My Workbench



When I started my woodworking hobby, I quickly discovered that having a good way to hold your work is essential. Everything from hand planing to joinery, and even project assembly, all require a good solid flat work surface. I could “make do” without a traditional workbench, but it was not as easy or enjoyable as I knew it should be.



So I decided to build a bench, and I eventually settled on the Lon Schleining design featured in Fine Woodworking Tools & Shops (issue No. 167, Winter 2003/2004).



This design is also featured as a chapter in Lon’s book The Workbench: A Complete Guide to Building Your Perfect Bench.




DESIGN (with a SNAFU)


It was not until I started building the top that I discovered a bit of a sticking point with the FWW article. The vise hardware used in that article actually will BARELY fit based on the dimensions in the article, but you would have to make some sort of modification somewhere along the line to get it done.


In order to get it to work, you have to do basically one of the following:
  1. 1. Leave all the dimensions as-is. This would leave just enough room for all the hardware to fit, but you would NOT be able to make the front vise 18″ wide as stated in the article — you would have to make it about 14″ wide. No big deal, but I wanted a wider vise jaw.
  2. 2. Cut off the screws of the twin screw vise about a couple inches. This would work, but I ain’t doing that!
  3. 3. Drill holes in the right trestle top to clear the twin screws. Again, this would work…. but with a standard twin screw spacing, you would end up drilling very near or even right through the mortises!
  4. 4. Carve out the left trestle top. Alternatively, you could carve or rout out a big rabbet in the left side of the trestle top to clear the front vise hardware (or combine some limited carving with one of the above solutions).
  5. 5. Make the trestle base shorter. This is a good option, but it requires that you know ahead of time that the dimensions in the article won’t work. I didn’t.
  6. 6. Make the top longer. When I rough cut out my pieces for the top lamination, I cut each piece just a bit longer “just in case”. Turns out it’s a good thing I did…. this extra length was almost enough to fix the issue for me.

No big deal, really, but it was sort of annoying that the dimensions given in the article won’t work as published. The only reason I realized that this would be an issue is because I spent time playing around with the design in CAD. Anyone who does this, or draws up their own plans or full-size drawings, would catch the problem too. The problem is, if you DIDN’T do full-size drawings or CAD, and you trusted the dimensions in the article, you would be stuck with one of the first 4 solutions above (or having to use different hardware).





HARDWARE


I decided to go with the same hardware that Schleining mentioned in his design. The front vise is a Quick-Release Front Vise that Woodcraft sells. There is actually a bit of difference of opinion whether the QR feature is desirable. I have read arguments from some people who prefer the regular screw type, but I already had a QR Wilton vise on an old bench, and I like that just fine. Costs about double, though.

The end vise is the Veritas Twin Screw vise. I decided to get the standard width, but I ended up making it about an inch wider than standard so it would easily accomodate a 16″ wide board between the screws. I ended up purchasing some go-cart style chain from the local Tractor Supply to provide for the wider spacing, and I built my own custom-made hardware cover out of cherry. (more on that later…)



I found some pointers to building this bench on the Canterbury Workshop – there is a great series of four videos showing the construction of one of these benches.

The videos show Joe DeBottis building a bench with a twin screw end vise and a face vise just like the Schleining design, but he upped the ante and added a third shoulder vise on the back corner! It’s really an awesome bench, and worth checking out.





TRESTLE BASE


I started with construction of the trestle base – that way I would have a place to support the top once I started working on that. I had some hard maple on hand, but quickly discovered that I would need more. This just shows the glue-up for the trestle feet and leg blanks.




In typical fashion, the FWW article does not actually specify all the dimensions to complete the project. I played around with the design, and at first I thought there must have been a typo in the article: I drew the radius of the arc on the feet at 3-1/8″, not 2-1/8″ as stated in the article.


As it turns out the article was right... this allows an extra two inches between the legs when the base is assembled, which may not sound like much but I wanted to maximize that space to (eventually) support a tool cabinet box. You can see the difference:



Unfortunately I didn't figure this out until after I started cutting the mortises out... so I'll just have to live with it.

To make the mortises in the feet, I initially made a guide block and drilled/chopped it out by hand, using the guide blocks to mark the holes and keep the chisel face square….







…but that got old quick. I ended up using a hollow chisel mortiser to do the other foot:






The tenons on the legs were all cut with the table saw to make the shoulders, then with the band saw to cut the cheeks:




I used a 1″ forstner bit on the two feet clamped together to make the ½” radius under each foot. The rest of that bottom cutout was accomplished on the bandsaw. The notch on the thumbnail profile was cut on the table saw, and then the radius was cut on the bandsaw and cleaned up with the belt/disc sander.



