workbench

Back in the Swing of Things

After a decent hiatus, I’m back and exactly the same as ever! Seriously, I have one big project in the queue (a replacement dining table since my mother absconded with my old one), but instead I’ve been dicking around with the Moravian Workbench.

My first try started with a simpler design that any apartment DIYer with a miter saw and a basic set of tools (saw, chisel, drill driver) could build from home center 2×4’s. Having a basic Apartment Workbench would help, but it’s not really necessary. Just laminate the slab for the top first and use it as a worksurface.

I planed and squared the pieces before laminating, but you could get by with just sanding a bit as long as the stock is relatively straight and untwisted. The angled, through mortises for the tusk tenons were laminated into the legs as I went, which worked really well.

Probably too many clamps for this application.

To keep things manageable, the crossrails on each leg assembly were lapped in and secured with screws, rather than mortised in. This worked well on the lower and middle stretchers, but it was a bit dicey on the top stretcher and I think the bridle joint used in the original Moravian Workbench design would have worked better. In retrospect, I think using Spruce (instead of Douglas Fir) for the leg assemblies would work better for this DIY approach. Spruce is a bit softer and lighter, but still very stiff, and somewhat less prone to chipping out.

Douglas Fir can be pretty, though.

Like the leg assemblies, the joints on the long stretchers were formed with a longer middle piece to form the tenon and two shorter pieces with the angled shoulders pre-cut. Just use the same angle setting as you used for the leg assemblies. The only real joinery in this version of the bench are the mortises for the tusk tenons. I used a brace and bit, boring in from each side and paring down to the lines, but chopping is just as easy.

The long rails look a bit chunky, but it really adds some weight.

I didn’t end up laminating a new top for this. I repurposed the plywood slab from the Plywood Roman Workbench. This bench will live in the garage of a friend who has recently gotten more into DIY, so I may have gotten a bit lazy near the end. I didn’t make the back shelf, as my buddy has a kreg pocket hole jig and some extra plywood. It can be his first project on the workbench. I also didn’t make a leg vise for the bench. He’s got clamps.

Not winning any beauty contests.

So, all in all, this worked out just fine. It allowed me to explore the Moravian Workbench form without worrying about wasting more expensive lumber while I experiment.

And this practice served me well, as I make a second version that follows the actual design more closely.

But more on that next time.

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I’ve Figured it Out!

I call myself “The Apartment Woodworker”.  But, really, nowadays, I’m the “small space woodworker”.  Which doesn’t sound as cool, but it still pretty accurate (my workshop where my workbench and tool chest reside is a 12×13 bedroom).   But after all these years of woodworking (8ish?), I’ve finally figured it out: the setup for woodworking in an apartment or other small space like a proper woodworker.

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This is literally the apex of everything I’ve worked towards.

Without hyperbole, I feel like I’ve reached the apex of the intellectual exercise of small space woodworking.  It starts with the Apartment Workbench, which is constructed entirely from 10 or less home center 2×4’s and built basically like a heavy-duty sawbench.  Although the saw-bench construction might make the bench a bit tippy if the legs are too far in from the ends, the vertical legs might have a benefit: the design makes it easy to clamp onto the gussets.

When you add a couple of shop made sawhorses in the Japanese style, some F-style clamps, and maybe a strip of 3/4 plywood for a tool tray, you’ve apparently got an actual workbench.  The gusset on the legs clamps to the cross beam of the sawhorse (both front and back) and that’s your workbench.  Some lumber stored across the lower stretchers would add to the mass of the bench, but it’s not strictly necessary.  And I’d probably add some non-skin disks to the sawhorses to make sure you’re not sliding around on a slick, laminate apartment floor.

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The legs barely extend past the sawhorse.

But, all in all, it works as well as I could hope.  It’s not perfect, as the combined height of a typical sawhorse (29″) and a 2×4 slab (3.25″ or so) is uncomfortable for much besides hand planing.  But one can always clamp on whatever workholding you need beyond the palm, such as a moxon vise.  I prefer a bench around 34.75″ high for most work (I’m exactly 5’10”), btw.

But, as far as I can tell, this is absolutely serviceable for a small space woodworking bench.  It’s basically a Japanese planing bench, with some Western brute force adjustments.

