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Occasional Table Class (Hand Tool Build) #5: The tool kit part 3.5 (benches)

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Blog entry by RGtools posted 1079 days ago 8635 reads 0 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: The tool kit part 3 Planes Part 5 of Occasional Table Class (Hand Tool Build) series Part 6: The Tool Kit part 4 (Joinery tools) »

You can’t discuss handplanes without discussing the workbench.

Do you need a workbench to do work by hand? No, what you need is a way to hold your work while you work on the face, edges and ends of various sized boards. Benches just so happen to fill that need VERY well. The problem with benches is that people convince themselves that they cant build a good bench without a bench, to an extent that’s true but it does not have to be the stumbling block some people make it.

Shown here a set up for jointing my jointer plane, I would not have thought of this had I not worked bench-less for a while.

Some people will suggest that you work on a solid core door that are placed on sawhorses that are weighted down with sand. Work on that for a while and figure out what you want. Others, like myself, suggest that you build yourself a good cheap bench and get to work. I feel that if you have a bench that does not piss you off you will be better at deciding what you want in your eventual “ULTIMATE BENCH”. I don’t think there is a lot of sense in buying or building the ultimate bench first, if I had done this I would have a European bench with a shoulder vise for dovetails…and I would hate it because I like making big projects (dining tables and what not). I would also have built my ultimate bench with a tool well (I hate tool wells with a passion).

I discovered little things like this after I built my first real bench and started working on it. My bench is built strongly on Bob and Dave's good fast and cheap bench and should you go this route I strongly suggest three alterations…
1. No tool well (personal preference I know, but I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to lose stuff in there under a pile of shavings), it complicates construction and reduces weight. Heavy benches are a good thing
2. Lower the big stretchers to give your knees a place to go when you plane across the grain…this will also give you room for a nice shelf for your bench fixtures and planes.
3. Get those dog holes within an inch or two from the front of the bench…you will thank yourself when you start using joinery planes.

A compromise on the build of a simple “starter” bench and get to work idea, and the solid core door idea would be to get the solid core door and the saw horses, but grab and nice 4×10 or 4×12 beam as well. Flatten the beam and attach it to the sawhorses so you can put dog holes in as well as clamp battens to it for cross grain planing. The beam will give you much better purchase to clamp to for edge and end work and the solid core door will give you a nice assembly area. If you lean more towards the sawhorse route grab a couple of Jorgenson stye handscrews, they are lifesavers when it comes to work holding.

Also when we are on the subject of work holding, there is one bench accessory that is really work having:

This saw hook, doubles as a planing stop and mortising clamp. But it does have one flaw, it does not protect my bench top from my saw. To correct this set the larger block back a bit from the edge on the right hand side (if you hare right handed), that way your saw scores your hook not your bench.


Now that we have covered getting our work nice and flat and square, let’s start putting it together…

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



22 comments so far

View Don W's profile

Don W

14665 posts in 1171 days


#1 posted 1079 days ago

I agree with everything here and will add, when you lower the stretchers (#2) make then low enough so when (notice the when not if) you decide to add drawers underneith you can.

I worked on 2 x framed 3/4 plywood benches forever. I Just built my real woodworking bench a while ago after finaly building my new shop. I never had a tool try but know RG is right, it would drive me nuts.

I like your smoother to.

-- Master hand plane hoarder. - http://timetestedtools.com

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3302 posts in 1258 days


#2 posted 1078 days ago

Your new bench is awesome Don. My smoother has changed it’s shape a bit since then (I like to rough out my tools and shape them as I use them).

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

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile

Smitty_Cabinetshop

9613 posts in 1222 days


#3 posted 1077 days ago

@Don – Ditto on the lower stretcher discussion. And I certainly won’t argue with the “when” statement… ;-)

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive

View Mauricio's profile

Mauricio

6750 posts in 1755 days


#4 posted 1077 days ago

RG, how has the Southern Yellow Pine worked out for you?

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3302 posts in 1258 days


#5 posted 1077 days ago

Very well so far. The first year had quite a bit of wood movement but it has gotten more stable since then (this could have been prevented by more down time in my shop when I got it). The pine is heavy enough to not move around the shop, and on those occasions when I mess up and ding the bench I don’t want to cry.

I also like that the bench stays a bit “rough” during the course of working on it, this helps it grip the work better, slick-can be an issue on hardwood benches. My dream bench will most likely be a Douglas Fir base with an Oak top (both of these woods grow prolifically in my area) but if I had access to some good stock I would not be opposed to doing another out of the yellow pine.

