I thought I would just catch up on some pics of my progress so far. In the back of my mind, I am hoping to build a workbench that will last for 100 years—something solid and substantial. At the same time, I am doing it on a grad school budget. So those two things are mostly incompatible but we will see how close we get. This is my first time building a project with hardwood and the first workbench I have ever built. I am building it for my father for a belated Christmas gift (I couldn’t come home for Christmas b/c of thesis deadlines). I am still doing what I did 20 years ago—taking dad’s tools and playing with them.
First, find some wood. I scoured my local classifieds, but out in the West I feel like there is not as much cheap hardwood as there is on the East. Still, I found 3 oak beams for about $10 each and the guy threw in 2 pine 8×8’s as well.
There are plenty of problems with the wood, but it was the right price. One beam cleaned up well. The other two need a lot of help. Perhaps this will just add character to my bench.
Those beams turned out to not provide enough good faces to build something decent so I decided to use them to laminate into a bench top. Went out to the classifieds again and found a guy selling oak he “inherited from a friend” for $2.50 a bd ft. I picked up about $90 worth.
Some bowing, twisting, and cracking to deal with.
I picked these up at night with only my iphone to provide light in the barn where they were stored. I guess I should have looked a little more closely.
But in the end, there are some decent faces to work with.
Second, I need some tools. Picked up 12 3/4” pipe clamps from amazon for $55 w/ free shipping. Then bought 4 10’ lengths of black pipe at home depot for around $13 a piece. They cut them and threaded all of the ends for free, which I felt like was a good deal. All told $55 + $52 = $107 doesn’t seem that bad for a set of sturdy pipe clamps, but it wasn’t as much of a deal as I thought it would be.
My dad has a 12 volt dewalt drill and an 18 volt. Both have 2 batteries each. None of the batteries hold any charge—zero. I don’t know why he kept them around. I went to home depot and bought a $90 replacement battery to see if it was really the battery or the motor. The new battery worked fine. I returned it and started looking on the classifieds for something that would do the trick. The nice thing about the recent building bust is that it looks like a lot of people are getting rid of their construction tools. I found an 18 volt dewalt with 2 batteries that hold a decent charge for $35. I thought that was a deal. Anyway, it would be easier to build some jigs now that I have a working screw gun.
Cleaning up the lumber was a bit of a chore. So far, I have spent most of my time just trying to get straight boards. And ripping 2” oak on a construction table saw isn’t exactly speedy.
I could only get so much progress using a powered planer. I had to fall back to a nice jointer hand plane to finish truing up the boards.
I couldn’t get the jointer side of hitachi planer-jointer to do very much on the oak edges. The machine is 20 years old and for a number of years it sat in a warehouse untouched but also not very well cared for. I think it was a combination of tough 2” oak and a very dull blade. So I made a jig to try and set in a few boards at a time to use the planer. I could never get enough clamping force with the jig for it to work—the autofeeder kept pulling the boards out of the jig and I am sure that the rough plywood bottom didn’t help things either. In the end, I just used two clamps and sent boards through two at a time. It didn’t give me a square board, but it was uniformly un-square. After I got to that point, I swapped one board end for end. Now I had two parallelogram-shaped beams. I put the acute edges of each board towards the bottom outside. Now I essentially had a flat surface—two point rails. I sent them through again until it flattened the top. Flipped it, flattened the bottom. Now all the boards are square!
I made a full-size mockup on my make-shift assembly table (a table saw covered with a piece of particle board). It will deviate a bit from this design.
Starting on fitting my pieces of junk oak together to see if I can get something decent out of it. I think using biscuits to laminate the pieces is a bit overkill. However, my thought was that this oak is in pretty bad shape. Despite a lot of work, some pieces were still bowed, twisted, and cracked. I could continue to try to clean up the lumber, but at some point I would only get toothpicks out of those big beams. I decided to commit a grave sin and count on clamps to true up skewed boards.
Dry fit everything to check that I didn’t make any biscuiting mistakes.
Begin the glue-up!
Gluing them in pairs first so that I can run them through the planer a few more times. I won’t be able to plane the completed top (too wide) but I thought I would try to get close with some extra prep.
Next I tried to stabilize the wood on the cheap. Parts of the lumber have huge cracks, gaps, and cavities. I thought about epoxy, but it was too expensive. I would be better off just buying better lumber to begin with. So instead, even though wood glue has very poor gap-filling abilities, I poured the stuff on. My thought was that at some point, all of these cracks will get small enough to where a strong bond may occur (maybe deep in the beam). Having at least a little bit of strength there would be better than nothing. So I filled every crack with glue and then re-planed them 4-5 days later.
Clamping round 2.
The result of clamping round 3.
Some of my hardware came in the mail from Lee Valley. I’m going to use the single tail vise bench screw for a leg vise on the side of the table and use the traditional vise as an end vise. It seems like a leg vise has a lot going for it. Mostly I was trying to make it easy for my dad to hold pieces to do dovetails and other close work. Getting a decent vise that had space in between the two rails to hold a piece of wood was too expensive. I pretty much eliminated all twin screw vises and anything with a quick release. These two were reasonable—$40 and $60, I think. If there was one place I wanted to spend a little money, it was here. Seems unlikely that some of the cheap $15 vises off amazon would hold up to a century of use.
As I shifted attention to building the two end assemblies—legs, stretchers, etc, I realized that I don’t have enough lumber. I thought I would get a little bit of extra lumber from cutting up pieces for the bench top, but there was nothing really usable. So I scoured the classifieds again and found a guy selling some beams. He didn’t know what they were and thought they were hardwood, but couldn’t really tell. I ended up picking them up for $40—four hardwood beams that are about 9’ long and a full 4”x6” actual dimensions. I wanted to see what I had under there—they were heavy enough to definitely be hardwood. Turns out, two oak, and two of what I think are maple? I have never worked with maple before, but it looks like pics I have seen and it feels very smooth. Anyone know of a way to tell if it is hard or soft maple? How to tell red oak vs white oak? The guy said these were used to ship a giant military forklift from one US base to another—some sort of tie down structure.
Anyway, that is where I am at right now. However, I have hit a huge obstacle—my planer has stopped working and I am trying to troubleshoot that. Maybe you can read another post of mine to see if you can help?