workbench

Branching Out

I’ve been woodworking for about six years total.  Four or so have been hand tool-focused.  It’s hard to admit, but I never really went hand tool only, as I rely pretty heavily on my thickness planer.  I also use a drill press from time to time, because I have one.  And it came in handy recently, as I forayed into some more basic metalworking.

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For me, this is complicated metalwork.

After working at the new workbench for a couple of months, it became rather clear that the connection between the main slab and the extension needed shoring up.  Three posts and some 4″ lengths of angle iron at random intervals weren’t doing the trick.  It needed something more substantial.

I found myself at the home center at 601am on a Saturday (I was actually there for cleaning products), and it seemed they had freshly restocked the angle iron.  I had cobalt bits and a new countersink, so I figured, “why not?”.

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Not even I worried about clocking these screws.

Drilling through 1/8″ mild steel is not too bad (although the squiggly shavings can be sharp!).  And countersinking is messy and loud, if satisfying.  The only hard part about the entire endeavor was lining up the holes in the angle iron to not interfere with the planing stop or holdfast holes.

Now two lengths of 24″ angle iron, with screws at 1.5″ and 8″ from each end, reinforce the joint between the slab and the extension.  They also added a couple of lbs. to the workbench, which can’t be overstated.  Although I’m keeping the workbench shelf-less, I am in fact going to add a back stretcher between the angled back legs to increase the heft overall.

Speaking of which, I added some extensions to the back of the angled legs.  Now the footprint of the legs nearly matches the depth of the bench top, which makes the bench more stable when traversing or using a shooting board.  The extensions also, conveniently, create a ledge for the back stretcher to ride on (meaning I can get away with not gluing the lap-jointed stretcher in place).

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Hide glue and 3/8 lag bolts ensure it won’t ever move.

My next project is a cabinet for under the bench, which will store clamps, fasteners and other odds and ends that I use enough to keep them close at hand, but not so often that they should be in my tool chest.  I’m purposely building it in a way that can be converted to a wall cabinet if the mood ever seizes me.

Stay tuned.

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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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Workbench for Sale!

With the modified Stent Panel workbench finished, I officially own too many workbenches to fit in my tiny shop.  And so, as I teased before, my old workbench is officially FOR SALE.  It’s sturdy and conventional and much of the hardware is included.

  • Asking price: $1,000 (cash on hand or paypal). Just trying to make back cost of materials and hardware.
  • Overall dimensions: 90 x 22 x 33.75 (with 3.75″ thick top).
  • Metal face vise and crochet (with screw) included.

Email: theapartmentwoodworker@gmail.com for details.  See below for additional specifications and pictures.

You have to pick it up from my home.  No shipping available.

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I’ll help you load it in your truck, though.

Detailed specifications:

  • Material: White Ash, other than the vise jaws (which are mahogany) and the tool shelf (which is home center plywood).  Everything raw wood or coated in boiled linseed oil.
  • Benchtop:  90″ long by 22″ wide, 3.75″ thick.  The back 7″ or so of the benchtop is only 3″ thick (there used to be a tool well).  The benchtop is not permanently affixed to the frame and can be disassembled for ease of transport.
  • Frame:  Total height 33.75″.  Total depth 24″.  Undercarriage is about 65″ wide (i.e., the benchtop overhangs the frame by 12″ or so on each end).
  • Included Workholding:  12″ quick release metal face vise (seen immediately below); Veritas low profile planing stop (seen immediately below); crochet with wooden screw (see later pictures); five 1″ red oak bench dogs with bullet catches (see later pictures).
  • Other Notes: Front legs have 3/4″ dog holes for generic benchdogs or Grammercy Tools holdfasts.  The benchtop has 1″ dog holes for Crucible Tool holdfasts.  Holdfasts not included.

To repeat, you must come pick up the bench from my home in lower Fairfield County, Connecticut.  No shipping is available.

Email: theapartmentwoodworker@gmail.com for details.  See below for pictures.

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This is the workbench for sale.

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Metal face vise, Ash crochet with maple screw.  Both included.

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Dog hole detail.  Benchtop recently reflattened and reoiled.

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Slab top affixed with stub tenons on the front legs and rest on the upper rails.

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All mortise and tenon joints in the undercarriage are glued and drawbored.

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Benchtop extension is supported by simple shims.

 

 

Setting the Record Straight

So I am substantially finished with my new work bench, which is a sort of reproduction of the weird, stretcherless Shaker, Stent Panel-esque workbench from Pleasant Hill.

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Sorry for the shadows.  I couldn’t find my front lighting bar.

Made entirely from Ash (other than the hard-wearing vise parts, which are Hard Maple), the main bench consists of a slab that is 86″ long, 12.5″ deep and a hair under 4″ thick.  The legs, which are cut from the same piece of timber as the slab, are mortised into the slab.  The front legs are flush with the front of the slab and double drawbored in place.  The back legs, which are also mortised into the slab, splay outward at about a 14 degree angle and are further secured with two square head lag bolts each.  The slab itself is oriented with the heart side up, with grain running left to right.

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Yes, there is a leg vise.

The leg vise is based around a 1.5″ Hard Maple screw turned using a Beall Tool Company Big Threader.  The vise chop is a single piece of 12/4 Ash with a bunch of runout (and so has a particularly nice figure on the face) that is about 6″ wide (compared to 4″ on the leg itself).  The vise hub is Ash, made roughly round by hand with a spokeshave, some rasps, and much patience.  A temporary handle of 3/4 walnut dowel pierces the hub.

