Weekend Bench #1: Getting Started

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Blog entry by dsb1829 posted 12-28-2008 07:50 AM 1424 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Weekend Bench series Part 2: Rough lumber »

Okay, I should probably preface this by stating that I started this bench about 2 months ago. I have been gathering lumber and vise hardware as economically as possible. So before anyone tries to duplicate this bench in a weekend they should seed out the lumber and acclimate it to their shop as well as purchase the vise hardware.

That said, you need a bench to build a bench. Sorry, I haven’t come up with a way around this yet. To date I have a fairly well equipped shop, yet I still feel helpless when it comes to dealing with work holding. I could start in by laminating up a benchtop, but that becomes a difficult task without a place to deal with the rough stock I have on hand. So in this case necessity is the mother of invention. I need a bench. I don’t want to spend 6 months or even 1 month building it. I have been boning up on work holding strategy and think I have a good handle on things.

The plan:
laminate MDF top 3in thick
Poplar legs
twin screw front vise
quick release end vise

The goal:
quick construction
use rough lumber without surfacing
meet 90% of my holding needs

Okay, so let’s dive in:

Laminate away

Okay, so there is more than meets the eye. Applying glue to 32sqft at a time is not a walk in the park. By the third lamination I had it down to about a 5min process, but the first one was not as easy. First step was roughing out the sheet goods. In the end none on the pieces had perfect rips. I trudged on and laminated up 1 sheet at a time. I found the best edges and used these for the front. Glue up was a race against time. I found that pouring glue on the board and then rolling from there was the fastest way to get full coverage. Once glued I would flip the boards face to face, align, and then clamp. I added the sand bags for additional pressure in the middle. Full width cauls would work better I imagine.

One item to note. My garage is no level surface. I used a couple of 2×4 boards to level the trimmed out sheets. It worked well. I did not joint or go to any great lengths to get 100% flatness over the 8ft length. I did verify that I had flatness to 6ft with my aluminum level. A good Jointed edge would likely get a little more flatness, but for all intents and purposes the 6ft flat is better than any other surface in my shop, so I think it is good enough for me. You decide for yourself how flat you want to be or obsess over.

Okay, so I mentioned that less than perfect rip situation. Say hello to my little friend…

The 2.5in Bosch bit gets most of the way there. If the top were only 3 layers deep it would be the cats meow.

In with the straight edge. I just used a scrap of 3/4in ply.

Here is what we are looking like after a straight pass.

On the ends I used a scrap of maple I had. Be sure to check for square to the front edge here.

Flip the top over. Install a bearing guided flush trim bit and clean up.

Let your daughter or other small mammal bounce on your 4 square laminated mdf top.

No, it is not done and no it is not all roses. I did bobble the router a few times on the rear face. The bit was dulled after the front face and I tried to fight it. In the end I stopped and sharpened the bit. In retrospect I should have sharpened it before starting despite it being a brand new bit.

Sharp bits work wonders. A 2.5in tall and dull bit is a lot to handle. Fortunately only the rear ended up with any issue.

Okay, so now I an ready for edging and vise mounting. Stay tuned.

-- Doug, woodworking in Alabama

8 comments so far

View Andraxia's profile


133 posts in 3506 days

#1 posted 12-28-2008 09:47 AM

I assume you are going to use bench dogs. I have been holding off trying to work out how to drill the holes as they need to be uniformly layed out. Any ideas?

I too have often found my offspring utilising my hard work for purposes other then intended.

Looking good I am awaiting further posts.

-- The wood slayer - Yes dear I did plan to make more kindling out of that wood I have been drying for the last year - honest!

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3793 days

#2 posted 12-28-2008 01:51 PM

Looks pretty good over all. Are you planning on putting an apron or anything around it? If so, I’d think that would hide the goof, even if the back were visible.

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

View TheCaver's profile


288 posts in 3837 days

#3 posted 12-28-2008 05:34 PM

Hah, your small mammal is a riot!

As for the holes in the top, its pretty simple actually. Lay out your lines across the width of the bench square to the front (the short direction). Once you have this, take a small block of 2×4 and drill a 3/4 hole through it on the drill press (this step is important since it will be used to guide the bit). Next, mount it to a thin (1/2in or so) scrap about as wide as your bench (screw it down, don’t glue it). Now get your drill and complete the 3/4” hole through the jig. Next, decide where you want your first row of holes and mount another scrap block to the underside of the thin piece (screws only, you’ll need to remove it to do the next row! You’re making a large bench hook here.) Now simply slide the jig along the bench clamping it down and drilling away.

This thing takes about 10 min to make and needn’t be accurate at all, it really is foolproof. If you need a pic, PM me, I think I may still have it lying around from my bench….


-- Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. -Carl Sagan

View dsb1829's profile


367 posts in 3625 days

#4 posted 12-28-2008 05:48 PM

Hi guys (gals). Yes, the top will have round dog holes lined up with the vise dog of the end vise. The carver pretty well nailed the easiest method to install them.

I am going to mount the end vise first. Kind of goes with the theme of needing a bench to build a bench. If I was dealing with straight s4s then I could install the aprons first. However since I am working rough lumber I need the vise and dogs in place to aid in hand planing the wood to size.

The legs will be quick and dirty construction. I would like to do a knock down base, but I think that gluing it up will give more rigidity and it will be less prone to racking. I started this series to show a quick bench. I needed something WWer specific and just can’t justify the time or expense to do anything too refined. There is a whole gamut of styles of this “quick bench” theme. Most seem to have issues, limitations, and design issues I don’t want to incorporate. I want to pick my favorite features of a Holtzapfel or Roubo style bench and incorporate those into my quick bench.

-- Doug, woodworking in Alabama

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3960 days

#5 posted 12-28-2008 06:51 PM

How many of the neighbors will it taketo get that top on the bench?? I had to get a couple to help me with mine. I agree with the quick and dirty. Get’er done and work wood.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3670 days

#6 posted 12-29-2008 03:26 AM

Nice start, Doug.

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 3726 days

#7 posted 12-29-2008 05:52 AM

I’m looking forward to seeing more. I’ve heard interesting things about using mdf for tops when combined with vises of any kind, but I think most people are talking about a single sheet of MDF. This sounds like it will be really stable. I’m hoping to build a bench of my own down the road so I’ll enjoy following along with you.

Notice how I’m trailing along behind you on many of your projects? You must be a faster worker than me and I don’t even have any kids yet! lol.

View dsb1829's profile


367 posts in 3625 days

#8 posted 12-29-2008 06:05 AM

Thos, that is a good question and one I will have an answer for sooner or later. I have been man-handling it around the shop so far by myself, but it is getting heavier.

Hokie, glad you can join in another of my whirlwind adventures in learning. Keep chacking back on the series. I have 2 updates from todays adventures.

-- Doug, woodworking in Alabama

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