So, now I was finally able to put the pieces together for a dry fit.



I glued up the two end assemblies, using draw-bored dowels to pin the M&T joints for the top and feet. The dowels are 3/8″ cherry.

I have a separate post to show the draw-boring technique. This technique draws the pieces together tight and square, without even using clamps.



For the stretchers, I went with Schleining’s technique of wedged through-tenons. I like the look of it, although it would have been much easier just to pin them with dowels like I did before. I used the band saw to cut two 5° notches on each tenon, with a ¼” hole in the end to prevent splitting. I made a bunch of 5° wedges out of cherry to fit the notches.



The glueup of the stretchers had to be done in two stages. The left end was dry-fitted to keep everything square while the glue set on the right end, then the left end was glued up. I had a couple of pipe clamps holding the two ends tight until I drove the wedges in. This base is heavy, and the M&T joinery is substantial and dead-blow mallet tight. I’m pretty convinced that this base ain’t gonna move!!!





Once I got it all finished with several coats of Seal-A-Cell, I just covered it up with plastic for protection while I used this nice flat surface to glue up the top.





TOP


Before I could glueup the pieces for the top, I had to cut out the square dog holes. I decided to use Veritas square bench dogs. I initially planned to make the top 2½” thick, but I changed my mind. The Veritas bench dogs work best when the top is about 3″ thick (anything less than about 2¾” and the spring won’t hold it properly when you try to hold it just above the level of the bench top). So… by the time all the flattening was done, mine probably ended up being about 2-7/8″ or so thick.


I chose a 3° angle for the square dog holes instead of the 2° specified in the Veritas instructions, so the faces of the dogs would lean just a bit further toward each other instead of being straight perpendicular to the bench surface. I made a 3° angle wedge to go in my old crosscut sled, and set up the dado blade to match the dimensions of the bench dog. I cut a notch in the wedge, which holds a “key” to maintain proper spacing between the dog holes (6½” O.C). Once this was setup just like I wanted it, I just screwed the wedge to the sled from below, to keep it from moving.







Once I had all the dadoes cut, I had to cut out a notch in each one to clear the face of the dog. I made this router jig out of a piece of ¼” plywood and a scrap wood fence to cut these notches.







These dog holes turned out just like I wanted them to – the bench dogs drop down below the surface when not in use, are fairly easy to move but very snug so they stay put when in use. These bench dogs have a spring which keeps them from falling through, and I can position them as low as 1/16″-1/8″ if I want to. This shows the dry fit:




Someone on the NCWoodworker.net forums recommended that I round over the ledge in the square dog holes, to keep them from collecting dust. A few quick swipes with the chisel is all it took to change the profile of that little ledge in the dog holes:



I did not cut the round dog holes until after the top was all glued up and the front vise was mounted. In retrospect, it might have been easier to go ahead and pick three of the boards and drill the round dog holes before glueup. Maybe next time….

I did most of the flattening in my benchtop planer. I glued up the laminations in two sections that were just under 12″ each so they could fit through my planer.




The benchtop planer really worked just fine. Before getting started, I waxed the bed again to help things slide through easily. Once the two pieces were planed down to the same thickness, they were glued together. I had to do just a little edge jointing prior to gluing the two sections together.



Once the top was all glued up, it needed to be trimmed to length. I used this straightedge jig to guide the router to make a 3/4″ rabbet. The jig has parallel guides on the top and the bottom which are lined up exactly with each other. I used a framing square to make sure it was all square. There is a “zero clearance” block on each end as well, to support the router and to prevent chipout (although this wasn’t a problem).

The top was then flipped over to create a rabbet on the bottom, and the whole process was repeated on the other end. I used a jigsaw to trim the waste off the end of the tenons.

At this point I did the final flattening with a wide drum sander (thanks to Woodguy1975). I took the top over to WG’s to run through his Woodmaster. Another lesson learned: if you’re going to run a top like this through a drum sander, do it before you cut the tenons on the ends. The Woodmaster is nice, but it does round over the leading and trailing edges a bit. As a result of this, I ended up having to trim the edges back a bit on each end. Altogether I ended up losing almost 5/8″ of length. But… the top is FLAT. Seriously flat.

