Build the Holtzapffel Workbench Part 3: Grit

Have you ever been part of a lynch mob? Me neither. But I got a little taste of that today as we finished gluing up our workbench tops for the class I’m teaching at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking.

Today was the day to complete gluing up the workbench tops, which are solid hard maple slabs measuring 3″ thick, 24″ to 28″ wide, and 6′ to 8′ feet long. The morning was spent gluing small-size laminations into medium-size laminations. Then, after lunch, most students cut their mortises in the legs and we then embarked on a massive effort to complete the tops.

Here was our task: Each top was composed of two laminations measuring 12″ wide or more. We had to dress those on the jointer, mill them to finished thickness on the planer (and everyone’s finished thickness was a bit different) and then we had to edge joint the two slabs so they would come together seamlessly.

Up until this point, everyone has kept close tabs on their laminations, like watching their kids at the playground. They were in charge of all the milling steps on their laminations and were running the show when their boards were getting glued up.

But sometime during the day, the students let go of their ownership of their slabs. Edge-jointing a 70-pound slab of maple takes four people to do it quickly and well. Planing the slab takes three people hustling. And gluing up the slabs takes a roving band of clamp-happy, gap-hating glue Nazis.

And that’s exactly what we got.

I was on the edge-jointing team (I love jointers) at first. And I helped out with the planing team between slabs. But watching the glue-up team was a thing of beauty. The minute we completed any slab, they attacked the task like a bobcat on an injured baby bird. Two people pounced on the edges with glue rollers, and people fetched clamps and worked the seam in a deliberate way to make sure the laminations lined up.

We all quickly lost track of whose top we were working on, and everyone simply focused on closing that final seam.

We finished ahead of schedule today, but many students stayed late to clean out their mortises and get ready for tomorrow: tenon day.

Kelly Mehler and I have been plotting how he might be able to offer this class again next year (be sure to check his web site on Oct. 1 for details), and we’ve tried to come up with ways to streamline the class. One of our ideas was to purchase the tops pre-made.

Kelly said he floated the idea with some of the students today. They weren’t impressed and said they wouldn’t be as interested in that sort of class.

That’s actually not surprising. Everyone got a lot of practice doing a lot of very precise lamination work that required mastery of both machines and sensitive hand-clamping. And they all did so much of it, that after two days they were good enough at it to go pro.

I don’t think I would want to give that up either.

- Christopher Schwarz

Read “Build the Holtzapffel Workbench Part 4: Gruntwork”

One planer team working up one of the slabs before edge-jointing.

One thought on “Build the Holtzapffel Workbench Part 3: Grit

  1. Chuck Nickerson

    I get to Kelly’s once or twice a year, and this post reminds me that’s just not enough. (I’m all the way in California.) With any luck, in 2009 I’ll catch a handsawing class and a wooden plane class.

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