I took this picture a few weeks ago, but forgot to post it… Here’s exactly why I ended up going with the split-top design. You can just slip your piece around the front part of the bench and grab it with the wagon vise. Bingo-Bongo, it’s not going anywhere.
Honestly, this drawer was a little huge and awkward, and it still worked really well. Sliding smaller drawers and casework around the back and clamping it down for finish planing is going to be a complete joy.
So, we left off with the bench pretty much being done.. Just needed to flatten the top, apply some finish, chamfer edges, stuff like that.
Actually, one of the first things I needed to do was put some 3/4” holes in the rear part of the bench for holdfasts or any other standard 3/4” bench accessory. How do you drill a 3/4” hole in a 4” bench top? Well, I seriously considered setting the benchtop on my drill press (I’ve got a monster of a drill press). But, in the end, I figured a brace and a bit would do just fine. The secret is to stop right when the screw tip pokes out the bottom of your hole, and then drill up from the bottom so there’s no blow-out.
Here’s one coming along nicely:
And another one:
And so on… Chris Schwarz was right though. After you do a couple of these, you get a feel for what is perpendicular, and you don’t even really need the squares anymore. It was quite a workout though, ash is some tough wood.
Next, I had to do some final tuning in a few places before I could call it a day and move on to chamfering, flattening, and finishing. A ferret could make a home in this gap between the leg and benchtop…
Anyways, after some fine-tuning, some cleanup, I got onto the flattening. I’m not gonna cover that subject here, it’s been done to death. It takes a little while, and you need to be careful not to introduce twist, but it’s not so bad. And when you’re almost done, and you start getting 9’ long, full width shavings, it’s pretty cool. Also, if you happen to have a Lie-Nielsen No8? Absolute heaven.
Now, here is where I depart from the benchcrafted plans a little bit. I spent quite a bit of time debating whether or not I actually wanted a split-top or a solid top. I ended up going with the split top because I think it would come in very handy for securing pieces like drawers after glue-up, to do final planing. I wasn’t very interested in the tool storage in the “gap-top” in the middle of the bench. I don’t have a dedicated wall or handy storage spot for most of my stuff, so I knew that almost my entire tool set would come to live in that gap-stop, which would be a real pain.
So, I copied what I saw Jameel do on “steve’s roubo”, and built a nice tool rack for the back left part of the bench. Here’s a couple pictures of that coming together.
Like I said, I don’t have a spot for most of my tools, so I made sure this rack would have space for my saws, most of my chisels, etc..
So, we’re pretty much done!! Of course, there is much that was done that isn’t pictured. Chamfering, building the shelf underneath, making 18 bench dogs (Jameel said make a dog for every hole. I must obey.) But who cares, let’s get to the finished product right? I used BLO as a finish, and I’ll admit that I regretted it as soon as I wiped it on. I had gotten used to the very light color of the ash, and the BLO turned it just a little too yellow for my taste. I guess I could have used tung oil, or maybe even just paste wax.
Sweet! I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t a lot of work, because it was. It was probably about 3 months from start to finish, with two trips to the hospital for good measure. Definitely worth it though. And if you haven’t had the chance to try out the Benchcrafted vises, well, you should. They are worth every penny. It is hard to describe the clamping power, but I guess all I can say is you can definitely believe the hype surrounding them.
Next up.. Finishing that blanket chest I’ve been working on.
Man, this bench is taking FOREVER! Actually, it hasn’t been too bad. I’m just being lazy about posting, the bench has been done for like 3 weeks now.
Anyways, in the last post, we left off busting some fingers after gluing the top together.
Here’s a picture of the bench after getting the back section dimensioned, planed, and cut to length.
What isn’t pictured is 1) mortising the top to the base, and 2) routing the dog hole strip. Mortising the top to the base was pretty easy. Some people cut a scrap piece the exact height of their tenon, and then get the top aligned with the legs and just mark the mortise directly. Other people flip the bench over and sit the base on both tops at the same time. I was too lazy for both of those methods. Remember, the only side of the mortise that really has to be accurate is the one that is facing the outside of the leg. Getting this side of the mortise dead-on means that your benchtop will be co-planer with your legs. The other 3 sides of your mortise can be, dare I say it, a bit sloppier. We’re not looking for a suction fit here. I found that the biggest forstner bit I had, coupled with a 1.5” bench chisel made short work of the mortises. I started off using a router, but after 10 minutes fooling with guides and jigs, I realized I was making things too difficult.
