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derekcohen 02-05-2012 05:01 PM

Building a Bench in Perth
There was not meant to be thread on building a bench. I asked a few questions on a couple of forums, and it snowballed. Below is an attempt to pull these together for you.

My existing bench is 18 years old, has been modified many times over the years to keep pace with my changing approach to woodwork, and is showing its years. It is small - about 4'10" long. It is too wide - about 26". The top has been planed down so many times that the dowels I used to orientate the boards all those years ago are now showing half their thickness. Although the legs are spindly, the bench is really rigid as it is bolted to the wall (the new bench will be placed about 2 ft from the wall). The Record 52 1/2 vises are now hopeless. The front vise racks and the tail vise does not open unless you hold down the release lever while you turn the handle. And it is too dark. The Karri top may look exotic in pictures, but it does not reflect light well.

The bench has been a good friend but I still find it amazing that I managed to do so much work on it. I procrastinated and avoided building another as I generally dislike building shop furniture. Or using good wood that would better be used on furniture for the home. But now it is time for a new bench, a better bench.

I like the simplicity of a Roubo. I thank Chris Schwarz for his research and the information he disseminated. It has been educational.

Since building a Moxon vise (for dovetailing) a year ago I have come to recognise that my face vise needs (for planing edges) would now be best met by a leg vise. I plan to build one with a wooden screw (a most kind gift of Wilbur Pan), while the tail vise is a Benchcrafted wagon vise.

Generally I try and build as much as I can from recycled timber. I find a lot of old Jarrah roof trusses. These are dry and hard. They will be turned into the base.

Today I dug out the rafters that I thought would work best. These are 3"- 3 1/2" x 4"- 4 1/2" and around 80" long. I should be able to get four legs at 3" x 5". I am aiming for a 34" high bench.

The top is to be 4" thick, 21-22" wide and 6 ft long, built from European Oak (which means it likely originated from Eastern Europe). One of the members of my local ww club bought a shipment imported by a failed business, and was selling it at a cheaper price than the local Tasmanian Oak, which lacks its stability and texture. This was jointed and thicknessed for me, and has been "acclimatizing" (aka lying around) for several months. There has been minimal movement.

Two boxes at the top ... BenchCrafted tail vise and woodscrew ...

My intention is to build a wooden replica of the steel screw leg vise designed by BenchCrafted. The key feature here are the wheel guides.

derekcohen 02-05-2012 05:02 PM

Re: Building a Bench in Perth
Building the legs

I began preparing the stock for the legs yesterday afternoon, that is, finding boards in my wood pile for laminating into the desired 5" x 3" size. There were issues with the stock I have.

As I showed earlier, I have a number of rough sawn rafters approximately 3" x 4". Once jointed it became evident that only 2 legs could be created from two boards, and that the other 2 legs would require laminating 3 boards.

The two-board laminations would have to be joined edge-to-edge, and the three-board laminations not only joined edge-to-edge but include a face board to increase the thickness.

A central mortice would occur at the join. Not happy.

It is now Sunday. We spent the morning at the beach. This gave me a chance to switch off and think about the options. A little lateral thinking gave me the answer.

Choices ...

Firstly, I could go out and purchase Jarrah boards to make the legs. There a couple of reasons why I do not do so. It is not simply that these would be expensive. Expensive? Very! I estimate that each leg would end up costing about $125. That is about $500 for the legs, and we have not yet got to the stretchers.

Why is Jarrah (Eucalyptus Marginata) so expensive? Because it has been over-logged in Western Australia for over 100 years, with the timber being exported around the world for bridges and roads. The trees only grow in Western Australia - no where else - and the forests have been decimated. The logging continues, in spite of the frequent protests from the Greens, because the public generally places money above the environment. I really do not wish to support this industry, and 90% of the Jarrah I use comes from salvage - old roof beams, old flooring, etc. Some from the renovations in our house (all the roof beams are rough sawn Jarrah), and some from skips (dumpsters) when houses are demolished (but now there are businesses buying up the old timber - that's OK with me. At least it gets a second life, and I will - and do - happily purchase that).

