Concrete Dovetail Bench

I enjoy making benches and playing with mixed materials from time to time.  When the opportunity came up to make something using one bag of cement I had an idea.  Incorporate a traditional woodworking joint into cement and make a modern bench at the same time.  Thus the design of a cement formed dovetail leg and a single board bench seat.

For this project I used exactly one 80lb bag of Quikrete 5000 cement.  The form I made measures 10.5″ x 18″x 1.5″.  It was constructed of melamine and screwed together.  Making forms is a simple process, you just need your design in mind and remember that the form is an outline of the end result.  Also remember you will need to remove the form easily when the cement cures.  If you are making holes inside the form use plastic that can be cut away or pulled apart for easy removal.

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I mixed the cement in a bucket with a grout mixer in a drill.  This made mixing very fast and easy.  The cement was then poured into the form and vibrated to relieve the bubbles from the bottom and sides.  Note that it helps to have the form vibrating as the cement is being poured to ensure the air bubbles come off the surfaces quickly.  Also keep in mind to use some sort of reinforcement for the structural integrity of the cement.  I used mason ladder wire in the middle of the form.  Pour half the cement, place the ladder wire, and pour the rest.

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When the cement is all in the form you will need to vibrate/tap on the form for 60 minutes, no less.  Otherwise you will have holes in the surfaces.  Allow the cement to cure per the instructions from the manufacturer.

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With the cement curing for a few days I worked on milling the wood bench.  I used a custom milled and air dried white oak board that was 11″ wide.  I cut it to 36″ long and milled it to thickness.  I would have liked it to be 1″ thick but the warping in the board brought it to 3/4″ after milling.  Any knots were filled and stabilized with tinted epoxy and the final milling was completed.

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Once the cement was cured I removed it from the form and cleaned it up with some sand paper to tidy the edges.  I placed the form upside down on the ends of the wood seat and traced out the pin locations.  Use your preferred method for cutting dovetails here.  I like using my hand saw and chisels but you can use a bandsaw as well.

Clean up the ends of the board and apply the finish of your choosing.  I went with a few coats of oil varnish.

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It is time to push the seat into the dovetails to set the with of the legs.  I wanted to add steel rope to hold the legs together and I found these Hammock Hangers looked great for this purpose.  I positioned the hangers in the middle of the legs, pre-drilled a 3/16″ hole for the 1/4″ TapCon screws, the steel rope was cut to length, the loops were made with the hoops inside (this has to be done at the same time), and I drove the TapCons in place to anchor the hangers.

To tighten the steel rope I used a turnbuckle similar to those used for gate supports.  Just turn the turnbuckle until the steel rope is stretched and the legs aren’t pulled in too much, do not over tighten.  The seat will tell you when to stop.  You can also hold a square to the seat and legs to be a guide.

Now put the bench in a nice location and enjoy.  Be sure to move this with a friend.  It isn’t rigid enough to pick up alone and the dovetails may be brittle.  Treat this bench with care and it should last for a long time.

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Here is a list of the products I used with exception of the cement (affiliate links):
Hammock Hangers – http://goo.gl/ttR6Di
3/16″ Masonry Bit – http://goo.gl/IK5P85
1/8″ Steel Rope – http://goo.gl/gpuW5C
Steel Rope Thimbles – http://goo.gl/1gIO2p
Cable Clamps (similar) – http://goo.gl/9eT0QP
Turnbuckle – http://goo.gl/1ZHRw5
Varathane Outdoor Varnish – http://goo.gl/kY5JkV

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Up Coming Bench Build-Off

The Dusty Life crew (Brian McCauley, Kyle Toth, and Myself) is hosting a Workbench building event in the late weeks of August and into September.  The event is conveniently called the Bench Build-Off.  There is a sizable list of sponsors who are pledging prizes to be given at random to several lucky builders.  You can find that list here.

Brian and I will be participating and I plan on building a 19th century Nicholson Bench.  I have drawn up a model and put together a 24 page PDF set of plans for my bench which are available here.  This bench is 8′ long 27″ wide and 31″ tall.  It features a fixed crochet on the right side, a sliding crochet on the left, and a shelf for storing your planes during a project.

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Also, I have designed a smaller version for kids if you have any apprentices running around the shop.  Plans for that are found here.  Once the kids outgrow the bench it can be used as a place to sit.

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Keep an eye out for the announcement and if you are interested in making a dedicated workbench, start planning now.

The Make it Forward Project, Part 2

This is my portion of the second edition of the Make it Forward project.  In short, it is a collaboration where 9 craftsmen and craftswomen pass a project along after adding their own work.  I contributed a hand cut dovetail box frame constructed of vertical grain douglas fir.  Now it is time to pass it on to Kyle Toth for his addition to the work that  Sam and I have done.

You can follow the Make it Forward project on Twitter @makeitforward

Follow the makers at the following links:
Sam Schiavitti – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxhBMX0MNjw
Brian McCauley – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMzsLPeyQvCcSyCRX0w9Cdg
Kyle Toth – https://www.youtube.com/user/HomedepotKt
Mike Murray – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVbL0re_pt7CqiN3CKE-J6w
Matt Cremona – https://www.youtube.com/user/mcremona
Sean O’Grady – https://twitter.com/F2_MetalWorks
Doxie Lain – https://twitter.com/ms_doxie
David Gunn – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6yWkNydj9DfGcJ4OEk1-5w

 

Brass Chisel Hammer

 

IMG_8317A couple weeks ago I won this (above) brass mallet on eBay.  I really like the old, mushroomed faces, wear marks, and the patina on the brass.  The only thing wrong with it was the steel rod handle.  The solution: contact a local machinist to remove the handle and bore a 1/2″ through hole for a new handle tenon and a 3/16″ hole for a pin.  Costs: $17.33 for the mallet with shipping and $5 for the machinist (I gave him $10).  Total cost of $27.33.  Not bad considering brass rod retails for about $15/inch for this size.

With the holes bored i needed to choose a handle style.  While in Atlanta for The Woodworking Show, I went to Highland Woodworking (Highland Hardware) and saw David Barron’s Chisel Hammer.  I’ll admit to lust and covetousness for this inanimate object but the $74 price tag was a strong enough deterrent.   Loaded with that style in my memory, with the help of Google Images as a refresher, I sought a worthy wood species to compliment the aged mallet.  Enter a scrap piece of air dried walnut left over from me stool build 2 years ago.

Turning the handle was a straight forward process.  The blank was mounted between centers and turned with a spindle gouge and parting tool.  2 simple but necessary tools to have with the lathe.

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After the shape was finalized and sanded to 320, I used my Stanley Yankee push drill to bore a small through to prevent the wedge from splitting the wood.

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I then removed the blank and cut the handle from the waste.  Using my Dozuki Z-Saw I cut the slot for the Ebony wedge.

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This should be a substantial slot for the wedge to easily fit into with some coercion.  If you choose to glue in a wedge, remember to only glue one side to allow for wood movement.  If you glue both sides, one glue joint will surely split as the wood expands and contracts throughout the seasons and changes in humidity.

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Next a 3/16″ hole is drilled through the side of the tenon and a brass rod is hammered through.

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Cut the excess rod off leaving 1/16″ proud on each side to be rounded with a ball peen hammer.

The final step was to apply the finish.  I chose Dark Walnut Danish Oil to blend the light and dark grain yet accentuate the natural curl and figure in this piece of walnut.  When that was dry I rubbed and buffed in some of the Beeswax polish that I made in a previous post.  The handle has a nice satin finish and the color of the walnut compliments the patina on the brass wonderfully, in my opinion (which is all that matters here).