beginner needs some help with workbench

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Forum topic by jboehle posted 12-15-2011 05:49 PM 2758 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View jboehle's profile


24 posts in 2317 days

12-15-2011 05:49 PM

Topic tags/keywords: beginner work bench question

You can see the tools I have at my disposal in my shop section. A couple months ago, I built a racing cockpit for a video game out of MDF with my jigsaw and circular saw, a straight edge and a couple of 3” C-clamps. Nothing on it is square, but it came out well enough to use. Had a bunch of fun doing that so I thought I might start building up a woodshop in the garage.

Trying to tackle this workbench right now:

Right off the bat things are not going so well. I had the Borg make a couple cuts in the plywood sheets so they would be easier to handle, but I still had 8’ long pieces to deal with. Due to my inexperience with the table saw, and my apparent inability to set it up/align it/etc. correctly, I don’t think any of the 8’ strips I ripped ended up being straight, square, or the same width down their entire length. I’m starting to break down the strips because I figure they will be easier to square up that way, with less material removal required. I crosscut some with the circular saw last night, but right now I have 8 boards (the outer pieces of the stretchers and aprons) that I really need to make square, straight, and exactly the same length. They are all rough cut to around 3 9/16” x 48”, but I’m at a loss to know how I am going to square up the edges to the ends, and how to make them all exactly the same length (47 7/8” would be ideal, none are shorter than that, but I could go a little shorter if needed).

I guess my #1 task should be to set up my table saw correctly. I’ve got a dial indicator and feeler gauges coming today, hoping I can throw together a jig than can help me align the saw blade, miter sled, and fence more accurately than my combination square allowed.

Next steps after that? Do I need a crosscut sled? Even if I had one, not sure I can cut 4’ long pieces on it. Just looking for some advice here.

Thanks in advance!

14 replies so far

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3037 days

#1 posted 12-15-2011 05:59 PM

Handling sheet material, like plywood, is difficult on a table saw, even for an experienced person. I, essentially, never do it.

Build the frame for your workbench or get a couple saw horses and place the sheet of plywood on one of them. Then, clamp in place a straight edge. A 2×4 can work if you can find a real straight one.

Put one edge of your circular saw against the straight edge and make your cut.

This is so much easier than trying to handle sheet material on a table saw.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Bertha's profile


13519 posts in 2656 days

#2 posted 12-15-2011 06:06 PM

I’m like Rich, I never handle sheetgoods on my smaller contractor saw, even though I’ve got the long rails and roller infeed/outfeed. It’s just too dangerous for my blood. Instead, since I don’t have a nice guided circular saw, I either run the scroll saw down it followed by a handheld planer; or I’ll setup a fence for my circular saw. It can be done, but it just makes me real nervous. I’ve seen a lot of pictures of sheetgoods here with big gouges out of them when they hopped up over the blade. Good luck!

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View ksSlim's profile


1274 posts in 2852 days

#3 posted 12-15-2011 06:10 PM

Ditto what Rich said. I built a “cutting guide” with hardboard and a milled piece of straight hardwood.

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

View jboehle's profile


24 posts in 2317 days

#4 posted 12-15-2011 06:14 PM

Well at this point I have all the strips essentially rough cut, I just need to cross cut them. But since they aren’t square, and I don’t have a jointer, any tips on squaring up the edges?

My biggest problem seems to be I don’t have a good reference straight edge to go from, and I don’t really have a way to make my own. Guess I should go to the hardware store and see what they have in long levels or straight edges.

View Hoakie's profile


306 posts in 3998 days

#5 posted 12-15-2011 06:47 PM

HD sells a straight edge cutting kit for about $20

but as reviewers say, it can bow in the middle if you push against it too hard. I didn’t have many issues with it when I kept that in mind

-- John H. [To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. ~Edison]

View Bertha's profile


13519 posts in 2656 days

#6 posted 12-15-2011 06:51 PM

JBoehle, I’ve got a jointer but I rarely use it. I prefer to joint with a handplane, unless it’s some really thick wood.
Wait, now I’m a bit confused. What type of wood are you trying to laminate?

