Tag Archives: design

Roubo Panel Gauge – Design


Let’s get the punch line out of the way.  Here is the finished panel gauge and the source of inspiration.  Now we return you to your regularly scheduled “how to build it” segment. Thanks for watching.

Between big projects I like to have a few quick wins.  Some would (rightly) call this stalling the next big thing, but it also lets me feel the satisfaction of completion more often.  I decided that my tool cabinet could benefit from a few upgrades and I started with my old panel gauge.


My old panel gauge is no slouch, but it offers several opportunities for improvement.

This gauge is based in a classic and common style with a wedge-locked rectangular beam and a body with concave and convex curves.  It works and takes little time to construct.  The pencil is press fit into it’s home and the wedge locks the beam just enough to call itself locked. I was pretty happy with this little gauge until I read Roubo’s description of a good trammel gauge.


Inspiration flows from every page of “To Make as Perfectly as Possible“.

Roubo described how wedge locked beams were the norm, but were fussy in use (my paraphrase).  He described his gauge as a big improvement with it’s screw lock and trapezoidal beam.  This made a lot of sense to me and after reading this I noticed that when setting my panel gauge I typically had to knock the wedge and beam in and out of place a few times to get the setting right.  Having no vision for anything better, I was satisfied with that.  Roubo changed my expectation of a well functioning gauge and I added it to my build list.

RPG_design3 RPG_design2

No, I don’t typically doodle in marker, but I figured it would show up better in pictures.  I have no interest in CAD at home.

I started the project by playing with designs for the body.  I couldn’t copy Roubo, because he actually drew a set of trammels.  I turned to “By Hand and Eye” for guidance on design.  I used their “module” approach to design and it was really fun.  Since this gauge is to be handheld, I made my handspan the module.  This set the length of the body.  The rest of the dimensions were felt out using a compass, dividers, and eraser.


With the body designed, I went to my scrap pile to see what I could scratch up.  It looks like my new gauge will also be walnut and cherry.  If you think that is all I use, you are forgetting about cypress.

Bob Jones


Constitution Village and spottings of “Furniture of Necessity”


Our tour guide had no problem using a little child labor to turn the “great wheel” lathe.

On a recent family vacation to Huntsville, Alabama we made a stop at a living history museum.  It was a small, low key place, but I really enjoyed the visit.  My reason for wanting to visit was the cabinet shop.  I was very comfortable in there.  I prided myself on knowing what everything in the shop was and how it was used.  Sorry if that sounds prideful, but it was a simple shop and I’ve been studying this craft for a little while now.  The cabinet shop seemed strangely modern to me, for a living history museum.  There were few actual antiques and most tools were modern reproductions.  The tour guide was very friendly and I wanted so badly to step in an do the working while he did the talking.  Not wanting to be guided off the property, I restrained myself.  Maybe next time.


The cabinet shop didn’t just have tools.  It also held some of the typical projects completed therein.  The walls were lined with windsor chairs and this casket was on top of a workbench.  The first thing this brought to mind was a book that Christopher Schwarz is working on called “Furniture of Necessity“.  I tried to get Chris to name it something with “Permanence” in it, but he wasn’t moved.  Anyway, it was funny to see something that most woodworkers would consider an oddity as one of the primary objects of display in the shop.


Sorry for the lighting – the chair is the one in the shade of the desk.

The tour also included a few houses.  Compared to other museums there was not much unique there, but I did spy this Windsor chair.  What caught my eye was the seat.  It looked like it was shaped only with a jack plane, like CS mentioned on his blog here.  It is similar to the one Chris is building, but with 4 legs (how boring).



It was hard to tell from across the room, but I think the scooping of this chair was more extensive than what CS did in his post.  I wanted to jump the velvet rope and give the chair a try, but I’m certain that would have embarrassed my wife into disowning me.  She is a rule follower for sure.  All in all, the museum was nice and I could have been happy to spend all day in that shop.  They really need someone there who knows how to sharpen tools.

