Small Workbench #3: The Base

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Blog entry by Mike Lingenfelter posted 12-30-2007 11:04 PM 4363 reads 1 time favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: The Lumber Part 3 of Small Workbench series Part 4: The Top »

The base is assembled with mortise and tenons. I also pinned the tenons using the drawbore technique. For some reason I didn’t take many pictures of the mortise and tenon work. I’ll describe some the process I used. I first hogged out the mortises on the drill press.


Then I hand chiseled the mortises. This is where I had some issues with tareout/splintering on the sides of the mortises that ran with the grain. I always made sure I was working with a sharp chisel, when I worked on these sides. I was also thinking that these were 2×4 studs, and that they might have been “wetter” than thoroughly dried lumber. I’m not sure if this would cause some of the issues I was having. I’ll have to do some more research on this.

I started out using a block of wood I had squared up, as guide block. It helped me keep the walls of my mortises straight and plumb. I had to cut 16 mortises in the legs. After a few mortises, I was getting better at judging my cuts for plumb. On the last few I didn’t use the guide block and did pretty well.

I cut the tenons on my table saw and band saw. I used the table saw to cut the shoulders. I used the band saw to cut the cheeks off. I then used a skewed angle block plane to clean up the shoulders and cheeks.

After dry fitting everything together, it was time to mark for the pins. These were pretty big tenons, so I came in about a ½” from the shoulders. The side stretchers got 2 pins per tenons, and the front stretchers only got 1. I really didn’t think about pins intersecting each other when I designed the bench. Next time I might lay things out a little different.


After drilling all of the holes, I reassembled the base. I marked each pin location on the tenons, and took everything apart again. From the marks for the pins, I made a new mark offset about 3/32” towards the shoulder and drilled those holes.

Now I need some dowels. I cut some ¼” square pieces of maple. I then ran these through my dowel plate. I bought this one from Lie-Nielsen, and it does the job. Although I’m not completely satisfied with this technique of making dowels. Unless you can keep the stock completely straight going through, which is very difficult, your dowel doesn’t come out real straight. You are also limited to how long you can make your dowel. For these ¼” dowels if you got over 8” or so it could break, as you pounded them through. For this type of joint this didn’t cause any problems. I think I will look into making a jig for cutting better dowels.



Here is one of the assembled ends of the bench.


Here is the assembled base.


Using drawbore pins to join this bench together worked great. My mortise and tenon joints were not the tightest by a long shot. When I started to pound the pins through the tenon, and watched those shoulders close up, I couldn’t have been happier. The base it so ridged and solid you could drive a truck over it.

5 comments so far

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3986 days

#1 posted 12-30-2007 11:45 PM

well done

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 4020 days

#2 posted 12-30-2007 11:57 PM

This is looking great! And, very sturdy! Should we test the truck theory out?! Ha.

I think the issue with the fir grain comes from the combo of the soft and hard growth in the annual rings. When cutting the long/side grain as you described, the hard stuff wants to pull the weak soft stuff out. My issue with fir was related to the hard-soft combo. But, my problem with fir was chopping end grain. It cut fine and the results were okay, but that combo of the hard and soft, did a number on the edges of the Marples chisels I was using at the time. Not the best steel. It was really frustrating and took a lot of re-sharpening and honing that I didn’t feel should have been necessary – and with better chisels, it’s not! I’m assuming you were using your A2 Lie Nielsen chisels? I bet that didn’t happen to you!

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Mike Lingenfelter's profile

Mike Lingenfelter

503 posts in 4137 days

#3 posted 12-31-2007 12:27 AM

I think you are right on the hard and soft wood of the growth rings. I was hoping that a “higher” grade for lumber might have tighter growth rings. I need to have a look at the newer lumber yards I have found, and see what quality of Douglas Fir they carry.

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 4020 days

#4 posted 12-31-2007 06:01 AM

They’ll definitely have wood with tighter vg that’s real clear. Crosscut always has quite a bit of good looking rough vg fir and s4s in stock.

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3696 days

#5 posted 04-04-2009 07:01 PM

Looks good.

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