by Todd Walker
Beautiful wife asks sweetly, “Honey, we need a bench for the front porch *purr*. Could you make one for me?” And the fun begins!
I’ve made plenty of honey-do projects for the wife. This one is different. I decided to make this one using pioneer hand tools. It turned out fine. Lessons were learned. Wife is happy.
NOTE: During this post, you’ll see me insert [Prepper Lesson] to highlight our dependency on modern power tools, both electrical and internal combustion.
History: This cedar stock came from my family homestead. It was felled by a tornado a few years ago. A buddy of mine limbed it and stacked it for future use. On my last visit to my folks, we cut a six-foot section (about 12 inches diameter) and hauled it back to my place.
[Prepper Lesson: A chain saw was used to expedite the matter in 100 degree heat. Post SHTF, crosscut saws will require physical stamina and skill in this kind of heat. In a grid-down situation, having quality hand tools and the skills to properly use them are paramount. For me, I learned that I need more practice using older hand tools like my grandfather used in his day. I took a few shortcuts and used a few power tools during the project.]
Here’s the progression on the project.
Step 1: Once home, I used my chainsaw to rip the stock in half. I laid the log on top of a couple of scape pieces of 2×4 to prevent my saw from digging into the ground.
Step 2: I laid out my cut lines on the ends and sides. I used a square and level for the ends. Transfer the end lines down the sides with a long straight edge. You’ll need a lovely assistant or clamps to hold the straight edge. I used my lovely assistant.
Step 3: Saw the stock as close to the lines as possible. Cutting this dried cedar really heated up my bar and chain. I liberally oiled during the process. The cleaner the cut, the less work you do planing the rough cut stock. Scotch the log with wedges. I also found it helpful to drive a rod in the ground to lean the log at the angle I needed.
[Prepper Lesson: A saw pit was used in old times to rip logs to create usable lumber. The stock was laid on an elevated rack with one man on top, and the pit man below the stock. I would imagine the man below had the worst part of the job. Without modern sawmills, a whole new skill set will need to be deployed.]
Step 4: Plane the rough surface to be used for the seat. The tricky part was finding the correct depth setting for the plane and not gauging knots while planing. I found that the depth of the blade was determined by the roughness of the chainsaw marks. This took about an hour as I missed my line on when I was ripping with the chainsaw. A portable sawmill would have been a great help
I know of some Amish who have used steam power to run their saw mill. This would be a huge bartering skill/item in an off grid world.
[Prepper Lesson: I cheated and used a Dewalt sander to finish the surface after planing. I could have used a sanding block, but electricity was still on.]
Step 5: Use a draw knife to remove the bark on the underside of the stock. I had planned to keep the bark on, but it had already begun turning loose. I helped it along with the draw knife. If you don’t have draw knives, you can order them from Lehman’s and other companies. I found the one pictured below in an antique shop. Closely inspect used knives for any signs of cracks or damage. Blades can be sharpened and handles replaced.
Step 6: With the other half of the stock, I split it to make four legs for the bench. Use an axe and splitting wedge for accuracy.
Step 7: Shave the legs. Once I split the rails for the legs, I realized I would need a shaving horse to complete the legs. So I built one from scrap lumber I had lying around. That was a two-hour rabbit hole. If I had to buy the material, I would have spent maybe $25. It’s a simple plan and worked incredibly well. I used a plan I found online. I can’t find the link. I’ll keep looking and post it when I find it.
[Prepper Lesson: Using pioneer tools means retooling my entire shop. I’m not throwing out my power tools. I do see the need to acquire more tools and skills. Electricity is wonderfully addictive.]
Step 8: The auger I used bore 1 1/8 inch holes. Bore four of these at slight angles about 6 inches from the end of the bench bottom. I used square and a level to keep the angles about the same for all the leg holes. You could eyeball it I guess.
Step 9: Create a tenon on the end of each leg to fit the holes. The draw knife was used to take the stock down most of the way. I used a spokeshave to dress the tenon’s final shape. Make sure not to take too much off the tenon. You can’t add wood to the tenon. Also, I tapered the tenons to make the tip fit the hole and drove the rest in with a mallet. No glue needed.
Step 10: Level the legs. I only had to cut 1/2 inch off one leg to make her sit evenly. Use a 4 foot level or just eyeball it.
Last step is to put a couple of coats of sealant on to preserve the beauty. I also carved a love note on the bottom to my wife. What a sap!
If your interested in pioneer tools or have helpful links for their use, please leave your tips and comments. I need lots of help with these lost skills.
Keep Doing the Stuff,
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