Building a Sengebenk

^ Norwegian bench with built-in storage by Else Bigton and Phillip Odden

96 The Best of Fine Woodworking

From Fine Woodworking magazine (January 1990) 80:42-47

  1. 2: Cross section through rear of Sengebenk
  2. 2: Cross section through rear of Sengebenk

Backrest support

Backrest

Backrest tenons

Sitting Cross Legged Furniture

Rear bottom rail z_

Plywood bottom

Bottom bracket screwed to front and rear rails.

Rear leg

Backrest support

Rear bottom rail z_

Plywood bottom

Bottom bracket screwed to front and rear rails.

Rear leg

Backrest

Backrest tenons

The sengebenk is a traditional piece of Norwegian furniture used for sitting, sleeping and storage. Because old Norwegian farm houses were small, much of the furniture was designed to be multi-purpose. The sengebenk was usually placed in the kitchen, against the wall next to a trestle table. In the daytime, the bench served as a seat for people working or eating at the table, and at night it became a bed for one or more children. Traditionally, the backrest would flip over to the front via a hinge in the middle of the armrest, to prevent children from falling out of bed. In addition, the bench's seat lifts up to store the bedding inside.

Beyond its customary application, the sengebenk can make a very practical addition to any home; it can be made as long as needed to suit your space, and the addition of a cushion can make

Traditionally, the sengebenk was an important part of the Norwegian kitchen. During the day it was a seat and at night it became a child's bed. The bench is also a space-saving piece of furniture: Its lid opens to reveal a storage chest. The sengebenk shown was built by Else Bigton from her favorite wood, butternut. The acanthus leaf relief on the back was carved by her husband. Phillip Odden.

Traditionally, the sengebenk was an important part of the Norwegian kitchen. During the day it was a seat and at night it became a child's bed. The bench is also a space-saving piece of furniture: Its lid opens to reveal a storage chest. The sengebenk shown was built by Else Bigton from her favorite wood, butternut. The acanthus leaf relief on the back was carved by her husband. Phillip Odden.

it a very comfortable place to sit. Plus, the lift-up seat storage compartment is handy for holding blankets, clothing or anything you might keep in a regular chest. The sengebenk isn't a difficult piece to build and requires only basic mortise-and-tenon joinery and frame-and-panel construction. All the part dimensions are given in the bill of materials on p. 99. The backrest, shown in the photo above, features a traditional Norwegian-style carving (described in the sidebar on pp. 100-101), which can be a nice relief carving project for anyone with basic carving skills, but the bench is also attractive with a plain back.

Developing plans and dimensions-Like much of the other furniture my husband Phillip and I build together in our shop in northwestern Wisconsin, 1 will build a sengebenk when commissioned by a specific client. The first thing I do is determine the proportions of the piece to suit my client. A comfortable height for the seat can be approximated by measuring the client's favorite chair; and the length of the sengebenk will be determined by the spot in the house that the piece will occupy.

Once 1 know the important dimensions, I make a scale drawing to work out proportions, including the height of the backrest and height of the arms above the seat. Then. 1 make a full-size drawing to establish the proportions of the panels and the frames, as well as to confirm all dimensions and construction details. For the bench shown in the photo above. I decided on three panels in the front, for visual interest, and single panels in the rear and on the sides. The size of the side panels is affected by the depth of the bench and the height of the seat. Phillip and 1 design the decorative pattern to be carved on the front of the backrest, and draw it full size. Finally, I make a cutting list specify ing the length, width and thickness of all the necessary parts by taking measurements directly from the full-scale drawing.

As with most of my furniture, I build the sengebenk out of butternut, one of my favorite woods. It carves like a dream, is attractive and is readily available locally. After I make my cutting list. I select lumber for the frames, panels, legs, arms and seat, and thickness plane all the stock.

