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Workbench - Start to Finish #3: The Top

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Blog entry by beaudex posted 07-14-2008 02:49 PM 1260 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Building the Base Part 3 of Workbench - Start to Finish series Part 4: Finish »

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.

bench top

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



8 comments so far

View Eric's profile

Eric

875 posts in 3244 days


#1 posted 07-14-2008 03:37 PM

Very nice! But I wonder (now I’m a total newbie so cut me a little slack) how necessary it is to have perfect 90-degree holes for the dogs? I mean, I’ll be doing mine with a bit brace. While it may not be perfectly perpendicular, I’m sure it’ll be within a few degrees.

So your end caps are just dovetailed on to the outermost boards, is that right?

-- Eric at https://adventuresinwoodworking.wordpress.com/

View beaudex's profile

beaudex

64 posts in 3099 days


#2 posted 07-14-2008 03:55 PM

Eric,

The reason I mentioned the need for perpendicular holes was that having used the round bench dogs they have a face angle of 4 degrees (if I am not mistaken) If you are out in your drilling by over 4 degrees your faces will not be square and when you clamp a 1/2 inch peice to your bench and start planing it flat and it pops out of the clamp let me tell you you will wished you had used a drill press. That being said, I am an overly precise person (perhaps too much) and you may well be fine with the bit braced holes.

As for the end caps, yes, only the outmost boards are dovetailed. I know this peice would be against the wall and in an attepmt to save space in my shop I chose not to add a skirt board to the back. If the time comes that I move the bench I will add a faux dovetailed piece to the back to maintain the look.

Interestingly that does bring up a small thing I forgot to mention in the blog. You may have noticed the small ‘backsplash’ I put on the back of the bench, this is a small peice of wood I simply screwed to the back to prevent small tools and fasteners from falling behind the bench. If you are planning to put your bench against the wall I highly recommend it.

Hope this answers your questions.

Derek

-- Derek Tay, Venerate the Tree Design

View Taigert's profile

Taigert

593 posts in 3301 days


#3 posted 07-14-2008 04:04 PM

Dereck,
I can’t imagine try to support that massive top the way you described to drill the holes. It’s lucky you didn’t end up picking it up off the floor. But it sure turned out nice! I wish I could get any kind of Maple around here cheap. Out here on the west coast any decent hardwood costs a small fortune. Did you apply the same amount of finish to the bottom as you did the top?

-- Taigert - Milan, IN

View beaudex's profile

beaudex

64 posts in 3099 days


#4 posted 07-14-2008 04:32 PM

Ed,

You raise a great point, I never mentioned the finish I used for this project, I kind of think I will add another blog entry detailing the finish.

I used pure tung oil to finish the top followed by paste wax. Any time I do a project where I use either of these finishes I always add another coat to the top so Its probably got 5 – 7 coats so far. I did not put any finish on the underside of the top and I should have, the top will lose moisture at a different rate and may cause warping but honestly it too late now, the thought of moving this behemoth is daunting.

As for the base.. IT has 3 coats of high gloss poly followed by paste wax.

Cheers,

Derek

-- Derek Tay, Venerate the Tree Design

View Callum Kendall's profile

Callum Kendall

1918 posts in 3163 days


#5 posted 07-14-2008 08:19 PM

Looking good!

Thanks for the post

Callum

-- For wood working podcasts with a twist check out http://thetimberkid.com/

View Taigert's profile

Taigert

593 posts in 3301 days


#6 posted 07-14-2008 08:32 PM

Dereck,
You could always spray the bottom, I would try to get some thing on their or it could really cause you a head ache down the road, I figured I would memtoin it because I know other guys who have done the same thing and tried to figure out why the bench top keeps going out of wack. It would really be worth renting a HVLP or even getting one of those wagner sprays from Home Depot. I hate recommending them but they are most likely the cheapest for something like that.
Good Luck

-- Taigert - Milan, IN

View beaudex's profile

beaudex

64 posts in 3099 days


#7 posted 07-14-2008 08:44 PM

Ed,

Thanks for the heads up, I should be able to remove the top and simply lift it up and do the bottom (groan – thats from both my painting arm and my back). I must admit that I thought that because I used the tung oil I would be ok as it would allow the moisture to balance rather than completly sealing the wood like a poly would. Any Comment?

The bench is 3 years old now and I have not seen any change in the top at all. Perhaps its because I have kept the basement pretty well at the same humidity since it was built.

Thanks for the post very informative.

Cheers,

Derek

-- Derek Tay, Venerate the Tree Design

View Eric's profile

Eric

875 posts in 3244 days


#8 posted 07-15-2008 03:35 AM

Derek,

Thanks for the explanation. Like I said, I’m a newbie, so I don’t mind playing devil’s advocate and asking questions that have obvious answers for those with experience. I think I’m obsessive-compulsive enough that my bit brace holes will be within 4 degrees of perpendicular. But then again, I’ll probably be using square hand-made dogs, so I guess if I’m off by 15 degrees I’ll just copy that on the top of the dog! lol

Thanks for the tip on the backsplash. Good words, think I’ll do that too.

-- Eric at https://adventuresinwoodworking.wordpress.com/

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