A Workbench's Progress #11: The End's in Sight!

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Blog entry by TheGravedigger posted 07-26-2007 05:16 PM 2047 reads 1 time favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 10: The Mother of Invention Part 11 of A Workbench's Progress series Part 12: Home Base at Last! »

Hooray! The final glue-up of all the pieces is finished, and boy am I tired!

The last post left me sharpening my chisel and getting ready to square up the 28 mortises. This was indeed as difficult as I feared. It’s not that squaring a mortise is that hard, but there were so many of them. This was the time to remember the old adage that a mountain is climbed one step at a time. Each mortise was just one mortise, and that’s how I approached the problem. The problem with SYP is that, while it’s a soft wood, it isn’t that easy to work with hand tools. Fine paring with a chisel is difficult because the end-grain wants to compress and tear out, and side-grain wants to split off in strips. I simply took light cuts and sharp tools, and eventually was through.

The next step was to cut all the tenons. I mentioned previously that I had cut the short cheeks earlier to use this length to lay out the mortises. I now cut the face cheeks to rough size using the router table and my Incra miter gauge. I left each one a little thick and finished the job with the shoulder plane. This is where it turned out to be money truly well spent. The tenons were quickly trimmed down to size, with only a couple of boo-boos on the shoulders. Practice makes perfect, and each one was better and faster than the one before. Since this was a long process, I re-checked the fit during dry-assembly and re-trimmed the tenons if necessary. It’s amazing how much dimensions on a joint will change in our Mississippi climate over a few days! Several indeed needed a bit more trimming.

Once the tenons were fitted and I was satisfied with the dry-assembly, it was time for the pegs. I used 3/8” oak dowels and holes set back 1/2” from the face of the mortise, and offset the hole in the tenon 3/32” toward the shoulder. I took advantage of the thickness of my stock to drill the holes almost all the way through for maximum strength. A sanded taper on the end of each had me ready to go:

Joint Assembly Details

The first step was to assemble the three leg frame units. This went fairly quickly, since only four joints were involved. One of the completed ends is shown below:

Completed End Frame

One of the beauties of the pegged mortise-and-tenon is that no clamping is required. I had made a drawboring pin based on Christopher Schwartz’s recommendations, but found it unnecessary. A little glue and a few taps with a hammer locked the joint together permanently. All that remained was to trim off the slightly protruding peg:

Pegged Joint Detail

The astute observer will notice the gap in one shoulder of the leg. This was one of my first shoulders to cut, and I got a little carried away. I thought about shortening the other three shoulders to match, but was afraid I would throw the whole assembly out of kilter, so I left it alone. I had a good match on the other three shoulders, and the gap was purely cosmetic.

A word of advice on measuring your pegs: Always cut them a little longer than the measurement you get when you fit the dowel through the hole. The taper sanded on the end will allow the peg to sit a little deeper in holes bored with a drill bit, due to the pilot point being deeper than the shoulder of the joint. Of course, you could just make the taper first and THEN measure (didn’t think of that until now—hrmph!).

The protruding end of the dowel was cut with a flush-cut saw, and then trimmed flush with the shoulder plane. I realize most would use a low-angle block plane for this, but I only have a Stanley contractor’s-grade block plane with the non-adjustable mouth, so the shoulder plane was the better option.

Once all three frames were completed, all that remained was to join them together with the stretchers. As I was sanding them down, I realized that I would sand off all my marks that identified their location. Fortunately I remembered in time, and made new marks on the ends of the tenons to keep me from putting tenon A in mortise B by mistake.

The only real trick in this step was moving quickly. I had to do four stretchers at one time, so I had to apply glue to eight mortises and eight tenons, fit the rails into the first frame, get the second frame in place and seated properly (not so easy – once I had to resort to a three-pound sledge), and get the pegs hammered in before the glue set. Whew! When I added the second set of stretchers and the third frame, the project was on the floor and I was hammering down from over my head to “convince” the last frame to take its place in the scheme of things. At least no clamps were needed! The next morning (today), I trimmed all of the pegs flush and set the nearly completed base up for a look:

Glued-up Base

A close look will reveal a small gap under the front foot on the right. The floor is level, and the gap doesn’t change when I move things around, so I obviously messed up somewhere. Since the other five are perfectly level, I must have had some play in the joint somewhere and didn’t catch it during dry-up. I think I’ll simply shim it or tack a thin spacer underneath it rather than reduce the other feet to match.

All that remains now is final sanding, applying a topcoat, and fitting it to the bench top. Obviously my son will have to get out there and help me move things from this point on!

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

9 comments so far

View Buckskin's profile


486 posts in 3982 days

#1 posted 07-26-2007 05:23 PM

That looks to be one solid bench.

View Bill's profile


2579 posts in 4155 days

#2 posted 07-26-2007 05:27 PM

Strong looking bench Rob. That should provide you many years of service.

-- Bill, Turlock California,

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 3991 days

#3 posted 07-26-2007 05:28 PM

Thank goodness the top’s already done! This is really coming together!

And the shoulder plane provides yet another use…

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View TheGravedigger's profile


963 posts in 4018 days

#4 posted 07-26-2007 05:40 PM

It’s solid, all right – no play anywhere. My boss said that I was overbuilding it, and I replied, “I intend to!” I remember a Fine Woodworking article on bench building saying that if you think your joinery is strong enough, make it stronger.

I really couldn’t have made the base without the top’s clamping capabilities. I’ll just be glad to get it off of those darn sawhorses and onto something really stable.

Yes, the shoulder plane is quickly becoming the darling of the shop. That was some of the best money I ever spent on hand tools!

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1804 posts in 4080 days

#5 posted 07-26-2007 10:54 PM

Looking good.

I need to get a shoulder plane.

-- Bob, Carver Massachusetts, Sawdust Maker

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6855 posts in 3974 days

#6 posted 07-27-2007 12:47 AM


Great work. (and a lot of it).


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View oscorner's profile


4563 posts in 4305 days

#7 posted 07-27-2007 02:03 AM

Great job! Nice and beefy…just the way a bench should be.

-- Jesus is Lord!

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3956 days

#8 posted 07-27-2007 04:12 AM

horse high, hog tight and bull stout. just right, good job. I’m about ready for a new bench and I’m taking notes.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4155 days

#9 posted 07-27-2007 11:19 AM

strong is good!
it’s looking great! :)

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

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