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Thread: A new workbench. (a bit long)

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Smithville, TX

    A new workbench. (a bit long)

    When I moved into my shop in Miami 9 years ago there was already a huge work surface in the mezzanine (4' x 16') from a previous owner, and though I never really liked it, I adapted and used it as my main assembly bench for all that time. When it was time to leave Miami I knew that item was staying behind and a new bench, made to my eccentric standards, was on the horizon. The plan was simple. The adjustable legs, (Adjust-a-Bench by Geoffrey Noden) that Mr Becker so kindly turned my on to a ways back, would provide the base support, glue up a hardwood top, an end vice and a tail vice and be done with it. How hard could it be. I budgeted a week. That was over a month ago.

    Many of you don't know much about me, but whenever I build anything for myself, the rule is simple. I spend no extra money on materials if possible, the project must be made from the left over material I have lying around the shop, whatever that may be. First snag. I didn't have enough hardwood in appropriate lengths to do the top I wanted to do. I did have some plywood, some cherry, some mahogany, and some walnut. Not enough of any one in particular to do a complete project, but together, it added up okay. I could make it all work if I used the plywood as the main table body and edge it in hardwood. The new plan now called for four layers of baltic birch plywood laminated together.

    However, I only had enough baltic birch to do three layers, but I did have some pre-finished maple ply, so that served as my bottom layer (which meant that I didn't have to seal the bottom - serendipity at its best.) Problem -- baltic birch only comes in 5' x 5' sheets, which meant there was a seam to deal with that would be visible in the top layer. I laminated the first three layers, the plys opposing each other and the two middle layer seams on opposite sides. I thought to come up with some sort of hardwood flooring affect by cutting the top layer into 3" sections, T&G them, and glue it up with many seams, like a design that was planned for. Then I thought of the Milwaukee Museum of Art and the floor of the old wing, with its edge grain flooring and the compression strength inherent there. What if I turned the plywood on edge and laminate the strips to the substrate? I do a test piece, I like it and decide to go for it. I asked for it. The long open time required Epoxy, I thought.

    Mother's day weekend the In Laws are in town, my Father In Law, a wizend boat builder and Epoxy expert, I was in luck. We plan for a vacuum bag and have at it. Worked out pretty good. After I trimmed the top nice and square, the hardwood edge would be next. After I cut the pieces the corners called for dovetails. Okay, lay them out, cut on. Once they were installed I figured the edge and end grain of the plys called for filling. I mixed up some Epoxy with dust from the tool vac (not to be confused with the shop vac) and made a good pookey, spread it, wipe it, walk away. Gave the top a nice dirty look, but it was starting to feel like a brick as things were soaking up the resin. I was liking it. The finish was two coats of Epoxy, liberally sanded between coats, and finished sanded with care, and ultimately, paraffin oil, to a silky satin. At this point my wife felt it would do well in the dining room. I would not hear of it.

    Since I planned for a solid (non-skirted) top, I had gotten under-mount vices (I like them better, even if they don't look as integral as a classic bench.) Problem is the top was starting to look pretty neat, and the jaws would hide the dovetails, so I did my best to add some details that would go with it. For my jaw stock all I had was some walnut that still had bark on it and it would be too small to use if i took the bark off, so I left it and went with it. To enhance the dovetails the bench decided it needed inset vices with hardwood inlays. Who was I to say no at this point. A simple design was worked out on the jaws that accented the dovetails and the jaws were installed. All that remainded were the dog holes. I made a jig to work with my big router and a spiral bit. Problem was, with all the resin and glues in the baltic birch, and the edge grain, I had to hone the bit every two holes.

    Anyway. It is done. No one was hurt during the filming, and it is finally time for the bed I have been promising my wife for the last 10 years. No excuses remain. I will try to attach some pics, but if not successful, I have supplied a link to a simple web-page that outlines in more detail the whole progression for anyone who might be interested.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Smithville, TX

    Some more pics, and the link.

    Here is the link to a more detailed journey.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Jim Becker; 03-13-2008 at 1:09 PM. Reason: Updated Link

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2005
    asheville, nc

    What a great workbench, beautiful, practical and inexpensive as well. Thanks for the pictures.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Houston, Texas
    WOW Sam, you told me about this, but I could not invision how it all went together. It is absolutely beautiful. Hope I get to see it in August.


  5. #5

    Looks great.


  6. #6
    Gulp... Sam, that is one nice bench!!! That might be one of the best benches that I've seen! I've never heard using b.b.p. for a top, but it turned out great. Thanks for showing it off. Man, I'd put that in my living room, throw some lamps on it, and call it good

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Sarasota, Fl
    Hi Sam, Very cool and unusual bench. I love it! I like your frugality with wood and that bench looks like a work of art. Any idea of the weight? Alan in Md.
    Alan T. Thank God for every pain free day you live.

  8. #8
    Really nice Sam, way to go!

    I've been wanting to build a nice bench, but cringing at the price of hard maple here in Houston. I wonder if I could convince LOML that if I just had an MM slider I could save a bunch of greenbacks on lumber and use BBP like you

    Well done.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Philadelphia, Pa
    What a wonderful design and use of offcuts. I will be interested to see how you like the end grain top. Very clever use of the walnut for the tail vise jaws. I assume the DT's that protrude are for holding stock on edge.
    Last edited by Alan Turner; 07-07-2005 at 7:38 AM.
    Alan Turner
    Philadelphia Furniture Workshop

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Rochester, NY

    Thumbs up

    That's impressive Sam. I love the big dovetailed corners. Thanks for sharing!
    Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    York Co, PA


    Thanks for sharing! That's a great looking and sturdy bench!


  12. #12
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Grand Marais, MN. A transplant from Minneapolis
    Way Cool Sam!

    That is a great bench and web site. Please show us more of your work and shop too.
    Last edited by Tyler Howell; 07-08-2005 at 8:57 AM.
    Live Like You Mean It.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Laguna Beach , Ca.

    Really a great design and beautiful work!!!
    "All great work starts with love .... then it is no longer work"

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Brentwood & Altamont, TN
    Sweet!!!!!! I really like the details around the twin vises! I need to be inspired like that!


  15. #15
    That's a great design....I woulda never thought of edge up plywood as a top! Great dovetails on the trim...looks fantastic!

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