I still needed to add one final lamination to my benchtop – the last piece on the back, which makes up the “front wall” of the tool tray. I made that last piece 5″ wide, to give me plenty of depth for a tool tray. I had to custom-fit the tenon on each end, using a variety of hand tools (hand saw, chisels, block plane, rabbet plane). This shows what it looked like before I cut out the tenon:





APRONS


I chose a piece of curly maple for my front apron, but since I’m too cheap to buy 8/4 curly maple, I laminated a piece that’s about ½” thick to a piece of my regular 8/4 stock. It’s nice to have a good flat surface to clamp to for something like this:



The tenons were fine-tuned to fit a 3/4″ dado in a test block that I created with a router bit. Then I cut a 3/4″ stopped dado in each of the end aprons with that same router bit.



The dadoes were stopped short of cutting through the back; the front didn’t matter, since the dado would become part of the dovetail design…. more on that later.

I ran one piece over the bit, then flipped it around and used it to set the fence spacing for the other end (that’s actually what I’m showing in the pic above). This way I was able to use the proper feed direction on both ends.

At this point I had all three aprons fitted, and ready to start the dovetails!


To make the dovetails, I laid out the tail design and cut it out on the bandsaw (1). I removed the waste between the tails with my jigsaw, cutting close to the baseline (2). I smoothed out the bandsaw marks a bit with a #50 rasp, being careful to avoid making a taper. I used a sharp chisel to pare down to the baseline. Then I transferred the tail layout to the pins board (3). I find that a whittling knife makes an excellent marking tool – better than any so-called “marking knife” that I’ve ever tried. I then cut close to the line with my dovetail saw (4). I intentionally cut far beyond the baseline, since this doesn’t show and really helps with the cleanout steps. Then I used a couple of chisels to hog out all the material between the saw kerfs (5), and finally to pare to the layout line (6).


1.2.


3.4.


5.6.



The result is a pretty reasonable half-blind dovetail joint, if you ask me!!!





The dovetail layout was designed to conceal the dado in each of the end aprons (see pic #2 above). They aren’t perfect, but they’ll do. This is the left corner (the end which will have the face vise):



And this is the right corner (the end with the twin-screw vise). I chipped out that corner of the middle tail when I was pulling out my jigsaw at the end of a cut…



I used through-dovetails for the back part of the tool tray. You can see now why the dado in the end aprons had to be stopped — they would show with through-dovetails. This is the back left corner:



This is the back right corner (the end with the tail vise):



…and here, with all the dovetail joints dry fitted, is the beast in all its glory!





The end aprons were not glued (except at the dovetail joints). Instead they were bolted to the bench top using bench bolts like these:



I suppose you could just use lag screws, but you would be driving the screw into end-grain, which lacks strength. These were placed in elongated holes to allow for wood movement. The design is intended to allow the top slab to expand & contract all it wants to in that dado that I made in the end aprons. The tenon will keep the top flat.



First I decided where to place the bolts on the aprons, and I drilled a countersink with a 1″ forstner bit and a through hole with a 5/16″ bit.



I then placed the apron back in position on the bench and used this as a guide to drill a 5/16″ hole into the end grain of the bench top. I took my time to make sure I drilled as straight as possible.


Once I had these holes drilled, I took the aprons back off and flipped the bench top over. I then used a simple jig to guide placement of the cross-bore. It’s just a scrap piece of wood cut into an “L” shape that holds a 5/16″ bolt and a pencil.

The bolt aligns the jig with the hole I drilled, so even if I was not perfectly perpendicular, the pencil would still mark directly over the hole.





When I made that jig, I made sure the bolt and pencil were directly in line with each other by referencing off the drill press fence. The position of the pencil was determined by figuring out exactly where the threads on the end of the bolt would be inside the bench top. To figure that out I pulled my test block out of the trash can and drilled a test hole/countersink just like in the aprons:



I then drilled out the cross-bore by sighting along a square to keep the bit perpendicular (this is the bottom of the benchtop):



The result was right on the money… I used magnets to lower the cross dowel into the hole for testing.



I then took the aprons back off and elongated the holes on the drill press.





The countersink was plugged with a piece of cherry after final assembly.






VISES


I jointed/planed the vise jaw stock to make sure they’re flat and square. Since the front vise would have round holes that I would drill later, I could go ahead and glue up the stock for the front vise jaw. For the end vise, I could not glue up the stock until I had cut the square dog holes. This was a little tricky, since the holes had to be cut so the dog leans about 3° facing the dogs in the bench surface. That was easy enough to do. To make the dogs lean, I used the dado sled again – this time with a shim to create the angle I needed. I used double-stick tape to attach a thin piece of plywood at the proper distance in front of the fence to create the 3° angle that I needed. The stop block was used for the first cut, and was removed for the other two cuts. I lined up the other two cuts using pencil marks on the sled.




