Now that Editor Christopher Schwarz is done with his latest bench build (you can read about it on his blog , and in the August issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine, which mails in a couple weeks), it’s time to get started on another one. Now it’s my turn.
Sure, it’s been less than a year since we completed the “Gluebo” (the LVL bench from the November 2009 cover), and there’s little wrong with it. It’s stable, heavy and excellent at workholding. The top still looks cool, and it’s still dead flat (full disclosure though: other duties have kept me out of the shop for a long while, so it hasn’t yet received a proper workout).
Were I building that same bench again though, I’d probably use “real” wood for the base as the LVL tends to break off along the sharp edges. Also, the bolt holes are elongating from the pressure of the leg vise, so I’ve had to tighten it a lot, and I can no longer get the front edge coplanar with the leg behind the vise. So while the LVL experiment has been an unqualified success for the top, I’d rather have a solid wood base, perhaps with keyed through mortise-and-tenon joints to make it knock down.
But that’s my “office bench.” At home, I work on my parents’ old kitchen table in the dungeon-like basement of my house; the “shop” looks rather like the catacombs in “The Cask of Amontillado,” complete with nitre-encrusted walls. The “bench” is not stable, not heavy, and is complete crap for workholding. The polyurethaned top is easy to clean off , and that’s the only good thing I can say about it. And the “shop?” Well, it’s dank, rank and thoroughly uncomfortable.
So, I need a proper bench for my house, and a salubrious place to put it. The new one will go in my study, opposite the shelves of Shakespeare and critical theory. It’s the first piece of furniture one will see from the top of my stairs, so it has to look good in addition to working well. I also plan to build a furniture-grade tool cabinet for the room, in which to store my handtools.
Last week, Christopher and I drove out to Hamilton, Ohio, to inspect some logs advertised on Craigslist that were left over from a cabin build a decade ago. We bought ‘em , 75′ linear feet or so of what dresses out to 6-5/8″ square , for about 70 cents per board foot. Chris’s Acura wasn’t up to the hauling task, so I have to cajole Glen Huey into driving me back out in his truck. But we did bring back a short offcut (the one pictured above) to mill so we could discover what lay beneath the spiderwebs and oxidized surface. Other than that it’s pine, the seller wasn’t sure about the species.
After jointing two adjoining sides, I headed to the planer with trepidation. Usually, woodworkers think about the width of stock a powered planer can handle; ours goes to 19″. But I wasn’t sure an almost 8″-thick piece would make it through.
After clearing off all the detritus underneath the table (eons worth of sawdust, a few unloved pushsticks and a 4″ hose coupling for a long-dead dust-collection system), I was able to crank open a gaping maw.
A few passes later, and voila – the look and smell of Eastern white pine , a wood that’s perfect for bench legs. Of course, these logs have the pith in the middle which makes them a wee bit unstable and liable to split, but they’re bench legs. And if they are good enough for a house, they’ll be fine for a bench.
The top will be one solid slab of 5″-thick cedar (which is currently in the Bark House kiln in North Carolina).
And that’s all I know right now; I’m waiting for the slab to arrive and tell me what kind of bench it wants to be.
– Looking to design your own bench? I recommend you first read Christopher Schwarz’s “The Workbench Book” (I’m spoiled – I can simply holler over the cube wall to bug him with bench questions).
– If you’re looking for a thick slab for a benchtop (or mantel, or boardroom table or what have you), check out Bark House , the link will take you to their “slabs” page.
– Wany edges are ideal for Nakashima-inspired work, such as this table built by Publisher Steve Shanesy.