The Beginning of a New Bench
It’s been a while since I’ve written, mostly because I’ve been busy with work, children, and the holidays. However, a new year brings me back to the shop for new projects. The first order of business is getting a new work bench together.
I’ve been working on a make-shift bench that I cobbled together with some 2×4’s, a piece of ½” MDF, and a pair of saw horses. There is a lot of discussion these days about what makes a proper bench. Should it be made of hardwood or soft, utilitarian or ornate in appearance, and of course, what height? My biggest concern is simply this: Will I be comfortable working at it and will it hold everything I need it to? This bench answers yes to both questions, and many more. I know this to be true because I worked on this bench for a month straight, 6 days a week, 10 hours a day, doing every imaginable woodworking task.
The bench I’m making now is a traditional British joiner’s bench, but fashioned to allow 2 working sides. This will allow me to have multiple stages of a single project, multiple projects, or someone else working with me. It will have a two 3” laminated top sections, each about 14” wide, and a center tool well at 9” wide. It will be 5’ long and 38” tall, with a face vise on each side, made of ordinary construction grade lumber, available anywhere, and for a lot less money than other wood.
The tops will be fastened to a bearing plate, which sits directly on the leg frames, which are mortise and tenon H frames. There will be a 12” wide apron on the front, which is housed to the legs, then glued and screwed to tie everything together. The housing dado will be oversized and angled to allow the insertion of a wedge. This wedge will keep everything tight, no matter what racking forces are exerted.
To begin, I spent about 1-1/2 hours sorting through lumber at a local big box store. I’m not a fan of these businesses, but it was New Year’s Day, and no one else was open. It took every bit of energy I had to locate enough lumber that was straight, dry, and in a decent enough condition to work. I ended up with 2” x 4” x 12’ lumber that I cut in half.
For all 16 pieces, I passed one edge across my 6” joiner, to get a truly flat edge. I then ripped each piece to 3-1/16” on the table saw. After dressing each face with my #4 Stanley Bailey pattern plane, I arranged them for color, grain, and general appearance. I set out enough clamps for a section, and loaded the pieces for gluing. Using Paul Seller’s zigzag method, I spread the glue, rubbed the faces, and stood them in place.
I began to snug up the clamps, making adjustments as necessary.
Once I had the bottom layer of clamps snug, I added the top layer and got everything clamped tight. I used plane shavings to wipe off excess glue, and did the same for the second bench top.
I did the same procedures for my legs, making each section 4’ long. The only difference was keeping a dry joint between pieces 2-3, 4-5, and 6-7. Clamping like this allows me to maximize the clamps I have on hand.
I will leave all of these assemblies in the clamps overnight.