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Manitario's profile


2629 posts in 2846 days

#7 posted 12-15-2011 06:56 PM

I built this exact workbench; it was my first bench and first “major” wood working project. I made it using a cheap, $100 Ryobi tablesaw. The biggest issue is making sure that the fence on your TS is parallel to the blade. As long as it is aligned properly, you can rip the long strips for the legs and stretchers, just make sure you have support for the wood; I had 3 roller supports; one on the infeed side of the TS; two on the outfeed side. As for squaring up the ends; this is an excellent reason to own a mitre saw! Strips like the one in this project I find are too long to cross cut on the tablesaw. You could also use your circular saw and a 12” combination square as your straight edge.
Good Luck!

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View jboehle's profile


24 posts in 2317 days

#8 posted 12-15-2011 06:59 PM

Bertha, it’s 3/4” birch plywood from Home Depot. Only 5 plies, it’s not the good stuff like baltic birch. If you look at the link I posted in the original post, you can see a pic of the bench I’m trying to build. The stretchers and aprons are 3x pieces of plywood laminated, the legs are 5x wide laminations.

I started with the stretchers and aprons. The center piece makes the tenon, so it’s length isn’t too important, I could trim it down if it’s too long after putting it through the mortise, but the 2 outside pieces make the shoulders of the tenon, so those all need to be exactly the same length. All of the pieces need to be squared up, as I did a bad job when ripping them.

If I had a long straight edge, I can probably lay it down and run my circ saw along one edge of each board, then joint the other long edge on the table saw (after I’ve broken down the 8’ strips into more manageable pieces with my circ saw).

Unfortunately I don’t have any hand planes.

View jboehle's profile


24 posts in 2317 days

#9 posted 12-15-2011 07:04 PM

Manitario – yeah that was my main problem. I “thought” I had done a good job aligning the fence to the blade, but after holding the 8’ strips up to each other and seeing big gaps, clearly I either didn’t do a good enough job aligning the fence to the blade, or I didn’t push the boards through straight, etc. Your bench looks great!

Unfortunately I don’t have a mitre saw so I will have to attempt squaring up the ends with my circular saw, as my wife might lose it if I spent more money on tools at this point. :)

View brtech's profile


1028 posts in 2885 days

#10 posted 12-16-2011 12:42 AM

I think the easiest way to break down sheet goods is to buy a 4×8” piece of styrofoam insulation, lay it down on the floor, and use a cutting guide with a circular saw. You cut into the foam a bit, no worries. It’s much easier, IMO than dealing with saw horses or other frames.

The easiest cutting guide to get is another piece of ply from the borg. Have them cut you a 10” wide piece the long way, then maybe cut the rest in half for another project. The factory cut edge is straight enough.

You need one straight edge on your project piece. I’d get the foam, and the plywood cutting guide and check to see how far off you are. If you can fix it without loosing a lot of width, do it.

You need a square that is square. Easy to check. Draw a line. line up the short side of the square on the line, and draw a long line perpendicular to it. Flip the square over, and try to draw a line on top of the one you just drew. If they are not exactly the same (typically, they meet at one end, and are off by some at the other end), you know your square isn’t square. For this kind of thing, a framing square is great, but the aluminum Swanson speed square is usually pretty spot on, easy to use, and good for this kind of task.

If you have one good edge, your square can help you make the cross cuts. On an 8’ piece of sheet goods, I’d do it with my circ saw on the foam, using the square to line up the cutting guide. On a 4’ piece, I’d use a sled. or even a long straight extension on a miter gauge on the TS. NOT the fence. Always make your lines from the same (known straight) edge.

Then you can rip the other long edge on the TS with the fence. You need featherboards to keep the strip against the fence as you push it through. You want one just before the blade, and one as far back as you can get it, and it would be good to have one on the fence holding the piece down.

I think you can complete your project with these techniques. No need to get more tools. To do a really better job, you would need a track saw, or a slider TS, or a roller infeed and some fancy outfeed. Much more reasonable to use a circ saw on foam. You do have a decent blade in your circ saw right?

