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Thread: My First Workbench Build - A Journal

  1. #1
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    My First Workbench Build - A Journal

    Welcome to my journal thread for my very first major build: a workbench!

    I plan to add photos and updates as I make progress on the bench build, which may or may not be frequently. It all depends on how it plays out. But, I'm hoping that it'll be a learning experience for both you and me, and that I might get to pick the brain of the great SMC collective from time to time when I have questions.

    Here's the plan:

    Build a basic workbench that's heavy, has a thick and solid top, with at least one vise. This should get me off and running with other projects as I delve further into hand tool woodworking. I want to get more into boxes, at first. Then make my way into simple furniture, after I develop some of the essential skills (dovetails, mortise and tenon, rabbets, using my hand planes effectively, etc.)

    My basic plan is similar to what you'll find here, a basic design for students of Chris Schwarz. I figure that should be plenty to get started. The main differences between my bench and that found in the link will revolve around attaching the base to the top. I want to make sure that I can disassemble this bench, in the event that we move. (We're in a smaller townhome now, so it could happen at some point.) I'm thinking of adding 4x4 pieces to the legs under the top to allow me to attach the top to the base with lag bolts. This would be in lieu of the typical double tenon that is seen on, say, a Roubo-style bench. Any thoughts here would be appreciated. Is this a good idea..? Should I still use some sort of tenon for a better connection to the base?

    The vise I have is a Taiwanese copy of one of the Record quick-release vises. It's in great shape, and I added maple jaws to it. Should serve me well here, I hope.

    In any case, I picked up my lumber today. It consists of a bunch of reclaimed 4x4 and 6x8 pieces of Douglas Fir, or so I'm told. These were from very large pallets that are used to transport wind turbine components. There are a few bolt holes and nail holes, but I don't anticipate they'll affect the bench much. It won't be the prettiest bench, but I want something functional. It was outside, so I want to give the wood time to warm up and dry out a bit. There were bits of ice and snow on some of the pieces, so I plan to at least wait until this weekend so that the moisture evaporates. Then I'll see how wet the wood is. (I do not have a moisture meter, sadly...)

    So, that's where I am currently with this project. To finish things off, here's a shot of the wood that I picked up. The pieces with the angles on them will get cut down for the legs. The long pieces on the right will be laminated into a 24"x8"x6' bench top (maybe longer, if I can). And the 4x4's on the floor will be the supporting cross pieces to add rigidity to the bench, and possibly places to bolt the top onto the base. FYI: 6x8 lumber is HEAVY. Each of those 7-footers on the right is likely around 100lbs.

    Any advice to a newbie woodworker on this bench concept?


  2. #2
    Looks like a good start. I still don't have a proper bench, it's going to be my next big project. That wood is unlikely to dry for a long time since it's been outside in the weather (unless it was only outside for a short period). If you start building now, it will likely warp, crack, and shrink a lot during and after the project. The rule of thumb is one year of drying per inch of thickness for green wood... this would be less, but certainly much longer than a few days.

  3. #3
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    8" thick

    Any reason why you do not use the 6" side to make the thickness?
    Bumbling forward into the unknown.

  4. #4
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    Good luck with your build! Regarding the portability question, just make the mortise and tenon joints for the leg to top joinery and set the top in place. No real need to glue or bolt it in place...the weight alone is enough. My top is 2' x 6' x 3 1/2" thick and it doesn't move at all. Several other SMC folks suggested that to me as I was building my bench and it has worked out very well.

  5. #5
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    Thanks, guys!

    Allen, the wood was advertised as kiln-dried. The place I bought them from was getting a ton of huge pallets in, so they're dismantling these and turning them around fairly quickly. I don't think they've been outside very long. It's not terribly wet, but we did just get snow. So they got some snow on them when moving the boards around. I just want to make sure the surfaces dry out. Hopefully when I cut into them they'll be dry.

    Brian, I definitely will be using the 6" side for the thickness. I'm going to laminate 3 of the 6x8 boards together to make a 24" wide top. Well...probably smaller since I'll plane it smooth, but close enough. Even if I plane it down to 5" thick, I'm guessing that's still overkill.

