Organ bench

Today I started on the organ bench. I needed a break from the pedal board anyway – I’m letting some ideas mature while I’m working on the bench.

I started by looking at images of organ benches, and found some design ideas in the Laukhauff catalogue (it can be downloaded from their site – great reference tool!). I then started constructing the bench in Google Sketchup – a fantastic program that’s easy to learn. Here’s the initial design on the bench:

I’ll post some detailed drawings and the Sketchup model when I’m done – there are some areas I need to tweak.

Here’s an explanation on the different names I use for the parts:

-Seat (should be obvious…)
-foot rest: the horizontal board running between the legs
-foot: the piece of wood at the bottom of each leg
-leg: the whole side piece
-column: the vertical pieces running from the seat to the foot
-inlay: the piece of plywood inserted between each column
-frame: two long and two short pieces supporting the seat

The basic bench as seen above will get several design elements, such as rounded edges on the seat, contoured edges around the inlay at the sides and so on.

I bought a big piece of red oak which I jointed and planed down to 4.5cm thickness. Then I cut four columns 3cm wide. I cut them somewhat long to enable some tweaking. The overall height on the bench is about 64cm, which should be a very good fit for me. I haven’t yet decided whether I should have some sort of height adjustment.

The initial Sketchup layout had some different measurements, so I had to adjust for that when I got the final dimensions on the material I’m going to use.

I also cut the seat from a big piece of oak board with the jigsaw:

I got the piece from a former colleague at a furniture shop I worked in. Originally, it was a cupboard top which got damaged during shipping. One mans junk, another mans organ bench seat!

The front edge has a curve with radius about 18″, a measurement I did not concern too much about. From the Laukhauff catalogue I found that on their bench, each end of the curve is about 60mm aft of the center. I placed two clamps 60mm from the edge, one piece of scrap wood at the center point – and placed a long strip of MDF so that it rested on the clamps and on the scrap wood. I then traced the curve along the MDF. It might not be a perfect curve, but certainly good enough. This is after all not a very critical point – the main goal is that the bench gives a little more support at the center. Plus – it just looks nice! Another option is to skip the curve and simply use two straight lines, giving the seat an arrow-like shape.

I ran into a problem when I was about to cut the correct length. One of the edges had a bevel which I needed to get rid of, and the aft edge was a rather long one. I did not want to use the table saw or the power saw, and the jigsaw is too inaccurate. Enter the router and a straight-edge!

The router must be the most versatile tool you can buy! I clamped the straight-edge at the correct distance from my cut-line (distance from the edge of the router base to the side of the bit), and then cut the seat with several passes (NEVER cut more than 3-4mm of material in one pass!). The quick-depth tool most router have is a great asset:

Plunge the router so that the bit touches the surface. Place the depth-stopper on the highest “step” of the “spiral stair” shown in the image above, and tighten. Then turn the “spiral stair” one click counter-clockwise per pass. On my router, each “step” is 3mm, perfect for such jobs.

The final cut is somewhat different – you do not want the cutoff piece to fall or break off! Simply start the last pass so that the router is well clear of the starting edge. Then use a clamp to secure the two pieces. Continue the cut. Before you reach the end, place another clamp so that the other end is supported. ALLWAYS use two hands on the router!!! If your clamp can’t reach, use two pieces of scrap wood (one over, one under) and clamp them in place. Then finish the cut. Doing it this way ensures safety, quality and saves you from potential problems should the cutoff piece break off and ruin your precious project!

That concludes today’s work. I am going to use mortise and tenons to mount the columns to the foot. The frame pieces will be mounted in the same manner. If you have no idea what I’m talking about – relax, I will post images!

Update 24.07.2009

I decided to do a few design alterations. The inset panels in the legs are gone – it would be difficult to get the slot cut since I’ve never attempted it before. Oak is an expensive wood to experiment with… Anyway, the good’ole mortise and tenon joint is very strong, and with some reinforcements here and there I should not run into any problems.

