View Full Version : New workbench build thread

brian zawatsky
12-26-2017, 8:54 PM
Iím building a new workbench, and while Iíve had several benches this is my first attempt at building one ground up.

Started with some wide 16/4 cherry timbers that were shot thru with drying checks that I had to cut around. The guy I bought them from said his father had them milled 7 years ago and theyíve been sitting around ever since. He seemed honest enough, and they proved to be bone dry. In the end I paid $2/bdft for it and although it was a pain to cut out the splits & checks, it was still a good deal.

In the interest of full disclosure, I ripped the big heavy timbers with a worm drive circular saw to make the pieces more manageable, and spared no electrons in milling it all.

So far the top is done except for final smoothing and leveling of the tail vise. Iím on an iPhone so Iíll do my best to post pics of work so far. I hate trying to post pics here from my phone.

brian zawatsky
12-26-2017, 9:14 PM
Because I’m totally impatient and like to do things the hard way, I didn’t leave space in my lamination for the tail vise. As a result I had to cut a notch out of the end where the tail vise would go. Working on stuff that’s 4 1/2” thick is challenging! Used a hand saw to cut the ends of the top square, as well as to cut the vise notch. But I’m getting ahead of myself. After squaring up the ends I flattened one side, marked all 4 edges for a reference rabbet, then flipped and cut. Great excuse to break out the new LN 10 1/4.

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brian zawatsky
12-26-2017, 9:24 PM
Planed the underside of the benchtop flat. That was a hell of a workout! I should have started with a much shallower rabbet lol. Because there was some ugliness on the ends of the boards that make up the top, I decided to cap them & hide the sins. Also cut the tail vise notch after flattening the bottom side & installed the tail vise. Went with the Lie Nielsen tail vise. Wasnít too bad to install. I used a router to cut the huge mortises needed in the bench side & vise block.

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David Eisenhauer
12-26-2017, 9:55 PM
Great start brian. Thanks for throwing out a bench build for us, as we do like bench builds. Looks like you came up with some good top material, but man, you do have a deep rabbet to plane down to in some spots. That is an interesting looking panel gauge you show also. The electrons spent for ripping the top timbers was well spent in my opinion.

brian zawatsky
12-26-2017, 10:20 PM
I was having so much fun breaking in the bench rabbet plane I got a little carried away. It took me forever to scrub all that material off! It seriously wore me out.
Today I started installing an Emmert turtleback. Definitely not an easy install!! I made a template of the rear jaw profile from a scrap piece of oak, and used a couple different top bearing bits to cut as far into the top as I could reach. Then I flipped it over and used a bottom bearing bit from the other side to finish the notch. Next I cut the square notch for the hinge with a tenon saw & a chisel, then chopped out the monster round notch to accommodate the hub with a big incannel gouge. Next was plowing a dado for the beam that contains the vise screw.

Sorry, no idea why some of the pics came in sideways.

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brian zawatsky
12-26-2017, 10:27 PM
Flipped the bench & cut the mortise to let the hinge plate into the top. I really took my time mounting the vise, because thereís nothing worse than having to drill out off-centered screwholes and plug them, just to re drill them. Vise works great, but I need to do some more carving to allow it to rotate freely without tilting. As it is now I have to tilt it parallel with the top, then rotate & set it back down.

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Jerry Olexa
12-27-2017, 11:24 AM
One of the "funest" projects: building your own bench.....You feel better about it when you've built it yourself....A labor of love...
Nice work and love those thick timbers!!!! Thanks for posting.

Christopher Charles
12-27-2017, 1:40 PM
Thanks for posting. That's going to be one serious bench and great score on the Emmert vise! What are you planning for dogs?

brian zawatsky
12-27-2017, 4:44 PM
Im planning on using round brass dogs, like these: http://www.leevalley.com/us/Wood/page.aspx?p=31127&cat=1,41637

Hopefully I'll be able to work on the base this weekend. Legs & stretchers will be made from 16/4 poplar that is currently waiting to be milled

William Fretwell
12-28-2017, 9:34 AM
I see the bench you are working on has square dog holes and your new bench is to have round ones. Is it the simplicity of construction that prompted that choice?