Routing the dog hole strips wasn’t quite as enjoyable. I copied Jameel’s jig from his blog post here. Now, the problem was that I was still getting terrible blowout in the bottom right-hand corner. After throwing a small temper tantrum after the 3rd consecutive failure, I realized all I had to do was screw on a piece of wood so that the back of the jig had a sacrificial fence just like the front. After that modification, no more blow-out. I did have to sit there for an hour with that howling beast of a machine though. Remember, I decided to lengthen my bench by 15”, so I had the pleasure of routing 17 dog holes.
Some people take the pains of routing one dog hole upside down, so that they could cut that off, flip it around and make it their wagon vise block. I guess this is important if you’re using a contrasting strip of wood in your dog hole laminate; I wasn’t, so I didn’t.
Let’s skip ahead now… I’ve routed out the recess for the wagon vise (did I mention I hate using routers), and now I’ve got to fashion the end cap. The mortise/tenon/bolts were all standard fare (although I had a hard time getting my shoulders flush, but that has to do with my lack of skills, nothing more). The dovetail was where I wanted to do something a little fancy. I really, really wanted to layout my dovetails like Konrad over at Sauer & Steiner. How sexy is his endcap? Seriously.
So, I spent like 45 minutes trying to fit 3 tails in instead of the standard 2 you see on Jameel’s benches. It just wasn’t working though. Finally, I realized that since Konrad has his tails on the endcap, they’re about 1.75” long instead of the ~ 3” long ones that I was laying out on the front laminate. At that point, I gave up, and just went for the standard dovetailed endcap. It still came out looking pretty nice, and I guess I can be proud of it. A lot of people (CSchwarz, *cough*) just bolt theirs on. I know, he did a retrofit. I don’t care. Here’s mine.
After getting everything cut and ready to go, I glued it all up. And I screwed it all up. It’s hard to see in this picture, but I didn’t get the dog hole strip and laminate exactly aligned with the rest of the slab. I was off by about 1/8”, which, honestly, might as well have been a goddamn mile. Boy was I peeved.
So, I had to rerun both slabs through the planer again, which is why I ended up with a top a hair under 4”. I was worried about spelching on the endcap, since that grain would be running parallel to the planer blades, instead of perpendicular like the rest of the top (similar to planing across the grain), but I crossed my fingers and everything came out ok.
I also had to bring the sliding dog block down to size again after planing the tops.
A minute or so with the jack andsmoothing plane took care of it.
Here’s a pic of both tops done, but before I cut the mortises for the front section.
After I cut those mortises, it was time to screw the top down and get to flattening. First, those spax screws Jameel provides are monsters.
You could buy a special bit to run these in, one of those star bits, but I discovered that any old driver turned around would fit in fine.
So just chuck that bit in your drill backwards, and you’re good to go.
That’s enough for today…
Next up: Flattening the top, and the yellowishness of BLO.
Or, slow down so you don’t hurt yourself. I spoke in an earlier post about my lack of patience. Well, it caught up to me in a big way in February, twice. For me, taking my time to make sure things are done correctly, and safely, is as much of a learning process as anything else. Have I chamfered that edge to prevent spelching when planing across the grain? Am I taking a heavier cut with the handplane when it could result in some nasty tearout? Is that piece of wood secured appropriately? And on and on.
First though, let’s take a look at where we were in this bench story. The leg vise is on!
Oh man, that thing is nice. Such sweet, sweet action.
Anyways, what’s next? Well, laminating the top together obviously. I glued the rear section together first (didn’t take any pictures of the glue drying, sorry), and once everything was nice and dry I just had to run it through the planer.
Now, here is where the first disaster struck. Again, I was rushing like usual, and not listening to the little voice in the back of my head. In this case, the voice was telling me that maybe, just maybe, the rollers I set up in front and behind my planer weren’t up to the task of holding a massive slab of ash. I was acting pretty retarded when I think about it. I sat one end of the slab on the roller (a stupid move in and of itself), and when I went to pick the other end up, the roller just tipped over forward. I’m not sure how it all happend, but I guess the other end of the slab fell about two feet, but I was only holding my end a few inches off the ground. When the other end hit the ground, I was able to get eight of ten fingers out of the way (it makes me feel better when I think about it that way), but I guess the force sort of whipped my end of the board down, and caught the tips of my middle and ring finger underneath.