The vise jaw is joined to the vise screw with a Hard Maple garter that is screwed to the face of the vise jaw.  The leg vise has a depth of about 8.5″ and an overall capacity of about 5″, but I haven’t tested its limits.  The vise works through a Hard Maple pin board, that accepts a 3/8″ mild steel rod that is epoxied into a Hard Maple Shaker-style drawer pull.  The holes need to wear in a bit, but it works quite well from the outset.  Other than the garter screws, the screws that hold on the vise nut to the back of the leg (which is also hard maple), the screws that hold on the parallel guide at the bottom of the leg, and the pin itself, there is no metal in the leg vise assembly.

The leg vise is accompanied by a Veritas inset vise with a row of holes for round 3/4″ bench dogs which are 2″ on center from the front edge of the benchtop.  I will bore a few 1″ holes in the slab for my Crucible Tool holdfast, as well as some holes in the front right leg for some Grammercy Tools holdfasts, once I figure the layout.  Please ignore the patch in the front light leg seen in the picture above, which covers a plugged and epoxied hole from an aborted bore.  I was having a bad day.

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Prior to cleaning up the drawbores and actually securing the parallel guide.

The benchtop is extended by another 10″ or so through a length of 8/4 Ash, supported by three 1.5″ square posts which are mortised directly into the slab.  The 8/4 extension is lightly glued along the edge joint and on the first 2 inches or so of each post.  Angle iron lines the underside of the seam to prevent any sagging between the posts.  Like the mains lab, the extension is oriented heart side up, with a grain direction that runs left to right.

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Cutting these dadoes was the most enjoyable part of the entire build.

So let’s talk about this style of workbench, which has been an exhilarating intellectual exercise that I do not regret.  That being said:

This is NOT the easiest way to build a workbench.  Angled back legs, as pretty as they are, are not to be undertaken lightly.  Going stretcher-less provides a bit of leeway on the exact angles, but I spent way too much time with a flashlight and a bevel gauge checking the angles on the mortises.  Furthermore, angled mortises mean angled shoulders on the tenons, which must be closely matched to get a well-seated joint.  In retrospect, I’d have been better off doing 2″ round tenons for the back legs, which would have saved me about 10 hours of fiddling.

In any event, adding the posts to support the benchtop extension was by far the most difficult and tedious part of the build (even more so than the angled mortises for the back legs).  Getting the post to stick out from the back slab at exactly 90 degrees was no trivial task, either.  It took several hours with a shoulder plane and winding sticks to get all three posts perfectly aligned.  But all the work paid off and once the extension was in place it took only a few passes with a jointer plane to level the extension with the main slab.

So why would someone build a workbench this way?  There can be literally only one answer: efficient use of the available materials.  If the only thick timber I had at my disposal was a single, narrow-ish slab, this is exactly how I’d build a workbench.  The bench is stout where it needs to be and good enough everywhere else.  But because it is not thick timber all around, it suffers a bit in overall weight.  With tools and work piled on the bench, it’s fine.  But on its own, it scoots a tiny bit under heavy planing load.

One second thought, there may be another reason to build a bench this way: atonement for one’s sins.  Because at times this build felt positively Sisyphusian.

Now to make the bench slave, after which I can officially get rid of my old workbench.

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So Close!

My new workbench is just about done.  The only thing left to do is finish fitting the bench top extension to the posts that are now mortised into the back edge of the main slab.

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My silly little workbench experiment.

When I say “fitting to the posts” what I really mean is jointing the edge of the extension to match the edge of the slab.  I marked the dadoes in the extension against the posts themselves, so it’s really just an incremental trial-and-error process to get a good seam between the two benchtop pieces.

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This is what it looks like when all pulled together.

There are a few things to address which have come to light as I use the bench to finish up the bench, most of which relate to its tendency to scoot a little bit under heavy hand-planing.

First, without stretchers or a shelf full of detritus, the bench is a smidge on the light side.  To address this, I plan to do two things to add some mass: (i) add some mild steel bar stock (or maybe just laminate on some additional wood) to back face of the the angled rear legs, and (ii) add some steel angle iron to the underside of the seam between the main slab and the extension.  The angle iron has the added benefit of shoring up the area between the posts, which can sag a little bit under heavy weight (I should have used four posts, honestly).

Second, the bench is a little bit taller overall than I’m used to (around 36.5″).  As a result, and because of the limitations of the available stock, the back legs don’t have full contact on the ground.  I’ll work with the bench a bit before I decide if I need to lower it, but doing so will have the added benefit of increasing surface contact under the back legs.    If the height ends up working out, I may instead just fit and glue some overlong wedges onto the ends of the back legs (which will slightly extend the footprint).  Either way, I plan to add some non-skid stair tape (i.e., adhesive backed, coarse grit sand paper) to everything to increase traction.

Finally, there will probably be at least one stretcher on the bench in order to reinforce the leg vise assembly.  The front leg is mortised into the benchtop and the pin board is mortised into the vise chop (and both are drawbored and glued in place).  But I still fear the pressure from the leg vise levering against the bottom of the leg will over-stress those joints.  A single stretcher to complete the triangle should be enough to enforce the mechanics while still maintaining the integrity of the stretcher-less design for the workbench.

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Probably to be added just above the level of the pin board.

All in all, this bench has turned out better than I could have hoped.  There are some holes to bore and some surfaces to level, but I am genuinely pleased with how everything came together.

In the next installment, I’ll walk through the specifics of the leg vise, which is completely DIY (including a screw I turned myself on a Beall wood threader), as well as address the disparity between the depth of the benchtop and the overall footprint of the skewed back legs.

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