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Spalted elm low workbench

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Project by Dave Polaschek posted 08-09-2017 09:31 AM 1165 views 2 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

It all started back in February, when I went down to Minnesota Milling to get a slab of elm. I picked out one that had been outside and was “nicely spalted” and had it squared up, then headed home.

February, March, April, May… I spent a lot of time repairing cracks in the elm as it dried out, putting in a dozen bow ties and filling many cracks with sawdust (usually elm, but sometimes whatever was on hand) and super-glue. I also tried epoxy (didn’t like the texture) and a mix of wood glue and sawdust (that wasn’t as nice for sanding). I also spent a lot of time planing the bench flat with a jack plane, usually taking much smaller cuts than I should have, but I was learning as I went. I’m much better with a plane now.

In May, I started to make better progress. I cut the ash legs to size, and cut 1.5” tenons on them. Started drilling 1.5” holes in the bench-top for the legs, and after I had finished five holes, broke my drill bit, snapped the power-cord on my electric drill, and tore up the bench a bit. Not sure exactly what happened, but the bit bound into the wood, snapping the drill out of my hands, and somehow it kept running, wrapping the cord around the now-spinning drill. I bored the last two (and a half) holes 1” with a bit and brace and cleaned up the messy one with a knife and chisel.

Holes bored, I needed to reduce the tenons on two of the legs so they’d fit the smaller holes. That was okay, as my tenon-cutting technique (using the now-defunct electric drill) had been a little sloppy. I picked the two smallest tenons and reduced them from roughly 1.3” to 1” using a spokeshave and rasp. Took me an afternoon, but I now had eight legs that all fit pretty well in their respective holes. I numbered the legs and holes at this point so I wouldn’t get confused at some point in the future. I also marked orientation so I’d have the grain running the same way as the bench-top (roughly) so staking the legs would be less likely to split either the leg or the top.

Everything marked, I pulled the legs out one by one and sawed a kerf in them with a backsaw. That gave me a 2” deep kerf in a 3” tenon. Once they were all cut, I made some wedges using a scrap of red oak I had on hand, hit the legs with glue, pounded each one into the bench, and then flipped the whole assembly to put in the wedges. On the first wedge, I discovered that the red oak I’d used wasn’t the best idea, as it broke off partway into the leg. I dug into my parts bin and grabbed a dozen walnut wedges I’d made back when I was putting together my shop stool and used those. Glue the wedge, hold the leg securely, drive the wedge into the leg, repeat.

Some of the legs didn’t reach the bench top at this point, but I wasn’t too worried. The whole 3” tenon was in the bench, but because of the angles (which weren’t all the same), some of the legs ended a little short of the top. After everything dried, I sawed off the protruding bits, then went back to filling in the holes with sawdust (this time using a mix of oak and macacauba left over from building the planes for the tool swap) and super glue. In one case, I actually used a macacauba coin to fill the last 1/8” of the hole in the bench-top.

Bench almost done, it was time for some holes. I had three holdfasts made by a co-worker back in March, and they had 5/8” shafts. I have a nice 5/8” wood owl bit, but a hole drilled with that was too tight for the holdfast. I left that first test-hole as-is, and will make a bench-dog / planing-stop to fit it. I drilled other holes with a cheap Chinese 11/16” auger bit, and the holdfasts work great in those.

The last thing was making a few bench dogs. I took a piece of ash that had initially been slated to be a cane, but the grain in it wasn’t cooperating with me. But I managed to cut a couple 1” x 5/8” x 6” pieces out of it and then turned them down using a tapered tenon cutter (by hand) to make 3” long 5/8” diameter tenons on them, with a couple inches of conical section leading to a rectangular top. They seem to work pretty well, and I’ll make a few more from oak or ash or whatever’s handy as I need more bench dogs and put more holes in the benchtop.

The bench has been working really well so far. With a couple holdfasts, I can position small boards for ripping or resawing. If the board moves around on me, I sit on the bench and throw a thigh over the board and now everything’s held very solidly. I haven’t done any planing on the bench yet, but that’ll be soon, and I expect it’ll work well once I put in a few more holes for work-holding.

-- Dave - Minneapolis





11 comments so far

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

1599 posts in 432 days


#1 posted 08-09-2017 11:37 AM

Looks great, Dave! The elm is to die for … I’ll take it! Good work.

-- Ron in Lilburn, Georgia.  Knowing how to use a tool is more important than the tool in and of itself.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

900 posts in 367 days


#2 posted 08-09-2017 11:46 AM

Thanks, Ron. The same elm also made my shop stool, a real pretty butter dish and a salt & pepper shaker set

A co-worker of mine also turned a few bowls from smaller chunks of it that I need to post photos of some time.

All because the guy at Minnesota Milling didn’t have enough indoor space for all of his elm and left a slab sitting out in the woods (see the last picture in the set of six). Didn’t look like much buried in a pile of leaves and snow. And it’s still moving on me as it dries out; I’ll end up flattening the bench at least one more time. But it sure is pretty.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View HokieKen's profile

HokieKen

4318 posts in 923 days


#3 posted 08-09-2017 01:00 PM

Nice work Dave! That Elm sure is purrrdy!

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

900 posts in 367 days


#4 posted 08-09-2017 01:17 PM

Thanks, Kenny. And even with your much more complicated bench, you beat me across the finish line.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View helluvawreck's profile

helluvawreck

28263 posts in 2651 days


#5 posted 08-09-2017 01:56 PM

This is a nice workbench and will be a nice addition to your shop.

helluvawreck aka Charles
http://woodworkingexpo.wordpress.com

-- If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau

View KelleyCrafts's profile

KelleyCrafts

2547 posts in 524 days


#6 posted 08-09-2017 03:01 PM

Great job Dave! I think that thing would wreck my lower back even more than it is now but I can definitely see it’s appeal. Definitely a good looking bench too!

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

900 posts in 367 days


#7 posted 08-09-2017 03:45 PM

Thing is, you’re supposed to plant your butt on it, not bend over it. Or put a knee on the piece you’re sawing. So it’s easier on my (also shot) back when I’m doing things right. And for high stuff, I still have the high workbench to work on.

But not everyone has room for two benches. I know I don’t. At least this one is light enough that I can drag it outside the garage on a nice day and let the wind “sweep up” my sawdust afterwards. ;-)

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

1599 posts in 432 days


#8 posted 08-09-2017 04:14 PM

Gongrats on making the Top Three!

-- Ron in Lilburn, Georgia.  Knowing how to use a tool is more important than the tool in and of itself.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

900 posts in 367 days


#9 posted 08-09-2017 04:31 PM

Thanks!

Here’s a photo of the bowl my cow-orker made from one of the offcuts from the bench:

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View builtinbkyn's profile

builtinbkyn

1830 posts in 725 days


#10 posted 08-10-2017 03:24 AM

Dave that’s a very different approach to a workbench. It appears to be very versatile and should serve you well with your hand tool only approach. Nice job!

-- Bill, Yo!......in Brooklyn :)

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

900 posts in 367 days


#11 posted 08-10-2017 10:04 AM

Thanks, Bill. It’s an approach the Schwarz dug up. Here’s a video made by the guys from Mortise & Tenon.

I find it’s useful for me, and having this plus a more traditional high bench with vises gives me almost all the workholding I need, and i can switch off if my back is acting up or my knees don’t want to bend or whatever. Plus, it’s light weight enough that I can haul it outside and work in the great outdoors if the weather suits.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

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