Dave Anderson NH
12-28-2017, 12:51 PM
Great job so far Brian. Mounting an Emmert with the inner jaw flush is truly a pain. Been there, done that. You will not be sorry you took the time to do the more difficult install. It adds immense extra versatility.

brian zawatsky
12-28-2017, 10:33 PM
The bench that I’m currently working off of was a Craigslist find, for 150 bucks it doesn’t owe me a penny!! The ironic thing about the square dog holes is that the bench never had a tail vise, which renders them completely useless. Apparently the guy who built it just liked the look of square dog holes or something.

I chose to use round holes (which I have yet to drill) because of their simplicity and because they could also accommodate a holdfast if necessary. I feel it gives me a bit more flexibility.

William Fretwell
12-28-2017, 11:17 PM
The square dog holes still act as a planing stop, so not useless. Perhaps he intended to add a captured tail vise at some point.

brian zawatsky
12-29-2017, 10:17 PM
Thinking about adding a sliding deadman. Any thoughts? Pros/cons?

David Eisenhauer
12-29-2017, 10:24 PM
I have one, don't use it daily but it is there when I need it. Mine can be removed from the bench if it is in the way of anything but seldom requires that. Same 3/4" holes as my holdfast holes on the benchtop.

Phil Mueller
12-29-2017, 11:07 PM
I have one also. I use it to support longer pieces when edge jointing, and occassionally to hold long boards vertically against the leg or bench top side. Not something that it used a lot, but glad I have it.


(Click on the photo and it will right itself...)

ken hatch
12-30-2017, 8:04 AM
Thinking about adding a sliding deadman. Any thoughts? Pros/cons?


I had a sliding deadman on a previous bench and found it in the way much more often than useable. With my current main bench I left it off and used a bench jack until I found a Beech board that was perfect for an English style apron. Of course everyone works differently and what works for me might drive you to barking at the moon.

Good luck on your build, BTW, a bench is a support surface and a large clamp. Anything that gets in the way of those two functions should be removed or not included.

Ken as always....YMMV

Archie England
12-30-2017, 10:39 AM
Beautiful bench that you are building!

Do you plan to enlarge the bench dog holes from the bottom in order to use holdfasts?

David Eisenhauer
12-30-2017, 5:12 PM
I use the Grammercy 3/4" holdfasts and I did not have to counter drill my 3/4" holes to make the holdfasts work in my 4" thick SYP bench. I was prepared to do so, but did not have any problems when first trying it out.

brian zawatsky
12-30-2017, 11:12 PM
I was fortunate to be able to visit Lie Nielsen's Warren, Maine showroom this past fall. They had several benches there, and a full compliment of planes & tools you could test. In the process of comparing the bevel up rabbet plane with the 10 1\4 bevel down version i used a holdfast to secure a batten to the benchtop. It was a 3\4" holdfast in a 4" thick bench and it grabbed at the first tap, no problem. So no, I wasn't anticipating having to counter bore.

brian zawatsky
01-02-2018, 8:47 PM
After a really busy weekend in which I didn’t get as much shop time in as I had hoped, there is finally a bit of progress to report. Not a lot, but a bit. Milled the stock for the legs & cut tenons on the ends that will seat in the bench top. This afforded me an opportunity to try out the Emmert. I think I am going to like this vise. Cut & milled the stretchers, then marked out mortises on the legs & tenons on the stretchers. The legs are 6” wide x 4” thick, stretchers are 5” wide x 3” thick, and the mortises for the stretchers are 4” deep. I figured with drawbored tenons that long the base should be rock solid. Still have one more set of M&T’s to cut for the short stretchers between the front and back legs.