Secondly, let us not forget the most important factor here - this is a workbench, not a piece of furniture for the home! Yes, I would like to build a bench that is as faithful to the principles of Roubo, and guided by the recommendations of my friends on the forum, but it is still just a bench. Anything I do will be totally overkill compared to the bench I have been using for the past 18 years. I must add that, prior to the current bench (skinny cretin that it is ), my previous "bench" was a door over trestles. This lasted 7 years while we lived in and restored our previous house. So I have had 25 years working with poor benches. I do believe that anything better than I had will last another 25 years, at least.

So ... I thought about what I had to work with, what wood I had on the rack, and hatched the following plan which I shall describe, and then go off and cut the parts to show you later ..

The solution is ... may be - I will hear from you I hope ... to create a sandwich with full width boards on the outside. Inside, the two sections I previously showed will be used, BUT one piece will be recut to sandwich a thick section which is centred in the fill. Now a mortice can be created in solid, un-edge-joined timber.

Since the added laminated with be about 3/4" thick each, I anticipate that the legs end up about 5" long x 4" thick.

Fast forward about 5 hours ...

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I try and re-use reclaimed timber. Here is an example. Woolly and twisted ...

One side gets jointed then, because the thickness of the other side is so uneven, I use the bandsaw to cut to the approximate thickness before planing out the saw marks ...

The Jarrah "infill" was ripped to width on the tablesaw. There is now enough meat in the centre of each leg to accept a mortice ...

The wooden screw for the leg vise has a 2" diameter. This will easily fit into the 3" central section in these legs ..

The legs are yet to be glued up. Once done, final dimensioning will be done. The sides (end grain) could be stained to match the fronts. Or I am toying with the idea of mitering and wrapping boards around the infill.

The legs are now 5" wide and 3 5/8" thick.

Each leg weighs 10 kg (22 lbs).

The bench top is expected to weigh 80 kg (172 lbs).

Still to add in stretchers, chop, and end vise.

derekcohen 02-05-2012 05:02 PM

Re: Building a Bench in Perth
One Change Leads To Another

I was asked why I chose the Benchcraft tail vise.

The choice of tail vise was made on a number of factors, one of which was the space available for the bench. My bench is placed against a rear wall in my garage/shop. The length of the bench is limited by a cabinet, to the left, and a door, to the right. It comes down to the longer the bench, the shorter the tail vise ... or, the longer the tail vise, the shorter the bench.

The Benchcraft tail vise is notable in that the handle remains in one position, that is, does not "screw out" or "screw in" in length. This translates into a short vise, which means I can build a longer bench. The bench size increases from a little under 5' to a little over 6'. This may not sound a lot, but it is a massive change for me.

I was initially planning on building my own version of the Benchcraft wagon vise. However, when Chris Vesper visited with me last year, he mentioned that he had purchased the BC tail vise. When I asked why he had not simply built his own - since he is a top class machinist - he explained that the design of the vise places great stresses on the mechanism (it screws at the side of the captured dog so as to run close to the edge of the bench), and that to accommodate this, the steel work needed to be heavy duty ... and that the BC was built like the proverbial tank. He did not believe he could replicate it. That sold me on the BC for the tail vise.

I hope to get to the bench dogs tomorrow. These will be rectangular, not round, so I have to prepare them before I glue up the bench top. Why rectangular? Simply because I believe that they will hold work more securely than round dogs. They have a broader face and will not twist. Plus, I wonder how many bench (dog) builders realise that the dogs need to incline slightly (I am using 2 degrees) towards the work piece? This is difficult to do if drilling for a round dog. Yes, it is possible to cut and angle a flat upper section of a round dog, but this thins and potentially weakens the dog, making it more susceptible to bending under stress. A rectangular dog is more work, both in planning and build, but it worth it. This does not preclude one from adding holes for bench accessories, such as hold downs.

So today I plan to finish off the legs. Their dimensions are 5" wide and 3 5/8" deep. I have cut the tenons, and what is left is to prepare one for the leg vise and all for the mortices for the adjoining stretchers. While I will not complete the base until after the top is done (as the length of the stretchers is determined by the dimensions of the top since all facing edges will be co-planar), I need to have everything ready to receive the top once it is glued up just so that I can work on the top.