Although I would recommend chopping mortises at the back end over the back sawhorse.  For whatever reason, it jumps less when you chop on the back than the front.

Maybe it was just the grass.

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Apartment Workbench Update

After several months of working on the low, Apartment Workbench, I’ve learned a few things.  First, 90 degrees is not the right angle for a palm-style planing stop.  It doesn’t hold thinner stock on edge very well, and often the mouth is too wide to grip boards on their face.  60 degrees seems much better.

Compare the old palm arrangement:

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In fairness, it’s more like 92 degrees.

To the new arrangement:

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3/8″ still seems about the right height for these, though.

In addition, 9 inches of benchtop overhang beyond the vertical legs is not great.  It’s fine in the front, where the palm interferes with things that might accidentally tip the bench forward.  But on the back, in practice, it prevents one from sitting all the way back on the bench, effectively shortening the working area of the bench when planing.  Even crosscutting on that end is precarious because of tipping.

The solution is either to move the legs further back (maybe 3 inches from the end of the bench would work) so the leverage is less OR, if you’re so adventurous, cant the legs forward so they sit at compound angles to the benchtop.

Speaking of which, that’s harder than it looks:

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This reminds of a deer, for some reason.

It’s not so much the cutting of the compound angle on the leg that’s difficult.  That’s pretty much just extending the usual saw bench birds-mouth joint with an extra angle on the shoulder.  And then some fiddling after to make sure everything is crisp.

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There is more to it, but this isn’t a how-to.

What presented more difficult was leveling the feet.  After the initial cuts marked out with the 4×4 of justice, tweaking the legs to be perfectly flat alluded me.  Perhaps it’s because it was saw horse height, and I couldn’t track the jointer plane off the other leg.  Or perhaps because of tolerance stack the compound angles resulted in something that didn’t quite match the reference angle.

But it was good practice.  And the net net on these compound angled legs is that I’m ready to move onto a proper Chinese-style low bench with compound leg angles.  I plan to take significant advantage of rasps and floats the first run at it, as the legs will be mortised in (not affixed to the outside)  And I have just the slab for it, too.

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Reclaimed from the back wing of the old ash workbench.

But more on that soon.

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Starting Out Fresh

Having laminated seven Douglas Fir 2×4’s into a roughly 72″ x 10″ x 3.5″ slab off screen, it was time to set some ground rules.  Going forward, I would only use basic hand tools to make a workbench worthy for an apartment woodworker.  Or, at least that was the goal.  Let’s see how it went.

Using just my No. 5 jack plane, I proceeded to flatten the underside and square both edges to the underside.  I tried supporting it with the buckets I was using as saw benches, but that didn’t work too well.   The buckets were just too slick and the slab rocked too much.  So I reverted to just working on the floor on a non-skid mat.  It was slower going than I wanted, and my back and knees are killing me (heyo!), but it got done.

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The sawbucks are just for staging the picture.

It took less time to dress the top, but in doing so, I realized my basic tool kit was missing something: a marking gauge.  So I’ve added a wheel marking gauge to the basic tool kit.  Eventually, the slab was S4S enough for joinery.  But before cutting any joints, a coat of “Tung Oil” to protect against any glue squeeze out when the legs eventually get glued on.

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And also some home center saw horses to raise the work.

Nine inches from the end seemed about right for the legs.  When making a saw bench in the Schwarz pattern, the legs are recessed into the sides of the benchtop via square dadoes.  Then, angled lap joints on the legs cause them to poke out at the right angle.

All dadoes start the same way: mark it, saw it, chop out the waste with a chisel.  Typically, I finish off each dado with a light pass from the router plane to ensure uniform depth and a shoulder plane to square the walls of the extants.  But router planes and shoulder planes are luxuries outside the scope of the basic tool kit.  It has been a while since I did this by chisel alone, but I got it done, even if the dado bottom isn’t pretty.  But that might be because Douglas Fir is real splintery.  The extants are square at least.

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One of four.

