Steve Latta’s Inlay Bench

Latta Inlay Bench 003

In one of Steve Latta’s many inlay DVDs, he discusses the design and construction of his inlay bench.  I built mine to do federal inlay work, but I have found it to be a very useful bench for other tasks.

I picked up an 8/4 maple slab at my local hardwood dealer.  The end of the board had a split in it.  I elected to go for the extra bench length and leave it in and fill the crack with epoxy.  I figured the end of the bench won’t see a lot of hard action and the crack is mostly cosmetic.  I drilled a single row of dog holes down the centerline of the bench.  I can use the dog holes with the metal dog on the Pony vise, with holdfasts, or with a Veritas Bench Pup.

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Each pair of legs is constructed like an I-beam or an engineered joist.  I had some 2×10 lumber kicking around and I ripped some 2x6s out of the clear sections of the board.  I cut a dado down the center of each 2×6 to accept a 1″ thick OSB stair tread for the web of the beam.  I glued the leg assemblies together.  Once dry, I  attached them to the slab with 3/8″ diameter dowels.  I used six dowels per leg assembly, three in each 2×6.  I notched the bottom of each leg to allow the inlay bench to be clamped to my main bench.

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Like I said, I find this bench to be very useful for things besides inlay work.  I can clamp my Moxon vise to the bench for sawing dovetails.  It is higher than it should be, but I like that height for sawing dovetails.  Then I take the vise off and clamp boards flat for chopping and paring dovetails.

I am active in the local woodworking club and I have taken the inlay bench to club meetings to demonstrate techniques.  It is heavy, but it fits nicely in the back seat of the car.  I can then clamp the bench to one of those white plastic tables.  It isn’t ideal, but it is much easier than hauling a full sized bench around.

This is a fantastic little bench!  Even if you don’t do inlay work, it is a very handy bench to have around.


Designer firewood

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I was collecting firewood from a construction site today.   It was a pile of spruce logs with easy access.  Pretty happy about the find.  Then I found a birch tree in the pile, the best firewood in Alaska.  Really happy at this point.

Then I noticed the log had a large crotch in it.  The end grain of the log was competent and had a warm, rich color to it.  I didn’t look close to see if it has any spalting or not.  I cut the log to maximize the yield of crotch wood.  Fingers crossed, I should be able to get several nice boards of flame/crotch birch.  If not, then it can always go in the fireplace.

The log is big by Alaska birch standards.  It is close to 18″ in diameter and I should be able to get a two-foot long board.  It was HEAVY!  I had to get creative loading it into the trailer.

Looks like I need to set up a trip to see Don F. to see what his lumber mill can do.

Firewood 004

As an extra added bonus, after I bucked up the log, I rolled this piece away and it has a nice burl on it!  It has some interesting character.  The bark split while it was growing and exposed the wood underneath, which oxidized and turned black.  I see a bowl in its future.

The only thing better than free firewood is discovering a couple woodworking projects in the pile.  Good times.


Birch burl bowl

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A couple years ago a fellow woodworker gave me two burls because I mentioned that I enjoy carving them into natural form bowls. This burl was still green when I got it. I would work on it every now and then, being careful not to remove too much material since it was still drying.

At first it looked like an ordinary burl. The bark was so thick you really couldn’t tell how much character it had. I started carving the inside first using a 1” Kutzall carbide sphere in a die grinder. Within the first couple minutes I knew this was something special. It was full of bird’s eyes! I had never seen bird’s eyes in birch before. I then switched to smaller Kutzall bits to remove the rest of the material.

The outside of the bowl was cleaned in a variety of ways. The bark was removed with a carving knife and palm gouges. It was extremely difficult to predict where the high spots would be, so I had to work carefully. The inner bark that remained was removed with the carving knife, gouges, and a Dremel wire wheel.

I spent HOURS sanding both the inside and outside with pieces of belt sander belts. I watched a lot of movies in the evenings with that bowl in my lap. In addition to hand sanding, I used some abrasive Dremel wheels. More sanding…

The finish is Minwax Tung Oil wiping varnish. I can’t remember how many coats I put on. I didn’t want the super thick plastic looking finish. The finish is thin, but it is high gloss and glass smooth.

This is one of those projects I’ll never sell or give away. I just have too many hours invested in it.