So I’ve been in the shop every day this week moving from one side of the basement to the other and condensing and organizing in the process. Its been great to get rid of a lot of clutter and unused tools and make my shop more efficient and functional.
I mentioned a little while ago about my plans for this week, as I’m on vacation, and that I was going to be building a new Roubo bench using some reclaimed timbers (here). In the last few days however, I realized I don’t really need another work bench, but what I do need is a nice, massive saw bench. Don’t get me wrong, I love my current saw bench, ala Chris Schwartz, but I need something bigger, heavier and more stable. So, I devised (in my warped mind) a super saw bench using the 6 x 8 white oak timbers I referred to above. This new, super bench would be kind of a cross between a Japanese planing bench and a traditional western saw bench like I already have. The idea is it will be made with a top just like my Roubo so that I can use holdfasts and secure boards for heavy ripping. I’m thinking the top should be about 3 to 4 inches thick and about 20 to 24 inches high.
So, the first step in making this Super Saw Bench is ripping the 6 x 8 oak beam into two 4 x 6 slabs. These two pieces will then make the top of the bench.
Now, I know what you’re thinking….’This guy isn’t crazy or stupid enough to try and rip an 8 foot long, 6 inch thick white oak beam with a hand saw, is he?!?!?!’
The answer, of course, is yes, I am that crazy and stupid.
Here is the ominous beam in question…trestled up on my saw bench and ubiquitous Workmate…(you can also see my new shop layout)…
The first step in ripping this beast is marking the cut line, and since this oak has spent a good part of its life outside, its darkened and will need to be planed to remove the darkened skin and create a light background for my pencil mark. For this, I use my trusty Stanley #6 to roughly plane it down to fresh wood (Patrick Leach be damned, my #6 is the MOST useful plane in my shop!)
Planing at this height is surprisingly very comfortable (don’t I look like I’m having fun?)
The wood is much brighter now, and I mark out the cut line in the middle of the beam with a carpenter’s pencil. I make a series of hash marks 4 inches in from the edge and then connect them with a straight edge. You can use a panel gauge, marking gauge or other as well.
Now that the beam is marked, to start, I use my trusty Disston #7 (24 inches, 6ppi rip) to saw in the vertical kerf line on the end grain of the timber. The fine pitch of the #7 will help more easily cut the end grain here than a 4 or 5 point saw. This kerfed in vertical line will help me start the cut square as the saw will follow the kerf…
You can see the pith of the tree on the right side of the kerf as well. Once I finish the rip, I’ll evaluate if that half of the board is salvageable or not.
Now that the vertical cut line is kerfed in, I switch to my main rip saw. This saw is the latest addition to my stable…it’s a vintage Disston #9 handle mated with a replica saw plate that Mike Wenzloff made for me. The plate is 26 inches and 5 ppi filed rip with just a touch of negative rake…I figure its a perfect choice for this oak.
As I start the cut, I begin in the “corner” of the beam and lay the toothline at a very low angle to the wood sighting along the pencil line. At such a low angle, the saw is very easy to push (think low-angle planing) and establishes the kerf very cleanly. Now, its a simple matter of joining the vertical kerf line on the end grain with the horizontal kerf line on the face of the beam with even saw strokes. This is the slowest part of the rip, but the most critical….start square, end square! Check it out….
Now that our kerf is established, its go time!!!! Here’s where the real work starts, and boy is it fun! This is a real workout, no doubt, but I love this part! I keep my paraffin block handy and the plate waxed up, in addition to my water bottle…I’m defintiely gonna need it.
A foot or two into the cut I can really start to feel it in my shoulders and arms. I’m using a two hand grip here, and at this height, it’s very comfortable….great data for determining the height of the Super Saw Bench…
I keep my eye one the pencil line to ensure I’m staying true…..the saw tracks like a dream….a testament to Mike Wenzloff’s outstanding skill!
I told myself when I started the cut, that I would take a break at the half way point, and I marked the pencil line four feet in so I’d know.
The fun thing about this rip is that it takes such a long time, that you can really experiment with different grips and body positions and immediately know if it works or not. I gave Schwartz’s Franco-Prussian seated rip style a go. And while I think he demonstrates it with the teeth facing away from you, I found it more comfortable with the teeth facing me and sawing directly towards me (though a comfortable few inches away!)…
I was surprised at how easy and efficient this method was….I ended up sawing like this for about two feet and it was much less tiring than sawing standing up.
So here’s the half way point…you can see the pencil line marking it and indicating to me i can take a break!!!!
Besides stopping a couple times to snap pictures and take a gulp of water I didn’t stop sawing until this point. I’d say that thus far, it took about 20 minutes or so. Like I said….a real workout, but very rewarding and fun!
After about a 5 minute break to rehydrate, it was back to work, and in addition to trying different sawing styles, I also switched saws at this point. I wanted to see how a saw with a more aggressive rake cut on this hard, thick oak, so I switched to my 5 and 1/2 point Pax rip saw with zero negative rake to the teeth. When I bought this saw, I immediately made a new handle for it out of some nice curly cherry, but I haven’t gotten a chance to really work it out. This was the perfect opportunity…
The saw definitely cut more aggressively….I could feel it being pulled into the cut much more than the Wenzloff, and it required a bit lower of an angle to cut smoothly. One of the reasons I love working with hand tools like this is for the feedback they give you about themselves and the wood….no power tool will ever offer you this kind of interface with your work.
Here’s a view from the kerf…It won’t be long now…
At this point I’m really sweating…you can see my shirt is drenched, but this beats the hell out of the treadmill at the gym!
You can also see that I switched back to the Wenzloff saw, and before I did, I had to switch the saw bench and Workmate. The jaws on the Workmate do a great job of securing the work, but its not exactly saw friendly with its wide footprint and steel body.
Here are the final strokes of the saw…at this point, I can’t tell if my heart is racing from the work or the thrill of almost being done!
With a few final thrusts, what was once one, now becomes two….
Voila! I can finally rest and behold the fruits of my labor. I’d say overall this probably took 30 to 40 minutes including my break and photo/water time. Not too shabby….I’m thinking with the second beam, I can improve on my time markedly. 🙂
This was definitely a do-able task for any able-bodied worker….while it was laborious, it was not difficult or requiring great skill. One saw, a little time, and a bottle of water….that’s about it. And once again, I can skip the gym!
Here are some more pics….