First chuck a 1″ Forstner bit in your drill press to cut the countersink in the legs for the bolt head. Drill the countersinks, then chuck a 3/8″-brad-point bit in your drill press and drill in the center of the counterbore through the leg and into the mortise.
Now fit the front rails into the leg mortises. Chuck that 3/8″ bit into your hand drill and drill as deeply as you can through the leg and into the rail. The hole in the leg will guide the bit as it cuts into the rail. Then remove the leg and drill the 3/8″ hole even deeper. You probably will have to use an extra-long drill bit for this.
OK, here’s the critical part. Now you need to cut two small mortises on each rail. These mortises will hold a nut and a washer and must intersect the 3/8″ holes you just drilled. With the leg and rail assembled, carefully figure out where the mortises need to go. Drill the mortises in the rails as shown in the photo. Now test your assembly. Thread the joint with the bolt, two washers and a nut. Use a ratchet and wrench to pull everything tight. If your bench ever wobbles in your lifetime, it’s probably going to be a simple matter of tightening these bolts to fix the problem. Remember to tell this to your children.
This bench has a good-sized shelf between the front rails. Cut the ledgers and slats from your scrap. Also cut the two cleats that attach the top to the base. Now sand everything before assembly — up to 150 grit should be fine.
Begin assembly by gluing up the two end assemblies. Put glue in the mortises and clamp up the ends until dry. Then, for extra strength, peg the tenons using 3/8″-thick dowel. I had some lying around. If you don’t, buy the dowel at the hardware store and add $1 to your bottom line.
Screw the ledgers to the front rails. Make sure they don’t cover the mortises for the bed bolts, or you are going to be in trouble. Now bolt the front rails to the two ends (no glue necessary). Rub a little Vaseline or grease on the threads first because after your bench is together you want to seal up those mortises with hot-melt glue. The Vaseline will ensure your bolts will turn for years to come.
Screw the cleats to the top of the upper side rails. Then drill oval-shaped holes in the cleats that will allow you to screw the top to the base. Now screw the seven slats to the ledgers.
Finishing the Top
Before you attach your top, it’s best to drill your dog holes and attach the vise. Lay out the location of the two rows of dog holes using the diagram. I made a simple jig to guide a 3/4″ auger bit in a brace and bit. The jig is shown in action in the photo above.
Now position your vise on the underside of the top and attach it with the bolts provided by the manufacturer. This Czech-made vise is of surprising quality, with a heavy-duty Acme-thread screw. The only downside to the vise is you are going to have to make your own wooden face. I must confess I didn’t have enough wood left over from my 2 x 8s to make the face. So I made it from a small piece of scrap from another project. You’ll need to drill three holes in the wooden face so it fits over the bars, but this is pretty self-evident when you pull the vise out of the box. All the European benches I’ve seen have a bead cut on the edges. I’m not one to argue with tradition, so I used a beading bit in a router table to cut beads on mine, too.
Make the vise’s handle from a length of 1″-diameter oak dowel. My handle is 20″ long, which is just the right length to miss whacking me in the head at every turn. I’m a tall guy, so you might want to make yours a bit shorter.
You are now almost done. It’s necessary to flatten the top. Use “winding sticks” to determine if your top is flat.
Winding sticks are simply identical, straight lengths of hardwood. Put one on one end of the top and the other on the far end. Now crouch down so your eye is even with the sticks. If your top is flat, the sticks will line up perfectly. If not, you’ll quickly see where you need work. Use a jack plane to flatten the high spots. Then sand your top and rag on a couple coats of an oil/varnish blend on the base and top.
With the bench complete, I was pleased with the price and the time it took, which was about 30 hours. However, I’m now itching to build a cabinet beneath the bench and to add a leg jack for planing the edges of long boards. Maybe I’ll get to that next issue, or maybe I’ll let a future granddaughter take care of those details. PW
Christopher Schwarz is editor of Popular Woodworking.