View jboehle's profile


24 posts in 2317 days

#11 posted 12-17-2011 12:07 AM

So, last night I spent an hour or two trying to invent a jig to align the various parts of my table saw with the new dial indicator I received from Amazon. This is what I came up with, which seemed pretty solid:

I think it would be fine if the miter sled that came with the Bosch 4100 table saw wasn’t such a piece of crap. There’s somewhere in the range of 0.007”-0.012” of play when the sled is in the left miter slot. It’s nearly as bad on the right slot. I tried shimming the left side of the sled’s slider with 3 layers of clear packing tape, and it made it a little better, but there was still play. Sometimes I would get readings of 0.002” from front to back hitting the same spot on the saw blade, sometimes it was more like 0.008”. Plus the dial indicator I bought was a cheapo, made in China affair, which adds to the aggravation, as if I pulled the tip back and put it back onto the blade, I would get different readings (guess I should just break down and buy a good Starrett dial indicator).

Argh! So I still don’t know if my saw is set up well or not. I need a better miter sled, that is readily apparent. Starting to wish I’d just bought a better saw in the first place, although I got the Bosch for only $310, still new in the package, which I thought was a pretty good deal. I may try to dream up something else that can fit into the miter slot more snugly to hold my dial indicator tonight.

I did pick up a 4×8x2 piece of pink foam as brtech suggested above so I can rip on the floor with a guide, but I got distracted the rest of last night putting up a new hanging fluorescent light out in the shop (garage) so I can see a little bit better out there. :)

Hopefully tonight can be a little more productive.

View BurtC's profile


103 posts in 3093 days

#12 posted 12-18-2011 01:18 AM

That Bosch will cut straight IF setup right. I got one and it was correct out of the box and still there. I do not cut full size sheet goods on it for obviuos reasons, rough cut them down first to manageable sizes with circular saw and edge guides. Buy the optional table extentions for the saw and buy the Rockler”small” crosscut sled. Wish I had the room for a cabinet saw too, but this Bosch can do quite a bit with patience and extra effort. Be safe!

View jboehle's profile


24 posts in 2317 days

#13 posted 12-19-2011 05:50 AM

Yesterday I went to Woodcraft and bought an A-Line-It Basic It worked like a charm, even though it took some real patience to finally get the fence aligned to my satisfaction. The blade is within ~0.002” of being parallel with the miter slots, so I called that good. The fence would always lock down around ~0.02” toed in towards the blade at the rear. After fighting with it for a while, I finally got it toed out a little less than 1/64” at the rear.

Today was pretty productive, got all my slats for the aprons and stretchers squared & trimmed to the same lengths and glued up. To crosscut the slats, I extended my left side table saw extension, and also set up one of those Ridgid FlipTop stands further out to the left of that for material support. Worked great! I did clean off and wax the Ridgid stand top and my saw table top as well, with some Johnson Paste Wax – dunno why I didn’t do that before! Makes things move much easier.

Here’s right before I screwed down the jig used when gluing up the stretchers/aprons:

And after screwing it together:

Here’s all the outer slats, waiting for glue up:

Finally, all four pieces glued up and drying (inside, since the garage will get cold tonight!):

Making some good progress! I also got all 16 of the outer slats for the legs cut to length today.

Thanks all for your help! I’ll be sure to post this project when finished.

View crank49's profile


4030 posts in 2934 days

#14 posted 12-19-2011 08:08 AM

You dont need a dial indicator to set up a table saw. Unless you like quoting a bunch of numbers.

- Drop a piece of 3/4” square stock in the miter slot.
- Put your combination square up against the stock in the miter slot and extend the square’s blade till it just touches a tooth on the front of the saw blade.
- Mark this tooth with a marker.
- Roll the saw blade back till the marked tooth is near the back of the table.
- Slide your square along the miter slot stock and the square should just touch the marked tooth on the saw blade.
- If it binds against the saw blade or if there is a gap, then the saw is out of alignmment.

As for the plywood bench, I built my version of that bench about 18 months ago.
I used the 7 ply, sand ply, plywood. Better material and half the price of the hardwood veneer type plywood.
I used three sheets for my bench and paid about $23 per sheet for the wood.
I made mine like a Roubo style bench with the legs sitting in mortices in the top.
I love this bench.

If you can find a current copy of ShopNotes magazine, December 2011, there is an excelent article in there on building a cutting guide for the circular saw and another article for a wall mounted rack to use that guide like a panel saw. I am definitely going to build this for myself. I used a purchased aluminum guide for breaking down my sheets but, like someone said, it will move on you.

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