Shop Equipment

Back to Back to Back

I’m not quite ready to abandon my upright Stent Panel Workbench for the low, sitting variety.  But I am ready to correct something that’s bugged me ever since I finished the workbench in the first place: the back wing.  It never stayed flat on its own, let alone in plane with the main slab of the bench.  There is clearly some design flaw, even though I allowed for wood movement and ample support with three posts mortised into the slab.  I’ll re-use the wing (which is 86″ x 10″ x 2″ ash) for another project.

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I need more 1″ holdfast holes.

The main slab of the workbench is only 12.5″ wide.  That’s nothing to scoff at, but it’s not nearly enough real estate for tasks like gluing up panels or project assembly.  And there is pretty much no place to set down tools so they are close at hand.  So first up is a tool tray that spans half the area where the wing used to be.  After much deliberation, I’ve approached this a bit like a Dutch tool chest.  Dovetails at the bottom corners for maximum strength, nailed on back.  In 3/4″ poplar, because there was a very nice piece of 1×10 at the home center when I was buying some more 1×12 white pine for general building purposes.

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Reasonably consistent color for poplar, and a decent color match to ash once oiled.

The finished tool tray is just a hair under 37″ wide (the posts themselves are exactly 37″ apart) and 6″ deep.  There is 3.5″ of clearance below the benchtop.  This is plenty for a bench plane on its side and all the other tools I’d like close at hand.  Speaking of which, I decided to attach the tool well to the left side of the bench (the end with the leg vise), which seems like the best place to keep tools at hand.

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Because if it can’t fit a hand plane clear of the workbench top, it’s not a good tool tray.

There are a few ways I could have hung the tool tray to the bench.  But the simplest and easiest was to add some runners to the ends so it just hangs on the posts.  The posts are not perfectly in wind, so I clamped the tool tray to the bench and nailed the runners in the right position, rather than squaring them initially and planing them down to fit.  Some small blocks, nailed onto the posts, keep the tray from sliding away from the slab.

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Don’t tell anyone, but I used the 18 gauge brad nailer to attach the runners and blocks.

The ends of the tool tray are in plane with the workbench slab.  This was intentional, as originally I intended entirely replace the back wing with two tool trays.  But after working on the bench with the tool tray for a few days, it became very apparent that I needed at least part of the bench to be solid for the full 20″ of depth.

From 9 months or so of working on this bench, it’s become clear that the wing doesn’t need to be terribly stout.  It certainly doesn’t need to be 2″ ash reinforced with 2″ angle iron.  So instead I grabbed an otherwise somewhat useless 2″ pine off cut that’s lapped onto the posts.  There are a few wire brad nails acting like dowels to support the seam with the main slab and a couple more wire brads through the board into the posts to keep everything in place.  Net it, this board can move much more freely with seasonal expansion and contraction than the old wing could.  But it will be easily replaceable if I get neurotic and replace it with ash again (which, let’s face it, I definitely will).

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And the color match isn’t terrible, either.

For optics, but not functionality, I will probably nail a board to the end of the extension to bring it flush with the right end of the bench (and provide a bit more resistance to cupping, like a breadboard end).  Absolutely nothing ever happens all the way at that back corner.  It’s just to make it prettier.  I could do the same thing at the back right corner, but the end of the tray (which is flush with the bench top) is already in line with the last bench dog hole, so it’s not strictly necessary either.

I unfortunately can’t tell if the color match is getting better or worse with a second coat of Tung Oil.  Maybe I just have to open the blinds and let the sun shine in for a couple weeks.

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Or paint the whole thing black!

This is a good time to mention that 36.25″ is a bit too high for comfortable hand planing at my height (I’m 5’10”).  Even if it is better for sawing and chopping.  So I’ll eventually trim about 1″ off the ends of the legs.  Which is easier said than done, as the back legs are angled.

But I’ll give it a try and report back.

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Everything Old is New

They say that everything in furniture making is either a platform or a box (or both). And I say that sometimes it feels like everything my woodworking life is either a workbench or a tool chest (or both).  So let’s talk about the latest tool chest.

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I’m a big fan of this red color.

I’ve built a Dutch Tool Chest before. I think the form has many advantages, especially in the small home shop where the shallow profile efficiently fits into the floor plan.  I just hated squatting all the time to get at my joinery planes, which is why I switched to a proper floor chest.  But that’s not really an issue when using the plywood low workbench.  In fact, one could skip the lower compartment all together and just have the top till area.  Which I did.

