Re-Tooling a Workbench #1: Yearly Maintenance and Face Vice Tweak.

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Blog entry by RGtools posted 07-05-2011 01:46 AM 4985 reads 2 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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I have been using my workbench for about a year now and I know darn well what makes me grumpy about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love my bench, it’s helped me build so much, but there are things that just have to change about it before I decide to beat it with a hatchet. Truth be told, it’s not the workbench’s fault, it just stands there big and heavy and takes abuse from me daily. I’m the guy who said to himself a year ago, “OK you are done with your bench for one year, use it and tally a list of the things that need to change, but wait a year before changing anything”. Much to my chagrin I have kept this insane promise to myself and I think I am glad I did.

But I’m REALLY glad I get to start fixing stuff now. Just like everything else you have to start with a bit of maintenance. A great chance to use my new/old jointer. This process has been covered in so many places, I’ll spare few words on it here, but here is the down and dirty list.

1. Use a big plane.
2. TWO planes are better than one, use a fore or a jack with a cambered iron to do the grunt work and a jointer with a straight blade for the final finish. If you swap the curved blade into the jointer and have the straight blade in the other plane like I do I strongly recommend a fore…the jack is too short.
3. Remove your bench dogs or push them WAY deep in the bench. Hitting metal with a sharp plane sucks, hitting it with a wooden soled plane is heartbreaking. Removing your vices is helpful as well, I have always found it easier to flatten them separately from the bench.
4. If you have a tool well like I do start taking it down first, repetitively ramming your plane into the wall of the well should be avoided this way. Or just don’t put a tool well on your bench in the first place because they are useless in every way.
5. Chamfer, the exit of the cut, (this should be the back of your bench and the front of your tool-well). Also chamfer the back lip of the tool-well since it will help save your plane if you start to cut below the tool-well back (think: gentle ramp instead of a brick wall)
6. Other than that, flattening your bench top is like flattening any other piece of wood. Take the cup out first by traversing cross grain, then remove any wind bay working diagonals then, take out any bow by going along the grain. When you are done, your bench should be flat as a die, for 6 months to a year.
7.Don’t worry about a little tear-out, it’s a bench, make it flat and get to work, save shiny for your furniture. Knock off any splinters you might get with a card scraper, but I would not do much more than that.

OK, so I spared a lot of words, I like flattening benches. I should mention that this is the first flattening since I built the bench and I don’t expect to take off nearly as much as this in future flattenings.

Across the grain


Flat (finish with a straight blade)

A little reminder for next year.

I also went ahead and flatted the front face of my workbench. Legs, stretchers the works but I paid the most attention to the front edge since it needs to be dead flat for the proper operation of my vise, (actually I made it ever so gently hollow where my vice is). Speaking of my vise, now that I have one true face and one true edge I can explain why my vice makes me cranky.

When I first installed my vice I trusted that the four lag bolts would hold it where it needed to stay. I put the thing on and got to work, and all was well in my world…that is until I clamped something outside of the span of the green faceplate. The force of the bolts was not in the right direction to hold back the pressure of the vise wanting to move forward. It racked constantly and had to be moved back once a month or so. Only to creep forward and out of parallel, over and over again.

A few ways to fix this
1. Use bigger bolts that fit better in the holes for better resistance to the sliding forces
2. Install a leg vice instead (tempting.)
3. Install a skirt to the front of the bench that holds the vice back (not tempting, skirts get in the way of clamps, and for that reason I am not a fan)
4. Inset the vice into the underside of the bench. Ding Ding Ding we have a winner.

I flipped the bench over onto blocks (not using the blocks is a bad idea, you dent your top and the bench is a total pain to flip back over)

I found one good spot to put the vice, not quite as far back as I would like but it will do.

I knocked this out with a chisel a router plane and a scrub to roughly flatten the area I was working in so the router would register correctly.

The fit was good but a bit tight.

A slight adjustment for wood movement.

A good fit.

Checking for alignment. Draw a line on your vise jaw using the bench top as a guide, then screw your vise all the way out, with the bench resting on it’s side, use a straight edge to verify that the jaw is moving parallel to the bench top. First try’s a charm by the way…love it when that happens.

Before I put the base back on I made a quick change. When I built the bench to allow for wood movement I used two bolts that were placed at the front and center of the bench. Since my legs are flush with the top I kept the bolts in the front fairly tight to reduce any movement there and force it to the back, I used slightly over-sized holes in the stretchers for the center bolts. Those holes never seemed big enough and I have dreaded the top cracking over time. I enlarged the center holes to allow for about a 1/4” of movement between the front and back bolts (about 12” apart) and will check to see what happens about a year from now, but I am confident this is a good long term solution.

Wiped off the screw while I was thinking about it. Lightly oiled it too, (I prefer that to grease).

One more thing for now, making the vise flush with the top.

Here is how long that took. Normally I would hold something like this in a vice and remove the bulk with a drawknife, but my vise was occupied.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

2 comments so far

View kenn's profile


810 posts in 3747 days

#1 posted 07-05-2011 05:17 AM

Nice update, it’s good to fix those minor things that were bugging you with the most important tool in your shop. I need to flatten my bench top when I’m done with my current project. Thanks for sharing.

-- Every cloud has a silver lining

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 2681 days

#2 posted 07-05-2011 05:20 AM

Thanks Kenn, a few more things to come, on the bench, but this was the big part. Test drove the vise, and I am really please with the results.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

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