    Phil, I've considered doing the mortise and tenon. I just don't want the top to move as I work. But, you're probably right, it wouldn't go anywhere. So, maybe I will still do that. Thanks!

  6. #6
    My top is loose on the tenons too. 9 cm thick and light weight fir. It doesn't move, plenty heavy enough. Your 6" will be rock solid without any screws or glue.

  7. #7
    I built my bench based on the bench crafted design using their bench bolts. The bench is about 400 lbs, is overkill, and yet can break into components I can move myself. Top sits on loose tenons as well. You can read more than you want about the details here

    http://www.sawmillcreek.org/showthre...and-Bench-Dead

    might consider a split top of two pieces with the front two glued and the third, back piece for mobility's sake. Though I'll likely glue mine together sometime soon.

    If you are unsure if the wood will move as it dries, I'd suggest starting with the base as some movement there will be less of an issue.

    will look forward to the build.

    C
    Last edited by Christopher Charles; 01-13-2016 at 3:20 AM.
    "You can observe a lot just by watching."
    --Yogi Berra

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Schubert View Post
    ... I want to make sure that I can disassemble this bench, in the event that we move. (We're in a smaller townhome now, so it could happen at some point.)
    If you seriously intend to move this beast then you need to figure out how you will lift a "laminated 24"x8"x6' bench top". Lets go with you 100 pound estimate for the beams - 4 of those to make the 24" width will be about 400 lbs. Good luck: 1) assembling your bench (no doubt several times you will need to put it together, take it apart during construction), 2) finding friends to help you move it.

    There is no reason to have a bench that thick IMO. 4 inch thickness is still overkill but since its Doug Fir I could live with that I suppose.

  9. #9
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    Hi Eric,
    I built my Scandi bench out of Doug Fir 4x4s from the BORG several years ago and it's held up pretty well, although it probably dings more easily than a hardwood bench. My top sits on crosspieces at the tops of the trestles like you mention, and there's no tenon to prevent sliding, so I used a single 3/4" diameter lag bolt through each trestle top, about 6" in from the front face so the top would stay flush with the frame below as the top expanded and shrank seasonally in my unheated shop. I didn't smooth the whole bottom, just the two crossways paths that the trestles would contact (basically dadoes in the underside of the top). It has worked fine, and the tusk tenons worked out very well too, as they haven't loosened since its initial construction, so technically it is portable even if I haven't moved it.

    Two things to consider regarding the thickness and board orientation:

    if you go much over 3.5" thick, you may have difficulty getting holdfasts to work (at least the Gramercy ones), although some report that slightly larger holes or counterbores under the top to bring it locally to about 3.5" will solve the problem. You likely WILL want holdfasts if not now, then after a short time of use.

    The thickness of your top - whether 6" or 8" at this point- should be determined by the ring orientation in your wood. Especially with a softwood top, I think it is important that the growth rings are perpendicular (or as much as possible) to the plane of the bench surface - the hard rings provide the bearing surface for your work, the soft rings tend to compact between them. If you orient the rings parallel to the surface so you're working on a plain-sawn or "cathedral pattern", I think the soft wood would wear too easily and the hard rings would tend to catch on clothing, workpieces, etc., and tear out - likely even during your initial flattening of the benchtop. Either way, you might end up ripping the 8x6's down to something more manageable or with better ring orientation... don't mean to make more work for you, but DF is plenty rigid; if I were going to use that wood (after using my bench for a while) I'd make the base from the 8x6 lumber and use the 4x4s for the top so it had a heavy, low center of gravity - but you've already bought the wood with a plan, so let us know how it turns out
    Karl
    my bench:
    bench01.JPG

  10. #10
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    Thanks, guys. I really appreciate the feedback. I'm starting to rethink my bench top idea of laminating all the 6x8's. Looking back, I probably should have went with the 4x4's, but I'd rather not buy more 4x4's and spend more on lumber. So, I'll try to make do with what I have already.

    What about if I just laid all three of the 6x8's on top of the base, clamp them together, and then use a single lag bolt on each end of each board to bolt them to the base? Would that work okay? Or would I run into issues with that setup? (e.g. gaps opening up, lack of stability because of only one bolt, etc.)