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You’re already squatting when working on this workbench.

The great virtue of a dutch tool chest is how easily it goes together with much less material compared to a rectangular chest.  The joinery consists of dovetails on the bottom two corners and nails or screws for everything else (plus two rabbets if you build a proper one).  The entire case (which has inside dimensions of 11.25″ x 23″ x 15″) came together in an afternoon from a single ten foot pine 1×12 from the home center:

  • Two sides:  one board, 26″ long  and full width (crosscut at 20 degrees to form two boards)
  • Bottom: one board, 24″ long and full width
  • Back: two boards, one 24″ long and full width, one 24″ long and ripped to 5″, shiplapped (T&G also would have worked)
  • Front: one board, 24″ long and full width

The remainder of that first board became the tool rack and the skids on the underside.  If I had started from a twelve foot pine 1×12, I probably could have gotten the lid too from that single board.

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Everything is 5/8″ thick.

This tool box wouldn’t hold a full set of woodworking tools.  But it’s definitely big enough to hold everything a beginner hand-tool woodworker would own. Especially with the chisel rack and the saw till.  I even made a straightedge specifically for this tool chest.

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That’s a salvaged saw till from a prior tool chest.

As of today, it’s stuffed with my spare tools: both a No 5. bench plane and a No. 4 bench plane, a full set of back saws and most of a set of chisels, together with diamond plates for sharpening, a hammer, a chisel mallet, and the essential marking tools (including combination square).  A small panel saw that would fit too, but I don’t own one that small that is not one of my regular tools (at least not until I break out the angle grinder).

Even with all of that loaded in, it’s still light enough to carry around and fits easily in the back of my SUV.

This is another one of those “I wish I had known about it when I first got started woodworking” projects.  I would have made this entirely with screws and plywood, or rabbets and nails in dimensional pine.  No dovetails needed.  And it would even match the plywood low workbench.

Speaking of which, it’s time to take the plunge on boring the rest of the dog holes in the laminated slab top.  But I’m ready.

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Budget Twin Screw (Moxon) Vise

A good twin screw vise can do many tasks.  When clamped to the edge of a bench top, it can be used as a proper face vise for dovetailing or other joinery.  Sitting free on a bench top, it can restrain an assembly for driving wedges or be a third hand for safely splitting tenons.  In a pinch, it can even take the place of a machinist vise for basic metalworking (although I would recommend vacuuming it off when you’re done, as metal shavings are anathema to woodworking tools).

But a good twin screw vise doesn’t have to cost a fortune.  I mean, it can, if that’s what you’re into (with wooden screws or prefab hardware and whatnot).  But it doesn’t have to.  In fact, all it really takes is about US$13 worth of home center hardware and some off cuts.

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That is some straight grain, eh?

There are two typical ways to make a vise screw work without a garter that attaches the movable jaw directly to the screw.  You can affix the screw to the back jaw, and turn a nut to sock down on the moving jaw.  Like the Benchcrafted Moxon Vise.  Or you can affix the nut to the back jaw and use the screw hub to sock down on the moving jaw.  Like the Lake Erie Moxon Vise.  For this, let’s do the latter.  There is a third way, which I’ll cover briefly below.

Start with the front jaw.  Now I am sure there are people who can use a brace and bit and drill a perfectly perpendicular hole.  But I can’t, so I used the drill press.  The screw should be relatively snug in the hole (phrasing?).  This threaded rod is about 3/4″ and a 3/4″ forstner bit was just tight enough.  Inset the holes at least 1 1/2″ from the ends of the front jaw for strength.  Some people elongate their holes to permit clamping irregular work.  I don’t.

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Also chamfer the holes.

It’s super important when making a twin screw vise that the holes line up.  So clamp the front jaw to the back jaw and use the same drill bit to transfer the center of the hole into the back jaw.  I should mention that the back jaw is about 4″ longer than the front jaw for some clearance each end when clamping to the bench.  Otherwise, the clamps get in the way of the work.

After you’ve bored the hole in the back jaw, put both jaws back together, insert the threaded rod, tighten up a nut on both sides of the jaws and trace around the nut on the back jaw with a marking knife.  Then chop down to the lines about three fourths of the height of the nut.  Repeat for the other nut and use a small bit of epoxy to affix the nuts to the back jaw.

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I do not know if the orientation matters for strength, but the epoxy will help.

