Tag Archives: Roubo

Quick update and local news

A few readers have asked if I’m still alive and/or building things out of wood.  I’m confirming both to the affirmative.  Thanks for the notes!  I suppose an update is in order.

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You may have noticed that I just posted a lot of tools on my “for sale” page.  Don’t panic!  I haven’t quit woodworking and I’m not planning to die anytime soon.  I’m just reducing the number of tools that I have in my shop.  After my trip to a LN Hand Tool event, I’ve been hooked.  I’ve been switching over to LN planes (slowly) and I just haven’t been using the Stanleys as often.  I’m the type of person who can not keep things that I’m not using, so these tools can go to new homes if people will give me a fair price for them.

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In other news, I’m scheduled to teach another hand plane class at the woodwork shop in Memphis, TN on April 25.  Watch that date – it may change to May.  I hope lots of people turn out because the class is always fun.  I really enjoy introducing people to the experience of using a well-tuned plane.  I never tire of seeing the fun people have when they experience how easy it is to surface wood with a sharp iron and good technique.

Now, for the “update”.  What have I been doing?  My middle daughter (call her K) expressed an interest in robotics a few months ago.  Thanks Disney and Big Hero 6.  I didn’t need much encouragement to pursue this interest since it involves making things and learning about new stuff.  I decided that building drones would be a fun way to teach/learn robotics, so that has consumed most of my shop time recently.

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Daughter (K) and nephew (J) really enjoy their time at the local R/C airfield.

Naturally, I’ve been working on what is called “scratch builds”.  Designing and building toys airplanes is just as fun as building furniture, it’s just a lot more temporary.  One crash and they are done.  I’ve developed a reputation at the R/C airfield for trying crazy designs – that fly a little crazy.

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I can testify that a french workbench is also an excellent workbench for other building hobbies.

Least you think that I’m done with wood – fear not.  I’ve been working on some “staked furniture” as described by CS in his excellent new book.  I’m reading it now and will post a review when I’m done.  Suffice to say it is excellent and the techniques he describes can make the process of building nice furniture faster and easier than you think.  Buy it.

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Recent experiemental builds – 2 stools and a staked sawbench

Here are 3 things I’ve built recently as experiments.  The sawbench (far right) is a test of strength.  The legs are only 3/4 inch diameter at the top.  I wanted to test the limits of this staked technique.  It can hold 200 lbs with little trouble, providing the floor is not slippery.  That’s impressive considering how spindly the legs and top are.  It is super light, which is helpful for this shop appliance.  The carved stool on the left was an experiment in carving a seat.  Not great, but still surprisingly comfortable.  The stool in the middle is my best so far.  I plan to build 3 more like it next.  I should be able to do a build series on it, so stay tuned.  I think that’s all I can type for now.

Bob Jones

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Roubo Panel Gaguge – Build and Finish

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In the last post, I left off with the pieces needed for the Roubo Panel Gauge.  You see here the walnut for the body resting on the cherry for the arm.

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Here is a shot of the end of the arm.  I decided on a 5 degree taper for each side of the arm (10 deg total).  I don’t have a good reason for 10 degrees other than many people in chair making use 6 degrees and some use 12 degrees, so rather than debate who is right, I took the political position and went for the middle ground.  I don’t remember the exact dimensions of the arm, but it is close to 1 inch square and 20 inches long.

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Tapered mortises are more difficult to layout than rectangular ones.  I marked the first line, then used the actual bar to determine the location of the second one.  I suggest you make the mortise a little tighter than you think you should.  It is easier to open the mortise up a little than to close it.

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With the tapered hole marked out (see the white pencil marks) I used a mortise chisel to chop out parallel mortises.  The middle was then easily removed.  I considered using a drill to define the mortise, but I remembered the wise words of Mr Robert Wearing that drilling does not make mortising any easier or more accurate.  He sure was right.  Just go at it with a chisel and don’t be scared.

