Workbench Journey #1: My Workbench Journey

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Blog entry by Bryan posted 11-07-2011 09:42 PM 1534 reads 0 times favorited 0 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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This will be an ongoing post concerning building a workbench and the necessary tools needed to work wood by hand. You see I wanted to work wood by hand since I was young and today I can say I am doing just that. I am 2 months into my workbench project and nowhere near completion but the past two months have been great. More than great I would say. Let me first say this I begin this journey 4 years ago. I have asked the same question a thousand times and got the same responses a thousand times. As helpful as wood working forums are they can be a great hindrance to just jumping in and getting started. I have asked question about hand planes, wood chisels, well you name it all the way down to asking questions about layout tools and to be honest the answers I got just flat overwhelmed me and complicated things more. The most important thing to understand is that hand tools and patience’s go together do not forget this; I am building things with hand tools to unwind and relax. Make sure you take your time and do not get in a hurry this very important if you fail to practice patience’s you will fail to be pleased with the rewards of working tools by hand. So here is lesson number 1 if you want to build things with hand tools.
1. You need a workbench! You cannot and will not be able to do good joinery without a workbench. So forget about the tools you will need for now and start thinking about the bench. I will give you a few suggestions. Do not by nothing premade; it’s a waste of time because if you cannot build a bench you cannot build anything, building a workbench is like a foundational course in wood working. Number 2 buy a copy of Christopher Schwarz book titled the workbench design book the art and philosophy of building better benches. I promise you will not regret this book! Its value far surpasses the 35 bucks you will pay for it. Number 3 after you have bought the book READ it! You don’t have to read everything there are some benches in there that will not appeal to you at all but read most of it its worth your time. On Pg.231 there is instruction on how to build a $5.87 saw bench. I made this my first project since I knew I needed a platform to build my workbench on. I built two of these. Before I could build them I needed some tools. I bought a set of old Marples blue chisels off ebay for 30 bucks. I also picked up an igaging 4 inch combination square, the Veritas carcass saw set, an incra t rule and an igaging marking knife, total cost was $210.00 bucks. The tools are amazing, do not sponge and skip the marking knife its very important, if you want to save money buy an xacto knife.
2. Read your book some more and go get the wood for your sawbench. In your allotted time begin building your saw bench, I started mine and realized I had not purchased anything to sharpen my tools, bummer, I went to home depot and bought 2 granite floor tiles for 5 bucks and a can of 3m glue, than went to the parts store and bought my sand paper, I bought 120, 180, 220, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1500, 2000 grits in wet/dry any auto parts store will carry this. I cut each grit in 4×4 sguares and glued them to my floor tiles, opened my veritas mag and did the unthinkable and bought the cabinet makers sharpening kit that came with the honing guide it was 159 bucks, while waiting for it to arrive I flattened and polished the backs of all my chisels till I could see my teeth in them! For this task I colored the back of my chisel with a black sharpe and begin on the 220 grit with a few strokes flipped it over to see how much of the marker was gone and went to work on the 120 paper until all the marker was gone than I colored it again and back to the 180 once all of it was gone I went to the 220 till it looked a little different and progressed all the way up through the grits, when I finished like I said my wife could check her eyeliner in them. The veritas sharpening stuff arrived, I pulled out the honing guide read the instructions put a chisel in it colored the edge with a Sharpe and went up through the grits, something to note is that it takes only but a minute on each grit of paper and as I go to the next grit I flip it over and give it a few strokes on the back with the 1500 grit, after you have went through the grits turn the bevel dial on the MKII and make your secondary bevel, you will be amazed how sharp your tools will be I promise. So what about that stone pound and the water stones, I keep them in the shop but have yet to use them, go figure, but I believe sharpening on them will be better I will switch after I use up the 60 bucks worth of sandpaper I have. For now back to work on the saw bench.
3. My benches are complete now what? Well you guessed it read your book, at this point I have decided on the bench I need using the rules in the book, I did not pick a bench in the book but my bench will be the same concept of the roubo just with minor mods. At this point you should decide if you are going to use bolts or not, I strongly advise against bolts but hey whatever floats your boat. I needed wood to begin, you may be thinking about the tools you will need well stop, think about the wood! I got on lumber jocks posted in the forum for people in my area and in like 3 days I had 4 responses went out and paid a visit and wow was I impressed, he was very knowledgeable of the wood he had, I told him my budget for the day which was 150 bucks, we picked the wood, Pause this is a learning experience so if the guy offers to cut the wood into workable lengths and plane and joint it, let him! You do not have to be ashamed of this, just don’t lie about it after you finish the bench, that’s not cool. My sawmill guy did just this for me, I knew the length I wanted my bench, so he cut them 1 inch longer than I needed and ran them through his planer and jointer. The wood I got was red oak, white oak, and walnut. It looked really rough at first but after it went through that planer I knew it would make the most beautiful workbench ever.
