Balanced Work Bench #1: Building a Semi-Classic workbench without taking a 2nd out on your house

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Blog entry by Jeremiah posted 07-16-2013 05:32 PM 1889 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Balanced Work Bench series Part 2: building the leg vise »

Here goes….

Traditional work benches (roubo for example) are out dated. I know, heresy. But it’s true

The reason they made those crazy over sized legs and joints was because they didnt have sheetgoods back then and they needed to over build them to deal with the lateral and horizontal force they experienced.

It is my opinion that pine 2×6’s and 3/4 ply MORE than cover any of the structural needs of a work bench.

So the next big argument FOR traditional work benches is an ascetic one. Well i have an answer for that as well; 3/16” re-sawed “veneer”. Thick enough that it will take dents and dings with out giving away its not solid hard wood, but a fraction of the price.

Now that i have spouted my own self aggrandizing opinions, i decided i should put it to the test.

My work bench, built with hardware for UNDER $300…..lets see if i can do it

Here is the start:

The exterior wood i chose was quarter sawed oak. Partially because i always loved it and partially because i had a lot of misshaped boards of it. Over the years any time a got a hold of some white oak and a board had a section that had the flecks and look of 1/4 oak, i would cut it out and save a lot of these boards where only 3-4” wide. which worked for covering the 2×4s.

I also decided to make the joints look like large dovetail joints. and then i added some think strips of hard maple just to accentuate the joint even more. All are hand cut. It was a good skill builder to work with hand saws again.

then i just glued it over the 2×4s and 2×6s (the legs are 3.5” wide and the cross supports are 3”)

I’ll post more on the bench and the homemade leg vice later.

Feel free to comment or agree or disagree with my thoughts


2 comments so far

View Jeremiah's profile


82 posts in 2324 days

#1 posted 07-17-2013 02:50 AM

a note on finishing

you can be a master craftsman, and make amazing furniture, but if the finish sucks, so dose the final product.

That being said, i am no expert but i have learned what works, and what works for me. This is how i deal with open grain wood (oak, walnut, ect)
1. Sand to 220,
2. fill the pours with Timbermate wood puddy, thinned with about 20%water + any color i add. i used the natural color as my base for everything and adjust it according to what i want to do. This is the cool part you can really tweak the final appearance in neat ways by just adjusting the fill color. To color the wood filler i use the Mixol 10 Piece pigment set. If you haven’t used this GET IT. it allows you to adjust just about any die, stain, filler, finish or top coat. it is a MUST HAVE for anyone who really wants to take their finished to the next level
3. lightly sand with 220 or 00 steel wool, diagonally across the grain.
4. Sand down so that none of the filler is on the surface.
5. i don’t do this always, but with 1/4 oak, i do; use a water based dye “mission oak” to dye the board. This stuff, is very color fast and really soaks in and dies the filler nicely.
6. Sand again, so just the pore filler is showing. This will give you a nice finish, but not glass smooth. you can stop here if you want and still have a great finish.
7. i finish by wet sanding BLO into the board. By applying BLO with sandpaper or a sanding sponge, you create this great slurry that fills that last little bit in the pores and then locks everything in.
8. 2 coats of 1 – 1 1/2 LB cuts of super blond shellac. You can stop here too if you want, i didn’t
9. final coat of poly. Poly because its a work bench. normally i like lacquer. But poly stands up better. I choose a water based poly this time (i don’t have much experience with these) because i wanted the color difference between the mission oak and the maple to pop, as much as possible.

The final product is an authentic looking Mission finish that is glass smooth, even before i put any poly on it.

View shipwright's profile


7980 posts in 2798 days

#2 posted 07-17-2013 05:40 AM

I think one big reason that you missed that people build classic Roubo benches is the desire to have a finely crafted piece of shop furniture as the centrepiece of their shops. That said I built mine almost entirely from sheet stock at a cost of well under $300 with a leg vice and two wagon vices.

Like you, I disguised mine with veneer and it looks and feels very authentic.

I’ll be interested to see how yours comes out. I like to see people challenge the old ways sometimes.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

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