Chris Schwarz's Blog

Meet the ‘Two-bo’ Workbench

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Getting a good workbench usually takes loads of money, time or both of those things.

But what if you tried to be really clever and you used inexpensive construction and home renovation materials to build a massive traditional bench for a fraction of the cost of a commercial bench and with only two days of shop time?

That is what we’re trying to do this week at Popular Woodworking Magazine as we film a new DVD on building a bench that hits all the right notes.

And here’s the rub: We really have to do it only in two days (Monday and Tuesday). After that, we are getting kicked out of the studio for another video project.

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In fact, I got a little stressed out today when one of the lighting bulbs fried out and we lost about 15 minutes of time while the staff replaced it.

The two-day bench – dubbed “Two-bo” by Executive Editor David Thiel – uses beech countertops to create the benchtop. That saves us about 20 hours of shop time with a typical bench build. In fact, we had the top all laminated up before lunch (and had also filmed all the introductory stuff for the DVD).

By 3:30 p.m., I had the base dry-fit and ready for cleaning up – the base is made from fir 4x4s. Everytime I build a bench from Douglas fir I swear it will be my last. I really dislike the stuff. It is stringy, difficult to rip and does not like to be handplaned at all. Of course, this stuff is a little wet (15 to 18 percent moisture content) because I bought it on Friday. So that might have something to do with it.

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On Tuesday, we’ll bolt the bench base together and… well, we’ll do everything else – including finishing the sucker.

While it sounds like we are in good shape, filming the construction of the bench has been a slow process. I am showing three different ways to cut the joints for the workbench – with a table saw, a band saw and 100-percent hand tool. Switching gears like that slows us down (and messes with my head).

But I suspect we’ll beat the clock. Truth is, we have to. At some point tomorrow they are going to start knocking down this set and begin to paint the walls white.

— Christopher Schwarz

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18 thoughts on “Meet the ‘Two-bo’ Workbench

  1. irishbill1223

    There’s a non-profit ‘build it green’ recycling center (two locations) in NYC (http://www.bignyc.org) that will do demo of old buildings, give out tax credits for the material and then re-cycles it. Well, they just got in some southern pine and maple bowling alleys (southern pine were the approach lanes). It’s 2.375″ thick, 42″ deep and 120″ lengths, but they’ll cut it for you. Pine is 10 bucks a sq.foot, maple is 15. I’m going over tomorrow to order two slabs, one of each…….I’ll keep everybody posted…..

      1. pmac

        My first thought was that the cat was your way of reminding Chris that you were watching and he had exactly two days to finish. Kind of like standing over his shoulder wthout actually being there. You have to admit that the way it is drawn, it’s got kind of an over-lordy look to it with the way the eyebrows slanted and no smile.

  2. rushby.craig

    This is exactly how I built my bench last year. I used 3 beech countertops (8 ft) from IKEA and laminated them together. AS I remember, I got the countertops on sale for something like $60 each. The countertops were 1.25″ thick so I ended up with a benchtop that is 3.75″ thick overall. I used douglas fir construction lumber for the legs and the supports between the 4 legs. It has worked well so far. I had to drill some holes in the middle, and use bolts to clamp down the center of the laminated sandwich. I used C-clamps around the edges. I had to do all of the flattening of the top and truing of the edges with handplanes–it was a lot of work since I’d never done something like this before. I was learning on-the-job a little.

  3. themavericktexan

    Too bad 4×4 pine is so hard to find untreated. I know of exactly one lumber yard anywhere near me that stocks it as anything but a special order (i.e. you have to buy a pallet).

    And by “anywhere near me” I mean a three hour round trip in this case… Plus load time, plus stopping for gas, etc., etc.

    1. esincox

      It was the same way here in Missouri for the longest time until just recently, when Menards went on a store-opening spree in St. Louis. Now 4×4 douglas fir is readily available.

      You could always petition them to open a store near you. ;)

      1. themavericktexan

        Oh, I can get 4×4 fir just fine. I was thinking of Southern Yellow Pine specifically. I can get untreated 2-by SYP all day, but for the 4x4s, well, that’s the three hour trip or buying it by the pallet because they only have stuff at the local stores that is so soaked with chemicals that it’s a color unknown to nature and almost literally dripping.

        Or I can save myself the trouble and just use fir. ;)

    2. Cosmo

      At least in Cincinnati it easy to get untreated 4×4′ 4×6, 6×6′ etc. I go to the contractors desk at Home Depot and special order. I can get up to 6×6 untreated in less than a week.

  4. jtcweb

    Please make this available as a video download also. I have no desire to try and keep track of a disc when I can just store it on my computer.

    1. Clay Dowling

      There is a great program called handbrake that can convert a DVD into one or more video files. I convert all my woodoworking CDs and then store the originals in a safe place. Then my videos are easily transferred to my tablet and I can watch them when I’m travelling or sitting on the deck drinking a beer. I’ve also found 10″ tablets to be shop-ready, since there are no moving parts to have unhappy interactions with dust.

    2. Tueftler

      Yes, for woodworkers Outside USA a digital Download is The only Option to get this stuff. Shopping DVD is too extensive, Customs can make ist complicated etc etc.
      So please offer more digital Downloads of your Videos

  5. 1961sg

    I came very close to using this approach for a benchtop but went with laminated SYP for cost… Not having a jointer or planer and dealing with wet reaction wood meant uneven laminations and a lot of time with a jack plane to get the surface even useable. That was back when I had free time (before children), were I to do it today…

  6. metalworkingdude

    Neat. I expect I’ll have two days in just chopping the mortises in my roubo bench top. I don’t even want to think about how many hours I spent hand planing the reclaimed 6×9 fir timbers I used.

    But honestly, anything to have a solid , stable bench that wiggles when I try to saw a tenon.

  7. jason.weaver

    I look forward to seeing this bench when it’s done.

    What’s up with the brass lifts on your Dutch tool chest? Where are the NOS iron handles?

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