Using the router and a straight cutting bit, I cut the mortises in the columns. Instead of squaring off the mortises (since the router bit is round, you can’t cut squares…), I simply rounded off the tenons. Here’s some images of the different areas.

First off is a detail image of the top of the columns, with the frame part in place:

As you can see, the mortise was cut too deep, so I’ll have to fill that gap with a piece of wood.

Here’s an image of the tenon – a bit difficult to see, but there it is:

To start rounding the tenon, I use a file at 45 degree on the edge. I then file each new edge “in half” – and the basic shape is established. From there, it is very simple to round off the tenon.

I placed the various parts of the legs so that you can see the different joints:

As you can see, I used the router to cut the mortises for the middle horizontal part (which the foot rest will be mounted to). It is important to get a snug fit in a mortise / tenon joint, so cut your tenons a bit too large and sand or file to fit. I am going to use wooden dowels and screws to mount the foot to the columns. This means that I can go back and modify the bench should I need to (if the bench is too high). Should the bench be too low, I can simply make spacer blocks and mount them using wooden dowels under the foot. I am also thinking of installing adjustable screws so that I can compensate for uneven floors.

The router is the most versatile tool you can have, so buy a top-notch model! Here I am cutting the stretchers that will run between the legs:

Multiple passes along a straight edge, increasing the depth for each pass. And within minutes, you have a PERFECT cut! Some light sanding, and you’re done! It would be easier to use a table saw, but I do not have a good quality one. Anyway, I needed to practice the router…

I just had to check how the bench and the pedal board will fit, so I did a little test setup. I’ll let the images speak for themselves (description under each image):

I used clamps to hold the pieces together. VERY wobbly, but I managed to sit on it
(over a leg, not in the middle! there was no support under the seat)

Showing the curve in the front…

The pedal board with the middle 5 pedals in place…

A view I’m going to get used to! Can’t wait!

I placed the curved toe board and the side panels to get an idea of the look.

Note: The side panels and the toe board are NOT finished yet!

These puppies will be in my living room soon!

The bench is very fun to make – and I am going to finish it before I do more work on the pedal board. I actually do need the bench ASAP, since I only have a dining chair in front of my keyboards. Too low to be comfortable…

A nice, not planned feature of my bench: The foot rest will have a slight curve in the front. The cupboard top, which my seat is made from, actually had a slight curve at the front. Nice!

Tomorrow I’ll take a small trip to my local tool-pusher and get two very long clamps so that I can apply pressure while I’m gluing the bench. I also need to do a lot of sanding and figure out how I’m going to shape the two pieces that the foot rest will be mounted to. They are about 10mm too thick now, but that could be used to my advantage. We’ll just have to wait and see. Well – you have to…

Update 24.07.2009

I got some looong clamps, and could do the final “dry-assembly” on the bench, checking the joinery and the layout. I found that the foot rest needed to be moved forward, so I did that. It felt goooood sitting on the bench!

I also cut the edge profile using my router. I did it in three passes, gradually plunging the router to the final depth. It is not a smart idea trying to remove too much material – the result is usually tear out or splintering. In the best case.

The profile is a simple roundover starting in the center of the seat, ending in a 1mm (0.039″) “step” up to the surface. I’ve smoothed that “step” so that it won’t be that sharp. Could hurt if it was… The router bit I used has a ball-bearing at the tip. By running the ball-bearing against the profile I cut earlier with the jigsaw, I got a smooth edge around the whole seat.

NOTE! You need to run the router on the end-grain FIRST, so that any tear out will be removed once you do the sides later on. Remember that the edge must be smooth and without bumps or imperfections, as the ball-bearing will copy every flaw there is! On my seat, all edges except the curved front was cut using the router and a straight-edge. They only needed a light sanding prior to the routing. The curved front was smoothed with a plane, starting at the center and planing out towards the ends. By doing it this way, you’re going WITH the grain. NEVER go against the grain, or you will get chipouts and tear outs. No matter how sharp your tool is!