The only hard part about this joint is laying out the leg.  However, if you cut the top of each leg to a consistent angle (10 degrees works great), you’re almost all the way there. But that requires a bevel gauge.  Which has also been added to the core tool kit.  I won’t go through the whole process, nor could I better than Mr. Schwarz does himself here.  But suffice to say, if your shoulders line up, then you can pre-cut each leg to the exact same length and you won’t need to worry too much about leveling the feet.

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More paring just via chisel.  I would typically use a carriage maker’s plane for this job.

Part of what makes this joint strong is the large glue surface between the slab and the legs.  Use the offcuts from the angled lap joints to assist in clamping, then drive in a couple screws through each leg (parallel to the bench top, not the legs).  Be sure to countersink them a bit so the screw heads are well below the face of the legs.  Don’t worry; we’ll flush the tops of the legs later.

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I was uncomfortable with No. 10 screws and later upped to No. 12.

But the joint doesn’t just rely on glue and screws.  A couple of gussets, glued and screwed onto the legs.  When making gussets, perfectly quartersawn softwood stock will allow you to glue and screw along the entire width with minimal risk of splitting over time.  I also squared up the ends of the slab off camera, but in fairness, that’s not necessary.

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I’ve already done an ode to gussets.

And that’s it for the main bench.  Next time, we’ll reassess the full basic tool kit and begin adding work-holding.

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An Apartment Workbench

So I’ve hit the reset button.  Armed with only the tools listed below, I’m going to start again in my woodworking life.  First step is to knock together a decent workbench, then follow it up with a tool storage unit.

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Deja Vu all over again!

Let’s talk about the tools, first:

  • Handsaw.  For this, I’m using the excellent Brooklyn Tool & Craft Hardware Store saw.  I love this thing, but any impulse hardened contractor saw from the home center will do.  I especially like the Craftsman 20″ saw from the home center, if you’re going that route.
  • No. 5 Jack Plane.  The body is a Type 11 or 12 Stanley; the rest of it is very much a harlequin baby of scavenged parts from a number of different planes, plus a new Honduran Rosewood knob and tote.  I could easily have gone with a No. 4 smoothing plane, such as the very decent Taytools version.  I just like the slightly longer sole for quasi-jointing.  I’m using two different irons: one for scrubbing and one for smoothing.
  • Speed Square.  Nothing fancy here; just a plastic Stanley speed square from the home center.  I agonized about whether to use my Starrett Combination Square.  But, amazingly, this speed square (which I’ve had for a billion years) is pretty square.  This will, in fairness, be the first thing I swap out for a high end tool.
  • 1/2″ Chisel.  If I had to choose just one size chisel to use forever, it would be a 1/2″.  And the Lie-Nielsen socket chisels are second to none.  Period, full stop.  Narex are pretty good too.  Buy buy the ones from Lee Valley; the Amazon ones seem to be poorer quality, for whatever reason.  That’s a Thorex hammer, which I bought on recommendation from Paul Sellers (and I can’t live without it now).
  • Folding Utility Knife.  As noted above, I fully consider myself a disciple of Paul Sellers, and this knife is absolutely all the marking knife you need.  Cheap and effective: the apartment woodworker’s dream.
  • Tape measure, mechanical pencil, wood glue.  Stanley, PenTech, Titebond 1.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Cordless drill driver.  Whatever you’ve got.  Mine is a DeWalt 20V.  A two or three jaw brace would work just as well.
  • Sharpening Stones (not pictured).  I use Atoma diamond plates.  You could honestly get away with just the 1200 grit version, which after a little use breaks in nicely.  But having the 400 grit version makes flattening and regrinding easier.  I’m not bold enough to freehand sharpen, so I’m keeping my Lie-Nielsen sharpening jig (but a cheapo Eclipse knockoff will work fine too).

The plan is to make a low workbench.  Not a staked version.  That would require auger bits for a brace and a spokeshave to make round tenons, not to mention a bevel gauge or comparable jig.  This low bench will be patterned roughly off a Schwarz-pattern saw bench.  I prepared the slab off camera.

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Yes, I have lots of parallel jaw clamps.  That doesn’t count.