Balance is an important part of any twin screw vise.  Even with the narrower front jaw, it’s likely the vise won’t balance itself with the front jaw hanging completely off the bench.  So I typically add an extension to the back jaw flush to the work surface.  It adds weight and stability and is a convenient place to put down your pencil or marking knife when cutting joints.  Glue should be all you need, but maybe add a screw or two through the inner jaw to make sure everything stays put long term.

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Some not-as-straight grain.

When the glue dries, you’ll have a functional vise.  There is something called a “rod coupling nut” which is really just an elongated nut.  You could use a couple of these as floating hubs and the vise would work just fine.  It wouldn’t be super comfortable (you’d have to turn the threaded rod by hand) and the nuts would wear into the front jaw over time, but it will hold.  Want proof?

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Proof.

You could also affix one of those rod coupling nuts to the end of each threaded rod and also be done.  But I like wooden screw hubs, so let’s do that.  Start with square stock and drill into the end of the hub.  I used the drill press, but you could do this by hand.  Just clamp the work across all faces to prevent splitting.

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Drill press vise for safety.

I think it took more time wedging underneath the benchtop to get it perfectly level in all directions than it took for the epoxy to set.  Be careful not to make too much of a mess, but excess epoxy can be used to reinforce the end grain of the hub (that wears against the face grain of the outer jaw).  When the epoxy was set, I drilled through the hub across the grain and pinned through the threaded rod with a 1/8″ steel rod (fixed with superglue).  Probably not necessary, but who knows what that zinc coating will do long term?

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If these were raw steel, the epoxy would be more than enough.

Then shape the hubs as you see fit.  I put a small chamfer on each corner of the hub for starts.  I have a feeling it’ll get down to roughly octagonal by the time it’s done.  I don’t like round hubs.

And that’s it.  Clamp it to your workbench and have at some joinery.  Maybe add a coat of penetrating oil finish to all surfaces other than the inside faces of the jaws.  I may glue some leather to the outer jaw to increase grip, but it’s not strictly necessary.

 

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That’s the steel pin through the handle.

If you’ve never made a vise before, this is a good way to figure it out.

I am, at this point, nearing US$100 into the low plywood workbench project, but it feel like it’s pretty much done.  I need to bore a few more holes in the bench top (and make a few more dogs) but that’s more planning than labor.

After undertaking this experiment, I have some thoughts.  But first, now that the vise is done, it’s time to make a little tool chest on this workbench!

Or, whatever.

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Plywood Roman Workbench (Part 4)

Only by working on a low bench, like the plywood roman workbench, can you truly understand what they’re all about.  And after a week or so, I can definitely say there is something to finding the correct height for your body.  I’m just a shade over 5′ 10″ tall and I find 19 1/4″ to be the right height for saw benches.  And of the two low workbenches I’ve built in the past, one was 19 1/4″ and the other was 19 1/2″.  Both are very comfortable heights for me.  I build sitting benches within this range as well.  It’s the height from the ground to the bottom of my kneecap.

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Like this one.

But I’ve been working with the plywood Roman workbench propped up on my existing saw benches, which are already 19 1/4″ high.  That means the working height of the plywood Roman workbench is currently over 22″ high.  WAY too high for me to work comfortably.  I’m on my tiptoes most of the time, which is at least a good calf workout.  So let’s make some mini sawhorses out of construction grade 2×4’s to bring the slab to the correct working height.

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This is where we are going.

I always start with the math:

First, stand straight up with your feet flat on the floor and measure from the floor to the bottom of your kneecap with a tape measure. That is your overall target height (in my case, 19.25″).  Second, subtract the thickness of the plywood slab (2.875″ for me).  So I need to raise the slab 16.375″ (or 16 3/8″) off the ground.  Let’s round up to 16 1/2″ to make the math easy.

In the United States, construction lumber may be called “two by’s”, but it is really 1 1/2″ thick.  I dug through the stacks at the local Death Star and found two, 10 foot long 2×4’s in Douglas Fir that were relatively straight, relatively clear and relatively dry.  You could, in theory, get everything you need from a couple of eight footers, but why risk it?

Each mini sawhorse consists of six boards, all cut from 2×4’s:

  • Two foot boards (20″ long or so)
  • One top crossbeam (16″ long or so) – the freer of knots, the better
  • One lower stretcher (cut to fit, but around 14″ long)
  • Two vertical posts (total height of the sawhorse, minus 1″ [or 15.5″ in my case]) – these should come from the clearest sections of the lumber.  No knots at all, if possible.

