Mother and Daughter workshop #2: Old workbenches - help please with ours!

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Blog entry by ejvc posted 07-05-2014 08:10 AM 1811 reads 0 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Demolition! Part 2 of Mother and Daughter workshop series Part 3: Workbenches into the workshop »

So we are demolishing the old plywood table in the workshop where the previous owner of the house had kept a lot of machines. We are a child-safe hand-tool affair here so I don’t anticipate the need. Here you see my daughter unscrewing some of the zillions of screws which kept this very overbuilt table together:

And here she is sawing some of the things joined by unremovable bolts and nuts:

But enough of that (we are down to the last few parts, thank goodness)...

My attention now turns to the two workbenches which will replace it, and here, oh LJ friends, I confess that I am the least experienced woodworker on this forum. I am sure that everyone reading this post has more understanding of woodworking than I do! I have two old benches, one came with the house, one I bought at a second-hand store just before we moved. Here is the one from the second-hand store which is earmarked for my daughter:

And here is the one which came with the house:

This second bench has three vices. Two are on the left hand side, one on the front and one on the back, and one on the right hand side On the back one, I can’t find a screw? Mind you it’s currently against the wall. But why are there two? Are two people supposed to work at this bench?

I have thousands of questions but I suppose they boil down to—how should I prepare these benches best? Can I use them as is? What do I need to check first? I think they are nice benches, but I’m such a greenhorn that I don’t really know how to use them well.

Both seem quite solid.

-- Building stuff with my daughter (6). Pretty new to woodworking, I mostly sew...

12 comments so far

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3332 days

#1 posted 07-05-2014 09:56 AM

Your two benches are cabinet makers style benches, they probably came from a school woodshop classroom. the last bench with vises on both sides is meant to be used by two students (a great classroom space saver and cheaper to build than two separate benches).

Using all hand tools is a good idea to begin with considering your daughters age. Be aware though that sharp hand tools can also be pretty dangerous if used incorrectly and dull hand tools are even more dangerous! I’m thinking about wood chisels and saws mainly, but all the other stuff too to some extent.

Since you will be focusing on hand tools, the most important skill you will need is how to sharpen your chisels and hand plane blades. If you don’t learn this skill, then you will never get a good result or enjoy using those hand tools. There are lots of hand sharpening videos on youtube and LJ and a lot of different methods too. I just wrote a little blog on the subject here which might help you get started.

I think it is wonderful that you are making this journey with your daughter. It is a great way to bond with her and she will learn a lot more than woodworking along the way. She will learn to work methodically, learn the importance of planning and accuracy, and learn the great satisfaction and pride of a job well done, not to mention nourishing her creative side. All of these things are the reason why woodshop classes have been a part of the school curriculum in so many countries for such a long time. Have fun and enjoy the trip!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

29226 posts in 2336 days

#2 posted 07-05-2014 10:05 AM

Love the fact that you are working with your daughter.

I agree with Mike, the probably bought the bench from a school or cabinet shop. Unless they are in your road, I would leave them. It falls in the category of “You can never have too many clamps”. Enjoy your journey.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View Don W's profile

Don W

18713 posts in 2565 days

#3 posted 07-05-2014 11:24 AM

+1 to what’s been said. And to answer your question you can use the benchs as they are. Its hard to tell from the pictures what the tops look like, but a coat or two of oil and/or wax will help keep glue from sticking.

If they were in my shop I’d probably use BLO then wax, but BLO will darken them.

Some antique conditioner could be used as well.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View ejvc's profile


107 posts in 1958 days

#4 posted 07-05-2014 01:28 PM

Thank you all. I am indeed working on my sharpening skills! My daughter as yet does not use chisels although I have shown her a little bit. Her new saw is sharp, but she is quite careful with it. I’ll try to get some better pictures too.

-- Building stuff with my daughter (6). Pretty new to woodworking, I mostly sew...