The blade was raised up to equal the thickness of the dog for the first cut. However, because the dog will protrude into the other face, a shallow dado had to be made in the back face as well. I just lowered the blade down to be even with the shim to make that cut. Hopefully you can see what I mean with these pics:




Then I just marked the location of the brass dog face and chiseled it out:




So there you have it, square dogs on the bench and the end vise that lean toward each other.

The front vise is a quick-release vise. I installed it initially just like Keith Rucker showed on his web site (except I didn’t need a spacer block).

He described drilling the guide rod holes through the jaw using a bit that is the exact diameter as the guide rods. However, mine were a few thousandths oversized compared to my forstner bit, and it took some pounding to get the jaw on.

When I finished, the quick-release was anything but “quick”… so I took it back apart and re-drilled those holes 1/8″ oversized. Now all is smooth as silk!


The twin-screw vise is just plain massive. It’s hard to appreciate in pictures just how big this thing is with a 27″ long x 7″ wide x 3″ thick jaw. It was a bit of a chore to put together, but I think it will be well worth the effort.



I made mine 18″ on center instead of the standard 16-7/8″ OC. This way I have more clearance between the screws – I can easily clamp up to a 16″ wide panel between the screws. Since I bought the standard kit (not the 24″ kit), the Veritas “vanity plate” cover won’t fit, so I just decided to make one (more on that later).

Fine tuning the twin-screw vise was a challenge. There is a nice looking, elaborate troubleshooting algorithm in the back of the Veritas instructions… but the fact that the instructions require an “elaborate troubleshooting algorithm” should tell you something…

I didn’t take a lot of pics of the process, since I was short on time and short on patience… vise installation is well documented anyway. Keith Rucker’s site shows the steps involved for the face vise (except I would over-size the guide rod holes like I mentioned above), and the Veritas instructions are thorough and easy to understand.





DESIGN SNAFU – REVISITED


You may recall that I lost about ½-5/8″ in the length of my benchtop because the Woodmaster rounded over the edges. Well, the vises would have fit perfectly if not for that. So, I had to modify the trestle base slightly to make it all fit. I used a 3/8″ rabbeting bit on the left side:




… and I used a forstner bit to drill out ¼” on the other side, to clear the twin screws:



I hated to do it… but now it all fits just fine. The walls of the mortises on the top of the trestle are ¾” thick, so I really don’t think the trestle was weakened. I would have had to drill out more if I had used the dimensions called for in the FWW article.

I added a couple of spacers with UHMW plastic on the bottom to help keep the twin screw from sagging when it opens. I got the idea for this from a Woodnet member.



Then, while I had it turned over, I went ahead and applied a finish to the bottom of the benchtop. After all, this was the last time I planned to have it turned over like this!!! I was very careful not to get any finish on the surfaces that would be glued.



Then I turned it back over (for the final time!!!!) and glued it all up. Sorry, no pics of this… just picture an erector set with every Bessey clamp I own that would reach across the benchtop, along with extended pipe clamps, F-clamps, glue, bolts, sweat, adrenaline… well, you get the idea.

Once the skirts were all glued/bolted on, they had to be leveled with the benchtop. This is where the workout comes in. I planned ahead when I was laying out the joinery (the T&G and all the dovetails) so the skirts would be just a little proud of the benchtop surface. So it was just a matter of shaving down about 1/32″ all around… not too much, but still enough to put some heat in the ol’ triceps! I used my No 7 and No 4 bench planes for this. Here’s a before & after:



Then… more workout. I had to level the end grain of the dovetail joints in all four corners. I used my low-angle block planes for this, as well as for chamfering the sharp corners.




I also had to trim each vise to be level with the benchtop surface as well as the end skirt. I used the bench planes (for the top) and LABPs (for the end-grain) for this also.



I added a row of holes along the front, so I can use dowels to function as a sort of bench slave. They’re ¾” diameter, so I can also use a pair of holdfasts to clamp a panel to the front if I ever want to. They were placed so they line up with the supports of the face vise:



The spacing of these holes is the same as the spacing of the square dog holes, but the placement is staggered so I will never have to worry about a holdfast/benchdog collision.
I plugged the bench bolt holes with turned cherry plugs.



I also drilled out the ¾” round dog holes for the front vise. I drilled these using a ¾” brad point bit chucked into my hand-held drill. I used a square to visually guide the bit alignment, and it turned out just fine.



I bolted the bench down to the trestles using a couple of ½” bolts.





TOOL TRAY


I had originally planned to let the tool tray bottom float in a groove, but I forgot to cut the groove in the rear apron piece before I glued it in… So, I had to glue on a strip for support. The tray is attached to the benchtop with screws in elongated holes for adjustment.





