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Thread: finding a bench building shop

  1. #16
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    Jun 2014
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phillip Mitchell View Post
    As Johnny mentioned above, there are plenty of professionals, myself included, who would build a commissioned custom workbench, but you may not like the price.

    Do you have a particular budget in mind that you cannot/will not exceed? I know that I wouldn’t even consider a commissioned bench like you described for less than $4-5k (off the top ballpark figure) and potentially more depending on the details and I live in a fairly rural area that doesn’t have the same type of overhead/expenses as somewhere more populated.

    If you have the time, patience and hand tools it could be a great skill building exercise and is certainly somewhat of a right of passage to build your own bench.

    Agreed, im in Pittsburgh--2+/- hours south of the OP--and id happily take on the project for him, but its all of $4,000+ for the kind of project he describes. 1) keep in mind you are going to spend a grand on the hardwood for the build if you insist on hard maple or oak. 2) the hardware can be close to that if you go with the better brands. 3) a bench with exposed joinery is every bit as demanding as a piece of furniture. I might even say more demanding, because i didnt have to perfectly fit a tail vise in my dining room table build. Benches can be fantastic pieces of 'usable art', and are worth the initial wood/hardware/time investment upfront, but they are costly. By all means, if you need another workbench to get started making things, then a $100 piece of butcher block with some form of a base will suffice to mount a vise and drill dog holes.

  2. #17
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    Jul 2020
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    I think part of wanting a pro to build it was thinking they would make the right choice of lumber. And whether to use 4 x 4s for legs and rails and 4 x 6s (ripped to 5") for the stretchers, or use same hard wood as for the top, and face glue boards to make 3.5" thick pieces for the base.

    Is it as easy as using any reasonably hard and stable wood that glues well and can easily be worked with hand tools (by a rookie learning mortise and tenon joinery). Or, does the fact that it will remain in an unheated shop (with cold winters and humid summers) require a different consideration for the best wood to use. I was thinking of 8/4 soft maple, birch, or beech.

  3. #18
    You should use whatever is reasonably hard, available locally, and reasonably priced as you will be needing a lot of it...unless you want it to look like a piece of heirloom furniture (walnut, exotics, etc) This is a workbench and while it is great to make choices that you end up happy with and look good, at the end of the day it is a tool that doesn’t really help your woodworking very much more (arguably morale) if it looks that good or not.

    Ash, hard maple, southern yellow pine, beech, those are all good choices than aren’t obscenely expensive and are all hard enough to be useful in a bench.

    When I built my Roubo, I used 100% salvaged materials except for the screw for the leg vise that came from Lee Valley. My top was White Oak and ended up at 4” thick x 24” deep. The legs, stretchers and shelf are all Douglas Fir drops from timber framing. 5x5, 3x3, etc was easy to resaw and mill from 6x6 stock and Doug Fir is plenty strong enough for a workbench base. I did not do the through tenon dovetail connection for the leg to top connection, but instead did large blind mortises/tenons about 2” deep and have no racking whatsoever and don’t have to periodically flatten the end grain of the leg dovetail.
    Still waters run deep.

  4. #19
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    Jul 2020
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    Did you have any problems cutting mortices into the Doug Fir?.

  5. #20
    No, joinery in Douglas Fir is on the easy end of the spectrum in my
    opinion. The hardest part about working with DF is the splintery nature of the wood with grain runout, but that’s minor for workbench sized parts.

    The large, 2” deep mortises for the leg tenons in the underside of the White Oak top where the ones that were a bit of work. If I remember correctly, at the time what I had to work with for mortising was a cordless drill and chisels to clean up the corners. I remember cutting all the tenons by hand with various Japanese pull saws. I definitely used power tools to do all the milling and resawing though.
    Still waters run deep.

  6. #21
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    Feb 2008
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    Annandale, VA
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    I built a Paul Sellers style workbench using his YouTube videos as a guide. i customized the bench size to my needs (as I understood them at the time). As a beginner woodworker I was able to chop the 4 mortises and tenons for the legsting the side walls flat and square took some trial and error but I did it. i didn't have to remake any part. I learned a lot building the bench and since I built it I have a strong ssense of ownership and pride for it. I also feel empowered to modify it.

    Lost Art Press has a book on building your own workbenches too which gives you choices. There are supporting videos available. These are also begineer friendly.