To decide the length of the legs I first had to finalise the height of the bench. The present bench, which I built 18 years ago, was a remnant from a pre-handtool era. Much modified over the years to better deal with the demands of handtools, it still retained that one feature of the powertool user - height. It is 34" high. Too high for comfortable handplaning at my 178cm/5'10".

Chris Schwarz recommends the "pinky test", that is, the height of the bench should be situated where your pinky joins your hand when your arm is held at your side. I did this and the result was a bench height of 30". To test this out I place a double layer of bricks in front of the bench, and planed a board while standing on the bricks ...

Interestingly, this did feel so much better. It moved the focus of strength from my arms and shoulders to my hips and legs (which is what one is taught in karate). So the length of the legs was calculated for a bench top of approximately 4" thickness (it will end up a little under that), and the tenons were cut. Pictures of the legs tomorrow.

One other point: One change begets other changes. With the lowering of the bench, I shall need to build a new Moxon dovetail vise. The whole idea of the Moxon is to raise the work up high. The existing vise was built for a 34" high bench. To work with the same ease, the new Moxon will need to work 4" higher. Hence a new, taller Moxon.

derekcohen 02-05-2012 05:03 PM

Re: Building a Bench in Perth
I Meant To Design It This Way!

That is what we all say to disguise a mistake ... yes?

I should title this "How not to build a bench"!

There has been some progress, but it has been a lot slower than I planned owing to changes made, and the repairs to these changes, and then being in two minds about the installation of the tail vise.

First of all, the bench top has now reached the stage where it is recognisable as a bench top. I glued the sections together to look like this ..

Next comes the dog hole strip. This was a little more complicated than it needed to be owing to the absence of the requisite board to build it. I searched Perth high and low for more timber, but there is no European Oak to be had in small qualities. So I decided to use the off-cuts from the bench build and create a modular system of dog holes. The advantage here would be the freedom to fit them into the system I will finally decide on. System? More on this later.

Building dog holes: The dog holes are 1" wide and 1 1/2" deep across the top. They are angled towards the vise at 2 degrees. The dog in the BC tailvise is the same size, and also angled forward by 2 degrees.

The dogs need to be centred in the dog strip. First the dog strip board is resawn ...

Then a jig was built for the router ...

... and the dog holes machined out ..

The "bumps" are to prevent the dogs dropping out of the dog holes.

Finally, the two boards were glued together ..

The result was a bunch of dog hole strips with each dog hole 3" apart ..

... which I cut to fit the length here, but which I can re-configure as I wish later on (also, note the difference in size of this 75" bench top length versus the <60" length of my old bench) ...

The width of the bench here is 20". The final width is expected to be between 21" and 22".

What is the issue?

Essentially, there are two choices. Either the dog holes are placed as close to the edge of the bench (say 2 1/2", as above), which makes it easier to use when rebating, planing moldings, and other edge treatments ... or, the dog holes are arranged so that the vise can hold work over the rear leg, which is useful for work that requires hammer blows, such as morticing.

The problem is that you cannot have both systems. You have to choose. In the situation where the dog holes are close to the edge of the bench, they will be interrupted by the legs (which are 5" wide and 3 5/8" deep). Consequently, there will be dead spots along the edge of the bench. In the case of the dogs being situated at a distance to the inside of the legs, they will have to be about 3 1/2" - 4" out from the bench edge.

In the case that I go with the second option, I shall need to extend the width of the bench by 1 1/2". And no more European Oak. I decided I would use Tasmanian Oak as a substitute. It is interesting that Tassie Oak is not an oak but a Eucalypt, yet its colour and grain of the edge grain is very similar to the European Oak ...

The Tassie Oak is a little lighter in colour, but after a year I doubt that anyone would pick it out.

Now the other area I had a change of mind was the bench height. In an earlier post I wrote that a height of 30" appeared to work when planing. This was a result of using Chris Schwarz' "pinky test". Over the next couple of days the thought began to firm that planing is just one activity - I prefer a higher bench for detail work, such as the moldings I made with H&R planes - and that I have become used to a 34" bench height. I decided to compromise at 32".

Unfortunately ... I had already cut the legs for a 30" high bench. To make matters more stressful, the bench top thickness is going to end up closer to 3 1/2" than 4". The slight difference in thickness does not bother me, but this affects the bench height.