Start by preparing the boards.  If your stock is straight and square and out of twist already, give it a quick smoothing pass and proceed to step two.  If not, and you’re feeling like a machinist, plane a reference face and square up a reference edge, then bring the opposite face and opposite edge into parallel.  I only had to take off about 1/16″ of total thickness on each board, so I’m sticking to the round numbers for purposes of this guide.

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Face mark, square mark, grain direction.  Every time.

Each post connects to the foot with a 1/2″ through tenon.  For the mortise, bore with a 1/2″ bit and pare to the lines, or chop with a chisel, up to you.  I chopped with a 1/2″ chisel to keep my skills up.  I also prefer to split my tenons, rather than saw down the cheeks.  But it is precarious work to split tenons without a vise.  After everything is fit, shorten each tenon to about 1/8″ less than the thickness of the foot board to give some clearance when it sits flat.

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One of two.

With one of the posts firmly seated into its foot, measure up to the total height of the finished sawhorse, minus 1″.  Cut off the post at this line and mark and use it to transfer the mark the other post (while in its mortise) .  This should ensure the two leg assembles are close to or exactly the same height.  Now, assemble each leg assembly with glue.  I drawbored these mortises and tenons too, but it’s not necessary.  Nails or even screws would be just fine to reinforce the joint.

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I think this shot was pre-drawboring.

The top beam attaches to the posts with dadoes that are inset from each end of the beam by the same distance the post is inset from the outside of the foot (in my case, 1″).  Determine the depth of the dadoes by subtracting from the overall thickness of the beam the height you need the beam to rise above the leg assemblies to get your final height (in my case, about 1/2″ dado depth).  Do your best to get tight dadoes, but they will be reinforced with dowels after the glue dries.  Err on the side of too narrow, as the construction lumber will compress.

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With dadoes seated.

The stretcher connects to the legs with lap joints.  You can use the finished top beam to transfer the distance between the shoulders of the lap joints.  I trimmed the lap joints to be flush with the outside of the posts, but that’s not strictly necessary.  I didn’t get a good picture of the lap joint process, but take a look here.

Glue the top beam onto the posts and seat the stretcher in place while the glue dries.  This will help keep everything square during glue up.  Then glue the stretcher to both the legs and the feet.  After the glue dried, I drove a pair of dowels through the top beam into the posts and couple of nails through the lap joint on the stretcher into the legs.  This should help with any wracking (front to back and side to side).

And then do it all over again.

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One is somewhat heavier than the other because they’re made from different 2×4’s.

I’ll be taking a slight detour in the next post to make some more workholding for future projects.

For now, Happy Birthday, America!

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Plywood Roman Workbench (Part 3)

From my experience, a large portion of work holding when using a low workbench is sitting on the work.  But any good workbench for hand tool work needs at a minimum a planing stop for hand planing and a bench hook for sawing.  So let’s add both at the same time through a pair of bench dogs at one end of the newly-squared plywood slab.  Fair warning, the list of tools needed is going to increase from this point on.

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This is pretty much all you need for most woodworking.

Let’s begin with locating the dog holes.  In my experience, a single point planing stop will work without re-positioning the wood for boards up to about 5″ wide.  So on this bench, I spaced the dog holes at 5 1/2″ on center, equally spaced from each edge.   4″ from the end seems about right as well, so the dogs can be used as a bench hook in either direction.

I used a brace and bit to bore the holes, but a drill driver works just fine.  Use the bit that is the same size as the dowel you purchased (mine are 3/4″).  Do your best to bore the holes vertically, although if you’re going to err, hopefully err on the side of angled toward you.

 

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Two squares make boring true much easier.

Yes, this is a workbench, but don’t bore all the way through in one shot and break out the underside.  One day, you’ll probably flip the slab over and breakout is unsightly.  Instead, stop when the point of the bit just pokes through, then flip over the slab and finish the hole from the other direction.  That way, you’ll have clean exit holes on each face.  Then, break the edges of the hole with a countersink bit in a drill driver, a chamfer bit or roundover bit in a router, or with some coarse sandpaper.

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I prefer chamfer to roundover for dog holes.

