Building my workbench – Part IV (Putting it all together)

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This post forms part of the “Building my workbench” series.

Wow! I just looked at my last post to see where I was up to when I last documented my progress. I’m also nearly breaking out in a sweat just thinking of the work that has happened since then! In short, the whole bench is now assembled. Let me take you back two weeks and fill you in on the progress.

When I left off last, I had glued the two halves of my bench together. I am very pleased to report that the top half glued up very flat, with but the tiniest lip at one end at the intersection of the two halves. The idea of jointing and thicknessing the halves first proved to be a great idea.

With the legs laminations now also glued up, the first order of business was to cut them to length, and clean up the two ends. I want my bench top to be close to 960 mm high, so deducted my top thickness (90 mm) and cut one leg, which I then used as a template for the other three. A chamfer was added around the ends so that there would be no splitting out when being dragged around the floor during the build.

I then went over each leg with my 4½ smoothing plane to remove any machining marks and bits of tear out. I remarked in my last instalment that I was unable to get good grain direction match on most legs. I set my chip-breaker as close to the blade end as I could manage, and taking a light cut had zero issues. In fact, running my hand over the legs when all was done revealed nothing but the feel of glass. I was suitably chuffed, with the exception of one very long splinter from the edge before I had removed the arris. This was also a bit of a special moment, as it was the first time I got to use my bench top! It is also the first time I have used bench dogs. It was transformative. It’s funny how I look back now, after only two weeks, and cannot imagine going back to a bench that moves or doesn’t offer a solid planing stop. My after-thought five minute bench dogs work extremely well too.

A quick word on having multiple planes. I had considered it a flamboyant luxury to have multiple planes of a similar size. No more. It’s still a luxury, but one that offers so much convenience. I had four planes on the bench, all serving a slightly different task and therefore setup. Yes it’s a luxury, but one I did, and will continue to relish.

Back to the legs. I sorted them, selecting the two nicest faces to go on the front. I did a test placement to confirm, then marked and put them aside, ready for joinery. A word to the wise. Standardise your nomenclature early, and stick with it. Mine was all over the place. As an example, “Rear Left”, ” Left Rear”, ” Left Back”, “Back Left “, or as was marked on my components, RL, LR, LB, BL. Now multiple that by four, and I spent far too much time scratching my head trying to work out what my marking was referring to. I also kept forgetting if the arrows pointed to the four corners, or the centre. Oh brother.

The next step was to prepare the long stretchers. As I have previously explained, my bench is built entirely out of 90 x 45 mm stock, but my stretcher needed more height to resist racking. I didn’t want to waste timber and have a monolithical looking base by having each stretcher 180 mm high, so instead elected to simply laminate a block onto each end, which would satisfy the anti-racking requirement whilst retaining a sense of proportion. Again, care was taken to ensure the faces had grain running the same way, though evidently not enough care, as I still managed to get one the wrong way around. Some may consider that a 25% failure rate, though I like to concentrate on the 75% success rate. In the photo below, no, the stretchers aren’t glued together, I’m just saving on clamps.

Onto the legs. The plan was to build a leg pair for each end, then join them together with stretchers in the middle, and aprons at the top. Once I had planed them smooth, I moved on to start the joinery. The stretchers would be connected with wedged through mortice and tenon joints, whilst the aprons with half bridle joints (though I’m sure there’s a better term for them). This would also be the first time I chopped big mortices. I brushed up on Paul Sellers’ morticing technique the evening before, and enthusiastically set about chopping 25 mm wide mortices through 90 mm of hardwood leg with my largest bevel edge chisel.

It is at this point that your reaction will vary depending on whether you are a novice joint cutter or not. Those who thought nothing of it (much like myself in the planning stage have obviously not attempted something of this order yourselves). I say that with a degree of confidence because after spending an entire afternoon and managing to chop only three mortices, and now barely able to lift my right arm, I staggered inside and posted a question on the Woodworking Forums titled “Improving mortice chopping efficiency“. The general consensus was that nobody chops 25 mm wide mortices by hand. Use a drill or router to hog out the waste they said. Only use a chisel to clean up at the end they said. Needless to say I used my router to hog out the waste on the forth mortice.

Cutting the tenons also proved problematic. I tried the saw route, which was wholly unsatisfactory. My tenon saw cut the shoulders beautifully, bit was not tall enough to cut the cheeks. I tried my hard point hand saw, which went all over the place and made a mess (so now I’m looking for a real hand saw). I tried my bandsaw, but my 12 mm blade has a kink, so wasn’t giving a suitable cut. In the end, I resorted to my router which got the job done nicely, though I could have probably done it in the same amount of time, or faster with a decent hand saw. And it would have been a whole lot quieter.

I don’t have any photos of the aprons, needless to say I used a saw and router to hog out the waste!

It was now long stretcher time. I had planned to do wedged through tenons here too, but after the experience with the short stretchers, I changed course. I instead adopted the Scandinavian style of a simpler non through tenon, and instead of glue, I would tie the stretchers to the legs with a threaded rod. The added advantage is that my whole bench could now be flat packed if we ever move. This did necessitate the long stretchers being cut down in length, which was triple and quadruple checked before making sawdust.

Before any joinery, I wanted to pretty up the stretcher ends. When making curves, it is always fun searching around the workshop or house for an object which offers a suitable radius. I created a template with some scrap MDF, then transferred and cut out the stretchers on the bandsaw.

One benefit of the new stretcher design, was that I did all the joinery with the router. Plain and simple. That doesn’t mean there weren’t a few exciting moments. Note the last picture below with that all consuming black hole (dust extractor). Whilst routing one of the joints, I noticed something white scoot across the bench and disappear up the pipe. It was only when I went to turn off the dust extractor that I realised it was the remote which had disappeared. Oh brother! When I installed the remote I put in a bypass switch so that I could turn on the dust extractor (DE) without the remote in case it failed. It never occurred to me to have a bypass which would turn off the DE in case it was stuck on. I turned it off at the wall and after standing around for a while feeling sorry for myself, I wondered if there was any change it hadn’t made it all the way to the impeller of destruction. Yes! I found it where the hose did a loop the loop. From then on, I made sure nothing was in the general vicinity of the hose end.

At this stage I was done with the joinery, so did a test fit, ready for gluing up the next day.

I was so glad I had done the dry fit, and laid everything out ready for glue up. Despite all my planning, I was still running against the clock getting everything into place once I’d put the glue on. Instead of the glue acting as a lubricant and allowing things to slip together easily, it was hard work, and lots of clamping to get everything seated and squared. It was a relief when they were done. This was also the first time I’ve used wedges in tenons. Note for next time, spend more time making sure they are well prepared, and square. They kept wanting to skew when hammering them in. But in the end I got there.

The final step was to drill out the holes for the threaded rod. Using the drill press, I drilled through the legs, then knowing that hole was square, I clamped the stretchers into the legs, and using the leg hole as a guide, drilled into the stretcher. It worked beautifully. Then it was simply a matter of marking the stretchers and drilling the holes which would accommodate washers and screws.

With the base assembled I positioned the top and screwed timber strips to the underside which seat against the aprons, and between the legs to stop the top moving about. They were given a chamfer to assist in locating the top to the base. A simple yet effective solution.

A couple of coats of 50/50 boiled linseed oil and mineral turpentine and for all intents and purposes, the bench is built! I do still need to trim the top ends (once I have a new blade for my circular saw), hang my vices and build a tool tray to fit on the back. But that will be for another instalment, or two.

August 2019

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