Benchtop is like a slab of cheese

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Forum topic by Eric posted 10-30-2010 11:45 PM 3217 views 1 time favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Eric's profile


43 posts in 3779 days

10-30-2010 11:45 PM

Topic tags/keywords: workbench handtools

I need some advise please.

I am trying to make a workbench. I am in the process of making the top. I have already glued the boards together and now I am trying to make everything flat and square.

The only power tools I have are a circular saw, random orbit sander and a jigsaw.

I tried to use the circular saw to cut off the uneven edges of the benchtop.

I ended up with this.

And this…

So I ended up using my carpenter saw to cut off the crud.

So far so good.

Then I used my jointer plane to flatten the top and bottom of the benchtop.

Then I used a jack plane to try and square up the ends. (No more pictures. I got tired)

After a while I decided to check for square and thickness consistency across the benchtop. Nothing is square and the thickness varies.

This is my first time making a bench and first time using hand tools. I used to have a shop full of powertools but lost them in a very bad divorce. So now I am going the handtool route.

Can anyone give me advise on the flow of doing this. It seems I am all over the place trying to make this thing true. I haven’t even started on the legs of this thing.


-- Eric

19 replies so far

View dbol's profile


136 posts in 2992 days

#1 posted 10-31-2010 12:21 AM

you need some winding sticks or something similar to get the top close to flat. That is where i would start. Patience is key. Once you get the top flat the sides will be easier.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2992 days

#2 posted 10-31-2010 12:33 AM

Relax and take a breath.

Get a straight edge and a pair of straight sticks to use for winding sticks.

To use the winding sticks, lay them down on the ends of the bench and look down from the end to see which way it is twisted. Between those and the straight edge you can work out where it is not flat.

Find where the bench top is high. Plane that off.
Rinse and repeat.

Take your time. Don’t worry about all sides at once.

Once the top is flat, gauge off that to mark a line at a constant depth for the bottom.

Flip it over and plane down to the line.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View brianl's profile


108 posts in 3076 days

#3 posted 10-31-2010 12:54 AM


Sounds like we are in the same boat. Thanks for posting this, I’m sure I’ll run into the same problem on the workbench build I’m doing currently.

-- Brian - Belmont, Massachusetts

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 3781 days

#4 posted 10-31-2010 04:43 AM

And to save yourself wasted effort, realize the bottom does not have to be flat. It has to be true to the top dimension where it is supported by the base, or just trim the legs so that it sets flat and level. As long as it securely fastens and is stable, that is all you need. It will also need to be somewhat true where the vises mount. The rest can be wavy, saw-marked, gouged, etc. It doesn’t matter. You are not working on the bottom surface.

Top flat. Sides square to top. Bottom, only as good as needed to attach something. Deviation in thickness is not relevant.

If you look at a lot of old valuable and praised furniture and work benches, the hidden surfaces received a minimum of effort.



-- Go

View Brit's profile


7373 posts in 2837 days

#5 posted 11-01-2010 01:57 AM

I agree with David. Just wanted to add that if you don’t have any winding sticks, you can use two pieces of aluminium (English spelling) angle. There cheap and readily available. Add some black electricians tape to one piece and some white tape to the other piece. They should be longer than the bench is wide so that they overhang.

-- - Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 2920 days

#6 posted 11-01-2010 02:32 AM

Hey Brit, How else do you spell aluminium? (Canadian spelling too).

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View Ken Reed's profile

Ken Reed

152 posts in 3179 days

#7 posted 11-02-2010 09:16 PM

If there are any big cabinet shops around you might pay them to run your top through their wide-belt sander. Get it fairly close with the winding sticks first and make sure that no glue globs are still on it as they are very hard on the expensive belts. Shouldn’t cost much….$20 to $40 seems to be the going rate around here depending on size and how much stock has to be taken off and how fine a grit you want them to use for the final passes.

View chrisstef's profile


17378 posts in 3001 days

#8 posted 11-02-2010 09:32 PM

jusfine …. aluminum here in the states. Ah-Lume-In-Uhm in the states … or in the UK and canada Al-U-Min-E-Uhm.

Its the little things that are weird … “Do you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in France, Jules?” (Name that movie)

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View swirt's profile


2731 posts in 2966 days

#9 posted 11-02-2010 09:51 PM

Gofor is right, don’t worry about the underside (consistent thickness of the top) as it is unnecessary.