View upchuck's profile


540 posts in 1663 days

#5 posted 07-05-2014 01:37 PM

Mother and Child-
I agree with what has been posted above. If you are as new to this wood working stuff as you say then I’d encourage you to get to know your benches. Sweep the floor. Crawl underneath the bench and look at the underside. Have your daughter screw the vices in and out. Are they smooth working? If they hang up anywhere along their travel where and why? How do the faces of the vices look and feel? Smooth the faces so they do not mar the work. Some people add leather to the jaw faces to improve grip. Any markings on the underside of the benches? Are the markings from the factory or from users? What do the markings mean? Are there other signs of use under there? Trade places with your daughter and repeat. Each of you should sign and date your bench under there. Permanent ink markers or paint would be good. Carved name and date would be better.

Lift your daughter up onto the top of the bench (or have her climb up there). Have her jump up and down and dance. Does the bench move? Can you tighten it up? The second bench seemed to have wedges to assemble the base pieces together. Those wedges can be tightened with a mallet or a block of wood. Are there metal fasteners holding the parts together? Tighten them. Bench movement is not a good thing.

Clean off the top. Are there blobs of glue? Remove them. Do you have a straight edge? Use the straight edge to check the whole top for flatness. Check front to back, side to side and from corner to corner. Where are the high spots? I’d reduce the high spots if they were more than 1 or 2 mm. DonW’s suggestion for finishing is good.
You don’t want a finish that will make the top slick. Are there dog holes in the top? Do you have the bench dogs to fit these holes? Make some.

Don’t cut the legs off of your daughter’s bench to make it fit her. She’s a growing girl. Raise the girl up to fit the bench. A pallet of some sort that can be reduced in height over the years will give her a bench that can be used for the rest of her life or until she wants to build her own. Stacked and nailed plywood can be adjusted as she grows.

Use the benches. Time will tell what other modifications you want to make. Add a shelf on the lower stretchers?
Maybe cabinets? Time will tell. Don’t be afraid to make changes.
Have fun. Good luck.

View ejvc's profile


107 posts in 1958 days

#6 posted 07-05-2014 03:48 PM

Chuck, great comments, thank you so much.

-- Building stuff with my daughter (6). Pretty new to woodworking, I mostly sew...

View DocSavage45's profile


8553 posts in 2840 days

#7 posted 07-05-2014 03:58 PM

Great pictures. Thanks! They really add to the story of yor journey. Love the shop apron!

Really right on advice here. Only thing I would add is check out hand tool instructions on You Tube. Paul sellars, Rob cosman, and The Renisance woodworker.

smooth and even surfaces are often achieved with hand planes. Depending on the benches you can add a top? such as when glueing up a project? Looks like you have bench dogs as well.

Nice score. Consider using the old bench materials for constructing the raised floor for your daughter, or shelving. For me shelves and cabinets are like clamps, never enough! LOL!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View DocSavage45's profile


8553 posts in 2840 days

#8 posted 07-05-2014 04:00 PM

April Wilkenson is a young woman woodworker. But she is mostly power tools.

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View shampeon's profile


1775 posts in 2181 days

#9 posted 07-05-2014 07:31 PM

Those benches are really, really cool, and I love that you’re involving your daughter.

ToddJB has a great blog series about restoring a similar workbench.

Your two don’t look like they need the structural work his required, but it’s all good info for recognizing all the parts and refurbishing the vises and surfaces, etc.

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

View ejvc's profile


107 posts in 1958 days

#10 posted 07-05-2014 09:04 PM

shampeon, thanks, useful series. Benches are evidently a lot cheaper here in Sweden than where ToddJB is from; the one I bought was 200 crowns, I think, about $30? I can’t imagine one going for 1100 -1200 crowns…

-- Building stuff with my daughter (6). Pretty new to woodworking, I mostly sew...

View shampeon's profile


1775 posts in 2181 days

#11 posted 07-05-2014 09:59 PM

Wow, that’s incredibly cheap.

Here in the US, antique dealers have discovered that people like the look of these old benches for just design reasons, so it’s not uncommon to see them going for up to $1000….

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

View Don Broussard's profile

Don Broussard

3547 posts in 2249 days

#12 posted 07-05-2014 10:29 PM

This just makes me smile. The benches are only part of the reason though—the story itself is very cool. Good on both of you for tacking the refurb of the vintage benches.

-- People say I hammer like lightning. It's not that I'm fast -- it's that I never hit the same place twice!

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