|Project by cakman||posted 10-15-2013 06:47 PM||3777 views||17 times favorited||27 comments|
I recently decided it was time for me to build my first proper workbench. I have been working off of sawhorses and plywood for a while and thought it was time I step up my game with a workbench. My first hurdle is that I live in an apartment and my “workshop” is a fairly good sized patio. I am very happy that I have a big patio, but as you can Imagine, it limits what I can do in the space given. My second hurdle is that I want my neighbors to like me so using all power tools is out of the question. This will be mostly made by hand with the exception of short uses of a router and circular saw. I love using hand tools and was very excited to tackle a larger project mostly by hand. The journey begins.
I came up with a design using google sketchup. I decided that the top would be about 2’ x 4’. This is small by workbench standards, but would be a good size for my balcony. I am currently using a workmate and plywood so a real bench is an upgrade in function and looks. I decided that I wanted to try to make a laminated top of some kind of hardwood. This would help the small bench weigh a little more and it should be stable. The base would be made from construction grade lumber from the big box store to help with cost. I purchased the medium quick release vise from Rockler and a couple of Gramercy Holdfasts. So far so good.
Step 1: Top
I was able to purchase a couple of boxes of cutoffs from a cabinet shop in maple and cherry. They were cheap so I went for it. I decided an alternating maple and cherry top would look great. With the cutoffs in hand I built a simple jig out of mdf and a fence to aid in the glueup. The largest of the cutoffs I bought was about 12” and most were in the range of 4” to 6” long. This means A LOT of pieces to be glued up. Needless to say I did the glueup in steps and eventually came up with a top a little larger than the size I was after. I wish I had some pictures of the glueup but I think you can imagine.
Step 2: Flattening the Top
The top was to be flattened by hand of course. The glueup jig helped keep it reasonably flat, but it needed work. I sharpened a medium to heavy camber on my #5 and went to work planning across the grain. This worked beautifully. Luckily as you can see the sun darkened the wood so it was easy to see where the high and low spots were. Once I was happy with the initial flatness, I moved on to the #7 and the BU Jack for final smoothing. There was a little tearout but that is good because who wants a perfectly smooth surface on a workbench? Wood would just slide all over the place. I also roughed up the surface with some sandpaper which helped.
Step 3: The Base
I purchased 4×4 posts of KD Doug Fur for the legs and KD 2×4 for the rails and stretchers. The posts were cut to length and then planed square to remove the factory radius on the edge. I guess I didn’t have to plane off the radius but these things weren’t exactly square so I didn’t have much choice. I think they look better square anyway. I cut the mortises by first drilling the waste and then chiseling the walls square. This went very well and I ended up with nice holes. The tenons were all cut by hand and individually fitted into the corresponding mortise. Each side leg assembly was glued first and then both were joined by the side stretchers for a finished base.
Step 4: The Final Bench
I cut the mortises in the top with a plunge router. I got a nice router for Christmas with a plunge base and was eager to use it. It is one of my favorite tools right now. It worked very well. I glued the top and bottom together and wrangled the bench back to right side up and enjoyed looking at what I created. Of course I had to flip the bench back on its top to install the vise but you can’t blame me for wanting to check it out first. The vise installation was easy and I made up a vise chop with some curly maple I had on hand. I drilled three rows of dog holes across the top for the vise and purchased some of the plastic dogs from Rockler to use to aid in clamping. They work really well so far and are surprisingly strong. I did a slight roundover to all of the dog holes and epoxied some leather pads to the tips of the Holdfasts. I put on some leveling feet because there isn’t a level surface on this patio. It also keeps the legs off the ground to help prevent too much moisture transfer. For the finish, I used a light coat of Danish Oil followed by a couple of thinned coats of Spar Varnish to protect it from the weather. I might look into a cover at some point.
Step 5: Use the Darn Thing
The funny thing is, I actually used the glued up top for a few other projects before I finished building the bench. I love using it and end up with a smile on my face every time I clamp something up. Between the vise, holdfasts, planning stops, and clamping across the width, I have been able to securely hold every piece I have tried.
Firsts for this project:
1. Laminating a top (next time I wont pick small pieces to work with)
2. Flattening by hand
3. Large hand cut mortise and tenon joints
4. Using my plunge router
5. Finishing a project this large in my small “workshop”