Douglas Fir 2×4’s at my local home center are about 102″ long.  That’s eight and a half feet, in the vernacular.  Which means the off-cuts from a 72″ workbench are long enough for legs and gussets on a low workbench.  That said, there are not four clear off-cuts from the seven boards I had.  And I would never lie to my readers.  I’ll use some 2×8 offcuts I have left over from a Naked Woodworker workbench I made for my brother for the legs.  Or just buy a couple more 2×4’s from the home center.

Speaking of not lying to you guys, I’d like to be clear about something.  I surfaced two of the seven boards for the glue up using buckets as saw benches, to prove I still can.  But for the sake of my lower back and sanity I did the rest on my 60″ roman workbench.  I’m not a masochist, after all.  At least not in my woodworking.

I’m going to leave it there for now.  Next post, I’ll work on the legs and change up the rules a little bit.

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Version 2.0

Once upon a time, I made a leg vise with a cog on a wooden screw instead of a pin board.  I worked with it for about four months and can definitively say that I prefer it to a pin board.  But 1.25″ for the wooden screw is a bit thin, in my opinion.  So when it came to install a leg vise on the new workbench, I took the chance to perfect the form and use a full 1.5″ screw and a beefier cog.

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Still need to shape the vise chop a bit.

The main screw for this leg vise is scavenged from the prior leg vise.  It’s just one of those European screws marketed as a “tail vise” screw.  I had intended to make a new wooden screw with my JJ Beall Big Threader, but none of my 1.5″ dowel stock is straight enough along.  So I scavenged the screw from the leg vise on the reclaimed maple console table, which has over 12″ of thread.

The cog is 8/4 quartersawn white oak.  It’s dense and stable and was honestly the only 8″+ wide stock I had already milled.  What matters is it’s large enough that the teeth of the cog will protrude beyond the edges of the chop, so it is easily worked with your feet.

The cog is pretty easy to make, if you take it in steps.  I began my marking and drilling out on the drill press the 1 3/8″ center hole for tapping, and eight 1.5″ holes to form the teeth.  Eight teeth is plenty.  Everything gets a light chamfer with a trim router.

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I find it’s easier to do the boring when it’s part of the larger board.

It’s then trimmed to final size, first cut to square, then the corners taken off at 45 degrees.  I ended up taking another 1/8″ or so off each side, so the teeth of the cog weren’t quite as sharp.   Everything gets one more set of chamfers and hand sanding to break any more sharp edges.

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The flat face points inward, where it contacts the leg.

All that’s left is to bore the hole in the chop for the cog screw.  Don’t bore it too deep.  You need at least 1/2″ of wood for the screw to press again.  Otherwise, it might blow out if you’re really cranking down.  I just use wood glue (although epoxy would work too) and I make sure the screw is perfectly perpendicular to the vise chop.  You could angle it slightly upward (to create natural toe-in alignment), but I don’t think it’s necessary if your main screw is otherwise perpendicular.

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Keep track of your reference surfaces and alignment is a breeze.

This cog has some real heft to it.  A decent spin with the foot and the cog spins under its own momentum.  A real improvement over the 1′ hard maple cog on the last workbench.  I will say the angled chop makes it a slightly harder to get at on the right side (the tightening side).  But it’s not too much effort.

Is this method more economical than a criss-cross or a pin board?  Not really.  But it works great and I highly recommend it.  Just remember to ream the hole in the leg vertically.  Otherwise, the cog screw will bind if it’s not perfectly in alignment with the main screw.

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End of Life as We Know It (Part 1)

So the country is a c-hair away from mandatory quarantine and my local lumber yard went out of business.  There is no way I’m paying home center or pre-surfaced lumber prices during a global pandemic.  So I guess I’m stuck with what’s on hand.  And what’s on hand is workbench material (among other things, for another post).

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Spoiler alert!

I’ve been working off my 6 foot long Nicholson-style workbench since the beginning of the year.  The Nicholson form is growing on me (coming from almost a year with my Vasa-style stretcher-less workbench).  But 6 feet is a bit too short for my taste.  Not because the boards I’m working with are often over 6 feet (they are, but that’s not the point).  But, rather, in my small shop, I rely on the far end of the bench for assembly and tool storage and there just isn’t much real estate down there.

