Episode #34: The Workbench – 1 Year Later

It’s been about a year since building the new workbench. In that time, I’ve gotten lots of questions about how I liked the bench, how the construction lumber is holding up, and if I would do anything different. After using the bench for a year, I have to say it is by far my favorite bench of the three I’ve built so far. Is it perfect? Well, no bench is perfect. But this one comes close for my work.


 

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Episode #34: The Workbench – 1 Year Later — 25 Comments

  1. Great review of your workbench Bob. I found myself thinking of an alternative solution as you would point out a problem, but then a few seconds later you voiced the same solution as well as a couple of others. I give up.

    It sounds like you’re going to set up a Moxon style twin screw vise for the bench top as a semi-permanent replacement for your twin screw face vise. I was wondering if adding a Roubo style leg vise (on the right end) would be a good option for clamping your small pieces, or would that just be in the way?

    • No leg vise for me. I’m not a real fan of them. The screw gets in the way of clamping tall items in the vise, and I don’t like them for real wide stuff. For tall stuff in a leg vise, you have to clamp off center, which racks the chop. The twin screw does not have this problem as there is no screw in the way. Of course you can only clamp as wide as the space between the screws (a little more than 18″ on my vise), but for wider stuff, a couple holdfasts in the apron does the job. I love my twin screw vise as is and have no intention of replacing it. I’m in no hurry to make another rear chop for the twin screw ala Felebien & Moxon. I use the vise on the bench when I need it, and it’s great there. I will probably make a rear chop eventually, just to see what all the hype is about, but I’m not really motivated to make it a high priority at the moment :).

  2. Thanks for the update Bob, I actually find these where-are-they-now posts more informative than the initial builds. It’s fascinating to see what works and what doesn’t. One nice thing about the top with this style, if you want to replace it with something thicker, it’s just a couple boards.

    I really only had one question. How much slop did you leave when fitting the planing stop? I installed a partial one in my bench about a month ago, then the humidity went up. I don’t think it’s moving until next winter…. :)

    By the way, in an old comment on your bench build, I’d asked about making the bench out of 8/4 poplar. I ended up doing just that, building a bench based on your design crossed with cschwarz’s nicholson, but with a big hunk of 12/4 poplar for the top. The full(ish) details are on my blog @ http://blowery.org/tag/bench/

    Thanks again for the writeup.

    • Nice bench! And you are 100% correct. If I want to replace the top, it’s a cinch to do since it’s only attached with screws. I will have to cut the legs down some if I replace the top with a thicker one, but I left them long, so that’s not a big deal.

      For the planing stop, I didn’t leave any slop. It’s a mallet driven friction fit. Softwood doesn’t move as much as hardwood, so I hoped I wouldn’t have too many problems with it, and so far it has been fine. You have to make sure that everything is very dry when you make it in order to avoid shrinkage. If the stop is wet and the top dry, the stop will get loose and fall out as it dries. If the top is wet and the stop is dry, the top will shrink around the stop as it dries and lock it in place. If they are both dry, and of a similar species, then as the seasons change, they should move about equal amounts and prevent things from binding or getting loose. If you make them out of different woods that move a lot differently though (e.g. a fir top and an oak stop), you may run in to problems. The oak will move a lot more than the fir so if it was fit snug in dry months, it would be tight in the humid months. If it was fit snug in humid months, it would be loose in dry months. I used a piece of the fir 4×4 from the legs for my stop. The top is softwood as well, so the two move with each other and everything stays in sync as the seasons change. My shop is also climate controlled as well, which helps some, but it does get big humidity swings when we get a lot of rain, like we have in the last few weeks.

      • Sorry Bob, I wasn’t clear. I meant the cross-grain planing stop that runs the length of the bench that you added after the initial build. It doesn’t appear to be a mallet fit, as you pulled it out with your hand.

        Thanks!

        • Ahh, sorry. That one was originally planed to be loose enough that it could be pulled out by hand with very little effort, but not so loose that it rattled around in the opening. However, during the most humid parts of the year (like the last couple weeks with all the rain), I had to plane it down a little more as it started sticking really tightly in some spots. I just took it out and took a few more passes with a finely set plane until it was just right again. I’m sure it will be a little loose now in the dead of winter when the bench is at its driest, but it shouldn’t be too bad. You might try tapping it out from underneath and then planing it down a little more.

  3. thanks bob! great review. very timely as well.

    i built your bench about 4mos. ago and have been quite pleased with it as well. i did take your advice and use 8/4 poplar for the top. works quite well for me. were i to do it again, budget allowing, i’d make the whole thing out of poplar. a bit heavier and much nicer to work with than the crap hem/fir available out here.

    still haven’t found my preferred vise combo. have a quick release on the far right and a moxon i use as needed. i’m pretty sure i’ll end up playing with a leg vise and a crochet at some point..

    thanks so much for all the help.