So now I began to obsess about how I could fix the legs.

Fortunately, when I cut them to length I left the tenons long - 2" in total. The final tenon length will be 1".

Here is one idea, which I shelved: molding made with the above-mentioned H&Rs ..

This was too busy for my taste, even if I stained the pieces dark.

I ended up with this ...

Back to the bench top. Here is the BC end vise (with dog hole strip) ready for installation. Just a final decision to make about the choice preferred ...

derekcohen 02-05-2012 05:05 PM

Re: Building a Bench in Perth
Progress Report

It is now two weeks since I began working on the bench. I suspect that my plans to finish it the first weekend were a touch optimistic

What has been frustrating has been the feeling that I get two paces forward, and then move back one. This is in part due to using Jarrah I have salvaged over the years - all needs to be laminated. For example, the stretchers are three layers each to reach the desired 2" thickness ..

I am beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel, however. The top is nearing completion, and all the pieces for the base are essentially ready to go. I have estimated the final weight of the bench, and was shocked to discover that it will end up 182kg or 400 lbs.

Much of the time to date has been determining how to fit the Benchcraft tail vise (wagon vise). The first issue was that the oak benchtop's final thickness is 3 1/2" (rather then the 4" ideal for which the BC was designed). This is not a big deal as it just requires spacers to align with the 4" end cap (all in the instructions).

The second issue was to decide how far out to place the dog holes - in a continuous, unbroken line outside the legs, or broken by the legs but close to the edge of the bench? I decided to go for the latter. The bench dogs are 2" from the edge of the bench, each 3" apart, except for the area of the legs, where they are 6" apart. I also decided not to include a planing stop. Either I will use the first bench dog, or I will use a jig that uses the bench dog and a holddown.

(the bench dog strips were shown in the previous report)

So the order today was (1) form the tenon for the end cap, as this forms part of the tail vise screw installation, (2) rout out the mortice for the screw, and then (3) glue in the bench dogs.

I have watched a few videos on various blogs of the end cap tenon being formed with a circular saw and a power router. I took a slightly different route.

Firstly, I sawed the shoulders of the tenon on a sliding tablesaw ...

Then used a wide chisel to split the waste off ...

The first side I used my old Stanley #93 (perfect for a 1" deep tenon), as it could adjust from thick to fine shavings.

On the other side I used a Veritas skew block plane. This was a better choice.

Having then routed the slot for the tail vise screw, I was finally able to glue on the dog hole strips.

The side piece and end cap are both loose (they will later be dovetailed together) ...

derekcohen 02-05-2012 05:06 PM

Re: Building a Bench in Perth
The Top is Complete!

Well, almost. The tail vise needs to be bolted in - however I can only do that later. All work is done in preparation.... which means the end cap is completed. How this was to be built was the subject of the last post.

The final length of the bench top is 75", which is a little longer than I expected. About as much as I could have hoped for. The width is 21", which is what I aimed for. Perfect.

So what about the end cap? How did this turn out?

In the end the design was determined by the wagon tail vise. This requires an end cap with strength as the tail screw will create pressure at that end of the bench. This means that the end cap does need to be bolted to the bench. I checked with Jameel, and he confirmed this. I took the easy way out here and used ordinary coach bolts. I did grind and polish the ends, but no one will notice ... just being a little obsessional

The important aspect with the end cap is that it needs to have the ability to move, to expand and contract with changes of the weather. One end is fixed (bolted) - which has to be around the tail vise - and the other must be left unattached.

The attached end of the end cap is fixed with a dovetail and two bolts. The bolts run through the internal tenon (see earlier post). This area (half the tenon) is also glued. The remainder of the endcap is attached with a single bolt, which enters an oversized hole. There is no matching dovetail at this side of the bench as this would restrict movement.

See, the top is done! Flat.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. In this case, while the end cap looks clean and simple from this angle, I did go a little OTT with the dovetail that attached the face side.

I decided that since I did not plan another bench build for ... ever ... and that there was only one dovetail I could cut, I would do something interesting. There was only one shot at this and I would have some fun.

For those who are not interested in a short pictorial of building a half blind (half lap) houndstooth dovetail involving one h-u-g-e board, then simply skip to the end.