Now, let’s make bench dogs.  You should feel free to purchase commercially made metal bench dogs and be done with it.  I like the brass ones from Lee Valley and use them on my main workbench.  But hand made bench dogs work great too.  Start with lengths of dowel that are 2″ longer than your slab is thick.  In my case, 5″.  Now, jam the dowel into the hole you just bored.  I had to use my main workbench because the dowel I purchased was apparently a bit undersized to the hole I bored.

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Nice, straight grain.

Orientation of the relief on the bench dog is critical to strength and grip.  Align the growth rings left to right, and mark a pencil line top to bottom that is about 1/4″ from the right side (left side, if you are left-handed).  Now, saw down that line, angled in about 2 degrees, to a cut depth of 1″ or so.  Then crosscut the waste away.  I used my leg vise but you can just clamp the dog to the slab or crosscut while the peg is vertical in the hole.  Be sure to ease the hard edges of the dog with some sandpaper of any medium grit.

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That’s literally all there is to it.

If your bench dog is snug in the dog hole but moves with light mallet taps, proceed to the next paragraph.  If the fit is too tight, thin the diameter of the dog a bit with some medium grit sandpaper, checking the fit as you go.  If the dogs fit loosely, like mine were, maybe buy some cheap brass bullet catches for cabinet doors or check out this Paul Sellers how-to on making wire springs for bench dogs (it starts at about the 11 minute mark).  If you use bullet catches, make sure to locate them in a place where they will catch when the dog is both up and down.  You’ll see what I mean.

Add a coat of Boiled Linseed Oil or Tung Oil (whatever you used for the bench top, honestly) and you’re done.

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Bullet catches are useful for a bunch of applications, honestly.

Once the oil finish is dry, pop in the dogs and have at some face and edge planing.

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One advantage to having two bench dogs instead of a single planing stop is you can crosscut boards using both pegs as a bench hook.  Like so:

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Goodbye, knot!

The slab now has all the workholding you’ll need to make two mini saw horses to replace the milk crates or buckets that you’ve been working on to this point.

I just finished up the prototype using just the slab with two bench dogs as my work surface.  I’m pleased enough with the design that I’ll replicate it for the second one.

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Basically 1/2 scale to full size saw horses.

But more on that later.

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Plywood Roman Workbench (Part 1)

About two years ago, I made the claim that a beginner woodworker in an apartment could make a roman workbench out of a sheet of plywood with a small set of hand tools.  I was only about four years into hand tool-only woodworking and had caught the low, staked bench fever like everyone else.  But I never forgot about that claim I made.

The total cost of this project should be about US$75 in materials.  I’ll be doing this a bit more like a how-to than usual. So here we go:

Supplies:

  • one sheet of 3/4″ Baltic Birch plywood (60″ x 60″)
  • two Douglas Fir 2×4 framing studs (144″ long)
  • PVA glue (Titebond I, in my case)
  • CA glue (Gorilla super glue, in my case)
  • 3/8″ birch dowel (for drawboring)

Required Tools:

  • Bench Plane (No. 4 or longer is best, but even a Block Plane will work)
  • Hand saw that can crosscut a 2×4
  • 1/2″ chisel and mallet
  • Brace and Bit or Drill Driver with with 3/8″ and 1/2″ bits
  • F-Style Clamps, C-Style Clamps or a bunch of heavy pieces of wood (screws would work too)

Optional Tools:

  • Brad nails and a hammer
  • 3/4″ or 1″ chisel
  • Trim Router with flush trim bit
  • Router Plane
  • Shoulder plane
  • Shooting Board

Preparing the Slab:

My local lumber yard has a sliding carriage panel saw for breaking down plywood, so I had them rip the sheet of 3/4″ Baltic Birch plywood into five roughly equal sheets.  I recommend ripping it at 11 7/8″.  The last sheet will be a smidge of 12″ wide, but you’ll trim that down later.  I don’t recommend construction grade plywood.  It’s lighter than the good stuff, it has too many voids and it’s likely to be significantly warped.

Set aside the nicest looking of the five sheets for now.  You’ll need that later.

There are a few ways to laminate the remaining four sheets into a slab, depending on your work surface.

  • I had a really flat surface to work on (my Stent Panel Workbench), so I just slathered on a bunch of PVA glue, laid down all four pieces and piled a bunch of weight on top.  Clamps would have worked well too, but you know my philosophy…
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Biggest rock is best rock.