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

View Mauricio's profile

Mauricio

6750 posts in 1755 days


#6 posted 1076 days ago

I’m comtimplating going the same rout but I’m still in the planning fase. I still have a bunch of red oak that I’m tired of making furniture out of so I think I’ll use it for either the legs or the tops. I need to make my plans first to see exactly how much wood is needed for each.

For now I have a 2×4 and OSB bench. It works ok becaus its against the wall, it is nice to be able to chop and drill into and not care about scratching it.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View Mauricio's profile

Mauricio

6750 posts in 1755 days


#7 posted 1076 days ago

P.S. whats up with all those gaps in your bench top? Did those glue joints open up after glue up or where they there to begin with?

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3302 posts in 1258 days


#8 posted 1076 days ago

They were there to begin with. At the time I could not figure out a way to plane the faces of the bench dead smooth so I just glued them up an hoped for the best, If I had to do it over I would have used larger beams for the bench top (for the whole bench in fact) because the wood would have been more stable to plane on sawhorses and they would have been less work. Lamination in handwork should be avoided, use big components whenever possible, it’s faster and stronger.

Other than the occasional hunt for a finish nail (and being uglier that sin) the gaps have not bothered me. My laminations (when I do them) have of course gotten tighter since I acquired a place to plane properly.

My “first” bench was total crap osb, my wife uses it has a potting bench now, It racked so badly that I decided to just build this bench on the ground it was easier that way.

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

View Mauricio's profile

Mauricio

6750 posts in 1755 days


#9 posted 1076 days ago

You know, I was thinking the same thing. All that glue up is tedious. Whats a good source for stuff like that. Reclaimed barn wood? What about railroad ties? You can get them at the big box stores, I know they are toxic but will they work for the legs? Might make for a nice look.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View Mauricio's profile

Mauricio

6750 posts in 1755 days


#10 posted 1076 days ago

Nevermind, I think they are toxic.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3302 posts in 1258 days


#11 posted 1076 days ago

As you stated it’s nasty stuff. However you can get some big beams at your local big box store; I see 6×6’s regularly, some of those and some 4×6’s would make a beefy base. I would build the top first though since it will

a) help you build the rest of the bench.
b) help you accuratly figure out the final height of your bench…

Crap, I totally forgot to discuss bench height.

So a good bench height for hand work finds good balance between muscle groups used for different tasks. When I finish a long day of material prep I am sore all over, (not too bad and only for a bit) that’s good because I have used my muscles in my body evenly. If I had my bench too high I could only use my arms, if it was too low my legs and back would get all the abuse. There are quite a few rules for finding the right bench height for you, and a lot of variables, like what kind of planes you use (wood planes favor a bit lower bench because of their thickness and use). A good starting point is to measure from the floor to your wrist joint (if your arms are by your sides), this is about as high of a bench as I would ever build and it’s fairly easy to shop an inch at a time off until you find the right height for you. The other good way to go is to make your bench the same height as your table saw since that tends to be at an appropriate height to the user (and you can use your bench as out feed…a nice plus).

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

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3302 posts in 1258 days


#12 posted 1044 days ago

I forgot to mention it since this function was added after my class started. If you go to the Class tab and hit the subscribe button you should not miss any installments of the class.

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

View Dennisgrosen's profile

Dennisgrosen

10850 posts in 1719 days


#13 posted 1041 days ago

good blog RG :-)
like your jointing setup on the plane
cuold be used with a small thick tabletop to raise the bench
for small fine work

the idea of going with a low bench isn´t so bad if you only flatten wood with planes
since you need some downforce too when pushing the plane thrugh the wood
adding your bodyweight do will ceep the arms from being abused too much
think Swarhz had made a sceintific theory article about it …. lol

sounds like a workout in the gym …. no no there is talking about a lifestyle change here … lol
spare the money to the gym and buy handtools instead
no more workout …. having fun instead and create things with value at the same time :-)

Dennis

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3302 posts in 1258 days


#14 posted 1041 days ago

It does not have to be a workout, but I will say…I really don’t need a gym either.

Glad you are liking the class.

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

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1462 posts in 2169 days


#15 posted 939 days ago

I also made my bench from SYP, after two years both ends were cupped an 1/8” or more. I just flattened it, hopefully it will not move too much more. I laminated the legs too and they haven’t moved at all.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

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