I included a sliding section in the center of the tool tray to aid in cleanout.






VISE COVER


Next I made the cover for the twin screw vise. As I mentioned above, the stock cover will not fit on my bench, and I didn’t want to buy another one. I decided to make it out of cherry, shaped roughly like the stock cover. To prevent a lot of end-grain showing, I made an octagonal box with splined miters. This was covered with a beveled split panel, drilled out for the vise screws.




I think it turned out OK:





SUMMARY


This was not a “quick” project, but it was definitely worthwhile. Here’s a little summary of the project timeline:

I bought the first batch of maple back in the fall of 2004, with the intention of making a European style workbench from Woodsmith issue No 50. I bought the plans, put that wood up on the lumber rack, and there it sat for more than a year. I’m actually glad I procrastinated as long as I did, because I started not liking some things about that bench design. I kept looking around for a design I liked, and finally someone on Woodnet posted a link to that back issue of FWW Tools & Shops and I settled on that design. I procrastinated for a few more months, and finally got started on 1/1/2006. In a couple of shop sessions (within a week) I had used up all the 8/4 stock I had on hand, and construction ground to a halt… It took me a few months to buy more stock to work with (long story, DON’T ASK). Then on 4/28/06 I got more wood and got back to work. I finished everything up 2 months later, so all told by the time I’m finished I guess I will really have about 3 months of actual work invested in this. Considering it’s all spare time, I guess that’s not so bad!

Some of you may know that I drew up some plans for this project back in April, when I was still waiting for wood. I used this as an excuse to learn CAD, and in the process I ended up with a pretty decent set of plans (IMHO, of course). I figured I would post the plans as a downloadable PDF once I had a chance to verify that it was all accurate. Well, I completed the constuction and I didn’t see any errors (well, not in the plans at least). So, I uploaded the plans for all to see in the Downloads section of NCWoodworker.net. The link is here (this is only available for NCWW members). If you choose to use these plans, be aware that I am not a professional woodworker, nor am I any kind of expert at drawing up plans. You should adopt the old Ronald Reagan cold-war approach when using these plans: “Trust but Verify”. These plans are probably not the best or most organized plans you’ll find, but they’re definitely worth every penny you’ll pay for them!!!

Since I completed this project I’ve had some people ask for the total board feet required. I promised to one day add it all up, and I wanted to included it here for the sake of completeness. So… here it is for those who may be interested:


AssemblyDescriptionNo.TWLBFSubtotal
Top

Top slab1422.575.536.7

Top slab: back12575.55.2

Front apron126776.4

Rear apron12677.56.5

Left end cap126332.8

Right end cap12633.52.860.4
Vises

Front vise jaw146183

End vise jaw146274.57.5
Trestle base

Trestle foot243.5285.4

Top piece24323.253.9

Trestle leg44329.59.8
Stretcher42450.511.230.4



That leads to a grand total of 81 board feet in this project. Keep in mind that’s finished dimensions (going by the final dimensions listed in my plans from the downloads section). If you look at the rough thicknesses of the boards it adds up to about 98 bf. I think I actually purchased somewhere between 110-120 bf in all, and had little scrap left over.








9 comments:

  1. Monty,

    Awsome article. Silly question, how do I print the My Workbench

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great question! I just figured out how to add a print link (I'm still learning this new web site software).

    Go back to the Workbench article (click the link above). Up at the top of the page (actually on all my articles now) you will see a link for the "Printer-friendly" version of the page. This puts all the text & photos in one long document instead of split across multiple pages. Hopefully that will work for you. Thanks for the feedback.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Monty,

    I have the Veritas dogs. Where did you get the cool looking holddowns.

    Travis

    ReplyDelete
  4. They are the Gramercy Tools holdfasts, which I picked up from ToolsForWorkingWood.com.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I can not beleive the price. I was thinking $40+ each. Really cool.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have finshed the bench!!!!! Come by and see it when you are in Mountain View. It is a close replica of yours except the craftmanship is not quote as good.

    I am adding a tool caddy that slides down the tool tray. Will post on NCwoodworker.net when finshed.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Congratulations, Travis! I look forward to seeing your completed work -- I know you'll enjoy it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hey Monty....beautiful bench. I'm sure you're getting great use out of it. Any chance of getting my hands on your PDF plans? Thanks for the interesting read.

    ReplyDelete
  9. fantastic documentation...just started to build a bench copying many of your ideas...great inspiration, thanks!

    ReplyDelete