Its been 6 months since I finished my bench and I have spent over 1000 hours on it. Now that I have gotten a good feel for how the bench works and its ups and downs I thought I would write an update on it.
To start I’ll mention the modifications I made. The first was to add leather to the pads on the hold fasts. With leather I no longer need to place scrap wood between the work pieces and the hold fasts to prevent denting. If you have hold fasts (which you should) I would recommend using contact cement to glue leather to them. I used some rough sand paper to scuff up the hold fast where I was going to glue the leather to help it adhere better. I don’t think it changes the grip at all, for better or worse.
I also made a new bench dog in slot number 11 so that the dog dropped down lower.
This is the original. Because of the tail vise guide block this bench dog didn’t stick down below the bench, which made it slightly annoying when popping it up.
Now the new bench dog sticks down about an inch like the rest.
The only other update I have made to the bench was to make two bench dogs for holding turnings. These are both 12” long and have screws with tips I have ground to a point. The only problem with these are that they do not stay at whatever height you place them because they do not have the little hickory springs my other bench dogs have. The only idea I have to solve it would be to put a few bullet catches every inch or two so there will also be one or two applying pressure, no matter what height they are set at.
I do have plans on making a new screw for my tail vise. At the time I made the one I have now I could only fit 14 inches on my lathe. Because of that, when the vise is fully extended there is only about an inch of screw grabbing the nut, which isn’t ideal. Also because of the short length, the hub is too short and makes it awkward because the handle is too close to the vise. With the handle so close I sometimes hit my knuckles on the vise, again, not ideal. So I will eventually make a longer screw now that my lathe can handle about 3’.
Because I knew I planned on making a new screw I made the one “nub” on the end of the handle removable by not glueing it in place. This way when I make a new screw I can reuse the handle. It turns out its handy having the handle removable because it can get in the way while planing large boards. So even when I make a new screw I will keep the “nub” removable.
When I built the bench and drilled the hold fast holes in the one leg I made a lucky move. I didn’t think about it the minute I was drilling the holes, but you want your hold fasts able to hang in the holes without hitting each other. It’s no big deal if they do, it just looks nicer and you won’t have them ding each other every time you put them there.
Another thing to keep in mind if you build a sliding dead man is to have the holes in the leg line up level with two of the holes in the dead man. I didn’t think about this when I made mine so the holes aren’t perfectly level.
Again, its no big deal, but there are times when you can rest a work piece on a hold fast in a leg and on the sliding deadman, so its nice to have the board level. If for whatever reason I make a new sliding dead man I will make sure to have the holes line up.
When I had first built the bench I had it running parallel with my shop. This set up was OK, but I found myself always walking around the bench to get to the tools on the other side. So about a month ago I turned the bench so that it runs across the middle of my shop. This way I can get to the tools on the wall from either side of the bench fairly quickly. I left a little space between the bench and wall so that I can move through there to reach farther without walking all the way around. Opposite to the wall, by the tail vise is where I will have my tool chest when it is done. So again, I can get to the tools in the tool chest without walking around the bench.
The only downside to this set up is that if I have to edge plane a piece over 5 feet long in the leg vise there is little room to move close to the wall. I usually don’t work with very long boards so I havn’t run into that problem yet. If I do I can simply rotate the bench for the time to make more space, no big deal.
(At the end of the tail vise is where my tool chest will go.)
I have most of my commonly used tools on the wall here, for now at least. When my chest is done my nice hand tools will go in there. I also have moved a light directly above the end of the bench so that no matter where I am around the bench, there will always be light.
Shortly after I built my bench I thought I might plug the centre of the bench with a strip to keep things from falling down. I haven’t done it yet because I don’t drop things through it (besides a few pencils). The gap is handing for holding chisels and other tools so I don’t know if I would want to plug it.
I haven’t built a shelf under the bench either, just because I haven’t felt the need to. If I do ever build a shelf I will plug the gap in the top to keep dust/shavings from falling onto it. I do keep a few appliances, like shooting boards and bench hooks under the bench, but they just rest against a stretcher.
The bench has been holding up fine in general. I flattened the top a couple months ago, because it developed a slight hump in the middle, but only very slight. After I resurfaced the bench I put some more oil on it. (Note: try not to get oil in the hold fast holes, otherwise it will take about a week for it to dry, so the hold fasts won’t grip). The shoulder vise and the tail vise have had no problems. The tail vise has broken in now so it runs smoother than at first, but it is not sagging at all.
Every month or two I loosen the bolts in the end caps and the threaded rod through the shoulder vise. I do this just to release any tension that there might be and retighten them again.
I don’t worry if glue gets on my bench, I usually grab a handful of shavings and rub the glue dry, and then scrap any goo off with a dull card scraper. I try not to get any finishes or stains on the bench though (besides oil) just to keep the bench from looking too crummy. If I have to finish over the bench I put a drop sheet or sheet of crummy plywood over top.
A little rough and dirty, but kept clean for the most part. I am still considering using a toothing plane to texture the top but haven’t decided yet.
The leather on the vises and bench dogs have been holding up pretty good as well. I try not to clamp small or sharp objects without wrapping them in another piece of leather, to keep the vise leather from unnecessary marks.
I have also considered making a crochet by the leg vise, but I don’t think there is much advantage in doing so. If anything it keeps you from having boards extend further past the vise. With a bench only about 6 foot long it is nice to extend long boards a little further past the leg vise sometimes.
I have also considered adding a planing stop near the tail vise like many Roubo and Nicholson benches have. I sometimes have to plane a short piece that cannot be clamped between the two nearest bench dogs, and planing against a bench dog is less than ideal because its fairly narrow. Besides the work involved in mortising and making the stop, is there any downside to having this feature?
People have asked me about how long to make a leg vise screw. My screw is only 14” long including the hub, so there is only about 9 inches of thread. There is more than enough. I don’t think I have clamped anything over 3” thick so far, so having 9 inches of thread is enough. One disadvantage to having a longer screw is it takes longer to unscrew when removing the vise. There have been many times where the leg vise was in the way so I removed it, and with a shorter screw it takes less time then with a long one. Only a small consideration though.
I haven’t thought about building a sliding leg vise much, since the sliding dead man and holdfasts work quicker and probably just as good.
My thoughts in general about the bench after 6 months are very good. Each of the three vises has it’s advantages and although I could do without having all three, it sure is nice having them there. Since I use the tail vise more then anything else I would say it is the most useful of the three. Its the only vise of the three that can hold work securely for face planing and with the traditional L-block style vise you can even clamp work between the jaws like a face vise too (of course the grip is side to side, not front to back). I also use it to pry things apart. I do furniture repairing and there have been many times where I used my tail vise to pull chairs apart. The leg vise would be the next most versatile vise. Unlike the shoulder vise it will not pivot so it can clamp small parts. And because the legs are flush to the bench, it is better at edge planing and holding wide boards firmly. Although the shoulder vise is quicker to use than the leg vise and doesn’t have a screw in the way of clamping.
The weight of the bench keeps it from moving while doing anything. I have never had it move while working on it. The height is also very nice for planing and when sitting on a stool it is a good height for chiseling and detailed work. I can’t say I would give it up for another other bench yet, except for a longer one if a had the space, although 6 feet really has been just fine.
If there are any other questions about how my bench has been holding up leave a comment and ask.
-- And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord... Colossians 3:23