I should also note that larger router bits means slower speed on the router. After you’ve cut the profile to its full depth, you can put the pedal to the metal and do a finishing pass with the router, cleaning the profile for any minor bumps. If you go too fast on slow speeds, the resulting profile will be rendered with tiny “waves”. The router is much, much faster than you are with sanding paper, so be lazy!

I decided to go artistic on the foot rest. I am using dovetails on each end. This will make the joint very strong, and it will look nice too. I marked the dovetails on the leg parts, clamped them together and used the router to remove as much material as possible:

This method ensured that the bottom of the dovetail was dead flat. As you can see, I stayed away from the lines. The final cleanup was done by hand: chisel, mallet and patience. Make sure your chisel is scary sharp, and the job is done much easier.

Regarding joinery: Here’s how I make my tenons:

I use the router to remove most of the material (usually with the router mounted in the router table), staying away from the line. I also make my tenons slightly too large, so that I can fine-tune them with sanding paper. After the router has done its job, I mark the scribed line with a chisel and then cut the tenon with a japanese pull-saw:

A bit expensive, but that puppy cuts FAST! And very clean, too.

For smaller pieces, I also use my band-saw to do the same thing as with the router. The router is far more accurate, though. The best option would be a well-tuned table saw, but I do not possess such a beast. Sadly.

I sanded off the remaining lacquer from the seat, fine-sanded the surface and cleaned up the edge profile. Time for some color!

I added some white-spirit to the stain to make it thinner – it spreads more evenly that way. I tried applying the stain directly on  the underside of the seat, but that proved to be a can of worms! Uneven, runny… A sad sight, but since it won’t be visible I ate my piece of humble-pie and moved on. The seat looks awesome, and apart from some minor touch-ups, it should be ready for lacquer in a few days. There was a few places where the stain didn’t cover up, possibly due to some remaining lacquer in the pores of the wood. I certainly recommend using material without any sort of old finish.

A couple of coats with the clear lacquer, and the seat should be ready for service. I’m going to do a final sanding on the rest of the bench, and start gluing. Then I have to stain and add lacquer, screw the seat onto the legs – and I can bring my own, self-made organ bench home!

Woodworking is certainly a rewarding hobby!

Update 07.08.2009

I’ve worked on the finishing on the bench seat, and decided to be a little bit artistic:

Marquetry is a very interesting and intricate form of woodworking, where different pieces of wood are cut and put together like a jig-saw puzzle. I wanted to dress up the bench a little, and thought that a little note in one corner would be the icing on the cake. I wanted the note to be light, since the bench is dark. I started by finding a picture on the ‘net of a note with a form I liked. I then printed it on paper, taped the paper to a piece of Ramin wood (the same material I am using for my pedals) – and then cut the note with my scroll-saw.

I then taped all the pieces I cut away around the note-formed cutout, and cut a 1.5mm thick slice from the stack with my band-saw. I then trimmed and shaped the rough cut with a scalpel and sanding paper. I placed the piece on the seat, adjusted it to a 45° angle about an inch from each edge. Using a sharp pencil, I traced the outline.

To remove the bulk of the wood, and to get consistent depth, I used my trusty router at the slowest speed with the smallest straight-bit I have. It was too wide for the most narrow parts, so I used the scalpel and my fathers scary-sharp wood-carving tools to cut away the remaining wood. The end result was a very snug fit! I then applied glue to the groove and put the inlay in place. I used a clamp to press it firmly in place. The router got away from me at one point, but I mixed some glue and some wood-dust and crammed the mix into the clearings. I then rubbed wood-dust all over it in order to achieve two things: remove excess glue without smearing it all over the place (wood-dust is fantastic for that job!) and to fill any gaps.

I left the piece over night, and then used a splinter to “draw” around the edges of the inlay with stain. Covered the small errors up pretty good!

There was a few places where the stain did not cover the seat good enough, and there was a few pieces of wood that got onto the seat. I used the card scraper and some sanding paper to clean those up, and stained the areas using thinned-out stain and a piece of sponge. The end result was perfect!