Changing topics – thanks to everyone who looked over at my tools for sale page.  Double thanks to those who bought anything.  Most items sold quickly, but a few things remain.  I’ve dropped the prices of all remaining tools but I’m not likely to drop them further, so if you were waiting for a better deal now is the time to strike.

Bob Jones

Very early planning – Roubo Lathe Project


I have a family and a full time job and work with wood during my limited free time, so I end up with more time to think about wood than to actually work it. Most recently, my thoughts center around my need to make round things.  I don’t own a lathe, so I looked to the internet for some ideas.  A quick search showed that there’s no shortage of clever contraptions for spinning a piece of wood.  I looked into all available lathes: from electric to manual, mass produced to free-cycled, continuous rotation to reciprocating, minimal to massive. After a while of surfing, I was drawn to the version in Roubo’s works.

Roubo_lathe2       Roubo_lathe3

The images are from the toolemera press website – a very helpful place

This massive, manual machine grabbed me right away as the logical approach to turning for me.  Why use such an “ancient” design?  Let me explain my thought process.

Which lathe is right for me?

Electric vs. Manual – Manual lathes seem more fun to use, but I lean toward manually powered tools.  I’m not mass producing anything, so I don’t care if it is a little slower.  A nice plus is that manual lathes can be very inexpensive to build.

Flywheel vs Reciprocating (bungee or spring pole) – There are several great flywheel designs online, but they are more complicated than reciprocating lathes.  It’s not a huge difference, so pick your pleasure on this preference.

Robust Roubo vs Minimal Bodger – My lathe will stay in my shop, not in the woods.  If I were working in the woods I would build the version that Mike Abbott described as Spring Pole 2000 (Living Wood, a great book).  Mike’s design is super simple, lightweight, and quick to build, but it would not look right parked next to my Roubo style workbench.  Yes, I know that is a ridiculous reason.

What’s next?

I need to figure out how to build this thing.  I’m researching the technical aspects and history of the Roubo lathe design to get a better understanding.  I’m also emailing experts in the field to request a little help here and there.  As I learn important details, I’ll post them here as project updates.

Finding the right materials for a build is always a fun part of the process.  Sure, I could go to a hardwood dealer and buy 8/4 (2 inch) thick oak (and I may), but first I will watch the classifieds and keep my eyes open as I drive my normal routes.  Here In the south (USA) it is not unusual to see a pile of lumber inside a barn (visible from the road, no trespassing).  I’ve bought lumber by knocking on a door and asking a complete stranger, “I’m sorry to bother you, but is that lumber for sale?”  This works for logs, too.  You can laugh, but I have gotten a couple of truck loads of (cheap) walnut this way.

The search for materials begins now.  Does anyone have any 4 inch x 4 inch oak posts?  I prefer knot free.

Bob jones

‘Tis the Season…

For making crafty gifts for loved ones.  What woodworker out there doesn’t enjoy giving gifts that were produced by their own labor?  I certainly do, but my biggest challenge is finding useful projects that don’t take 10+ hours to complete.  Here is one solution – a simple hand planed cutting board.


Around lunchtime I had a rough sawn plank.  Before dinner I had a finished cutting board.  Not bad, I think.  Let’s walk through the process.

Since I’m working with hand planes, wider boards are better (no width limitation).  Wide boards do not require lamination, so it saves time and looks great.  The hardest part of this project is finding nice boards that are 12+ inches wide.


This is a great chance to use an off-cut from a previous project.  Warning! Don’t the make cutting board longer than 23 inches.  Anything longer will be difficult to put inside a kitchen cabinet.  This cutting board ended up being about 12 inches wide, even though I would have preferred 14 inches or so.  Hey, when working with scraps you can’t be picky.


Sighting under a straightedge in several positions is one way to check for flat.

I used a jack plane to get the board “jack flat” on both sides.  “Jack flat” is flat enough that the board is not rocking around on the bench.  This rough board was pretty well warped, wrinkled, cupped, bowed, and twisted so it took me a while.  Why bother working with such a mangled board?  The grain and color of the wood were worth it.