Constructing die frames and panels-1 prepare all the frame parts for the front, rear and sides of the bench seat, and then make the panels and fit them into the frames. First, I rip all the frame stock to width, leaving enough for shaping the edges later. Then,

Drawing: Joel Kat/owit;

Traditional Furniture Projects 97

Fig. 3: Frame-and-panel construction

Seat rail

Seat rail tenons centered 3/t in. from outside edge of rail.

Tenons aligned when seat rail is glued to top rail.

Fig. 3: Frame-and-panel construction

Seat rail

Edge of panel, 3/ie in. thick

Frame And Panel Construction

Detail: Cross section of frame and panel

Miter beads wherever rails and stiles join.

Molding strip, V* by V*. nailed in to hold panel.

Detail: Cross section of frame and panel

Edge of panel, 3/ie in. thick

Miter beads wherever rails and stiles join.

Molding strip, V* by V*. nailed in to hold panel.

A simple shop made shooting board allows a chisel to be used for very precise, angled trimming. Here, the shooting board is used for mitering the beads on a rail where one of the side stiles will join via a mortise-and-tenon joint. After mitering, the chisel is used, freehand, to trim the bead at the point to the depth of ttye rabbet.

A simple shop made shooting board allows a chisel to be used for very precise, angled trimming. Here, the shooting board is used for mitering the beads on a rail where one of the side stiles will join via a mortise-and-tenon joint. After mitering, the chisel is used, freehand, to trim the bead at the point to the depth of ttye rabbet.

each piece is crosscut to length, which includes leaving extra length for a 3/i-in.-long tenon on each end of all rails and stiles. To give the frames some detail, 1 cut a quarter-round bead on the inside edges of all the frame members. Instead of using the cope-and-stick method, which requires a special set of matched shaper cutters to simultaneously mold the edges and joints, 1 use standard straight and roundover cutters to shape a bead and rabbet on each edge, and I cut the required mortises and tenons later. The bead on the front edge of each frame piece is cut with a Vs-in.-radius cutter (see the detail in figure 3 at left). Then, a straight cutter forms a Vs-in. by Vs-in. rabbet on the back edge. The rabbets hold the panels, which will be inserted from the back of the assembled frame and fastened with molding strips. For short frame members, such as the side rails and stiles, it's safer to cut the beads and rabbets on double-width or double-length pieces, and then cut them to final width or length after shaping. This keeps your fingers farther from the cutter during shaping, out of harm's way.

Once the frames are shaped, 1 spread all the pieces on the workbench and pair up the parts with matching grain and color and pick the best looking parts for the front of the bench. 1 mark all the parts with a cabinetmaker's triangular proofmark, so I'll know which parts are paired and how they'll be oriented; the top of the triangle always points toward the top on vertical parts. I also number the frame sets, so i ll know instantly where each piece goes.

The next step is cutting the mortises and tenons on the ends of all frame members. The tenons on the stiles fit into mortises on the rails; the rail tenons fit mortises in the legs (see figure 1 on p. 96 and figure 3 at left). I usually cut the tenons with a tenoning jig on the tablesaw; however, you can also cut them freehand with a handsaw. For the mortises, I use my old cast-iron foot-pedal-operated mortising machine, carefully centering the mortises in the width of the stock. Once again, in lieu of a machine, you can chop the mortises by hand or with a router jig—whatever works for you. When you chop the mortises at the ends of the rails, the width of the rail tenons is reduced by the depth of the mortise, but this is fine; the length of the corresponding leg mortises takes this into account.

After the mortises and tenons have been cut and fit, I trim the beads in the corners of the joints using the shopmade shooting board and a chisel, shown in the photo at left. The shooting board is made from two pieces of scrapwood, glued together into an L-shape (when viewed from the end), with the end cut to exactly 45°. The frame piece is clamped into the shooting board, which acts as a fence to guide the chisel for a perfect 45° trim cut. Each bead is trimmed so that the point of the miter comes down to the edge of the mortise, or shoulder of the tenon. I then use a chisel to pare the bead down to the rabbet, so the area where the frame members join together is flat and square. After all the trimming is completed, 1 trial assemble the frames dry to make sure that everything fits together properly and that all the joints will draw up tightly.