  • If all you’ve got is sawhorses, first make sure the tops of the sawhorses are not twisted.  Wedge under them as necessary.  I would not use the biggest rock is best rock approach here and laminate all four sheets at once.  Better to laminate sheet by sheet and use clamps (with cuts of 2×4 as cauls) or screws.  Just don’t forget to drill pilot holes for the screws and remove them after the glue dries between lamination steps.
  • If you don’t even have sawhorses, I don’t know what to tell you.  Maybe find a couple of matching milk crates or just bite the bullet and buy some cheap home center sawhorses.  Sawhorses are useful for more than just woodworking.

No matter which method you choose, check periodically to make sure the sheets stay in relative alignment as the glue dries.  If you use the right amount of glue, it will grab right away.  But if you go overboard, just use clamps, nails or screws to keep everything from sliding around and keep checking until the glue grabs.  Keeping everything aligned now will reduce planing work down the line.

Unless your sheet of plywood was horribly warped, or your sawhorses were in twist (I warned you), the resulting slab should be relatively flat and true.  Take a straightedge and figure out where it’s high.  Using my workbench as a reference surface the four sheet lamination, it came out nearly perfect.  There was about 1/64″ of a hump along the length.  Flattening didn’t even take me through the veneer layer.  And four sheets ended up being stout enough (almost 3″ of total thickness).

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Looks pretty nice with a coat of Boiled Linseed Oil.

But I assume there is a bit on unevenness in your slab, so go ahead and straighten and flatten the top face of the slab as best you can with a hand plane.  Keep the setting shallow and nibble away at the high spots, checking it as you go.  With any luck, you won’t have to remove much more than the veneer layer.

Now glue that final board you set aside onto the top of the trued surface (maybe use clamps or pile a bunch of weight on it this time).  This should guarantee a flat work surface needing little to no final truing (barring any irregularities in the last sheet of plywood itself, anyway).  This also hides any unsightly tearout from the flattening process.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten to this point.  Next time, we’ll talk about cleaning up the sides and ends of the laminated slab and how to deal with any little voids.

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One Board Projects

In keeping with the single board project motif, I slapped together a shooting board from a large mahogany off cut that was basically twist free.  Utilizing a wedged fence, the board is about 12 inches long and 9 inches wide.  This version is based very heavily on the plans in The Minimalist Woodworker by Vic Tesolin, just without the cleats.  It’s meant for use on the low occasional workbench so it just buts up against the planing stops.

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How do you make a shooting board if you don’t have a shooting board to make it with?

A shooting board, you may remember, is a jig with a fence at some fixed angle to a reference edge that helps a handtool woodworker true up a sawn edge to that fixed angle.  90 degrees is very common for general, rectilinear work, but a 45 degree fence comes in very handy for precision miter joints.

I find the hardest part about making shooting boards is getting a consistent glue surface between the base and the deck.  My “Biggest Rock is Best Rock” approach to clamping largely grew out of this frustration.  But when your biggest rock isn’t quick big enough, improvise!

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Even with all this weight, I still ended up screwing the boards together from the underside.

The end result is quite nice.  Heavy, flat and (I assume) stable.  And the wedge is dead-square to the deck.  We’ll see if mahogany is tough enough to stand up over time.  I don’t plan on using it for bench-hook purposes (it’s too pretty for that).

Now for that palm!

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Working it Out

Once upon a time, I bought a twelve foot long board of 6/4 cherry that was supposed to be the top of the reclaimed cherry console table.  But as fate would have it, there was just enough of the original table to make the full reclaimed version, so this board sat in my workshop for night on a year.  I couldn’t sleep last night, so this board’s time came at about 3am.

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The basic bench takes shape.

The entire bench is made from that one board.  The top consists of two edge-jointed boards and is about 10 3/8″ x 1 1/2″ x 49″.  The legs are 2 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ and angled at 10 degrees.  The overall bench is 19 1/4″ high, which is my preferred height for sitting benches (and saw benches, at that).

The legs are beyond friction fit in their lap joints with the benchtop.  I went through two pine beater blocks with lump hammer persuasion just to get them to seat in a dry fit.  A small part of me wants to make this a knock down bench, but it is compact enough to be portable even when glued together.

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As I was making the bench, I had the Saalburg workbench in my mind’s eye.  But looking at it now, I don’t think one could ever mistake the two.  In any event, this bench is more for sitting than for woodworking.  I’m not saying I won’t bore some peg holes.  I just don’t plan do much more than home handiwork on it.

