When I was getting started in woodworking, I bought a cheap “60 in. 4 Drawer Hardwood Workbench” from Harbor Freight using a coupon and using their free shipping at the time. It’s served me well for many years, but has several major shortcomings that have always bothered me (thin top, rickety base, too light, crappy vise). Instead of sinking the cash into building a fancy benchcrafted split-top roubo, I’ve been slowly planning on upgrading the HF bench.
Over the years I’ve added extra support pieces to the base, including a large rail on the back that’s pocket screwed in place. I also extended the feet for extra height. I recently took the top off and tightened every screw again in the base. Some were stripped and needed replacement with longer self-tapping screws. I took out the shelves for now, as I want room for holdfasts in the future.
A while back I was able to pick up a 1-1/2” x 27” x 60” birch top on sale from Woodcraft for all of $120 shipped. This is the same length as the workbench, and about a foot wider. Added to the 3/4” thick HF bench top, I’ll end up with a 2 1/4” thick top.
I first hand-planed the HF benchtop as flat as I could get it with my No. 8c jointer plane. This also removed the finish and years worth of wax and glue that had piled on. I then glued the birch top onto the old top:
Most of the grain is the same direction, but there are these problematic cross grain pieces from the HF bench’s apron. I kept glue away from these, and will avoid screwing things rigidly into the cross-grain areas. Even though the original HF bench was glued and screwed cross grain to the apron (Chinese craftsmanship at its best), it remarkably hasn’t cracked at all from wood movement. Maybe it’s the nice dry CO weather.
After the glue cured, I lightly hand planed the birch top flat in a few important areas where the vises will mount.
While the original vise on the HF bench was terrible, it came with this great acme screw and nut:
I decided to make a wagon vise out of it, similar to the benchcrafted style (but costing me nothing extra). The screw will be offset so I can put boards straight through the hole for clamping. I started by cutting out a slice of the bench top with a circular saw most of the way, and finished with a hand saw and chisels:
I glued up some maple and cherry to make the sliding piece:
Here is the completed groove and the sliding piece:
Chiseling the end of the groove flat and square was a difficult task.
I ended up having to order a 20mm brad point drill bit to make a clearance hole through the moving piece for the acme screw. After drilling this hole on the press, I threaded on the acme nut and got it screwed in place:
I also made the lower rails that will support the sliding piece out of scrap wood and screwed them on. I tuned these rails a lot to allow horizontal movement but avoid vertical play.
Now I need to create a side board/apron piece that will hold the screw in place, drill some dog holes, and the vise will be done. I’ll get to that this weekend.
-- Allen, Colorado (Instagram @bobasaurus_woodworking)