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The tapered arm fit perfectly the first time I tried the fit.  Yeah, right.  I pared down to the line with a super sharp bench chisel and fine tuned the fit several times to get it right.  The bar had a tendency to seat further on one side of the body, making the gauge look like a mess.  Shaving tiny slivers of wood here and there did the trick to level the arm out.  How did I know where to remove slivers of wood?  Move the arm around in the mortise with some force.  Areas that rub will show a little burnishing.  Remove the burnished areas from the mortise to get more consistent contact.

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This was a good time to shape the curve of the body.  Notice the use of the leg vise to hold the body flush with the bench top for drawing the curvature. I don’t deal with full-sized prints.

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I sawed the body to rough shape and screwed in a 1/4 inch threaded insert at the top center.  These inserts are really simple to install and function better than a machine screw threaded directly into wood.  I faired the curves and rounded the profile with my new Lie Nielsen spokeshave – it is a wonderful tool.

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The body of the gauge gets a rabbet at the bottom of one side.  This creates the reference surfaces of the gauge, so do your level best to make the rabbet parallel to the body in width and depth.  A good marking gauge helps guide the final endpoints of the rabbet – don’t depend on stops built into the plane.  That rabbet completes the body.

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It’s time to add some flare to the gauge.  In the top of the arm I plowed a 3/8 inch wide groove to house a piece of brass.  The brass was 3/8 inch wide and 1/4 inch thick.  This is a functional upgrade as well as aesthetic.  The arm is locked in place by a screw in the top of the body.  That screw would chew up the wooden arm if left unprotected.  The brass was epoxied into the groove and later sanded to clean it all up.

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The pencil holder is very sophisticated.  I drilled a vertical hole for the pencil that was 1.5 inches from the end of the arm.  Closer to the end of the arm I drilled a perpendicular hole for a screw that will be used to tighten the grip on the pencil.  To make the grip more effective, I sawed a kerf through the end of the arm into the pencil hole.

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The perpendicular hole received another threaded insert, but this one was considerably smaller (Number 8).  To get the insert in straight, I used a No 8 screw from the backside and manipulated it while driving with the screwdriver.  Getting the threaded inserts straight in the hole is the closest thing to a challenge in the process.

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Insert a General pencil (premium pencil made in the USA) and give your new gauge a trial run.  I’m really happy with the fit and feel of mine.  The brass in the arm gives it surprising heft and a classy look.

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I finished my gauge with one coat of Boiled Lindseed Oil and one coat of wax.  I may go back to using wax more often rather than 6 to 8 coats of oil.  It is fast, easy, and looks great.  The only offense is the smell of the wax, but it fades after a few days.

There are a few take-aways from this build.

  • Read old woodworking related texts when you can.  They are full of ideas that are waiting to be rediscovered and put back into practice.
  • Starting with your current project(s), build everything to the best of your ability.  This includes fixtures and tools for the shop.  Always do your best and your best will improve.
  • If you are new to designing your own projects, a good place to start is with small things.  You can either succeed or fail quickly and try again.
  • Complete a project from time to time to prove that you can see one through to the end.

Bob Jones

Roubo Panel Gauge – Design

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Roubo lathe in use today

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Mr. Warren Mickley using his Roubo lathe (in 1982 – see the socks in the top left as proof)

I’m stepping into the big time blogging world with this post; an interview with a woodworking master.  My pleas for help on woodworking forums have connected me to a few highly knowledgeable, experienced, and big name woodworkers.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised that woodworkers who need no introduction such as Don McConnell, Don Williams, Peter Follansbee, Joel Moskowitz, Bob Rozaieski, and Gary Roberts have all been quick to respond with advice and information, but this post is not about them.

This post is about a professional woodworker and his experiences with the Roubo lathe that he built 33 years ago.  He may be unfamiliar to you since he hasn’t written any books (though he should) or been featured in any magazine articles (which is a shame), but he has a wealth of experience and knowledge about working with wood.  I’d like to introduce you to Warren Mickley.  I virtually “met” Mr. Mickley through a woodworking forum and he has been kind enough to answer many questions about turning wood.  With his permission, I am sharing some of my questions and his answers here to the benefit of all who read it.  Even if you have no interest in Roubo lathes, I think you will find his insights helpful to practicing the craft of turning wood.