I have some sweet square head lag screws left over from a prior project that would be perfect for reinforcing the glue joint connecting the legs to the bench top.  But I still think there should be some gussets.  I wonder if it’s worth doing drawbored mortise and tenons or just simple lap joints with glue and screws.

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I remembered this time to leave enough extra to make the cutoff easy.

I’ll take some more pictures when I decide what to do.  Until then, I plan to get back to dimensioning the white oak for the lower shelf on the bathroom vanity.

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Keeping it Clean

Let me start by saying that my old workbench is still for sale.  Anyway…

To varying degrees of success, I try to live by the Shaker adage: “A place for everything and everything in its place”.  In the last six years or so of woodworking, I’ve learned at least one important lesson: the place for sharpening is not on your main workbench.

Sharpening is a messy endeavor. Metal filings, steel slurry, honing fluid and tool oils can impregnate the benchtop and wreak havoc on your tools.  So I tried to keep my sharpening implements on the far right side of the bench (away from main work area).  But that just robbed me of the rightmost two feet of work area.  So I decided to do something about it.

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I told you I was practicing!

Largely relying on the Paul Sellers blueprints, I turned about fifteen home center whitewood 2×4 studs into a dedicated sharpening station.  The Nicholson-style design was important.  I needed an apron so I could mount a Grammercy Tools saw vise, which was a gift from my brother and sister-in-law.  The overall dimensions are 47.75″ x 20″ x 36″.

It has enough space for the saw vise, my sharpening stones (or bench grinder)…

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These Ikea goose neck task lights are pretty nice.

… and a dedicated metalworker’s vise.  It also has a tool well for random implements.

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Which I still need to finish by adding a skirt around it.

There is no mortise and tenon or dovetail joinery in this build.  Only lap joints and housing joints, glue, nails and screws.  Without exaggeration, I used a tiny subset of my entire tool kit to make this sharpening station (on purpose), which are tools a beginner woodworker is likely to have:

  • No. 5 bench plane (all dimensioning tasks)
  • No. 4 bench plane (final smoothing only)
  • Block Plane (a shoulder plan would have worked better)
  • 3/4″ bevel edge chisel (with mallet)
  • Eggbeater drill
  • Hammer and die-forged nails
  • Screwdriver and slotted wood screws
  • Various clamps and hide glue
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Never likely to see any hand planing, so I re-purposed the back apron as the bottom shelf.

I took this minimalist approach because I wanted to know whether or not a beginner, with a core set of hand tools, could actually build something like this.  The answer is a resounding: probably.  I’m no beginner anymore, but some of the joints require pretty tight tolerances (like the housing joints where the aprons connect to the legs).  I guess if I went slowly and took great care, I could have pulled this off all those years ago.  But it might have ended up slightly wobbly.

But I’m glad to have undertaken the exercise, as it’s a piece of shop equipment I’ve been missing for a long time.

Long live clean workbenches.

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There Comes a Time

We must all live with the choices we make.  In my case, the choice to make a small workbench out of home center Douglas Fir.  Even sharp tools bounce around because of the varying hardness.  But one great property of Douglas Fir is its compression.  A friction fit joint can be nearly mechanical if done right.  And the angled back legs of that small workbench are beyond friction fit.  They are sledgehammer fit.

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The most important trick is getting the angle right.

While I recently chose the benchtop boards for their clarity and color match, the legs had been prepared for some time.  As a result, the grain pattern is not great.  I used what was left of the Lamp Black milk paint (leftover from various tool chests) to paint the undercarriage.  It’s a silly contrast that serves no purpose other than vanity.

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The back legs are lag-screwed to the top, but the front legs merely through tenoned.  No glue.

I did not glue the short rails to the legs.  They are just friction fit lap-jointed with carriage bolts.  The laps on the back legs are intentionally left long, so the short rails (and not the benchtop itself) butt up against the wall.

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In the absence of glue, I guess this is, in theory, a knock-down workbench.

Once the paint dried, I packed up the bench and the Dutch tool chest and brought them to their new home at my buddy’s house.  I was sad to see it go, but I know both the bench and the tool chest will have a good home.  My buddy does metalworking, so I also bought him a proper vise as a housewarming present.

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Goodbye, dear friend.

I’m officially over Douglas Fir for a while.  With the extra room in the shop, it’s time to get started in earnest on my next project: a new guard rail for the staircase.  I need to check the building code, probably.

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