Pictured above is 10/4 hard maple.  98″ x 17.5″ worth, which is a bit over 2.25″ once fully thicknessed.  That feels a bit narrow to me, so some 8/4 hard maple will build out the back edge of the bench (to bring it to 19.5″ of footprint, assuming the legs are flush to the edges).  I also have enough off-cuts of 10/4 for the aforementioned legs (which will be lapped in at angles of about 14 degrees) and one leg vise chop.

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Gluing on the 8/4 strips to form the rear edge mortises.

I recognize that 2.25″ is a bit bit thin for a workbench slab, even in hard maple.  However, the balance of the 8/4 hard maple will become an approximately 12″ wide apron for the front.   That front apron will be glued to the edge of the top slab (to further expand the working depth to about 21.5″).  The apron will significantly stiffen the front edge of the slab (i.e., the working area).  I also plan to reinforce the holdfast holes with strips of 4/4 hard maple, so a good portion of the bench will end up over 3.25″ anyway.

On top of all that, there will be cross-stretchers spanning the legs and flush with the underside of the workbench.  So as long as I chop directly over the front left leg (by the leg vise), there will be plenty of stiffness.

That said, I don’t do a ton of heavy mortising these days.  I prefer to bore out the majority of the waste and pare down to the lines.

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Lay(out) of the Land

I’m pretty excited to be basically done with the core of my new workbench.  I finished boring the holdfast holes in the benchtop and everything seems to be in good order.  I also bought another Veritas planing stop to span the entire 22″ width of the bench, as seen above.  It’s about 8″ from the end of the benchtop.

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Not a knot in sight (sorta).

I’ve been using these Veritas planing stops for years and, for most operations, they are fantastic.  They struggle a little bit for particularly bowed or twisted stock, but a proper bench dog makes quick work of that.  For maximum capacity, though, I bored one extra dog hole along the front edge about 4″ in from both the front edge and the end of the top.

I think the eight holdfast holes and three planing stop holes shown above will be more than sufficient for most topside work.  The holdfast holes start at 8 and 16 inches from the tail end of the benchtop and they are spaced 13″ apart along the two rows (the Grammercy holdfasts have a span of 6.5″ from center of shaft to center of pad).  The back row sits about 4″ on center from the back of the workbench.  The front row sits 12.5″ on center from the front edge.  This seems ideal to me.

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It pays to have a plan.

I haven’t yet bored the peg holes in the front apron, but I think I know why.  The new leg vise works just so very well.

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Glamour shot!

I’ve made several leg vises with pinboards before.  I’m only in my mid-thirties, but bending to adjust the pin when dimensioning stock gets old (and stiff) fast.  So I’ve gone in a different direction with this one.

I took an extra 1 1/4″ wooden screw I had on hand and made a wooden nut that would wedge against the leg.  I made a small nut at first, just as a test.  It worked great, but I still had to bend over every time to adjust it.

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If I make another one of these, I’ll use a larger screw.

After passing the proof of concept, I made a second cog.  One that is large enough to protrude beyond the leg vise chop, in fact.   So instead of stooping to adjust the pin location, you just spin the cog with your foot.  It works great.

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I think it looks like fine.

I know it’s all the rage to have legs that are flush to the front of the bench top.  But having the apron extend beyond the legs, at least in this case, makes a ton of sense.  That way, I don’t have to mortise the plate into leg.  Which sped up construction quite a bit.

I have some upcoming projects that I need to get back to.  But I hope everyone is having a great 2020 so far.

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Rethinking my Life Choices

A funny thing happened on the way to the workshop the other day.  I had four, 8/4 White Oak boards to laminate into a tabletop for the new compact Nicholson Workbench.  At over 20″ wide, the lamination would be far too wide for my lunchbox thickness planer.  And I needed as much thickness as possible for the final lamination so the workbench top would be as stout as possible.  So keeping everything aligned through the various glue-ups was paramount.

So I turned to something that cannot by any stretch be classified as a hand tool.  A self-centering dowel jig.

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I absolutely adore this thing.

Using dowels for alignment actually serves two purposes.  First, it does the aforementioned aligning so any minor bowing along the length of a single board does not otherwise ruin the straightness of the glue-up.  Second, it reinforces the glue joint so if the glue fails, the entire thing doesn’t just fall to pieces.  It’s not as good as dominoes, obviously, but it’s also way cheaper.