Making the panels is next. I glue up each of the three front and two side panels from short lengths of '/i-in.-thick stock, so that the grain in the finished panels will run vertically. The exception is the single rear panel, for which it's easier to run the grain lengthwise. Alter the panels are glued and dried, I rip and crosscut each panel to its basic dimensions listed in the bill of materials on the facing page, and then trial fit each one in the dry-assembled frame. Each panel is trimmed to fit loosely in its frame opening, to allow for future expansion and contraction. The edges of the panels are then raised, using a three-wing raised panel cutter on the shaper. The gradual curve of the cut-

ter adds visual definition to the panel, and reduces the thickness on the edge to }Ao in.

Backrest and seat assembly-Because the backrest will be carved, I carefully select straight stock with tight grain. Because the bench backrest is joined cross-grain to the rear legs, I try to find boards that show edge-grain on their faces. Boards cut this way (radially) expand and contract only about half the amount of flat-grain cut (tangentially) boards. I do a little test carving on each board to ensure that the wood carves well and doesn't splinter much. I also mark the grain direction on the boards before gluing them, aligning the grain to run in the same direction. This makes it easier to carve across one board into the other. I then clamp the boards together and let the glue dry overnight. After cutting the ends of the backrest square and to length, I notch the top corners with a coping saw, and then cut two 2'/2-in.-wide tenons on each end, as shown in figures 1 and 2 on pp. 96-97. Making a pair of narrower tenons instead of a single wide one prevents the backrest from splitting, a possibility from even minimal expansion and contraction. At this time, the backrest is carved, as described in the sidebar on the following page.

There are four supports below the backrest that attach to the sengebenk's frame. Each support is 6'A in. long; the middle supports are 4 in. wide and the side supports are 3'A in. wide. Full-width, Va-in.-thick, Vi-in.-long tenons are centered on both ends of each support. After tenoning, cut each support to the profile shown in figure 1 on p. 96. Next, chop the four mortises in the lower edge of the backrest to accept the support tenons, as shown in figure 1. Center these mortises 5/i6 in. from the back side of the backrest so the supports are flush in back. The two end mortises cut into the backrest tenons, which get trimmed to lhA in. wide. The bottom tenons on the supports fit into mortises that will be made later in the rear seat rail.

I glue up the seat now, again from edge-grain boards if possible. To make sure the seat will stay flat, I fit two dovetail stretchers on the underside of the seat. First, I glue together all the boards for the seat, save a single 1-in. board at the front edge. Then, 1 clamp a fence to the underside and, using a dovetail bit in the router, 1 cut a slightly deeper than Vs-in. slot in from the front, to within 2'/> in. of the seat's back edge. I move the fence over and make several widening passes, until the slot measures l3/a in. wide at the top. This is repeated for the other stretcher slot. After cutting the two stretchers from 1-in.-thick stock, rout the male dovetail on the bottom of both strips with the same dovetail bit, this time held in a router table. Make the female dovetails just a hair deeper than the male dovetails so the stretchers will slide in easily, but still fit fairly tight. Next, 1 chisel away about Va in. of the dovetail on the underside of each stretcher end, so that the dovetail will be hidden and the solid-wood seat has room to shrink and swell. After sanding the stretchers, 1 drive them in place, and then glue on the 1-in. piece at the front of the seat.

The seat is surrounded on three edges by the seat rails-two on the sides and one in the rear. The rails are made from 25/«-in. by l'/2-in. stock, with a rabbet cut on one edge, as shown in figure 3 on the facing page, to provide a lip that supports the hinged seat. The ends of all the seat rails receive 3/a-in.-wide tenons, centered 7/a in. from the outside face of each rail. The top edge of the rear seat rail also receives four 3/i-in.-wide mortises, centered 7/8 in. from the rear face of the rail, to accept the bottom tenons on the four backrest supports. After mortising, glue the seat rails on top of their corresponding frame rails, positioning them by lining up the tenons on the ends. Finally, dry-assemble the sengebenk and try the seat in place, trimming its ends with a handplane so that it doesn't fit too tightly between the side seat rails.