Now, we don’t have to go into details, but I will anyways. Let’s just say that when my wife was driving me to the hospital, I fully though that I was going to be coming home with three fingers and two stubs on my right hand. Both tips were broken into 3-4 pieces, and one finger had burst like a grape (the doctors description, not mine), so I got 3 stitches in that one. Picture time!
And here is the xray. Looks pretty awesome.
So, that really hurt quite badly. Luckily I avoided crushing a knuckle, so the hand specialist said that I would be back to normal in about 6 weeks. I would lose the fingernails of course, but he said other than that there wouldn’t be any long term effects. So, how long did that keep me out of my workshop? A few days. I ran that damn top through the planer less than a week later.
Next up: My inability to hold a mallet delayed me from working on a blanket chest with a lot of dovetails. Rushing to finish that a few weeks later landed me in the hospital again. Horray!
Well, now that I’ve got the base more or less complete, time to actually play with some of that sweet sweet hardware from Benchcrafted. I didn’t take too many pictures that day, I must have been concentrating too much! It seemed like there were an endless amount of steps to take for what seems like a straightforward vise, but it was really just very, very thorough instructions. And honestly, I would have screwed it up royally without them.
First, we cut the through mortise on the bench leg. I didn’t take any pictures of that process, but trust me, it happened. Then, we drill and tap a few holes to hold the roller guides.
I just bought a cheap $20 tap set off of Amazon.com. Never having used a tap in wood before, I was a little skeptical of how well it would work. Well, it worked great, and those bolts are in there tight. I dont think there’s any better way to do it, honestly. And now that I know how well it works, I think I’ll do it quite a bit more often from here on out.
Oh look! The roller guides are done already. They were pretty easy to make. I just used the drill press to mill out the slots, and used a float and rasp to pretty everything up. I went for a simpler shape than the one Jameel has in his plans, but I think it came out pretty well.
Now, I didn’t take any pictures of making the parallel guide, or milling out the holes on the chop, or installing the glide screw or bushing. I was busy! If you mosy on over to benchcrafted’s blog, however, there is an excellent series going on that details all these steps pretty well. I recommend it highly because, well, you’ll learn more over there than over here. Click here to check it out.
I did take a picture of drilling the holes for the drawbore pins though. I used a brace and bit because I didn’t have a normal drill bit long enough.
That brace looks pretty sweet, huh? It’s an old miller falls that belonged to my Grandpa. Of course, When I got my hands on it it looked like this:
So I sent it over to Wiktor Kuc at WKTools.com for a little TLC, and it came back looking absolutely incredible.
Insane work; I highly recommend Wiktor if you’ve got some old braces or eggbeaters laying around.
Oh look! The vise just jumped up into that leg and installed itself.
Just kidding of course. But the whole process wasn’t too bad. I’m sure most anyone could do it faster though.
I then went through the wonderful process of jointing and flattening fourteen 8.5’ long boards for the top. Hooray! Remember earlier I talked about some 12/4 or 16/4 stock? Yeah, get that stuff. Laminating sucks.
But now… Oh man, it almost looks like we have a bench. Of course those boards are only held together with some clamps, but a guy can dream right? I’m probably, what, like 90% done, right? Sure…
Next up: Laminating the top and a trip to the Emergency Room.
Now that I’d milled, glued, and squared up an adequte stock of lumber for the bench legs, it was time to create the mortises for the stretchers and rails.
Before I get to that though, let me speak about the tenoning of said stretchers and rails. Now, I like handtools as much as the next guy, and even own a pair of very nice 14” back saws specifically to cut tenons of this magnitude. However, after about 30 seconds of my rip saw chattering through what felt like concrete (Ash), I abandoned all thoughts of doing the bench joinery by hand and walked over to the table saw.
Tenon shoulders on the table saw are easy enough. Set the fence as your stop, and use your miter gauge. Presto-chango, 5 minutes later I’ve got perfect shoulders cut for all 8 tenons.
