Saturday, October 24, 2015

Workbench build using hand tools

I decided to finally build a woodworking bench. I wanted a big, heavy bench that was adequate for hand tool work. I decided on a traditional english jointers bench, with a split top and a tool well. This style has recently been popularized by Paul Sellars, my number one woodworking hero. I modified the dimensions to suite my needs. I also modified the design slightly by using hardware to fasten the front apron, whereas Paul uses a knock-down system with a dado and wedge system that makes it (more) portable. Mine is still portable, just less so. I also left off the back apron because I use my bench against a wall. It's made completely of construction grade lumber, but I hope that's not easy to see. I built it almost entirely with hand tools. I say almost because I rough cut some of the lumber for the laminations with my miter saw to speed things up and then cut the final dimensions by hand. Overall this was a HUGE project for a first time, hand tool only woodworking project. But that was the whole fun of it, now wasn't it? It took me a few months to complete as time allowed, mostly late at night after the babies were in bed. I'm new to this, so many of the operations I performed to complete it, it was my first time ever doing them, like cutting the mortise and tenons. So it's not perfect, but surely passable, and totally functional. The trickiest parts for me was 4-squaring such large components. This was really fun! I LOVED this project, and I'd love to build another one, especially now that I have a proper bench to work from.

Here are some stats:

72" Long
30" Wide
36" High
Top Thickness 3"
Weight: 300 lbs.

Cost Approximate:
Lumber - $160
Vise - $140
Hardware- $10
Blood - very little
Sweat - a LOT
Tears - none

Here is the completed bench, a french cleat wall system and a saw till. More details of the bench build below.

(click the images for larger view )

Obviously I ran the sheet goods for the french cleat system through my tablesaw but the fixtures/shelves for it and the saw till were all made by hand.

On to the bench build....

First I laminated 2x4x8s to form the bench top slabs. I didn't photograph the glue up of those, because I was just trying to get it right at that point. Here is what I ended up with.

Then I started hand planing the bench tops down to remove the rounded edges of the 2x4's. This was extremely challenging working from saw horses because everything wants to move around, so I placed them against the wall. I actually flattened the top and bottom for one of them. I later realized it wasn't necessary to do this to the bottoms because they would later be bolted to the stretchers of the leg assemblies and therefore only needed to be "pretty much flat". You also flatten the top of the bench tops after it's assembled. By the way all this hand planing makes a LOT of shavings. Between the tops and the leg assemblies, I think I made about three extra large contractor bags of shavings.

I continued hand planing and using winding sticks (with the pink/white tape on them) to check for twist. I then 4-squared them as best I could with my amatuer skills. This took probably four or five evenings to complete with a couple of weeks in between. This was probably good because it allowed them to stabilize as I removed material and relieved stresses in the wood. Wow was it a workout - no need to hit the gym on those days!

Working these huge slabs as I said was quite labor intensive so at some point I started laminating material for the leg assemblies. Here are three in the clamps at the same time.

All of them after glue-up

I then started working the leg assemblies with the planes instead of the other top slab because I was feeling defeated by those huge pieces. The smaller ones were more fun. I again removed all of the rounded edges from the 2x stock and four-squared them as best I could. The good part about this was now I had some big heavy bench tops to work on top of.

 I made a couple of practice mortises as seen in the next photo, They were huge! And hard to make. I got better each time, and they didn't need to be perfect, so I then began building a leg assembly for real. I chopped the mortises and then cut the huge tenons to fit inside.

With one of them roughly assembled, it was starting to look something like a workbench

After getting both assembled, I draw bored all the mortise and tenon joints by drilling offset holes through the joints and then driving an oak peg through them, making them super tight. There is no hardware in the leg assemblies at all, they are held together with only jointery.

I then mounted stretchers to the tops of the leg assemblies, to bolt through into the bottom of the slabs. I didn't photograph that at the time, so here is a recent photo.

Rather than laminate smaller lumber to make the large aprons, I just bought two 2x12's and trued them up with my hand plane. Again, I ended up only installing one on the front.

Here is some of the hardware I used, but I never used the large bolts on the right. I ended up using only bolts like the ones on the left with large washers to join the tops to the legs and the apron to the front edge of the bench top.

I used clamps to hold everything together while I lined things up and bolted all the pieces together.

Then I cut out for the vise, I cut all that by hand with a chisel and then cleaned it up with a large rasp. Then I mounted the vise.

After the vise was set, I finished up by countersinking some large holes in the front of the apron and bolted it to the front edge of the bench tops.

That's it! A finished bench!

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