    No bench is perfect certainly not for all woodworkers. But they can be usable and pleasureable to use all the same.

    Mine was made from 2x4 dimensiinal lumber. It is another tool in my workshop. I fiddle with it as my skills grow or adapt to the project I'm building.

    Eventually I may build a new one if my needs change.

    Good luck with your first bench!

    Jim
    Last edited by Jim A. Moore; 06-04-2021 at 5:11 AM.

  7. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Monroe View Post
    I think part of wanting a pro to build it was thinking they would make the right choice of lumber. And whether to use 4 x 4s for legs and rails and 4 x 6s (ripped to 5") for the stretchers, or use same hard wood as for the top, and face glue boards to make 3.5" thick pieces for the base.

    Is it as easy as using any reasonably hard and stable wood that glues well and can easily be worked with hand tools (by a rookie learning mortise and tenon joinery). Or, does the fact that it will remain in an unheated shop (with cold winters and humid summers) require a different consideration for the best wood to use. I was thinking of 8/4 soft maple, birch, or beech.
    I dont think a "right" choice of lumber exists. I used 17' 8/4 poplar from a condemned slovak club that was about to be torn down. I have no idea why the lumber was stored in the building, but it cost me about $0.15-.25 per board foot. Convenient to chop in half for my 8' bench top too. I think most would say poplar is a poor choice for a bench top because it is soft. However, it is a light colored wood, defect free, and relatively stable. Not having to hand plane an oak/hickory bench top flat was a good thing, in my opinion. The base was a similar story, i picked up 5-6' "shorts" of 16/4 1com cherry for a buck a board foot. Everyone can do what they want, but with exotics becoming more of a limited resource and more species making the CITES list every year, i think its pretty silly and wasteful to make a bench completely out of purpleheart etc. Sure, make the vise chops a contrasting species, or the bench top cap an exotic species, but the entire bench?

    Tim, spend 5 minutes on youtube and im sure there is some influencer making a roubo-esque work bench that you can follow along. Alternatively, im sure you can buy plans for a workbench from someone for a modest fee. This will take care of all the dimensions for you. Then again, if you are truly starting out with zero skill, then you might be better off buying a bench or making do with an inexpensive solution in the meantime. From a guy that did not have a work bench at all prior to making a roubo, i can tell you its very awkward and inefficient. It is a struggle to try and hand plane a board on sawhorses. I often found myself jamming the board into my basement wall as a plane stop. Pounding out deep mortises on the sawhorses felt like i was going to break the sawhorse. Building a workbench without a workbench is kind of a catch 22.

  8. #23
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    Jul 2020
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    Mayfield Ohio
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    Starting to get used to the idea that I'm the bench builder I was looking for. It was a good time reading 4 books on bench building--big help for more than just design ideas. Then I had fun drawing top, front, and side views of my idea of a good bench. Bob Lang's split top changed my plans because I like the idea of two separate top sections and using knock down joinery to connect stretchers to trestle legs. I laughed when I read him saying, "Good design is little more than selective thievery."

    So I'll start going to lumber yards and asking around about "shorts" and see what hardwoods they stock that are not too hard to plane. Maybe bringing home cut-offs of a couple different woods will help me get a feel for what it will be like cutting mortises and planing the different species. Sure do appreciate this forum.

  9. #24
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    Dec 2007
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    Or just hold off a bit and see what kind of bench you really want/need. I've made two Roubo benches, but if you don't use hand planes/tools it loses some of its utility. I like mine because I don't have to chase it around the shop when I'm hand planing something.

    But if I'm using a sander, router, domino, etc, I don't find it anymore useful than my outfeed table. I guess all I'm saying is different workflows benefit from different tools.

  10. #25
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    YouTuber Matt Cremona offers slabs and kits for Roubo benches. He has a huge impressive home built bandsaw sawmill in Minnesota.

  11. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Grider View Post
    YouTuber Matt Cremona offers slabs and kits for Roubo benches. He has a huge impressive home built bandsaw sawmill in Minnesota.
    I was going to suggest Matt, but I believe he may currently be sold out of the most recent batch. Now that he's fully moved and has the mill operational at the new property, he'll hopefully be getting more kits cut and dried soon. Those benches are massive! (he actually will...for a fee...take care of the finish milling for the tops. He did a video of that not long ago)

    -----

    OP, Geoff at Adjust-A-Bench can provide a turn-key bench including the top if you want. If you go that route, plan a field trip to NJ because shipping the same would be, um...costly.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  12. #27
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    Jan 2019
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    Hey Tim, I think you are on the right track. One of my resolutions for 2021 was to stay out of workbench threads and sharpening threads here. You have made your breakthrough, so I will speak up.

