Since I couldn’t start drawboring the stretchers and legs together, I thought I’d spend my wait time finishing all the work on the underside of the bench. First, I had to make sure the underside of the top was reasonably flat. Prior to doing the final glue-up of the top, I had two 12” wide sections, each of which was run through my planer. So I knew those two sections were identical in thickness and were very flat. And I used my jointer to joint the mating edge of each section. So I figured the final slab should be really flat and consistent. However, the mating edges must not have been exactly 90 degrees, because the bottom was crested at the glue line in the middle. It was basically an upside down “V”. I put a straight edge piece of wood across the underside of the top, and it basically teetered, with the exact middle as the fulcrum. The only explanation was that the jointer wasn’t exactly 90 degrees. Each edge sloped away from the center by about 1/16”. You can see it clearly below: if I teetered the straightedge to one side, you can see the straightedge rested cleanly along that whole side, but the gap on the other side started as nothing the center and went out to about 1/8” at the end.
I needed to plane down about 1/16” down the whole center of the underside, and then smooth that out to edges. I could have hand planed the whole thing, but I fortunately have a power planer, which would save a lot of time by roughing out the majority of the material.
Sure enough, one 15 second pass down the middle at a depth of 1/16” took out a nice clean strip. Removing this much material by hand would have been at least 15 minutes and lots of arm fatigue, especially since I don’t have a scrub plane or anything else than would easily and safely remove lots of material quickly.
I then worked outward toward each edge, overlapping the first pass, with the depth set at 1/32” to help fan out the thickness as necessary.
After the few passes with the power planer, I busted out my new Lie-Nielsen #7 jointer plane and smoothed out the whole surface. As I mentioned in a few previous posts, I did not have any other hand planes, besides a block plane, prior to starting this project. So I hit up Craislist and eBay to find good condition Lie-Nielsen planes that that I would need to complete this project. Over the course of two weeks I bought a bronze #4, a large shoulder plane and this #7 (with the cocobolo knob and tote). All were effectively brand new, and priced accordingly. It was an expensive couple of weeks…
I did a series of overlapping diagonal passes across the whole thing, and then used my #4 smoother to clean it all up a little bit. The end result, after about 45 minutes of total work surfacing this thing, it ended up well within my tolerance of acceptable flatness for the underside.
Now that the bottom was well surfaced, it was time to cut the mortises to receive the leg tenons. As with the mortises in the legs (to receive the stretchers), I made a custom guide jig so that I can use a 3/4” spiral upcut bit in a plunge router to hog out the mortis.
Instead of leaving the mortises rounded and then rounding the tenons to match – like I did with the stretchers – I decided I would square up these mortises. No particular reason why I decided to square these but not the mortises in the leg. I just felt like mixing it up a bit. I used a chisel to square up the holes.
It took a little shoulder planing of the tenon to get a good fit on each joint. But after cleaning up each tenon, I tested the fit to see how it looked. Came out pretty good.
Now the leg mortises were all done, so it was time to rout out the dado that will act as the guide/track for the top of the sliding deadman I’m going to make. A plunge router with 3/4” spiral upcut bit and a router base guide worked perfectly.
I have to give credit where credit is due: the 3/4” spiral upcut bit I bought for this project was exactly what was needed for a few different parts of this bench. It was $40 well spent at Lee Valley.
The final step in finishing the underside of the top was to mount my front vise. I bought the Rockler single screw quick release face vise. It is built really well – lots of heft, two well-machined guide rails, smooth operating screw.
Ideally, I would have loved to use the Benchcrafted vises for both the front vise and wagon vise. Those things are ridiculously awesome. But at $300+ a piece, I couldn’t justify it. Even with the two relatively inexpensive vises I used on this bench ($100 for the Rockler front vise and $70 for the Lie-Nielsen Scandinavian screw), the vise hardware ended up costing slightly more than all the lumber I used. Go figure.
Now the top is ready to be attached to the legs. But first I have to put the legs and stretchers together. I need the drawbore pin to arrive before I do that though. Should be any day now. Cool.
And in other news, the Woodworking Shows is in my area this weekend (the Somerset, NJ show). I’m going tomorrow morning. It has been one of the highlights of my year each year since I first went in 2003. Although, I’m convinced that the shows keep getting increasingly smaller each year. I guess the Internet has slowly been cannibalizing the economics of vendors participating in such expos. Anyway, it is still an awesome event for a woodworking hobbyist and tool junky like myself. Maybe I’ll see some of you there…
-- Andy Panko, Edison NJ