What about the cheeks, you ask? Well, I don’t have a dado stack. That would obviously would have been the easiest thing. Instead, I’ve got a delta tenoning jig which is worth more as a boat anchor then as anything to do with wood working. So I used that to get close (within a 1/16), and then used a router plane to get the cheek faces in line and to the correct depth. After I got tired of sharpening the router plane blade, I just grabbed my router and a spiral upcut bit to finish the rest of them off. You may accurately sense my impatience; it will prove to be my undoing shortly. Just keep reading for the next few posts.
Also, I didn’t take any pictures of me cutting or truing the tenons. Sorry.
The mortises! Well, I don’t have any fancy-pants hollow chisel mortiser, and I HATE routers (despite what you may have read just 3 sentences prior), so that left me with a drill press and forstner bits. This honestly wasn’t that bad of an option, considering the fact that I have a monster of a drill press.
A quick aside - That magfence you see in the above picture is another ill-advised purchase, an engineering disaster. A good idea in theory (magnets! they’re magical!!), but poorly executed. The problem is in setting the fence. Those levers to the left and right are how you release the fence. But instead of retracting the magnets, they actually lever the fence off of the table. This means it is impossible to set the fence accurately where you want it while those levers are down, and once you’ve put them up so the fence sits flat on the table, the only way to move the fence is to smack it with your hand or a hammer. So fine-tuned adjustments aren’t really an option.
Anyways, after getting that fence in place, drilling out most of the waste went pretty quickly. I then cut out the corners using a combination of chisels, corner chisels, and a Lie-Nielsen float (I had the good fortune of visiting the LN showroom in Maine this past summer, and Deneb recommended the 1” bed float. Who was I to say no?). The float was magical. It’s also the only tool my wife can reliably recognize because she’s a veterinarian, and apparently they use floats on horses teeth. That sounds painful to me, but what do I know? But seriously, the float was incredible. It beavers through wood, and leaves a nice smooth surface.
This is where the malaise set in, though. Squaring up 12 big mortises (and I’m using the term “square” loosely) is tedious work. Especially when my previous experience in squaring up mortises was exactly zero. Was I maybe a little ambitious in thinking I could build a bench like this? Would this thing have a 90 degree angle on it anywhere? About halfway through, I would have traded my SUV for a hollow chisel mortiser. Eventually though, I finished, and was rewarded with some pretty decent leg assemblies, and things even ended up pretty square and straight.
Didn’t I say I would talk about the knockdown hardware in this post? Well, I’m tired of writing and I haven’t even cut the tenons on the front and back rails yet.. We’ll have to wait for the next post!
I’m pretty new to woodworking.. I mean, I’ve been reading the Schwarz for about two years now, so I feel like I KNOW a lot. But actually DOING those things is another story. Mitered dovetails sure look easy in a blog post, I’m just saying.
Anyways, you can only stare at beautiful furniture and tools for so long; eventually you’ve got to get cracking. I’ve built a couple things, but nothing huge. I’ve done enough, however, to know that my sears craftsman workbench and it’s horrible, wrack-prone vises and barely attached top is more of a hindrance than help. When you spend half your time trying to secure your work to the bench so you can actually get to doing the joinery, you’ve got a problem.
The solution? Well, like I said I’ve been a disciple of C. Schwarz, so obviously a Roubo. But if Schwarz is our modern woodworking Jesus, than Jameel Abraham of Benchrafted is the Father and Holy Ghost. I mean, look at this bench.
That being said, I ordered up a pair of Benchcrafted vises and Jameel’s bench plans. The bench is almost done, but over the next few posts I’ll detail the build a little bit, and show some of the construction pictures (the few that I’ve taken).
To start off tho.. A pile of Ash. Oh, Ash. A heavy, damned wood that will take my freshly sharpened chisel and turn it’s edge into something that resembles a lawnmower blade that’s taken a turn through a gravel driveway.
After a bit of milling, we’ve got a pile of square, leg-sized lumber ready for glue! I love glue-ups! Just kidding, of course. I hate glue-ups, and if I was doing this again my primary goal would be to buy some 12/4 and 16/4 lumber to avoid the glue-spread and clamping dance.
Eventually we’ve got some glued legs, some stretchers, and plans to hit the drill press for some mortising. We’ll leave that for the next post though.
Don’t you love these build threads? It compresses hours and days of works into a 2 minute read. Makes chumps like me think “oh, man I could build that bench in like, 2 weekends tops, no problem.” Wrong.
Next up: Mortising, tenons on looong rails, and massive bench hardware.