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brian zawatsky
01-09-2018, 11:14 PM
Finally got some more work done on the base. Finished cutting tenons and mortises, then went over them all and tweaked the tenons for a good slip fit. Drilled holes for 2 drawbored walnut pins 3/8” in diameter in each tenon. Once the frame was glued & pegged I placed it on the upside-down bench top to mark out the mortises.
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Jerry Olexa
01-09-2018, 11:45 PM
Looking good Brian..Much progress....Must be the NE Pa. Influence:)

brian zawatsky
01-10-2018, 11:03 PM
Cutting mortises...

Sorry for the extra attachments, was trying to fix the picture orientation.

brian zawatsky
01-15-2018, 6:59 AM
Managed to wrestle this beast up onto its feet yesterday. Quite a chore! During the process of moving the top around & flipping it over a bunch of times (its damn heavy with that Emmert hanging off of it) something was yanked out of alignment on the tail vise & it bound up. First order of business was to disassemble it, check everything for square & coplanar, make a couple small adjustments, and itís working properly again. The hardware is very unforgiving in terms of alignment.
Ive decided on a cabinet underneath to help clean up my clutter of small tools EVERYWHERE. One large drawer on the bottom for planes etc and 4 smaller drawers above, split 2 left and 2 right. More to come.
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Phil Mueller
01-15-2018, 7:26 AM
That looks great Brian! Well done. That certainly is a beast of a vise. Look forward to following the cabinet add.

brian zawatsky
01-15-2018, 9:08 PM
Thanks Phil & Jerry, appreciate the kind words! Had a little time after work to drill the dog holes & hit the top with the old No 7 one last time, and even broke out the 112 just for fun. I am going to hold off on the BLO until I complete the cabinet & drawers for underneath. Nice that I have a fully functional bench to work on it this weekend. I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve now - all day at work I was daydreaming about finishing up the bench top. Now I’ll be designing the cabinet in my head for the rest of the week lol
Thanks for looking guys. More to come

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David Eisenhauer
01-15-2018, 10:11 PM
Nice, nice work Brian. That tail vise looks ready to grab something.

brian zawatsky
01-15-2018, 10:34 PM
Thanks David. Looking forward to putting it to work

Christopher Charles
01-16-2018, 12:17 AM
That's an impressive bench Brian! Also looking forward to seeing you cabinet beneath, as I'm also considering one based on the N. Bennett Street cabinets for my small tools (i've a plane till above the bench).


brian zawatsky
01-16-2018, 10:22 PM
Thanks Chris. My plan for the cabinet carcass is a quick & dirty frameless Euro-style box out of plywood with dividers in the necessary spots to carry the drawer slides. I will likely just dowel and screw the box together (after all, it's a shop fixture not fine furniture) and maybe veneer the ends to hide the screws. Working in a commercial cabinet shop i have a nearly endless supply of plywood cut-offs and leftover veneer sheet shorts so I will call upon those reserves for this one.

The drawer boxes are going to have poplar sides & backs and cherry fronts to match the top. I like to use half blind dovetails on drawer boxes, and the front of each box will have rabbeted half blinds to overlay the edges of the cabinet box. I love cutting dovetails so I'm looking forward to that part of the build.

brian zawatsky
01-22-2018, 10:22 PM
Cabinet built and installed. Itching to start making the drawers and finally begin to de-clutter my shop.

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brian zawatsky
01-28-2018, 8:44 PM
Spent some time making drawers over the weekend. I may have made it more complicated than it needed to be, but that's kinda my MO. I wanted the look of a full overlay cabinet, so I decided on rabbeted half blind dovetails for the drawer fronts. I have one drawer left to do, but so far so good.
The time consuming part was laying everything out. The rabbets are different sizes depending upon the position of the drawer and what part of the case is being overlaid. I cut the cross grain rabbets with tenon saws & shoulder plane, and the long grain rabbets with a metal rabbet plane similar to a Stanley 78.

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brian zawatsky
01-28-2018, 9:05 PM
I had to mark the pin board with a pencil, because the rabbet prevented me from getting my marking knife in there. This was less than ideal, so I struck a knife line just inside the pencil mark before cutting.

