This week I took the very first slab I ever milled up on my bandsaw mill and turned it into these two pieces of furniture. One is a little end table for my friend and videographer, Justin, and the other is a small bench for myself.
That’s a great thing about this project is one great length of slab can make multiple items. Or If you have a short spare piece that’s too beautiful or sentimental to throw away, then this is something easy but functional to use it for.
Let me show you the process.
I had traveled to Nashville to help my friend Greg Pennington with a porch project. And while I was loading down the vehicle with tools, I threw in a slab of mesquite since Greg mentioned he had never seen it before. I figured if he was going to be working on something after hours, I’ll pack myself a slab to work along with him. For me, I have been holding onto the very first slab to ever come off my giant bandsaw mill, which is a piece of pecan.
Now I already knew what I wanted to make with it, because since first going to Greg’s on my first chair making course, I fell in love with these cute live edge benches used all around his shop. I wanted one of those benches, so I started by first picking the section of slab to make my seat from and also Justin’s top from then cutting it to length.
Next was to plane the faces down. Justin’s went pretty typical where the majority of marks were removed on both faces.
However on mine, after removing most of the marks on one face Greg suggested we stop or it would make the board too thin. So in the center I have marks remaining but I don’t mind as it’s the first marks I ever made with my bandsaw mill. Then on the bottom it’s completely left rough.
Moving into the workshop area, I had my two pieces where I started laying out the leg position (three legs on Justin’s end table and four on my bench), Greg also was laying his four legs out on the piece of mesquite.
To give you a little back story, I went to Nashville to help Greg build a porch but the first day was nothing but rain, so we were keeping ourselves busy with this project. He went through the process to build a mesquite bench, and I followed along but with my Pecan.
First step is to drill the holes which is at a compound angle I used Greg’s very savvy but simple, two part laser set up to get these angles drill in correctly, and look at how hard this pecan is….there was so much heat and smoke! Makes for some pretty shots and I thought some really nice smells.
Once the holes were drilled, now I could perfect them to their actual size and correct taper with a remming tool. See the drill bit make a nice even and straight hole but the goal is to have the leg’s tenon fit snugly into this hole and the tenon on the leg has a small taper. This remming tool cuts in that taper on the seat, perfectly. You just need to have your legs to test fit or in this case, since Greg is a chair maker and has lots of spindles around, a sample spindle to test fit. As long as the tenon is correct, then that’s all you need. You’re looking for it to punch out through the bottom, or actually what will be the top.
Next we started working on cleaning up some of the edges and profiles. I decided to leave the live edge bark on mine. It will eventually fall off, but I’ll apply some epoxy to it when I get back to Texas to preserve it as long as possible. Greg scrapped his off.
So he had all four edges to refine and shape but I only had my two exposed ends and I just wanted something that would feel nicer than a sharp 90 when I sit down and put my hands on it. So I tackled it at first with a mallet and chisel and just tried knocking the top off.
It didn’t work all that well because pecan is so hard….so next I switched to a drawknife and created an easy chamfer on both the top and bottom. To do that, pick a dimension (I just eyeballed it) then use your finger as a fence against the edge of your wood and drag it along to make a mark on two perpendicular faces. Now you have a visual reference to use a drawknife or any other wood removing tool of your choice, to take that material away and come out with an even and nice looking bevel.
Now since I have bandsaw marks on the center of my slab, I moved to cleaning those up a little bit. The goal here wasn’t to take them away because I love them, but to soften the feel of them slightly as they were quite rough. I did this with a travisher. After it was all said and done, I think the marks blend in so nicely with the bark inclusions and natural knots in the slab. And I love the story they tell.
Ok leg turning time. Well not just legs, stretchers too.
For mine, I have four legs and three stretchers then for Justin’s he needs three legs and two two stretchers. I am not an experienced turner. I can do it, but I’m very slow and often my pieces come out looking like newborn baby chubby arms. But still, I of course wanted to tackle my parts but Greg volunteered to do Justin’s. It’s worth noting he got both his set, Justin’s set, and cleaned his entire shop, in the time it took me to make mine. But hey, it’s not a race, it’s about having fun making sawdust.
For my parts, Greg already had a lot of dried maple blanks so that’s what I pulled from. The reason you want to use something dried is so you can assemble it and it not move drastically in size on you. If you used something wet, then as it dried it would shrink and your joints would become lose.
I went for a simple shape, something called a cigar leg, while Greg got a little fancy for Justin’s and did what’s called a double bobin leg. Annnd he also made his from Cherry, which turned out looking stunning.
After test fitting the legs into place, we got out the log drill bit and started punching some holes. These holes will receive the stretchers and make a rock solid base once things are connected.
After the holes in the legs are punched then a hole needs to be drilled in the short or short(s) stretcher. This step always fascinates me. The hole needs to be drilled perfectly perpendicular to the stretcher and to achieve that chair makers use a mirror technique where they will set up a mirror to face them.
They will also have a 90 degree square in sight so that in the mirror as a person drilling, you can set the square where it can be used as an indicator on how straight your drill bit is. If this is where the square is, and this is your drill bit, and you start leaning one way or the other, you’ll be able to very easily tell that you’re tilting.
Alright, and now it was assembly time.
If you’re building a piece of furniture then hide glue is a great choice. It not only has a long open time but it’s also reversible should you ever need to replace a part or refinish the entire thing. It’s at this point where it starts coming together very quickly, one piece at a time.
Now don’t freak out if you flip it over and a leg isn’t touching the bench….the legs are left a little long at the start so that there is room to level them up after they are wedged into place.
For wedges you can go with just about any choice of wood but I wanted walnut so that they would contrast with my light body and base.
These also go in with hide glue, but if you ever wedge something then only apply glue to one face and not both. Then if you use a ball pin hammer, it won’t provide as much bounce back when you drive these home.
Ok now we can take care of that let that is higher than the others. There is a very simple tool that, holds a pencil, will reference the top of a workbench and can be set to any set amount. So once you figure out how much height needs to be removed from the bench to drop it to the height desired, then you can set this tool and mark all the legs so you know where to chop them off.
After making all four marks, I used a pull saw to slice and dice, which made my bench sit nice and flat.
Last thing to do while at Greg’s at least, was to move to the top and use a small flush trim saw to cut off the excess leg tenon and the wedges.
Ooh, I love it. I love the pecan coloring. I love the character these specific pieces have it in them. I love making something with my first slab. And I love the day full of so much relaxing fun building it with two close friends.
It’s always a special time in Greg’s shop because he has a magical place there. I’ve left you links down below to the other projects I’ve had the pleasure of building in Greg’s shop as well as his current class schedule if you’re interested in joining in on some of the fun.
As for their final homes, my bench lives in my living room and serves as a place for me to sit and put on my shoes.
Justin uses his as an end table on his balcony and he says it does a fabulous job at holding whiskey.
I hope you enjoyed this video and maybe even learned something. If you have a live edge piece of wood then I certainly recommend tackling this project. I know I plan to again in the future, I mean the sizes of these benches are just too perfect. I’ll see you on my next project.
- Find Greg Pennington here: http://bit.ly/2P1dFYt
- Greg’s Class Schedule: http://www.penningtonwindsorchairs.com/classes-1
Other projects with Greg:
- Three Legged Shop Stool: https://youtu.be/hU5llw4d8Ig
- Democratic Chair: https://youtu.be/WjNXN8JRz0k
- Painting Furniture with Real Milk Paint: https://youtu.be/BVJnYJ43jnU
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