|Project by Richard B||posted 11-12-2011 01:25 AM||3102 views||11 times favorited||9 comments|
This was my biggest—and most important—project to date. This was my intern-year project. I started this right at the end of med school, and worked on it all year long. I finished it on my vacation week at the end of intern year.
My old bench was a 40 pound table with a door bolted to the top. It wobbled and danced across the shop with any movement attempted. It had one crappy vise at the end, which barely held anything. The usefulness of that bench was maxed out long before I replaced it, but I was way too nervous about attempting a “real” workbench for the longest time. In the end I happened upon an article (by Shannon Rogers, I think), titled something or other like “woodwatchers and woodworkers;” essentially, I was shamed into action. I had been paralyzed into inactivity by fear of making a mistake and by spending more time reading about woodworking than actually doing it. I knew that a major barrier to my joy in the shop was my frustrating workbench, so I set out to replace it.
80% of the materials were from big box home stores. I bought my vises from woodcraft, and the 4/4 stock needed to make the laminations for the vise faces, etc. came from woodcraft as well.
The overall design is the bastard lovechild of a traditional bench and the “21st century workbench” design. It has two benchtops, with a face vise on the left and a tail vise on the right. There are runners that support tool trays (yet to be built) or a shelf (currently in use) between the benchtops. The weight was reinforced by building a box that straddles the two lower sled feet and contains 70 pounds of sand. Shelves were ship-lapped and set atop the lower rails, hiding the sandbox. The base is quite solid, doesn’t rack or wobble, and does what it is supposed to do (holds up the top). However, in retrospect, I would probably change that part of the design. In particular, I would make the anterior aspect of the legs flush with the face of the benchtop. Also, I would use a heavier wood species. I will be modifying the bench legs a little with some accessories to remedy this in the future. (And I will probably build another bench in another 5 years or so.)
For materials, I was constrained by a super-tight budget, as well as a lack of ability to reliably joint or plane materials to size. This meant that for most of the construction, I had to use materials carefully chosen from the local home store.
The base is made from 2×4 pine that was laminated into 4×4 size. This led to the legs having an unsightly “butt-crack” where the two faces were joined; I corrected this visually by inlaying a thin strip of red oak in the gap. Each leg is fit into a sled foot and a corresponding sled top using mortise and tenon joints. The two leg/sled complexes were joined using four rails and a large dovetail joint that was later pinned.
The bench top is a lamination of several layers of cheap Aspen & pine, with a “stain grade” aspen board ripped down its length to form the top layer. This was cut to size with a circular saw and jointed using a router, some patience, and some ingenuity (mostly borrowed from online woodworkers). I then attached a red oak border around the perimeter of each benchtop.
After the base and top were mostly completed, I was able to use the unfinished bench to secure some of my work, and so was able to create custom fit pieces for my tail vise, using 4/4 stock from woodcraft.
It has been in use now for 5 months and I am 90% pleased with how it is functioning. I will be lining the vise jaws with some leather, as well as drilling a few more holes in the bench for holdfasts. Later this year I will build the tool trays and also a modification appliance for the leg to act as a bench slave/workholding device for the face of the bench.
If people are interested, I can create a second post or blog post showing many of the construction steps.
-- Richard B, Birmingham Alabama