  4. Great update Bob! … and great timing too!!! (more about that shortly)

    First, I’ll echo your satisfaction. My very long “English” bench is also made of construction lumber and I’m very satisfied with it after 2 and 1/2 years. Yeah, it has lots of surface stains dings and dents, but it’s solid, flat, and does everything I ask of it. (2 boats and a variety of smaller projects) I couldn’t be happier with it.

    OK, one exception… I’m starting a form of relief carving and that needs a higher work surface. So, I’m building a “bench on bench” similar to what Steve Branam describes here. As Steve did, I’m making a laminated top to gain a bit more thickness for the excellent Gramercy holdfasts. (Again, all construction lumber.)

    Just in the middle of the lamination process, I see this post and shout out “Holy Batman, STOP the laminations!” Reason: the floating planing stop. A lot of the work I intend to do will require pinching a (usually rectangular) workpiece between dogs on the bench’s vise jaw and a fence held with holdfasts. The floating planing stop makes that form of work holding a lot easier. Forget the loose fence piece and the holdfasts that keep it in place. Use a floating fence!

    Brilliant! Thank you!

    Resume laminations Batman. Leave a gap for a fence.

  5. Pingback: A Few of My Favorite Holes | Popular Woodworking Magazine

  6. Thanks again Bob for putting this bench out there for me to copy. Every time I walk by mine on the way to work I tell it how much I love it.

  7. Thanks for the review. I like my leg vise, but not always on the left side, so I drilled my right leg so I could move it or remove it. Woodworking for most of us is always evolving as our skills and interests change. Making you bench as option friendly as possible seems to make sense.

  8. Bob …… A Great review, as you know your bench is the one I want to build. Now that we are moving (we bought the home next door to our Daughter) I will have more room. All of our belongings were delivered last weekend and I have been unpacking and sorting all my tools out.

    I have another question for you. My kids gave me a cheap lightweight wood working bench that came from Lowes for Christmas 12 years ago or so. I was thinking of utilizing that bench for the base and add the top and aprons and accessories from yours. Do think this doable or should I start from scratch. The current bench is 5′ so adding another 2 – 3′ in length would give me a 7 or 8′ bench. The existing top I believe is laminated and the bench isn’t all that heavy.

    Keep up the good work !

    Steve

    • Hi Steve,
      Sure, that should work as long as the legs have enough beef in them to support the wide aprons. You could just screw the aprons to the legs if the legs are too spindly, but you would lose the support of the joinery. In that case, you might want to laminate a piece to the front of the legs, under the aprons, to act as a similar lap joint that would provide more support to the aprons and top. You would also want to make sure there is enough support for the top boards if you plan to use 2X material for a top. If you are just going to put the new top over the old top you will be fine. If you plan to remove the old top, you might want to add some support pieces from front to back to give the 2X top some additional rigidity.

  9. I don’t have access to any 8/4 lumber. The only lumber available to me is SYP construction lumber. In order to get the thickness needed for the top would you recommend face gluing two 2 x 12′s to make a thicker top or would face gluing a 1 x to the tops surfice?
    Also, how heavy is your bench? Does it move around much when planing?
    Thanks

    • Hi Donna,
      I’m not sure how heavy the bench is, but it is plenty heavy enough and rock solid. It doesn’t move or rack at all in use. If it does start to slide forward while planing, it’s not because the bench is not heavy enough, it’s because my plane is dull.

      Where are you located? I ask because I have a hard time believing that there is absolutely no place near you where 8/4 stock is available. I’m not trying to be rude in any way, so please don’t take it that way. On the contrary, I might be able to suggest some places you could look for true 8/4 stock if I know your general location. The first place I’d suggest you go is to the Woodfinder web site. Enter your zip code and you will get a list of wood suppliers (that are registered with Woodfinder) that are in your area. I find that the yellow pages are pretty helpless with finding local sawmills and lumber suppliers because most simply don’t advertise there. The best places are usually found through word of mouth, so if you have any woodworking clubs around you, you might check with them as well. They are sure to have some sources of lumber.

      In a pinch, yes, you certainly can laminate (face glue) boards to make a thicker top. If I were going to go this route, I’d recommend using 1X material rather than 2X material. The reason is that 1X will flex a little more to follow any out of flatness of the bottom face of the 2X boards. The thickness of the 1X will be plenty. That’s basically what I did on my front aprons, though it wasn’t originally intended to add thickness, but rather create a ledge for the cross bearing braces. I wouldn’t laminate 2 pieces of 2X material if it were me. You will have to make sure that both laminating faces are really flat in order to get a good gap free bond. This isn’t going to be that easy in 11″ wide x 8′ long stock without some big machinery, or a good solid bench to hand plane the boards on. That’s why I’d recommend really trying to locate some true 8/4 stock. Rough sawn is even fine as just about every lumber yard and mill I know will be capable of running the boards through a large planer. Milling them down even to 1-3/4″ thick would be fine, but they should be able to leave them thicker than that even.

