Chris Schwarz's Blog

Meagan's Workbench. Not That Megan. This One

It’s deer season here in Northern Kentucky. That means I have to wait in line at the butcher’s shop next to camouflaged hunters waiting to get their deer “processed” into deer goetta and deer sausage.

It’s also “Meagan Bench” season. Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick recently completed her workbench using laminated veneer lumber, which is on the cover of the November 2009 issue of Popular Woodworking. And yesterday, reader Meagan Kilrain sent me photos of her new workbench.

It has several interesting features that are worth discussing and thinking about. Let’s take a look.

Materials
Kilrain (or Meagan II, as we will now call her around the office), used Glulam beams left over from a restaurant remodel for the top, and construction lumber for the base. The legs are 4x6s treated construction lumber left over from summer landscaping. The stretchers are untreated 2x6s. The vise chop is scrap from an Amish sawmill.

The Gluelam is some good stuff. It can come in nice widths already glued up for you , one of Kilrain’s was 12″ wide.

If you choose to use treated lumber in a bench, I think you need to be cautious. There are some nasty chemicals used to make the wood weather-resistant. I’d make my cuts outside, wear a monkey mask and avoid sanding it.

I might be a little overcautious about treated lumber because of personal experience. I visited a lumber treatment plant once, and it was like a big pressure cooker. They put the lumber and chemicals into a huge tube, seal it up and infuse the wood with the stuff. One of the workers at the plant noted that oftentimes small mammals would wander into the tube while the door was open to check it out. And then they never checked out, if you catch my drift.

The Top
Kilrain put one of the Glulam beams at the front and one at the rear. Between the two beams she made a tool tray. Most people know I’m not fond of tool trays (perhaps because I just make a mess in them), but Kilrain definitely scores points for making the bottom of the tray lift off to make it easy to clean and for clamping access.

This is a feature on Bob Lang’s 21st-century Workbench, and he quite likes it.

The Base
The base is super-smart. The bottom stretcher is flush to the front of the legs. But the top stretcher is not. Kilrain makes everything work with a dose of cleverness. The deadman hooks onto the top stretcher. This gives her the ability to clamp things at the front of the bench. And it allows the deadman to slide back and forth while keeping its front flush to the front of the legs and bottom stretcher.

Also, points for the little scallop detail below the front stretcher. More curves ahead.

The Leg Vise and End Vise
Kilrain says this angled leg vise came out of her lack of confidence in mortising the leg. The results are pretty hard to argue with. Instead of making a mortise for the parallel guide, she made a dado in the side of the leg. Then she covered that over with a wooden plate. Instant mortise! And it’s easy to tweak the joint for a good fit on the guide.

The vise screw is on the other side of the leg. And the swoopy curves of the vise are nice , plus there’s a little cherry flash at the bottom of the oak chop.

The end vise uses the Eastern European hardware you can get at most woodworking stores. Kilrain discovered the same thing I did when I installed this vise for the first time about a decade ago:

“The installation learning curve is straight up the first time around.” she wrote. “If I ever do this again, I’ll opt for a ready-made end vise.”

All in all, it’s an excellent bench, especially considering the scavenged materials. It’s completely functional and looks good to boot.

– Christopher Schwarz

10 thoughts on “Meagan's Workbench. Not That Megan. This One

  1. Andrew

    Great work M2! Is the paint holding up on the treated legs? Did you have to use some kind of special primer?

  2. AAAndrew

    I love the leg vise. Since making my own, I’ve really appreciated the flexibility of the basic design and now you’ve helped me see what can be done with it. Very nice work.

  3. Jonas Jensen

    Thumbs up for the bench.
    using salvaged material is a huge bonus point.
    As far as I remember my James Bond, M is the one who manufacturers the fancy stuff, Som M2 is quite appropriate for you.

  4. David

    Great bench Meagan! (Or should I say "M2") I’m still planning my work bench and you’ve definitely inspired me. Your bench is thoughtful, creative, and extremely functional. Good job!

    Now we’d like to see a picture of you with your bench, just like M1 did! 🙂

  5. Meagan Kilrain

    So many nice comments on my bench; thank you all! I’m still chuckling over being designated "Megan II" — already shortened, apparently, to "M2" which has such a James Bond-like flavor. I like it.

    To answer a couple questions: Yes, the vise leg had to be widened, at the top, by grafting on another 2" of material. The widened part is hidden by the curve of the vise chop. As to dimensions, the top (with end-skirts added) is about 6’3" long by 28" wide. Height is a bit over 32" since I like to stand on a thick mat while I work.

    Many of my design choices are dictated by either the tools I have or don’t have (for instance, I use a bandsaw but don’t have a tablesaw), or by the skills I might be nervous about (such as shying away from cutting a deep mortise). For this project, I ended up buying a drill press to help install the end vise. My forlorn brace and bits will have to take a back seat for awhile, since the drill press has opened new vistas for me.

    I do love my new bench. Like a teenager with their first car, I keep going out to the garage (where my work area is) just to look at it.

    Regards,
    Meagan

  6. Gye Greene

    I like how the peg(? – also, a name pun) for the leg vice is about a foot off the floor: less stooping.

    –GG

  7. Krenovian

    Oh….and one question. Did you add material to the side of the leg for the leg vise screw to attach to?

  8. Krenovian

    I really like the organically shaped leg vise and the hooking deadman is a great approach to eliminating the need for a flush stretcher. Nice innovations, Meagan!

  9. Andy

    Very nice bench.

    I especially like the curves breaking up a traditionally rectilinear form.

    M2’s top is similar to the style David Charlesworth advocates. If (when?) I build another workbench it will probably have this style top instead of my current 30 x 72 slab. It seems to have a lot of advantages with very few drawbacks.

    Do you know the approximate dimensions of the bench?

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