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.
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:
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