It was a whirlwind of a weekend but awesome all the same. It’s really satisfying to start with basically nothing and in two days have a completely finished (or nearly) product. I say nearly, because when I got back I did a light sanding of everything and applied a thin coat of my favorite beeswax and boiled linseed finish to the stool.

Here’s a few final photos of the completed project:






Stool Making Time w/Fabian Fischer

This weekend I have the unique opportunity to take a stool making class with Fabian Fischer, an incredible craftsman in his own right. I’ll let his work speak for itself. You can visit his website or take a look at his blog or Instagram account to get a feel.

I came across Fabian’s work a few months ago while looking for nearby chairmakers and when I saw that he offered courses, I got in touch. It’s a two-day class and I’ll come home with a hand made stool.

Here’s a screen shot from his website to give you a sense of the design of his work:

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 6.36.39 AM

I’ll post a few updates on my Instagram account during the course so stay tuned.

Taughannock Table

Just finished up a piece for a friend. A somewhat larger version of the Taughannock table I built a couple years ago for my sister.





Leveling Out


One 8’ foot slab shaping up to be a coffee table/bench/etc that was warped, cupped and twisted. It’s been me and the fore plane dancing in the shop for the past week trying to level things out. A few more days and it’ll be ready to join.

Quirky Walnut Slabs

Fellow chainsaw mill operation John, and myself finished slabbing out a walnut tree yesterday-one that had been something of crucible for us in terms of learning how to use the mill. There were two sections to the tree, the first of which had several nails in it and nearly caused us to to quit the whole enterprise. But we didn’t and here are the last two slabs we ripped-they are 2″ thick.




The Challenge of Shaping

First off, Happy Independence Day. While things may never be perfect in this place we call home, we’ve got a lot of which to be proud. The older I get the more I see that the world doesn’t exist in black and white, i.e. there’s always another side to everyone’s story, whether you agree with them or not. So here’s to the beauty of public discourse. Have a great 4th of July and be safe out there!

As for the world of woodworking, the shavehorse build continues…

I’m making my first rudimentary attempt to shape the seat for this beast. I’m lacking in some tools, like an adze for instance. And I’m also lacking in any know-how whatsoever when it comes to carving out a seat. Although I figure with some deft sawing and creative plane work I can get things to an approximation that will suit the task. Using White Oak on the other hand doesn’t say much for my wood selection IQ. But you use what you have…and you might notice a striking resemblance of said White Oak seat blank to the bench top it’s sitting on. Ever since I built my first workbench, i.e. a beginner’s attempt at a Roubo-style bench a la Chris Schwarz, I had a couple extra chunks of the bench top lying around just waiting to be used. And it turns out that a #6 Fore Plane with PM-V11 steel cuts through White Oak with a certain satisfying effectiveness.



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