I’ll let the stain harden over the weekend before I add clear lacquer. I’m going to apply at least five coats so that the surface will take a good amount of wear over the years.

Update 15.08.2009

Just a quick update to show more of the inlay. I’ve worked on the pedal board frame while I wait for the lacquer to harden thoroughly. I’ve applied one coat lacquer to the underside of the seat, and will add another coat before the seat is finished.

The inlay sits proud of the surface by about .8mm (0.0315″) and is rounded over on all edges. It creates a very nice effect and adds that little extra to the bench.

The next task will be to sand and glue the two legs. After that, I’ll glue the long “stretchers” and the footrest. The footrest will be reinforced in order to minimize flexing. Then I just have to apply the finish (one coat of brown varnish and two coats of clear lacquer), and the bench is completed!

Update 25.08.2009

The bench is nearly completed! I’ve glued the frame and added the varnish. Two coats of clear lacquer, and the bench is ready for service.

I reinforced the footrest with a leftover pedal piece by gluing and screwing it onto the bottom of the footrest.

I rounded the edges over with the table sander in order to get a nice look to it:

This proved to be very sturdy, and the footrest does not “give” as much anymore. A little flexing is okay, though.

I then proceeded with the task of gluing the leg parts together. To avoid having glue all over the place, I masked off the parts with tape. The glue I’m using expands during curing – in fact, it “foams up” quite a bit when the excess glue gets into the open (inside the joints, the glue stays solid).

By masking off the joints, the excess glue could easily be removed. I removed the tape when the glue was nearly hardened – saved me a lot of sanding!

In the image above, you  might notice a few pieces of wood sticking out at the top. I used some scraps to fill the mortises, which I accidentally cut too deep. Worked like a charm, and the legs became VERY sturdy!

After the glue had hardened over night, I glued the horizontal stretchers and the foot rest – and the frame was completed!

Gotta love looong clamps…

In the image above, you can spot the reinforcement under the foot rest. I placed it a bit forward of the center in order to make it less visible. After all – the bench will only be seen from behind or from the sides.

And here’s my solution to running glue:

A piece of paper taped to the leg. I also made a “pocket” at the bottom so that the glue wouldn’t drip all over the place. I removed the tape and the paper when the glue was dry to the touch, and this resulted in very little sanding.

I was not happy with the dovetail joinery I did on the footrest – it became way too dominant. I therefore cut two pieces of oak, cut a 45 degree bevel at each end and sanded “facets”. I then slammed a brad nail into the leg parts, added glue and clamped the pieces in place:

The idea was to mimic the aft of the pedal’s playing surfaces, and I think it came out just perfect.

Then I whipped out the stain and added two coats of walnut / dark oak varnish to the frame, matching the color on the seat.

The stain I’m using does not spread evenly very easy, but I actually like the variations in coverage. When the clear lacquer is added, the overall effect gives a very nice look.

In the future, I’m going to use alcohol-based stains. The stain I’ve used on this project (Liberon medium oak) is a polyurethane stain, and I find it pretty hard to get an even coat with it. I thinned the stain about 15% with white spirit, but the downside is that it becomes very “runny”. An alcohol based stain is much, much easier to work with – even though it dries very fast, so you don’t have much time to work. But a couple of thin coats usually gets you there, and with a very even and nice finish.

Anyway, two coats of clear lacquer, some felt pads under the legs and a few screws and reinforcements – and the seat of course – and my own, self-built organ bench is ready for service! Can’t wait!

Update 25.08.2009 – Completed!

The bench is finished!

I added two coats of clear, semi-gloss lacquer to the frame. I then mounted strips of 5mm felt underneath each foot, using contact cement:

Stunk out my living room to boot…

I then mounted the seat to the frame using furniture hardware and screws:

And that’s it – the bench is completed!

Here’s a few images:

My temporary setup

The “dovetail error hiding thingy”


It matches my furniture, and it is very comfortable too! Now I’ll just have to finish the rest of my project…..