Legs and armrests-The front and rear legs of the bench are made from l Vi-in.-square stock. The top of each 22%-in.-long front leg has a '/2-in.-long stub tenon that fits into a mortise on the underside of the armrest. All four legs have mortises on two sides to accept die tenons on the ends of the frame rails. Chop all the mortises % in. wide and make diem 13/i6 in. deep, to allow extra clearance for %-in.-long tenons. The mortises for the top and bottom frame rails are centered % in. from the outside face of the leg. Mortises for all the lower rails are 2'A in. long and start 3'A in. from the bottom of each leg; the front top rail mortise is the same length, but starts 14 in. from the bottom. All the remaining top rail mortises house not only the frame rail tenons, but the tenons on the seat rails as well. These mortises also start 14 in. from the bottom of each leg, but are 3hA in. long.

A 1-in.-long mortise for each armrest is now chopped in the

Bill of Materials

No.

Description

Dimensions (T x W x L)

2

Front legs

13A x l3/4 x 223/4*

2

Rear legs

l3/4 x l3/4 x 32V2

3

Front top and bottom rails

and rear bottom rail

3/4 x 33/s X 52**

1

Rear top rail

3/4 x 2% x 52**

2

Rear seat rail

lVi x 2% x 52 ft

2

Side bottom rails

3/4 x 3-Vs x 17**

2

Side top rails

3/4 x 2% X 17**

2

Side seat rails

IV2 X 23/8 X 17 tt

4

Front and rear side stiles

3/4 X 23/« X 8V4**

2

Front middle stiles

3/4 X 33/4 X 8'/4**

4

Side stiles

3/4 X 23/s x 8V4**

3

Front panels

V2 x l3'/2 x 7t

1

Rear panel

'/2 x 7 x 46V21

2

Side panels

'A x 7 x llVit

1

Backrest

3/4 x 10 x 52 tt

2

Backrest side supports

5/a X 3'/4 X 6'/2tt

2

Backrest middle supports

5/s x 4 x 6V2 tt

2

Armrests

1 x 23/s x 19V2 *

1

Seat

3/4 X 17'/4 X 50'/4

2

Dovetailed seat stretchers

1 x 2 X 14'A

1

Bottom (plywood)

}A x l63/4 x 513/4

2

Bottom brackets

1 x 1 x 50'/2

  • Length includes l/2-in.-long tenon on one end.
  • Width includes 3/8-in.-deep shaping on edge(s). Length includes

3/4-in.-long tenons on both ends, t Rough width and length, prior to trimming to fit. tt Length includes 3/4-in.-long tenons on both ends.

  • Length includes 3/4-in.-long tenon on one end.
  • Length includes l/2-in.-long tenon on one end.
  • Width includes 3/8-in.-deep shaping on edge(s). Length includes

3/4-in.-long tenons on both ends, t Rough width and length, prior to trimming to fit. tt Length includes 3/4-in.-long tenons on both ends.

* Length includes 3/4-in.-long tenon on one end.

Fig. 4: Seat stretchers

Chisel dovetail back Vs in. on each end of stretchers.

Rout dovetail slot to within 2Vi in. of back

Fig. 4: Seat stretchers

Chisel dovetail back Vs in. on each end of stretchers.

Rout dovetail slot to within 2Vi in. of back

Drawing Acanthus Carving

The relief carving on the seat back of the sengebenk is a traditional acanthus leaf motif commonly found on decorative furniture and architectural work in Europe and America. My design for the sengebenk, shown above, consists of three symmetrical curls and flowers on each half of the design, and a center crest. To ease die carving process, as shown in the above drawing and on die facing page, you can break die work into diree major stages: A. laying out the design; B. roughing out die shapes of the acanthus leaves and flowers; C. refining the forms and adding veins and odier details.