  11. #11
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    5" is probably still way overkill, but depending on how the grain looks I'd probably take the best two of those 6x8's and rip them down to 4x6 then process them down....if you wind up at 3.5" x 5.5" then laminate them you could wind up at 3.5" x 22" which would be pretty awesome and still have 6x8's left over for legs, which I'd probably mill down to something like 5x5 and use the cut offs for stretchers.

    3.5 x 22" by 7 can probably be handled by two men. 6" x 24" x 7' may become a perminant part of your house...

    In other words, you can probably get the entire bench out of the 6x8's with some planning, and have a very stout bench that is actually moveable.

    I work by myself, and so I tend to avoid making things that I can't flip around or move in some manner entirely on my own. My bench top pushed the limit of that once all of the vises and so forth were added.
    Bumbling forward into the unknown.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Karl Andersson View Post
    if you go much over 3.5" thick, you may have difficulty getting holdfasts to work (at least the Gramercy ones), although some report that slightly larger holes or counterbores under the top to bring it locally to about 3.5" will solve the problem. You likely WILL want holdfasts if not now, then after a short time of use.
    Yes, I wouldn't worry about this aspect of top thickness. If you counterbore one inch diameter or slightly larger holes from the bottom, so that there is about 3-3-1/2" length of 3/4" inch diameter hole from the top, holdfasts (specifically the Gramercy ones) hold just great.

  13. #13
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    Boy, I don't know that I want to think about ripping boards that thick and long by hand... I only really have hand tools. I do have a small contractor-type table saw that may help. But getting a 100lb board on that little saw could be...interesting. To say the least. And it won't cut all the way through, with only a 10" blade.

    But the idea of cutting the 6x8's down to 4x6's is intriguing... and I'd have lumber left over, in case I needed it for another bench or something.

    Oh, I did forget to mention earlier, I do have a pair of the Grammercy holdfasts already. I also have a Veritas surface vise. Definitely looking to add dog holes in the top.

    I also planned to make the bench movable with casters. I'd likely make them fold down under the legs for moving around, then fold out of the way to set the bench on the bottom of the legs to keep it in one spot. Something like this. But, I imagine that might be extremely difficult to manipulate with a 6" thick bench top.

  14. #14
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    Brian and Pat have laid it out pretty well in a real world fashion. 3-1/2" to 4" is plenty thick enough for working on. I wonder if you could ever tell any difference between working on 3-1/2" or 6"-8" and you are going to have to move/flip/handle the top as you are fabbing it up. I would not install the top as three separate boards and feel that you really need to join them into a single piece. Joining the top to the base via tennon on the tops of the legs fitting into mortises on the bottom surface of the top is a time tested design. As someone else up above stated, perhaps start on the base and let the top material continue to dry. You may want to have a look at the designs put out by the "workbench" books written by Scott Landis and Chris Schwartz or purchase the Benhcrafted plan for ideas. You have a good start in acquiring some beefy timber, now maybe have a look at some very workable ideas for design. At any rate, I believe you are going to end up with something that will be solid to work on.
    David

  15. #15
    I'll add to the others, if you work alone and/or want to move the bench a split top is the best way to go. I've built both symmetrical and asymmetrical slabs as well as solid, of the three I find asymmetrical is the better option. The working (front) slab on my current bench is approximately 470mm wide with the back slap being a touch over 200mm. Giving a 25" or so (in American) total top surface. Each slab is narrow enough to run through many home shop planers and is possible, not easy but possible, for one man to move around during the build. While building a bench it is a PITA to have to get help, much better if you can do it without another set of muscles.

    Each slab has housed M/T joint at the legs that are pegged but not glued and a Spaz screw through the short stretcher and the off side of the slab. You couldn't move that sucker with a "Jimmy" but it could break down into moveable pieces.

    From a working stand point, having a split top is no different than a solid slab plus it offers more clamping options and with a well designed "split fill" a convenient place to hold some of your tools while working. It is pretty much win win.

    Good luck,

    ken

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