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A Workbench's Progress #5: Leveling the playing field

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Blog entry by TheGravedigger posted 06-01-2007 04:55 PM 1923 reads 2 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Squeeze play Part 5 of A Workbench's Progress series Part 6: Base plan »

Now for the hard part – leveling the top. As I previously mentioned, there was considerable misalignment and undulation in the soon-to-be working surface. My drywall square made a good level-checker. Not only was it straight, but the head kept it vertical to the surface with little effort on my part. With the biggest problem areas identified, I grabbed my jointer plane to start knocking down the high spots. I had, however, forgotten one of the biggest principles of planecraft:

Planes Don’t Like Knots!

This whitewood was quite knotty, and with the first pass over one the plane stopped as dead as if it had hit a brick wall.

Hmm…

It was time to fall back to plan B, which involved the use of my cabinet scraper. Many of you will wonder why I didn’t go with my belt sander, and it would have certainly been faster. However, this speed can be counterproductive, causing overshoots and possibly taking more time in the long run. I felt that the cabinet scraper would give me more control in getting the surface level. Mine is a Veritas model that is basically an upgrade of the Stanley #80. The extra $15-20 buys you a sole that is 1 inch longer, and handles that are placed lower and farther forward. The net result is a more stable unit that is easier to control and less prone to dig-ins—spend it.

The cabinet scraper is not the ideal tool for softwood, and doesn’t provide the smooth surface that it would yield on hardwood. However, it handled the knots well, and leveled the high spots more quickly than I thought. It was during this process that I added a third middle sawhorse to support the top, turned at right angles to the two at the end. Aggressive scraping tended to make the sawhorses tip with the force. The third at right angles under the center calmed this effect and kept my new benchtop from winding up on the floor.

Once I was satisfied with the flatness of the surface, I drilled the dog holes. I had previously drilled matching holes in the vise blocks using the drill press and finishing up with a brace and auger when the drill press could go no deeper. Obviously the benchtop wouldn’t fit on the drill press, so I switched to a 3-flute Irwin auger driven by my 5-amp Skil corded drill. I just didn’t think my cordless would have the torque for this job. After my drill guide broke (cheap imported plastic!), I just eyeballed the angle, hit the trigger, and held on for the ride! Lemme tell you – those power augers go through softwood faster than you can imagine if you haven’t used one. Yes, there was some splintering on the back, but so?

Now it was time for the debated belt sander. I started with 50 grit and gently finished leveling the whole surface, then 80 grit, and finally 120. I then switched to my palm sander and worked through 100 and 150. It was a lot of tedious work, but I think the results below were worth it:

Finished surface

All that was left was a few coats of Watco, and the benchtop was in business!

This brings me up to the present. The base is next, and posts will be coming slower now that I'm in realtime. I'm finalizing the design, and should have something posted for comments or suggestions in a day or two.

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog: http://littlegoodpieces.wordpress.com



10 comments so far

View markrules's profile

markrules

146 posts in 3580 days


#1 posted 06-01-2007 05:31 PM

When do you start piling stuff on it?

Looks good!

View mot's profile

mot

4911 posts in 3502 days


#2 posted 06-01-2007 06:31 PM

Nice job. My shoulders are sore just looking at that planing job!

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View WayneC's profile

WayneC

12642 posts in 3562 days


#3 posted 06-01-2007 08:47 PM

It looks great. I agree with Tom, that looks like a lot of hard work.

A scrub plane or a Jack plane with a camber similar to a scrub plane may have been a better place to start. Use the Jack/scrub plane (rough tool) to get the high spots then go to the jointer plane (medium tool), then move to smoothing plane, then scraper (fine tools)(Chris Schwarz recommendation).

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View TheGravedigger's profile

TheGravedigger

963 posts in 3489 days


#4 posted 06-02-2007 04:19 AM

To WayneC:
Normally I would agree, but I unfortunately don’t have a jack or scrub – just a #4 & a #7. I DO have an old #4 that I’m thinking about converting to a scrub plane, but that’s a project for another day. The scraper works in a coarser manner on wood this soft than it does on hardwood. It’s surprising how much it removes with a robust burr. The shavings look more like what you would get with a coarsely set plane. Also, it handled the abundant knots much better than my planes. I don’t think the scraper would be much use for fine finishing on whitewood though.

To Markrules:
I’ve already started! I’m presently finishing up a little buggy for my granddaughter to push around, and the top no longer looks brand new (didn’t expect it to!).

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog: http://littlegoodpieces.wordpress.com

View WayneC's profile

WayneC

12642 posts in 3562 days


#5 posted 06-02-2007 04:27 AM

Interesting observations on the scraper. I’ll have to play around with one some soft wood. Sounds like a good trick to have in the bag.

How long did it take you to finish the top?

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View TheGravedigger's profile

TheGravedigger

963 posts in 3489 days


#6 posted 06-02-2007 05:18 AM

To WayneC: Hmm…that’s a tough question. I had so many stops and starts. Not counting the dog holes, maybe 4 hours??? Actual time elapsed may have been less

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog: http://littlegoodpieces.wordpress.com

View David's profile

David

1970 posts in 3604 days


#7 posted 07-01-2007 03:37 PM

Robert -

Your bench top is wonderful. A lot of work but well worth the effort!

-- http://foldingrule.blogspot.com

View WayneC's profile

WayneC

12642 posts in 3562 days


#8 posted 07-01-2007 04:15 PM

Robert. As a follow-up, the other day I was playing around with a #5 with a Hock blade and chip breaker on knotty softwood and it went right through the knots. Surface was as smooth as glass. Got me thinking a stiff blade may help some in this type of wood.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View TheGravedigger's profile

TheGravedigger

963 posts in 3489 days


#9 posted 07-01-2007 04:54 PM

I’ve been thinking about moving up to a heavier blade on my #4 and #7. I think that part of the problem on the benchtop was the fact that the sawhorses allowed enough flex that the inertia was absorbed when the plane encountered the knot—sort of like the arresting wire on a carrier deck. I haven’t encountered the same problem planing in a vise.

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog: http://littlegoodpieces.wordpress.com

View WayneC's profile

WayneC

12642 posts in 3562 days


#10 posted 07-01-2007 08:37 PM

Good point, I was planing a board on my bench secured with a dog and tail vice. I’ve fitted several of my planes with Hock blades and chip breakers and highly recommend them.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

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