    I am in a position where I could take two weeks of vacation from my regular job, keep my health insurance, have my vacation pay coming in, and build your bench as a fun thing to do on my vacation. I would be looking for $3-4k possibly asking you to buy and ship your vises to me, and you would have to come pick it up when I was done. It is a lot of time.

    I agree with the multiple other posts here you should build it yourself. It will take longer than you think, but it will be worth it.

    Your first bench will not be your last bench. You will someday build another one, with less trepidation than you bring to the first build. Something about every bench you build, as one of our regulars is fond of saying, will "drive you barking mad."

    Do not be ripping your Doug Fir down to some magical width. Use the whole plank. 4x6 is technically a plank under the WWPA (western wood products assosiation) grading guidelines. 4x6 is bigger than a board, but smaller than a timber. 4x6 is a plank. There is no good reason to rip a 4x6 plank of Doug Fir down to 5.000 inches actual. You are spending time, slaying electrons, taking about half inch off the plank, and your bench is losing weight. Don't do that.

    For homestore Doug Fir undercarriage from 4x6 the pieces you want are cut Free of Heart Center, of "FOHC." This is pretty googable, and they are easy to spot in the racks once you know what you are looking for. Yes, you might have to move a bunch of sticks to get the ones you want from the back of the stack. It is worth the trouble. You are going to have some knots. Keep your cut list and a tape measure in your truck, you will be making multiple trips to both team blue and team orange to find your sticks. You will still have some knots in your bench.

    If you feel good about your glue up skills you could glue up your undercarriage from DF 2x6 or ripped 2x12 to make something similar to 4x6. You didn't mention which four workbench books you have read lately, one of them, or your fifth one, should be Chris Schwarz's c. 2020 workbench book available as a free .pdf somewhere at lost art press dot com. I have a lot of respect for Chris, never met him. My first two chairs ended up in the burn pit, I don't know how many chairs he built that went in his burn pit before he had a keeper. I will be making my third chair out of hickory so I can least run it through my BBQ pit if it isn't a keeper. My only critique of Chris is he comes at workbenches as if they are big furniture. When I was ready to build, his books were on backorder, so I went to my local library, read up on timber framed buildings and built mine as a small barn instead of a large table, with Chris' blog entries for guidance. I doubt I ever have or ever will do anything on my bench that one of Chris' benches couldn't handle, but I chuckle quietly every time he mentions big tenons.

    Personally I find Doug Fir is easy to cut mortises in compared to American Beech or red oak or white oak or hickory; but the spring growth, the dark half of the growth rings, is really hard on edged tools. Drill every speck you can out of every mortise and save your chisel for just severing fibers at the surface and paring cuts where ever you can.

    One thing you need to be clear on is are you ever going to want a leg vise? You may not know until you start using a Record style and get into a bind. You may be happy with a metal face vise forever. Just in case, put your your very best leg at your face vise position. Use the biggest piece you can find for your vise leg, and make sure it has the fewest smallest knots and the straightest grain of any leg. I have a knot free 4x7 already seasoning for the vise leg on my next bench, and I am keeping an eye open for 4x8. The trouble with high end leg vises (Benchcrafted, Lake Erie Toolworks) is the install severs a lot of fibers in the leg you started with. If you were building a barn you would look at all the joinery coming into that post (bench leg), size for the joints, and not have to worry about post strength. When you cut a vise leg for front stretcher, side stretcher, vise screw and parallel guide a LOT of fibers get severed. The remaining post, continuous fibers from floor to bench top, can get pretty skinny. I have never ever ever heard of a vise leg failing. Yes we chop mortises and work up a sweat doing it. Our benches aren't subject to wind load and snow load. We don't worry about rain or sun damage. Barn builders do. I have no regrets that my bench is overbuilt.

    I may have more in the morning, I can't tell if I am having local connectivity issues or host server issues. I will check back tomorrow.