Although you can use any carving tools, the best way to create shapes in the relief is to use tools with edges that correspond in size and shape to those in the design. The tools I use to carve die backrest include: an 18mm, #1 skew chisel; a 2mm, #1 spoon skew chisel; 10mm and 16mm,

#5 gouges; a 14mm, #7 gouge; 6mm and 10mm, #8 gouges; 4mm and 8mm, #12 60° V-parting tools; a 5mm, #21 dog-leg chisel. Most of these tools are available from Woodcraft Supply, Box 1686, Parkersburg, W7V. 26102; (800) 225-1153- All of diese tool numbers are in die Swiss numbering system; you can find comparable tools from odier suppliers, but tools manufactured in odier countries will have different numbers.

After the surface of the backrest has been planed smooth and flat, transfer the acanthus pattern, which is shown above and on the facing page, to the wood by carefully redrawing it on a full-size grid of 1-in. squares. Then, transfer the lines to the wood by tracing with carbon paper. Draw-one side first, and then flip the patten over and trace the other, symmetrical side.

Begin carving following the steps described on die facing page. As you carve, let your cuts flow in a continuous, curving line, and let die tool's bevel rub along die wood to keep die depdi of cut consistent. After the piece is rough carved, resharpen your tools and begin die fine carving. The goal is to make die carved elements look as diougli diey were created with one continuous cut.

For best results, keep the edges of your carving tools razor sharp. I hone my tools often, first with a soft Arkansas oil stone, and then with a hard Arkansas stone. I also hone a slight bevel on die inside of some of my tools. I prefer to use WD-40 as a lubricant, which makes sharpening easier. Using a lubricant also floats away the metal fragments and keeps the stone clean and cutting well. After honing, I buff the tool edges on a leather wheel charged with buffing compound and chucked in the drill press. Buff lightly, though, or you will round the tool's edge. — P.O.

front of each rear leg. This mortise starts 22'/t in. from the bottom. Finally, two mortises on the sides of each rear leg are chopped to fit the backrest's twin tenons. To finish the legs, slightly round all the edges, except where the seat rails join, with a handplane, sandpaper or with a small-radius roundover bit in the router.

Next, I rip the 1-in.-thick arms of the sengebenk 2Vs in. wide. Before shaping the arms, chop the V«-in.-wide mortise on the underside to accept the front leg tenon. Also, cut the Vk-in.-wide tenon on the back end of each arm, to join it to the rear leg. Then, the arms are shaped to the profile in figure 1 on p. 96 and the top edges are rounded over, as you did with the legs.

Gluing and finishing-When all the previous operations are complete, 1 disassemble the frame and sand all the pans of the sengebenk, except for the carving. 1 round over any sharp edges and finish-sand all surfaces clown to 220-grit.

Everything should now lie ready for final assembly. I usually glue up the sengebenk in several steps to make sure 1 can get everything together before the glue sets up. First, glue the front legs and frame together, applying glue to both the mortises and tenons. Then, clamp the frame, checking it to make sure everything is square and flat after the clamps are tightened. The process is repeated with the rear legs and frame and the carved backrest ;ts well. Finally, I glue the side frames and the armrests to the front and rear assemblies.

Carved Armrest

2. Incise outline of design. 4. Carve deep lines. 6. Cut beveled eyes. 8. Round shape of curls. 10■ Cut notches at ends of lobes.

