When I moved into my shop in Miami 9 years ago there was already a huge work surface in the mezzanine (4' x 16') from a previous owner, and though I never really liked it, I adapted and used it as my main assembly bench for all that time. When it was time to leave Miami I knew that item was staying behind and a new bench, made to my eccentric standards, was on the horizon. The plan was simple. The adjustable legs, (Adjust-a-Bench by Geoffrey Noden) that Mr Becker so kindly turned my on to a ways back, would provide the base support, glue up a hardwood top, an end vice and a tail vice and be done with it. How hard could it be. I budgeted a week. That was over a month ago.
Many of you don't know much about me, but whenever I build anything for myself, the rule is simple. I spend no extra money on materials if possible, the project must be made from the left over material I have lying around the shop, whatever that may be. First snag. I didn't have enough hardwood in appropriate lengths to do the top I wanted to do. I did have some plywood, some cherry, some mahogany, and some walnut. Not enough of any one in particular to do a complete project, but together, it added up okay. I could make it all work if I used the plywood as the main table body and edge it in hardwood. The new plan now called for four layers of baltic birch plywood laminated together.
However, I only had enough baltic birch to do three layers, but I did have some pre-finished maple ply, so that served as my bottom layer (which meant that I didn't have to seal the bottom - serendipity at its best.) Problem -- baltic birch only comes in 5' x 5' sheets, which meant there was a seam to deal with that would be visible in the top layer. I laminated the first three layers, the plys opposing each other and the two middle layer seams on opposite sides. I thought to come up with some sort of hardwood flooring affect by cutting the top layer into 3" sections, T&G them, and glue it up with many seams, like a design that was planned for. Then I thought of the Milwaukee Museum of Art and the floor of the old wing, with its edge grain flooring and the compression strength inherent there. What if I turned the plywood on edge and laminate the strips to the substrate? I do a test piece, I like it and decide to go for it. I asked for it. The long open time required Epoxy, I thought.
Mother's day weekend the In Laws are in town, my Father In Law, a wizend boat builder and Epoxy expert, I was in luck. We plan for a vacuum bag and have at it. Worked out pretty good. After I trimmed the top nice and square, the hardwood edge would be next. After I cut the pieces the corners called for dovetails. Okay, lay them out, cut on. Once they were installed I figured the edge and end grain of the plys called for filling. I mixed up some Epoxy with dust from the tool vac (not to be confused with the shop vac) and made a good pookey, spread it, wipe it, walk away. Gave the top a nice dirty look, but it was starting to feel like a brick as things were soaking up the resin. I was liking it. The finish was two coats of Epoxy, liberally sanded between coats, and finished sanded with care, and ultimately, paraffin oil, to a silky satin. At this point my wife felt it would do well in the dining room. I would not hear of it.
Since I planned for a solid (non-skirted) top, I had gotten under-mount vices (I like them better, even if they don't look as integral as a classic bench.) Problem is the top was starting to look pretty neat, and the jaws would hide the dovetails, so I did my best to add some details that would go with it. For my jaw stock all I had was some walnut that still had bark on it and it would be too small to use if i took the bark off, so I left it and went with it. To enhance the dovetails the bench decided it needed inset vices with hardwood inlays. Who was I to say no at this point. A simple design was worked out on the jaws that accented the dovetails and the jaws were installed. All that remainded were the dog holes. I made a jig to work with my big router and a spiral bit. Problem was, with all the resin and glues in the baltic birch, and the edge grain, I had to hone the bit every two holes.
Anyway. It is done. No one was hurt during the filming, and it is finally time for the bed I have been promising my wife for the last 10 years. No excuses remain. I will try to attach some pics, but if not successful, I have supplied a link to a simple web-page that outlines in more detail the whole progression for anyone who might be interested.