4. So you got your wood for your top! Read your book some more! Wake up and sort through your lumber, figure out which edge is going to be your top or bottom, I tried to sort my wood so the most knots were in the middle facing down. Once you lay it out go to the store and buy a gallon of tight bond with the blue label, you will need some clamps, if you got the money by the best you can get, if not go to harbor freight and get at least 12 bar clamps about 18 inches long can’t remember the price but they were cheap. Also don’t forget c-clamps are good to. Go home and take your 2 center boards and glue them together and clamp. When they dry, glue two more boards together until you have all your board’s glued in pairs. Uses something to scrape the excess glue of the boards while you are waiting for others to dry. A cheap chisel works well for cleaning off glue, just don’t get too carried away and chew into your top, if you do who cares it’s a workbench. Once you have everything glued up in pairs you will need to think about how you will attach your top to the carcass and also the kind of vices you will use. You may want to consider cutting out sections in your top before you glue your pairs together to make things easier later. If you have not read your book than you will not understand this. But never the less take two of your pairs and glue them together and continue to you have everything glued up at some point your clamps will not be long enough to glue up the rest of the top, I went to Lowes and bought 6 of the ½ inch pipe clamps and the black pipe 36 inches long in the plumbing section. Go home and glue up that top once it dries clean off the excess glue and admire it! Clean up any glue that got on your saw benches.
5. Now is a good time to begin reading a few things about joinery, maybe even watch a movie on you tube in fact I did just that watched at 2 hours worth of joinery techniques on YouTube. Now you need lumber for your carcass either go back to the mill or go to Lowes. At Lowes you can get pine in whatever size you want but I would make sure my legs were not any smaller than 4×4. My legs will be 6×6 as far as the stretchers, go big like 2 2×6 glued up to make the stretchers or even 2×8 the bigger the more surface you have to clamp to. Just decide and get your lumber take it to your shop stack it up, get online in the lumber jocks forum and announce you are in the market for a jointer plane in workable condition, someone will PM you in fact many will PM you. Sikrap Pm me I called him on the phone, we talked and bam, The jointer was on the way, a Stanley #7 along with a brace and set of auger bits, as well as a #5 and #4, cost me $262.00 but I got three planes ready to go out of the box, time to take off those rounded edges, come up with a way to clamp your wood for the carcass and use that jointer to plane those curves away, for me my lumber came from the sawmill, the cutoffs from the board’s for my top become my legs so lucky me I got to skip this step. You need to glue up your legs unless you bought post, do your legs the same way you did the top, clean up the glue after it dries. You are ready for your joinery now. I have chosen Mortise and Tenon.
6. Buy a Narex mortise chisel, you will not regret it, it will cost you around20 bucks, when you get it go ahead and flatten the back and sharpen it, you will need a mallet. Lay out your mortises and tenons, an Incra T rule is nice for this; after you pencil your lines go over them with your marking knife. Just a note I have the Veritas wheel marking gauge, its nice but the micro adjust is stupid and a hindrance, if you buy one don’t get the micro adjust another thing don’t get the one with measurements on it, it don’t really matter. Joinery is about matching not measuring, as you study working with hand tools you will discover this. Once you get your joints marked use the brace and bit to drill out a lot of the waste, than go to work with your chisel, drink lots of water! Let me note also, If you need to cut a board for your stretcher if you don’t have the proper handsaw uses a power saw, it’s the joints on the bench that count! I must confess I have used the power saw. To my credit it’s only because I don’t have the money to buy a good handsaw yet.
7. This is as far as I have gotten on my bench, my plans are to dovetail the legs to the top like the roubo, before that I will take 4 boards, 2 the length of my bench and 2 the width of my bench and dovetail them around the bench, for this I bought the veritas 1:8 dovetail saw guide with the saw. It just came in today.
Some of you may be thinking wow He has spent a lot of money well if you add it up its close to a thousand dollars, but look at what I have, a decent set of tools, a couple of saw benches, a whole lot of education and soon a bench that will weigh 1500 pounds and I will be proud of every ounce. Now if I would have bought a prefabbed bench of the same quality It would have cost me at least 2000 bucks, and that is all I would have, no edu, no tools, no skills. Now remember I did not buy everything overnight, I did lots of research, and will be more than glad to help anyone, that’s what this post is about helping people do things economically and teaching them, so if you don’t understand something send me a message and I will help you out with all my contacts whether it be tools or a project, but don’t go out and buy a bunch of tools, by them as you need them!

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