The bottom edge of longer planes makes a handy straightedge.

Next, I brought out my jointer plane, or in this case, my #6.  I planed a slight hollow on both sides, hoping that it would allow the board to warp a little in service and still touch the countertop at the corners making it feel stable in use.


With both faces flat (or slighly hollow) and parallel, work the end grain.  For lumber like this I hold the board in my Moxon vise and shoot the end grain with a smoothing plane.  Use a really sharp and smooth plane. Work to a pencil line, not a knife line.  This surface needs to be pretty, not super accurate (it’s not joinery).


Joint the long sides after the end grain.  Working in this order should clean up any blown-out grain from the end grain shooting (why planing end grain is called shooting is beyond me).  With a rough cut surface I always start with my jack to make the work faster, even on edges.  Here I am starting with the jack before jointing it with my 6.

CB-8-mark_chamfer CB-7-mark_chamfer

To pretty up the cutting board and make it look lighter, I decided to chamfer the underside.  Mark the chamfer with a pencil, not a knife.  Pick a chamfer angle that looks good to your eye.


To plane the chamfer, I used my number 6 again.  I sharpened it before working the end grain, as shown here.  Watch both lines closely and try to sneak up on both at the same time.  I do this free hand.  I completed the chamfer with my smoothing plane.  These chamfers are on the underside, so they don’t have to be perfect, but aiming for perfect is great practice.


Finishing supplies include a smoothing plane, cotton rag, and mineral oil (intestinal lubricant – yum).

Once the chamfers are complete, use the smoothing plane to break all of the edges.  “Break the edges” means to run a plane it over each sharp edge 5 or 6 times with a finely set blade.  You don’t want to visibly round the edges, just make them dull enough to be easy on your fingers.

Pick your favorite food safe finish and apply by the instructions.  I really like Mineral Oil.  Just wipe it on and let it dry for about 24 hours.  Tell the recipient to keep some mineral oil in the kitchen and re-apply regularly.  If you want a finish that’s more resilient and sealing, do some research on the topic.  Meanwhile, this thing is ready to be gift wrapped.


I think the chamfer really lightens the look of the board.  With such a quick project completed, use your spare time to give some woodworking lessons to your little helpers.

helper-1  helper-2

“No, put your hands here.  Listen to me – I’ve done this at least once.”

Bob Jones

The most original woodworking book in the last decade


I enjoy reading woodworking books.  Each one I read makes me better at my favorite hobby.  I read books focused on hand tools because that is what I enjoy most.  This generally means reading books written before 1950 (or 1800).  There are a few exceptions to this, but people have been using hand tools for woodworking for a long time so coming up with “original” content that is relevant must be difficult.

What is original?  I just finished reading “By Hand & Eye” by George Walker and Jim Tolpin.  I highly recommend the book.  When I first heard of the concept, I placed my order right away.  Why? It’s a woodworking book that is not about tools, particular furniture styles, or methods of building.  It’s about learning how to design good looking stuff.  I can’t think of any woodworking book that is similar.

I’m an engineer by training, so form follows function (and only function) with me.  I have built more than one piece of furniture that I designed but was not happy with the look.  After reading this book, I understand more about what “looks right” and more about how to get there through thoughtful design.  I didn’t need the drafting lessons in the book, although they are very complete and helpful. I didn’t need the project ideas in the back, but they are good starting materials.  I needed the understanding of what was already in my mind.  Before reading this book I could look at something and know right away if it “looked right” or not, but I could not place what was wrong.  Now I have a better sense for “right” & “wrong” – aka proportionate or disproportionate.  After I got into the book, I started noticing elements in the design of everything around me that I have never seen before.  I’m measuring buildings, cars, people (not too closely on this one), and furniture with my eyes to see what looks right and what does not.  It really is an eye opening experience.

