Ok, Lets talk about the bench top. I chose brown maple for the top purely because its was the cheapest wood available. Also you will notice that it is 3/4” think prior to laminating.
I would choose the same lumber again if I were to redo this project. The maple holds up very well and has a nice patina.
I planned the slab to have a final thickness of 3 inches. Why 3 inches? well from the literature I have read 3 inches is generally the ideal thickness for bench dogs. In retrospect I may have gone with a little thinner top if money was an issue and I could get my hands on lumber that divided equally by 2.5 to save on waste.
So after dimensioning the lumber and ripping it to 3 inches I then proceed to plan the glue up. I knew I would be running the glue ups through my thickness planer so I had to split the top into 3 portions that were not over 13 inches wide. So I glued each section individually, which turned out good because you are going to be using alot of glue and your open time becomes a crital factor. You definitely want to use a paint roller here if you were to use the glue bottle, your hand will likely cramp up and you will not have enough time to spread it.
Once I had all three sections glued up and roughly hand planed I had to figure out how I would get them through the planer. I ended up building a 2×4 support for my planer which I screwed into the floor of the shop otherwise my planer would have tipped over (it is on a wheeled cart). I toyed with the idea of having another person help me out and leave the wood stationary and have the planer move along the wood but I decided against it.
Once I had the final sections complete I then had to do the final glue up. This was a critical step for several reasons, this step would decide how flat the final top would be, it was very heavy and therefore akward, and if the joint failed there could be serious consequences. I used biquits to align the peices and reinforce the glue and thing could have went better. As it turn out the egdes were slightly out of square which after the glue up cuase a bow shape in the top. I highly recommend if you use this technique yourself that you ensure the edges are square (as well I recommend that you evenly distribute the clamps on both sides of the glue up to avoid uneven clamping which can also cause misalignment.
Well , let me tell you that was quite a massive chunk of wood when I was done. I needed a couple of friends to move it but once on the base I was getting pretty excited. One thing I will note: I only roughly planed the bottom of the bench. I thought “why Bother I will never see it and as long as it is mostly flat that should suffice”. The reality is that for the most part that was true however the more contact the top has with the base the more evenly it distributes the chopping vibration.
I planed the top flat by hand trying to remove the cup I had put in with the glue up. This turned out to be quite the upper body work out. I also would have made sure during the glueup that the laminations all had the grain in the same direction for planing purposes.
Once the top was close to flat I had to add my vise (not the tail vise) this was a fairly simple job. Once it was monunted I was able to add the skirt board, this was a dovetailed board which went around the outside of the bench primarily the hide the end grain. I ended up dovetailing the board only for decoration, the dovetails serve no function.
Finally I had to drill the holes for the bench dogs, as it turns out this was a truly difficult task. first of all I had to do the layout for the holes, this turned out to be a little more diffcult than it seems and to be honest I am not sure why. The real tricky part was that Thet had to be drilled with a drill press, I would never trust a hand drill to be square to the top. So, the question became how do I raise the 1000 lb + bench to match the height of the drill press so I can drill the bench dog holes? Well, one car jack, loads of very stable shims and few frayed nerves later we were ready to go. The drilling turned out to be fairly simple once I had the thing in the air but getting it there was quite a feat.
So that was the top, fairly simple stuff but took awhile. I would not change a whole lot about the build aside from the points I mentioned regarding the glue up. Also since I have finshed the thing I have heard of a much better way to flatten the top using a couple a guides and a router jig. I can elaborate on the technique if anyone is interested, just email and I will describe the whole thing. Next up the Tail Vise.
-- Derek Tay, Venerate the Tree Design