Glad to see you progressed from the circular saw to the hand saw. When hand sawing to a line like that, lower your angle. With the saw perpendicular to the surface it cuts fast, but you lose accuracy and the cut can wander quite a bit. The more you drop the saw toward being parallel to the surface of the cut, the more accurate you get even though it slows you down. The happy medium is somewhere in between and usually varies as you progress. (example: I tend to start close to 45 degrees to start the cut, then drop to maybe 10 degrees or less to cut along the length, which essentially creates a guide, then rise back up to about 30 degrees to finish it. Starting with a bevel cut from a marking knife can be a big help too.

I also wouldn’t get too carried away flattening it just yet. I would get it mounted on the legs first. It may change shape a bit once it is where it should be. It will also be easier to work with in bench position.

-- Galootish log blog,

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3155 days

#10 posted 11-02-2010 10:05 PM

Eric, you might have problems in the long haul with how you arranged your boards. It appears that you crowned the grain on ALL of them. You might have been better off flipping every other one to even out the tendency of your top to warp. I does look though. Check the flatness early in the morning, don’t change it, then check it in the hot of the day, then report back. Oh, and once you drill your holes for your dogs, you’ll have all the Swiss cheese one could ever eat. :)

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View cabs4less's profile


235 posts in 2757 days

#11 posted 11-02-2010 11:03 PM

if it makes you feel a little better i just repalced my old workbench top the other day and it had a bow twist and rocked lol but it worked fine for me i a big power tool guy so i just need a place to sit something on while i find my nail gun lol

-- As Best I Can

View antmjr's profile


262 posts in 3178 days

#12 posted 11-02-2010 11:30 PM

Eric, some years ago I flattened some tops for my kitchen, out of black locust. I used the simple tool you see below, probably you have already seen it (a plank with glued sand paper and two handles). As you can see, the surface came out perfectly flat. My board is quite 70 cm long and 3 cm thick, pretty heavy because it was made out of black locust, but it’s good for me. IMO for this kind of job it works far better then a plane.

-- Antonio

View Eric's profile


43 posts in 3779 days

#13 posted 11-08-2010 05:16 PM

I see what you mean rance. I am wishing that I would have ask more questions before I even started. You guys have been a wealth of information and I really appreciate all of the comments and suggestions. I regret that I have not been able to do any more work on the top since I made this post. And with the holidays coming… Hopefully I can sneak out there and do some work.

To be honest I am begging to wonder if I should even continue with this bench or start another one. The length of this one is going to be just shy of 60 inches. I can already feel the limitations of that length. The only thing I can say that would be positive about it is that it will be easier to move. I had thought of making a longer one right after finishing this one, using it as a learning tool then possibly selling it or just using it for joinery work.

You Lumberjocks have been very helpful. Thanks a ton!


-- Eric

View SPHinTampa's profile


567 posts in 3680 days

#14 posted 11-08-2010 05:37 PM

A couple of unsolicited opinions from an amateur …

You seem pretty far along the way of finishing your top. Like all woodworkers, you will see every flaw but no one else will. I would not start over as it is my experience that I learn more from fixing my mistakes than from scraping them. I had a similar challenge with the top on one of my projects …, but fixed it in the end.

With regards to bench length … like most tools bigger is usually better as long as you have the space. I don’t have space. I shrank the size of my workbench to 60” from 84” and I use saw horses for the occasional project that gets bigger. Large benches just encourage you to leave tools laying around. Small benches force the discipline of organization, which I feel is better in the long run.

My two cents for what they are worth.

-- Shawn, I ask in order to learn

View PurpLev's profile


8535 posts in 3643 days

#15 posted 11-08-2010 06:05 PM

I wouldn’t worry much about lumber orientation on the top. if you reverse every other board you’d still have just as much movement, it’ll just be in the opposite directions to each other.

like David said – relax, take it one step at at time. use winding sticks , and check for square/thickness more often then just ‘after a while’.

knock down high spots first, then scribe a line for thickness, and work your way to it, while checking for flat and square every so often to make sure you are not over doing it and that you’re progressing properly.

Other than that you did a fantastic job cutting it off – a circular saw will always do what you’ve experienced, seems like you tackled it very well :)

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

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