| \ 5. Rough-shape I 7. Rough-carve \ Carve th.e veins- I

  1. Transfer pattern with \ 3. Waste and level \ contours of I elements within \ 9. Define peaks on I 12. Carve cross-carbon paper. \ background. \ curves. \ the curls. \ leaves. \ hatching on buds. I
  2. The first step in carving the acanthus design is to transfer the carving pattern to the wood with carbon paper (step l). Incise the outline of each design element (step 2). Use both straight-edge and curved-edge tools, selecting the edge that best fits die shape of the section of line you're working on. Hold the tool plumb, to avoid undercutting, and use a mallet to pound the edge about Vs in. into the wood. Next, waste the background using #8 gouges and the #1 plain skew and spoon skew (step 3). Repeat the last two steps until the background is about Vic in. deep, and use gouges to smooth and level background areas. The background around the edges of the design gradually tapers up to the surface of the board, creating a sort of frame around the edges of the seat back-Define die deep lines on the design (step 4) with the large V-parting tool.
  3. Now, with the parting tool and the #1 skew, rough-shape the contours of the individual curls (step 5). Define the two eyelid shapes at the end of each curl (step 6) using a #7 gouge. Make the first cut vertically, as you did when incising the design, and then remove the crescent-shape piece with a second, angled cut. Rough-carve the individual elements within the curls next, using die #8, #7 and #5 gouges (step 7). Use the skew to rough-shape the "bud" on each of the five flowers in the design.
  4. Next, the #1 skew is used to round the curls by cutting a series of faceted surfaces (step 8). The skew also defines the transitional peaks (step 9) between details that were rough carved with die gouges (as described in step 7). When the major carving is done, use the #7, 14mm and #8, 10mm gouges to make the notches that define the lobes of each element (step 10). Then, carve in the veins of the plant with the 4mm, #21 V-parting tool (step 11). These veins are cut deeper and wider at the tip of each element, and taper off toward the base of the element. In areas where there are many veins, they converge but never meet. Also use the #21 V-parting tool to carve the cross-hatching on the flower buds. The last thing to do is slightly bevel all the sharp edges with the skew.

Most of our furniture is finished with "natural" Deft oil, which is available from most hardware stores. The oil is easy to apply-to both the smooth surfaces of the bench and into the details of the can ing, and I like the rich color it brings out in the butternut. The panels are finished separately and put in after they're dry. Each panel is held in its frame by four Vi-in. by '/->-in. molding strips, mitered on their ends and tacked in place with brads. Two bottom brackets, screwed on the inside of both front and rear bottom rails, support the chest bottom, which is cut out of -Vi-in. plywood and notched in the corners for the legs.

The only remaining step is to attach the seat to the rear seat rail, which is done with four '/¡-in.-wide, 1 Vi-in.-long butt hinges, all centered on the backrest supports. Chisel out shallow mortises for the hinges on the seat first and then screw them on. Next, put the seat in place and mark the rear seat rail. I then chisel out the mortises in the seat rail and screw on the hinges. I've found that using hinges with removable pins makes attaching the seat a lot easier because you don't have to hold the seat up while you drive the screws. □

Else Bigton and Phillip Odden are cabinetmakers and woodcarr-ers who own Norsk Woodworks in Baronnett. Wis. They teach earring classes annually both at their shop and at the Norwegian American Museum in Decorah. Ia.

Mueseum Pictures Chipendal Chairs

Terr)' wild Studio

Chairs of this Philadelphia-Chippendale pattern were produced ladders, open splats, curved front rails, even ball and claw by the thousands between 1110 and 1800. This utilitarian feet—without much change in angles or joinery. Landon's re-framework accepts all the fancier variations as well—pierced production, finish hardly dry, is the one at left.

Woodworking Tools and Installation Tips

Woodworking Tools and Installation Tips

There are a lot of things that either needs to be repaired, or put together when youre a homeowner. If youre a new homeowner, and have just gotten out of apartment style living, you might want to take this list with you to the hardware store. From remolding jobs to putting together furniture you can use these 5 power tools to get your stuff together. Dont forget too that youll need a few extra tools for other jobs around the house.

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Responses

  • Iivari
    How to build chippendale side chair with carved splat?
    8 years ago
  • elanor
    How to draw the acanthus?
    7 years ago
  • pentti uosukainen
    How to draw acanthus leaves?
    7 years ago
  • LINDSAY
    How to build a sengebenk?
    6 years ago
  • MICHELA CALABRESE
    How to make splat back armchair drawing?
    3 years ago

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