Sunday, April 29, 2012

WoodNet Roubo Try Square Get-Together

Yesterday I taught a private class on building a Roubo try square with hand tools to a group in Connecticut at the home of Rick Roberts. Rick, who goes by the handle RoundToit on WoodNet, works entirely with hand tools at home. He's a frequent student at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, where he's done some magnificent projects.

He and some of his WoodNet buddies had been wanting to get together for some time on hand tool topics. The general idea was to make it like an informal club meeting, where they could meet each other in person, see some demos, try some things out. Rick asked me to teach building the square as a starter project. (See Hand Tool Instruction if you're interested in scheduling some classes of your own, at your location or at the Close Grain School of Woodworking.)

Getting a group together is always a challenge, but after a couple postponements seven of us joined Rick in his basement shop. He's collected several used workbenches over the years, and has a remarkably clean basement, so there was plenty of room for everybody.

Among the group was Jim, MSRiverDog on WoodNet, recently moved to New England from Minnesota; for you fisherman, he sells the MSRD Fish Measuring Board. Later on, Bill Rittner stopped by. Bill makes very nice replacement totes for hand planes at Hardware City Tools. I had first heard of him from Larry Ciccolo, my first private student.

Rick was also hoping Walt Quadrato might visit. Walt owns Brass City Records and Old Tools in Waterbury; I've bought several things from him at the Live Free or Die Auction in Nashua. He had put a nice notice on his website about the class. However, last week he was attacked at knifepoint in his store. Fortunately, other than getting banged up a bit, he wasn't injured, and the police apprehended his attacker a couple blocks away. Best wishes for a quiet weekend and quick recovery, Walt, and thanks for your support.

We purchased copies of the Popular Woodworking Magazine Roubo Try Square PDF package for our reference. The square was the topic of the Arts and Mysteries column by Chris Schwarz in the February, 2010 issue. The downloadable instructions and plan show how to build it with power tools, then tune it up by hand.

In the interest of time, I had people prepare their stock to rough dimensions at home with hand or power tools. The plan was to finish the stock to final dimensions with hand tools, cut the joinery and decorative curves, and assemble the square.

The main challenge of a hand-tool build is cutting a snug bridle joint for joining the blade to the stock (the handle). For that reason, I had people bring a piece long enough for several attempts; if at first you don't succeed, cut it off and try again. The rest of the operations are pretty basic, good practice for someone new to hand tools.

For glue-up and pinning the parts together, Chris recommends clamping the pieces to a known-square form. I used the method from Steve Olesin's book Tool-Making Projects for Joinery and Woodworking: A Yankee Craftsman's Practical Methods: a CD jewel-case.

After some meet-and-greet time, I kicked off the class with what I call my 2-minute sharpening demo. Once you have a tool in working condition, you shouldn't ever need to spend longer than that to keep it sharp. I drew a simple diagram of convex bevel and double-bevel profiles, then demonstrated on my portable sharpening station.

Following that I went through various operations to make the square. Since one person had to leave early, I started with how to cut the bridle joint and chisel out the waste.

The bridle joint is essentially a form of mortise and tenon, a through mortise that's open on the side. Another way to think of the socket is like the inverse of a tenon. That means you saw out the cheek cuts exactly like a tenon, angling in from the corners. The difference is that the waste is the center portion, and the cheeks stay attached. Then you chisel away the waste and pare it down to the baseline. A little cleanup with floats or a metal file fine tunes the fit.

Using a square I had already built, I demonstrated how to test for square and tune up any error. Then I demonstrated cutting the decorative curves and cleaning them up with a rasp. I finished up with clamping to the CD case and driving in pegs that had been riven out and formed with a dowel plate.

Then the group split up to workbenches to work on their own pieces.

Rick working on his bridle joint as his son-in-law Ryan, right, and Eric, left, watch.

Kevin taking his stock piece down to final dimensions with a Brese plane.

Unfortunately the light was poor here, but this is Jim sawing down the cheek lines of his bridle joint. I loved this little joiner's bench that Rick had. In the background you can see my diagrams of bevel angles.

John chiseling out the waste, using a Moxon vise.

We ran out of time to complete the squares, but everybody had made enough progress that they should be able to finish them easily at home.

Thanks, Rick, for having me over!


  1. Steve, it was a pleasure to have you there. Everyone had a good time and learned "stuff"; you can't beat that with a stick (or two sticks joined to make a square).

    I spent a little time and helped my SIL finish his. Something popped into my head overnight and I am working to make mine a more federal period Roubo square. I will post when it is done.

    You neglected to mention the 3rd generation, GIT Wren. At only seven months he was impressed with your expertise and smiled his approval once we got to working.


  2. I'ld like to thank Rick for hosting and you for the instruction, it was fun.


  3. It was a pleasure to meet you Steve and thanks for the kind words about my work. May I point out that I do have a website and hope you will stop by and check it out.

  4. Hi Bill, thanks, I've corrected the post with your website, sorry I missed it when I looked before!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.