      Check with Woodfinder and other local woodworkers first though. There’s got to be someplace near you where you can get something in 8/4 (poplar is a good choice by the way). Let me know your general location and I’m sure either myself or someone else who reads the blog can help you find something.

      • I live in a small town in Mississippi. I’ve had little to no luck finding a dealer nearby.The only one I’m aware of doesn’t want to bother dealing with the small amount of lumber I would require. Thus far I have had to purchase all my lumber online! Not ideal!
        We have a Lowe’s ,but they don’t carry anything other than the SYP I mentioned. I can’t even get untreated 4×4′s I would need for the legs!
        As for clubs,there are none!
        Small town USA! You gotta love it!:]

        • Not sure where your small town is, but you might check out some of these places. They still may be too far, but they may also be worth the drive if you can find what you are looking for. The place I typically go to is about an hour and 15 minutes one way from me, but it’s worth the drive for me.

          Pickens Hardwood

          Rutland Lumber

          Mississippi Lumber Mfg. Assoc. This is a list of sawmills you might try calling to see if they have what you need.

          Mississippi Woodworkers Assoc. Here’s contact information for a woodworking club in MS. You might try giving them a call or email to see if they have any suggestions for lumber suppliers local to you.

          These should give you a start anyway. Maybe you’ve already checked these places out, but if not, they’re worth a phone call or email. You can also see if there are any millwork or cabinet shops in your area and give them a call to see where they get their lumber from. They may not be as helpful as the woodworking club, but would still be worth a call.

  10. Hi Bob,

    Very insightful info on your bench. I first wanted to build a Roubo bench, but after thinking it through and seeing your videos, I am going to build a similar bench to yours with a bit of the Schwarz style nicholson.

    I do have few questions. One, this bench is obviously lighter in weight than a Roubo style bench, so does this bench move during heavy planing sessions?

    Also, I wasn’t too clear on how you secured the top to the base. You mentioned that you secured it in such a way to allow movement during seasonal humidity, and I wasn’t sure how you did this exactly. If you could describe that one more time it would be great.

    Thanks a lot, your bench seems very versatile, and I look forward to having the options that this style of bench will afford me!

    Jonas Baker

    • Hi Jonas,

      The bench is still plenty heavy and does not move at all during planing, and that is on a slick laminate floor with nothing grippy between the bottoms of the legs and the slick floor. The only time the bench will slide a little is when my tools get dull. But then that isn’t the fault of the bench, it just means my tools need sharpening. When the planes are sharp, the bench stays put. If I put a little of that grippy shelf liner stuff under the bottoms of the legs, it would never move, even with dull tools, but that would make the bench harder to slide out for cleaning or when I need to move it away from the wall to work on occasion.

      As for the attachment of the top, it’s just fastened with screws through elongated screw holes from underneath. I glued cleats to the cross braces and drilled elongated holes through them for the screws. I showed it at one point in one of the bench build videos. Part 2 I think.

  11. Hi Bob, new traditionnal woodworker here. I have a base from another bench I made out of laminated 1x4s a while a go that I am beefing up to be able use for a bench styled very much like yours. For the top, I am thinking about laminating a bunch of 2x3s together such that the top is (after planing) roughly 2 1/4″ thick. The main reason for this is that where I live, 2×3 lumber is very inexpensive. Thank you for your insights and thoughts on what makes a very useful bench!

    • That will certainly work. I’m just not a fan of laminating. It’s a ton of work to get everything to line up and then planed. I paid about $20 for a 16′ 2×12 for my top, no laminating required. Not sure any cost savings that can be had by laminating 2×3 stock would be worth the added effort for me. But if you can’t get 2×12 inexpensively I suppose your situation may differ.

  12. Thanks, Bob. I see what you mean about the work it would take to plane the top, but it looks like it goes pretty quickly though with that big try plane of yours. If I go with 2x12s, won’t I still need to laminate a 1×4 underneath or do something else on the bottom to fortify the holes for the holdfasts and the big planing stop in the front? I was thinking that the 2x3s would make that part unnecessary. Thanks again

    • You certainly could add some blocking behind the holdfast holes like I did. After using several holes without the blocking I don’t think it’s a necessity but it does help with grip a bit. This laminating is much easier though because it’s just one piece and you don’t have to plane it all afterward.

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