First Workbench #1: Starting the Top

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Blog entry by NicholasS posted 03-07-2012 05:48 AM 4266 reads 2 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of First Workbench series Part 2: Finishing the top »

This is my first real woodworking project. I made a couple small things like a dovetail marker but I count that as practice and this as my first real project. I did a lot of research and am taking inspiration from Bob and Dave’s good fast cheap workbench and a little bit of the Roubo workbench that everyone seems to be building. I looked at a lot of benches people at LumberJocks have built and got a lot of helpful advise from people here.

When I got this wood (Oak) it was rough cut and laying on a scrap heap. I took the wood to a friends to get it cut into boards. The picture here is of my first batch of boards. When I realized I didn’t have enough wood to make the top as wide as I wanted, I picked up some more (even rougher) boards and was able to get a couple more inches out of them to make the total width of the top 20”. I wanted it to be 24” wide but 20” will have to do.

I started gluing up the top in groups of three. I used Titebond III and it seems to have worked pretty well and I hear others have used it for their bench tops.

I then glued up two groups of three boards together. I wasn’t going to glue up more boards than this together because if I wanted to send them through my friends planer they had to be less than 11” wide. I decided, that since I have never really used my hand planes yet, that I wanted to see how flat I could get the top myself and if I couldn’t do it I could always send it through a planer later.

I started with my #5 Stanley Jack plane. This took a while because I didn’t get as good a fit as I wanted to when I was glueing the boards up so it took a while to get them leveled up. The edges of the boards may have been level to each other but the top as a whole, as you can see from the picture, was far from it.

I then used my Record #7 Jointer plane to level up the top. This step went much faster than I thought it would.

Finally, I used my #4 Stanley smoothing plane. I couldn’t believe how good a job these hand planes did! I don’t think I’ll need to use my friends planer at all now. I’m really glad I decided to try to hand plane the top. I learned a lot on how to adjust the planes and, sharpen the blades, and hold and move the planes across the wood.

I just have to do the same thing to the other side and this half of my bench top is done.

7 comments so far

View ShipWreck's profile


557 posts in 3718 days

#1 posted 03-07-2012 12:04 PM

Thank you for posting this project. I am a hand tool noob myself, and would be too intimidated to try such a larger project from the start. Have fun Nick, and keep posting some pics.

View balidoug's profile


477 posts in 2444 days

#2 posted 03-07-2012 12:11 PM

Awesome work with the handplanes! well done.

-- From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. Immanuel Kant

View Andy Panko's profile

Andy Panko

88 posts in 2287 days

#3 posted 03-07-2012 12:17 PM

Looks good so far. Are your arms sore from all that planing???

-- Andy Panko, Edison NJ,

View Willeh's profile


228 posts in 2304 days

#4 posted 03-07-2012 03:38 PM

A great reference is Christopher Schwarz book(s) on workbenches. You’re off to a good start, i look forward to seeing the progress. Schwarz recommends keeping your bench to a max of 20” wide for good reason.. When you build it, keep the legs front and back flush with the front edge of the bench top, that way you will have a 3D clamping surface. At 20” wide, you should be able to hang a carcass off almost any side and over the end if your bench to work on it..
Keep up the great work, an oak top should last a lifetime!

-- Will, Ontario Canada. "I can do fast, cheap and good, but you can only pick two... "

View NicholasS's profile


23 posts in 2320 days

#5 posted 03-07-2012 04:53 PM

Thanks everyone for the encouragement!
Andy: I was pretty tired afterwards that for sure but surprisingly this morning my arms don’t hurt that much. I think the table I’m working on is low enough that I end up using more of my back than my arms.

Willeh: Christopher Schwarz is one of the main reasons I got interested in hand tools! I follow his blog and have some of his DVDs but I haven’t read any of his workbench books yet. But in one of his DVDs, I thought he said that the optimal width for a bench is 24” because of a lot of cabinetry being that wide which makes it possible to clamp three sides to your bench top.

View Sarit's profile


549 posts in 3105 days

#6 posted 03-07-2012 06:50 PM

I wonder if its better to biscuit or dowel the boards to get them to line up or if its better to just glue them up as they naturally lie so that the internal stresses don’t cause the top to warp over time.

View redryder's profile


2393 posts in 3067 days

#7 posted 03-07-2012 08:45 PM

My first workbench top ended up on the burn pile. I wish I had seen this video first. I learned a lot that would reduce time and labor. It is four and a half minutes long from “American WoodWorker”. Much to the point Sarit above made….....................

-- mike...............

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