Mr. Mickley, for those of us who know nothing about you, what is the basis of your experience with woodworking?

“I am a professional woodworker in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, working with only hand tools. I have been researching historic methods since 1970…  I have turned without sanding since 1978.”

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Turned without sanding? Now, that has my attention.  These are samples of Mr. Mickley’s turning without sanding or applying finish.  It sure looks nice, doesn’t it?

Where did you learn so much about spring pole lathes?  Did you train under someone else?

“I learned to use the pole lathe by reading books about turning and discarding those techniques which were ineffective on the pole lathe. I also examined lots of 18th century turnings, which being unsanded, are littered with the evidence of how they were turned.”

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Do you think spring pole lathes are good for beginning turners?  I’ve read that they are more difficult to learn since your driving the lathe with your legs.

“Here (above) is a picture of a turning by a young fellow his second day at the lathe. He had never turned anything before.  The turning in this image was not sanded.  I think it is a lot easier to learn sophisticated turning skills on the pole lathe than any other lathe. In 35 years I have never seen electric lathe turning that matched 18th century standards.”

What prompted you to build your first spring pole lathe (as opposed to other types of lathes)?

“I had turned on a 1804 treadle lathe at a historic site before building the pole lathe 33 years ago. That historic treadle lathe had minor problems with the pulley and the bearings. Making one would require a lot of specialized hardware. The pole lathe had very simple hardware requirements. The 20th century commentators were all very dismissive of the pole lathe, but none of those writers knew how to use it.”

You’ve told me of your preference for spring pole lathes over other types, but have you built spring pole lathes of different designs?  If so, which type do you prefer and why?

“Roubo’s plate said “propre aux ebenistes” [appropriate for cabinetmakers] and had the best scale drawings of the historic texts I was familiar with. The lathe exceded all expectations and exposed the ignorance of the 20th century writers.  I have not built any other lathes, but I have tried similar lathes like a portable lathe with a little pole built into the frame and one with a bungee cord. Those were like toys compared to a lathe like is pictured in Roubo with a robust pole…  I would not recommend this type of lathe [small and portable] unless you need something that can be put in the back of a van and set up very quickly.”

I’m curious about the durability of these lathes.  Is the lathe you built 30 years ago still in use today, or have you needed to build replacements?  

“I am still using the same lathe and same pole from 1981. The only wear is that the pikes can loosen over time. I have inlaid new wood around the pikes a few times. One can turn very nicely even if the pikes are wobbly, but for very highest quality work you want them solid.”

For someone who likes the basic Roubo lathe design, but is not concerned with historical reproductions, are there any modifications to the images in Roubo that you would recommend for someone building a lathe today?  Modifications could include modern inventions such as live centers and Jacob’s chucks or simply changing the proportions of the drawings.

“I would use hardware as close to the 18th century styles as possible. The lack of moving parts increases the efficiency. I had intended to make the diagonal leg braces on the lathe but started using it before making them and then never bothered. I might now omit the brace on the left front because I sometimes straddle that leg for small turnings.”

Roubo briefly describes the pole to be used.  Do you have any preference there to share?

“I use a 13 foot pole. I have seen 14 feet mentioned in the literature. A skimpy pole will not be firm enough for good turning. ”

I have to ask.  What type of wood did you use to build your lathe?

“Red Oak 4×4 timbers.  I think beech and oak are probably recommended woods. They both absorb vibration well.”

Many thanks to Mr. Mickley for taking the time to respond to all of my questions.  Maybe someone will be able to convince him to write more about turning on a pole lathe.  I think there is certainly enough interest out there today.   ***HINT*** Lost of comments (from you 4 regular readers) may encourage him to write more on the topic!!!

Bob Jones