  13. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phillip Mitchell View Post
    No, joinery in Douglas Fir is on the easy end of the spectrum in my
    opinion. The hardest part about working with DF is the splintery nature of the wood with grain runout, but that’s minor for workbench sized parts.
    My bench is reclaimed doug fir.
    Old boards can be quite hard; newer doug fir is significantly easier to work with.
    It is much better if you have consistent grain direction and no knots.
    I used a toothed blade in my LAJ to deal with grain/knot issues without causing extended tearout.
    It is also useful to put a chamfer or round-over on the bench edges to avoid the huge splinters/shards that you can get from the splintery nature of the wood.

    Matt

  14. #29
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    Jan 2019
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Monroe View Post
    does the fact that it will remain in an unheated shop (with cold winters and humid summers) require a different consideration for the best wood to use. I was thinking of 8/4 soft maple, birch, or beech.
    This I didn't get to last night. Not sure what happened at this end, I ended up pasting what I had out of my windows clipboard to make the post.

    Unheated not climate controlled shop is definitely a consideration. Chris Schwarz has a lenghty section about wood selection in his free .pdf I already mentioned. Chris concluded the smart thing to do is buy work bench wood with an eye on price per pound and I think he is absolutely correct.

    For his builds CS looks at Southern Yellow Pine 2x12 everytime he is in a lumber yard and then builds with seasoned wood. A year or so stacked and stickered in his (I think climate controlled) shop, the 2x12s are done moving, so he can machine and build without having to worry about it. If you have salvaged Doug Fir from an old building it might very well be seasoned all the way through, but I would split one of the offcuts to measure the moisture in the middle just to be sure.

    If you are buying Doug Fir 4x6 at the home store it will almost definitely include the term "s-GRN" somewhere in the grade stamp. Surfaced Green. It might feel pretty dry at the surface, but if you split a scrap open I will wager folding money the measured moisture content inside the 4x6 is going to be 19 or 20%. Over the next several years that 4x6, and the bench parts you make from it, are going to shrink. Given the grain quality of the 4x6 I see up here, you will probably have a bit of twist here and there also as the 4x6 seasons. If you smell turpentine while sawing Doug Fir it is at least 20%MC somewhere the saw is cutting at that moment. The shrinkage is why I prefer FOHC end grain in s-GRN Doug Fir.

    Worst case you could (quickly) machine, glue and assemble a bench made of green softwood, use bearers and lagbolts to fasten down the top, and have a solid bench that will probably last a good long time.

    You could start shopping rough stock for your next bench now and start the seasoning clock ticking.

    Using green 4x6 I chose to shoulder all my MT joints like a barn builder, and used both horizontal and vertical drawboring on all the pegs. Fast forward to now, all my stretchers are still seated in the floors of their respective mortises, not hanging off the pegs.

    My green build here: https://sawmillcreek.org/showthread....ive&highlight=

    and there are couple pics in post nine this thread showing all the shrinkage in the front stretcher coming into the vise leg is at the top of the joint, but the stretcher is still firm against the bottom of its mortise: https://sawmillcreek.org/showthread....fit&highlight=

  15. #30
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    Feb 2018
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Monroe View Post
    I know building my own bench is a good learning experience. For personal reasons I was hoping to find someone to build it for me.

    But none of the custom woodworking shops around Cleveland have responded when I sent drawing of what I wanted. They are probably busy with their stock in trade work that doesn't require:

    • ripping and face gluing 8/4 stock for a split top of two 78" long sections 11" and 14" wide
    • 4 bridle joints
    • 8 mortise and stub tenon joints
    • 12 mortise and through tenon joints
    • excavating underside of top for two 7" single screw Record style vises
    • etc.


    Maybe I just need to cast a wider net to any shop in Ohio or close adjoining states.

    Any ideas of someone you could trust to find good kiln dried hard wood (at least for top) that will be stable in the unheated garage the bench will stay. And take care to arrange boards so that the grain is running in the same direction throughout the laminations, for easier hand planing the top when surface needs to be leveled or cleaned.

    Couldn't get 3 pages/views of bench into a small enough file size to send.
    Thank you,
    Tim
    I would suggest outsourcing only the top. In my bench build, maximum time went in building and then flattening the top. Dog holes (if round) you can cut yourself, and same goes for excavation for vice. Someday when I will build the bench again, I would use maple for top.

    Bottom you can make with cheaper wood or something that's simpler to work with. Alternatively, you can have shop do the stock preparation and the cut joinery yourself.

    This should save you a bunch of cost.

    Another alternate is to look SJÖBERGS workbench.

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