I put the finishing touches on my bench today. After dry-assembling the base cabinet, I realized that it was about half an inch too tall to be able to be dropped into place in the bench base as one piece. The bottom of the cabinet drops 3/4” down onto cleats so it is level with the top of the long stretchers. I had planned to assemble the cabinet and slide it into and down onto the base of the bench, but with it being too big I decided to go to plan B and assemble it in place. This turned out to be a moderate headache.
Trying to attach the sides (rabbet joints for the sides, back, and top) with glue and screws while working underneath the bench was quite difficult. I ended up with the sides out of square, splayed out from the bottom. This affected the gap between the doors, the gap between the doors and the bottom of the cabinet, and several other things. Nothing worth scrapping it for, but frustrating all the same. You can see that with the doors attached square to the sides they are clearly not level.
Other than the headaches of assembling the cabinet in place, everything went smoothly. The doors are attached via no-mortise hinges I got for a few bucks at Rockler.
I then whipped up a quick and dirty hand plane rack to store my #4, #5, #6, #7, and my block plane, which along with my shoulder plane are my most-used ones. You can see my shoulder plane and #3 sitting next to the rack – I realized that I wouldn’t be able to double up with my #3 and #4 because of how shallow the cabinet actually is – the tote and iron stick out too far for the doors to close if I put a #3-5 plane in the way the #6-7 are.
I put my sharpening supplies and a few miscellaneous tools in the left side of the cabinet. It is more than big enough to hold what I need it to at the moment.
I’m very pleased with the bench. It is solid, the perfect size for my space, and is going to make hand tool use much easier and more enjoyable, which I’m happy about.
Obviously, there are a few things I’d do differently, starting with fixing some of the mistakes I made with the base cabinet. Here are others off the top of my head, in no particular order:
1) More choosey of 2×8s. I needed boards with less knots, and I had two that were so cupped and twisted I couldn’t use them
2) Not settling for having exposed knots in the top (see #1)
3) Gluing the top up in 4 subsections instead of 3. The large ~12” section I made first was incredible unwieldy and difficult to handle. Most of my twist came from the interface between this section and the other two ~6” sections.
4) I should have made a jig to locate the cross dowels more precisely. It was difficult to get them in position.
5) It was difficult to flatten and straighten the 2×8s into 1 3/8” thick boards. Most often I needed more passes at the jointer and planer and they ended up closer to 1 1/4” thick. I decreased the size of the stretcher tenons to 3/4” thick partially for this reason. The other reason is that I don’t have a 1” straight bit for my router.
6) Cutting the top to length, for some reason, ended up being a huge PITA. Mostly because I had to make two passes with the track saw (maximum cutting depth, ~2 1/4”), one from each side. Getting both cuts to line up exactly was a pain. I should probably have used a marking knife or something to make sure I got exactly the same position. Having track saw clamps would also have been really helpful. I don’t have any, and it was difficult to clamp the track down adequately.
All in all, a great experience. I’m happy to have somewhere other than random plastic bins to keep my hand planes and sharpening supplies. What a relief!