I found this book very original, even though I did not notice anything in the book that was invented by George or Jim.  The originality was their idea that we should explore designs that have been around for 1,000’s of years.  This approach is original in the new woodworking book market.  I enjoyed how they distilled tons of established references and made classic design lessons easy to grasp.

I will say the writing of the book is unconventional.  It is conversational and there are two authors who are talking to the reader.  They make it work pretty well, but it is different from other “how to” books.  Also, some of Mr. Walkers writings (his blog and PWW articles) are eye opening but others leave me scratching my noggin.  This book is the eye opening writing style – no guesswork.

So, read it today and improve your designs.  Maybe this book will move you from following magazine article sketches to design your own pieces.  It’s not rocket science.


My tool cabinet – the design was refined using tips from Mr Walkers PWW articles.

Bob Jones

Patchwork not required


Like most woodworkers, I watch more than one internet forum on occasion.  It is a good way to get ideas for projects and get help when you are stuck.  In a recent post on woodnet, I saw this great walnut chest and I requested that the builder let me post it here on my blog.  Why feature another craftsman’s labor? Because I was so impressed with his design and usage of premium materials.  See for yourself.


I really see no room from improvement. I really like walnut and I’m glad to see such premium boards used appropriately (not cut into skinny pieces).  Here are a few of the facts from the craftsman.

“I did not want to glue up any panels… This walnut chest was built from two boards, around 24in wide that grew next to each other (sequentially cut). Both where 5/4 and ended up around 7/8in. The carcass was built from one board, cut to stay in order around the chest, and the top from the second “book matched” to the front section.  The carcass is 37 1/2″ wide, 18″ high, and 17″ deep, with a total height of 21 1/2″ with base. Top is 38 1/2″ long and 17 1/2″ wide.”


Thanks to Doug for letting me repost!  I hope this post will give others good ideas of how to use premium lumber.  By the way, this lumber did not come from some super secret location. He bought it from Irion Lumber, which sells lumber to anyone in the US willing to pay for lumber + shipping.  Looking at their website is making want to burn the cherry scraps that I am piecing together for my dresser project and give them a lot of cash.  I have to get off the internet now…

There are other premium lumber suppliers online.  I bought the cherry for my trestle table (see past projects page) from Groff & Groff lumber and there are numerous others. Thanks for reading!

Bob Jones

10,000 Decisions


After the boards are explored a bit, it is time to make 10,000 decisions.

Is this a good board for the top? Is this board too warped to be used? What about this defect, will it show? Can I find 3 boards with matching grain for the drawer fronts? I thought I had more boards than this? Should I go back and buy more? (The answer to that is almost always yes.)

If it sounds like I obsess over this part, it is because I do. The look of the boards in the final project will “make or break” your outcome. All visible pieces need to look intentional. To me, that means making the panels look either like a single board or look book-matched. I really prefer the look of a single board. Also, the drawers all need to match. Even though they are only 28inches long, I am going to take them from 60in long boards so the grain will flow across the whole piece. These details will make the project look much better than a mixture of grains, colors, and figure scrambled together. You could build a cabinet with perfect proportions, perfect joinery, and perfect functionality, but if the wood grain is distracting (not matching) you will hate looking at it. Trust me.

Off that soapbox – back to the lumber.


I hope that in the first picture you can see how I labeled the boards with chalk. DF=drawer front. You may also notice that 1 board is labeled “top”, and the sides of 2 more are labeled “top”. What is the deal? Well, the one board was about 6inches too narrow for the top, so I needed to glue more to it. I did not have any 6inch wide board that matched the piece I had chosen for the top. After much pondering, I finally noticed that I have 2 boards reserved for drawer fronts that were at least 3 inches too wide. Bingo. I ripped 3 inches off of each board and will put them on each side of the “top” board. The nice things about this is those edge pieces should make the top look like one solid board rather than 3 separate pieces. We shall see.

Oh, you may also notice that the “top” board was ripped in half. Unfortunately it had a small split in the center that was impossible to hide. The top is not structural, but I really didn’t want to look at that crack for the rest of my life.

Bob Jones