QUESTION: My woodworking shop is going great but I do have a question spurred (proper word choice?) on by your videos and my experience. I have flattened my Lie-Nielsen bench benchtop. Not a terrible job but I did experience tear-out. The top is of course a laminated maple unit four inches thick with a 5″ skirt. Many pieces that compose it have the grain going in alternate directions to ward off warping as the benchtop seasons with regards to humidity and temperature.
When I flattened the benchtop I used the No. 8 with a 45° frog followed by the No 4-1/2 with 50° frog. I experienced tear-out. I used the No. 8 to start as it it very long and will flatten such a large area. I think the angle must be too low for the hard maple. I think I should put a back bevel on the blade. I’ll follow it up with my No. 4 with 55° frog. If this is a good approach what back bevel angle should I put on my No. 8 iron? Anything else to consider?
– Mike Christiano
ANSWER: I’ll be honest here: I have lots of tear-out on my workbenches. It doesn’t affect how they work one bit so I don’t worry about it. There are ways of dealing with the tearing, of course, but a benchtop is fundamentally different than a tabletop. So consider the following.
A dining room tabletop has to look good, but it doesn’t have to be dead flat. It only has to look flat. You can get away with reversing grain problems in the top and use scrapers to remedy the tearing because small low spots left by the scraper don’t affect the dining experience.
A benchtop has to be pretty flat to work well. I’ve found that the critical areas (mostly the front half of the bench) need to be less than .006” flat so your work won’t bow as you plane it. However, the appearance of the benchtop has no bearing on its function.
By treating your bench like it’s both a benchtop and tabletop, you are making it very hard on yourself. You are trying to achieve both flatness and surface perfection.
Personally, I’d rather be building furniture than fussing over the benchtop (and I love workbenches).
But I do want to answer your question. My strategy would be to use a toothed blade in my jointer to get the benchtop flat and free of tearing. Then I’d remove the resulting rough surface with a 55°-pitch smoothing plane.
— Christopher Schwarz