I gave myself permission to overcut the baseline on the inside face of the drawer fronts, as it was tricky to saw the sides of the pins without cutting into the bottom of the rabbet. You can see a bunch of little marks where I stabbed it with the tip of the saw inadvertently. The rest of the dovetail process is straightforward.

While I really enjoy cutting dovetails, I'm no Derek Cohen As you can see from my pics lol. I'm always learning and always trying to do just a little better on the next joint.

My first couple joints were nice and tight mechanically, but still showed some gaps on the outside and I couldn't figure out why. Then I realized that my tails weren't perfectly square across the thickness of the board, and that produced a joint that had to be tapped together yet still showed gaps. I cut the next set of tails more carefully and ended up with a bit tighter joint.

Still have to cut the dovetails in the bottom drawer, then take them all back apart and hit them with the smoother to clean them up.

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Brian Holcombe
01-28-2018, 9:38 PM
Brian, there is an easier way to make those dovetails. Since this is for an application where the sides must be set in, if you make through dovetails and then make an applied face, it's much easier.

brian zawatsky
01-28-2018, 10:11 PM
Brian, there is an easier way to make those dovetails. Since this is for an application where the sides must be set in, if you make through dovetails and then make an applied face, it's much easier.

Thanks for the suggestion Brian. I've done that before on other things I've built, and wanted to give this method a shot. Since the cabinet was a bit of a quick & dirty, thought I'd put some extra effort into the drawers. It was fun as well as challenging.

William Fretwell
01-29-2018, 5:48 PM
Splendid bench Brian, I look forward to the BLO job as the bench will be stunning after that.

Nathan Johnson
01-29-2018, 9:09 PM
^ phrasing

brian zawatsky
01-29-2018, 9:41 PM
^ phrasing

Hahahahaha!!! The praise is always highest after the BLO job. At least that's what she said... :D

brian zawatsky
01-29-2018, 9:45 PM
Splendid bench Brian, I look forward to the BLO job as the bench will be stunning after that.

Thanks William, it's been a great project. The finish will unfortunately have to wait until the spring when I can open up the Bilco door and casement windows in my basement shop, otherwise the boss may make me sleep down there! She doesn't like when I stink the house up with the beautiful aroma of aromatic hydrocarbon solvents. Go figure.

brian zawatsky
02-06-2018, 8:41 AM
So I finally finished up the drawers this past weekend, which pretty much brings the bench build saga to a close. Still remaining are a little planing and scraping to remove some pencil marks & smooth out a couple funky spots, and a treatment of BLO+varnish+turpentine which will have to wait until the spring since it is rather stinky (depending upon who you ask) and my shop is in the basement.



I will remove the drawers and take them to work with me, where I can get some finish on them to protect & stabilize them. The tulip poplar really likes to move for some reason and I think getting finish on them will help tremendously with that issue.

The Emmert vise is an absolute beast, and installing it rather than a twin screw was the right decision for me. I've already found several joinery operations that it simplifies. I may remove the front jaw and clean it up a little better, but not too much. I kinda like it looking old and well-used.

I may also update the thread in a few months after I get some finish on it; the cherry will really glow after that. Thanks for following along.

Jerry Olexa
02-06-2018, 11:05 AM
Really Excellent work, Brian....OUTSTANDING results!!!! I envy your bench,,,

Mark Rainey
02-06-2018, 12:00 PM
A very impressive bench Brian

Christopher Charles
02-07-2018, 12:25 AM
Hello Brian,

I really really really like my bench, but yours has me a wee bit jealous :) Beautiful work and looking forward to seeing the projects that you use it for.


brian zawatsky
02-09-2018, 5:00 PM
Thanks guys. I had been wanting to build my own bench for at least 5 years now. I'm glad I waited - by the time I had the extra money and time to build it, I actually knew pretty much what I was looking for in a work bench.

Brian Holcombe
02-09-2018, 5:23 PM
Looks great! Stout!