What made this even trickier was that I was struggling for space. I clamped the tail board in my Record vise at an angle, thus ...

... and was forced to saw the lines from the opposite side ...

Ok, here you are - the layout for the houndstooth dovetails. There are a couple of reasons for using this format. The first is that the end cap is 2" wide (to maximise the internal screw length) and 4" deep (to get the vise wheel below the bench top). Anything other than slim dovetails would end up looking blocky. Several "normal" tails would look too busy. Houndstooth tails could break this up.

Secondly, you may note that the tails are offset on the tail board. This is deliberate in order to centre the tails as the tail board is 3 1/2" wide and has to join a 4" wide pin board.

The tail waste is removed with a fretsaw ...

.. and then the remaining waste is chiseled out ...

Transfering tails to pins was fun!

In addition to the balancing act here, the kerf for the tails was so tight that a standard narrow marking knife would not fit. I quickly whipped out my Vesper extra-slim marking knife ... (I have to find space for a plug for Chris Vesper - great toolmaker) ..

Here is the extra slim alongside a standard slim marking knife ...

Time for the Blue Tape Method!

Place blue marking tape over the area where the marks will be transferred ..

Transfer the marks ...

Peel away the waste (at this stage I leave the short pins as long pins) ...

This makes it so easy to saw to the line. Here are my saw cuts. Can you see the kerfs?

Now you can remove the tape from the waste area of the short pins ...

At this point I deepen the kerfs with a kerf chisel (its on my website under Shopmade Tools) ..

Drill the waste to the depth of the pin. This will make it easier to split out the waste (rather than spend hours chopping it away) ..

Chop it out about 2/3 of the waste ..

Remove the remaining waste (this is basic stuff), using a backing board. Note that the short pins are still intact at this stage ...

Now you can pare them to length ...

If you are using a Moxon vise, as I am, lower the pins level with the top of the vise. The board may now be used to flush the base of the pins ...

Here you are, nice and tidy ..

Slight tangent ...

With so little room to move in I stumbled over the tail board, which went crashing to the ground, and dented the end near the tails. Fortunately the tails were not damaged. Still, not needed at this point.

I had to leave the dent wrapped in a wet paper towel for an hour or so to try and swell it out ..

It worked reasonably well. Then, without further ado, and with my heart in my mouth, I added glue to the pins and wacked in the tails. The result was decent, and so I set about glueing the end cap/side board to the bench top ...

What that .. can't see ... the clamps are in the way? OK ...

Decent job.

Regards from Perth


waho6o9 02-05-2012 06:03 PM

Re: Building a Bench in Perth
Most excellent work Derek, thanks for taking the time to show your progress on this fine bench.
The dovetail joinery is nothing less than awesome. :D

Chris 02-05-2012 06:57 PM

Re: Building a Bench in Perth
Great post, Derek, had to make another coffee half way through.
I love the dovetails. You seem to make them as easily as a Marmite sandwich.

bigfoot 02-05-2012 09:24 PM

Re: Building a Bench in Perth
About time we had another bench build here! :)

I will pour over this in detail later. This is great entertainment for me.

"...I generally dislike building shop furniture. Or using good wood that would better be used on furniture for the home".

Derek, you will not be disappointed in the time and material spent building this. Its always good to renew the space of creativity. The shop should have a few "show off" pieces of your talents. Nothing like entering the shop for a little added self indulgence. ;)

derekcohen 02-07-2012 01:10 PM

Re: Building a Bench in Perth
Updating the bolts

I replaced the coach bolts. I was not happy with the idea of relying on end grain to support the threads.

I really do know know why - call it a senior moment - but I drilled out the first underbench bolt hole with a router. Noisy, the smell of wood burning, and s-l-o-w! Ugh!

The light came on, and I switched to a 12" brace with 3/4" bit.

It was amazing how much faster - and effortless - this was. The European Oak is so much softer than Jarrah. Once the hole is to depth, chisel a flat side for the nut.

The bolt hole is slightly oversized (for expansion) and is slightly deeper than the underbench hole for ease of tightening.

Here are the first two holes ...

Handpower rules!

Regards from Perth


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