Now I like to think that with a jointer plane and some car I can have a joint that will never fail.  And it probably won’t.  But the peace of mind of the reinforcing dowels is nice to have.  It matters more for larger timbers, though.

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And spiral dowels are cheap.

The most important thing, though, is to make sure your dowel holes align.  This is more about keeping track of how you’re flipping the boards than anything.  Otherwise, you’ll use your extra dowels to fill in erroneously-bored holes.  And that’s no fun.

Trust me.

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What I’ve Been Up To

So it’s been about a month since I sliced the tip of my finger off using a marking knife.  In the meantime, it’s gotten colder and I have more time to be in the shop.  As I’ve been healing, I’ve also been getting ready for the holiday season.  So let’s talk about my biggest recent project: a white oak “workbench”.  Buckle up: this is a long one.

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Quartersawn White Oak is splintery, FYI.

So, let me first say that this was never supposed to be a workbench.  It’s actually destined to be a kitchen island.  I will use it as a workbench for a while to distress it a bit.  So it’s constructed as a Paul Sellers-style knock-down piece so I can get it up the stairs.  It’s actually a bit unfortunately, as this is the perfect workbench for a small space woodworker.  But let’s talk about how it’s put together.

 

You’ll notice it’s generally in the style of a Nicholson (or “English Style”) workbench, with wide aprons in lieu of stretchers that give the structure its rigidity.  The aprons are not glued to the leg frames (i.e., the aforementioned knock down), though.  Instead, they are carriage bolted to the leg frame and there are quartersawn white oak wedges keeping everything together and rigid.  I would describe it as a 3 degree angle, if you have to know.  These have dense growth rings, so I would think the wedges as tough (or tougher) than the main parts of the bench.

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Pretty, right?

But it wouldn’t be a The Apartment Woodworker project if there wasn’t a compromise.  First off, the bench is only 72 inches long to accommodate a pile of quartersawn white oak shorts that were on sale at my lumberyard about a year ago.  Second, the back apron (7″) is much narrower than the front apron (13.5″), for the same reason.  This won’t be a problem structurally, but it does make the bench asymmetrical.  Finally, the bearers are Southern Yellow Pine, because I had it handy.  I’m still undecided on the type of vise to add.

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But I have a vise screw handy if I need one, apparently.

All these compromises add up to a bench that is not as heavy (on its own) as it could be.  Yes, it’s made of approximately 2″ white oak all around.  That’s tough and heavy.  But it’s clearly not the 5″ thick red oak all around that’s used in those Roubo’s that are all the rage.  I did the math, and had I laminated everything together to make it Roubo-style, it is barely the same amount of material than my current, stretcher-less workbench, which is a full foot longer overall.

I don’t plan on a shelf or other storage for the under the bench (it tends to clutter).  But for some extra weight, I’ll pile it up with spare lumber to add mass and stability.  So far, I’ve selected a wide (13″) piece of red oak and two chunks of hard maple, all of which I’ve had since before I started this blog. I’ll probably find a few more boards to pile on before the end.  Once the bench is on the anti-skid mats, this should be an immovable object.

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Not a huge fan of the color match on that left front leg, though.

So where am I now?

For one, I need to find a food safe oil finish for the benchtop that will provide enough protection for workshop work and won’t be too slippery.  I’m thinking mineral oil or pure tung oil.  I worry that linseed oil and beeswax will be too slick.

More difficult is where to put the bench dog and holdfast holes in the aprons and benchtop.  I have a pretty good idea where to bore the holdfast holes in the benchtop.  That’s a pretty well-established path and unlikely to make the tabletop too swiss cheese-like for its future life in food service.

Less clear to me is where to locate dog holes on the apron.  I’ve never worked on a Nicholson workbench before.  But I would think that the Naked Woodworker pattern would make sense.  That is, a vertical line of dog holes up each leg, two other vertical lines of dog holes equally spaced on the apron, and stepped dog holes on the aprons connecting them.

I don’t want to bore too many holes, though, because this won’t be a workbench forever.  However, I doubt I’ll be using the apron much for food preparation, so I’ll probably get over it.

We’ll see.

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