Chris Schwarz's Blog

More Glue Than Wood: At Work on the LVL Workbench

At 1:12 p.m. on Tuesday I had nothing to do, so I hustled Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick into the shop to continue work on the workbench made from laminated veneer lumber (LVL).

Of course, this is the only day in recent memory that Megan has worn a skirt, but she was a good sport about it.

First task: Disposing of the bucket of water/glue/primordial ooze before it came to life and went on a tri-state killing spree. That was my job. The semi-gelatinous blob of semi-sentient polyvinyl acetate landed in our dumpster with a sickening plop.

Then we jointed and planed the four benchtop laminations to glue them into two laminations , these will end up as the two halves of the finished benchtop. The laminations gave us no problems on the jointer, which has a cutterhead that’s armed with carbide-insert tooling.

But I was worried about running them through our planer, which has high-speed steel knives. As luck would have it, the knives were already in sad shape and were begging for a fresh edge. Even so, as Senior Editor Robert W. Lang watched me go to work I suspect he went to order us a new set of disposable knives just in case the steel started flying.

At this point, these laminations seem like they were about half glue and half yellow pine, so I was expecting nasty noises from the planer. Surprisingly, the laminations went through with ease. I took lighter cuts than I would with a hardwood just to be safe, however all in all I have been surprised how easy LVL is to work with power tools.

After 36 passes through the planer, all the laminations were ready to glue up. After a fairly straightforward glue-up using 13 Jet parallel-jaw clamps per lamination, we cleaned things up then opened up the planer to get a look at the knives.

Surprisingly, the edges looked really good to my eye. I didn’t see any toothing on any of the knives and they still felt sharp enough for more work.

That’s a good thing because next, we’ll glue up the two laminations into one top.

- Christopher Schwarz

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17 thoughts on “More Glue Than Wood: At Work on the LVL Workbench

  1. David Mueller

    I am interested in how this project turns out, but I need to mention a caution. Recently while working with an LVL beam I found that LVL is quite brittle. I was putting up a 14’ LVL beam by myself and I used 2-scrap LVL pieces to help hold the beam in place while I moved it into position. The scrap pieces were approx 18” X 12” X 1 1/2” and were nailed to 2 X 4 studs. The beam slipped and dropped approx 2 inches and broke both of the LVL scraps. The scraps broke even with the edge of the 2 X 4 stud approx 1 inch from the nails. I was very surprised since the beam wasn’t all that heavy, i.e., I was able to pick it up and put it into place by myself. I replaced the scraps with 2 X 4’s and had no further trouble. It appeared to me that a sharp impact could easily fracture an LVL beam. I assume this doesn’t happen very often since the beam is designed to support weight and not absorb impacts. However, the incident did make me concerned about the strength of the LVL beam.

  2. David McDonnel

    Chris,

    The cost/benefit thing will come out different for our two very different applications. I could get by with edged plywood or 3/4" solid wood top. For a bench you are using a lot more cubic inches of wood for weight and stiffness.

  3. Christopher Schwarz

    David,

    We’ll do a final cost-benefit analysis when we’re done. As of now, things are going better than I expected.

    On carbide cutterheads, I personally am a fan — through I cannot speak for the other staffers. I haven’t upgraded my machines at home because it is expensive. But because of the machines at work, I am quite familiar with their benefits.

    Chris

  4. David Barbee

    I’m was waiting to see how you machines took the lvl. I just so happen to have a couple hundred feet of 3 1/2" x 14" lvl beams. The question remains though…will your hand tools and lvl play nice?

    David B.

  5. Chuck Beck

    I don’t remember the last time you posted on this blog without plugging someone’s sharp object, thank you. It is nice to read about the subjugation of wood and not the ubiquitous salesmanship of the lustful shiny objects that peel it down.
    chuckbeck

  6. Alex Grigoriev

    Chris,
    How do you know that the glue blob has really died in the dumpster? Tri-state are may get into a great danger because of your carelessness.

  7. Charles Davis

    Why does Megan get such credit? I work in a skirt in the shop all the time and nobody ever gives me an attaboy.

    Quick shop tip… I’ve also found that a good pair of fishnets are almost like pegboard for the body. You can hang tape measures and all kinds of stuff from them although at a certain point it tends to look a little tacky.

    Chris, you guys ever consider going with a spiral cutterhead for durability? I know the finish quality is not that of knives, but we know that no visible surface escapes a smoothing plane in your shop. Just curious on your take on spiral cutterheads…
    -Charles

  8. David McDonnel

    Chris,

    I have been wondering how your LVL project was going. I too was enamored with the table tops in the Noodle place the first time I went in last winter. I recently needed to make a table for my son to use in his apartment at Purdue this fall and I threw the LVL idea at him. He thought it was a great idea. The ripping and gluing was pretty easy. The LVL materiel liked to splinter on the edges so we had to be careful handling the ripped pieces. After the glueup I took the 30x60x1.75 top to a local purveyor of hardwoods and ran it through their widebelt sander. My biggest complaint is the gaps and holes where the internal laminations were overlapped and places where the SYP flaked out leaving divots in the table. I filled these with epoxy but it took two or three applications to fill them and then I had to sand it all off again only this time with my belt and R.O. sander. It will look neat (the cool factor at college) but I think I could have made the top out of hardwood lumber or edged plywood about as cheap ($125 for a 24′ LVL) and definitly a lot less labor. With the left over LVL we made a coffee table top for his apt.!

    I think the top is real strong but I wonder about the durability of the top. I’m going to put five or six coats of poly on it as the BarTop epoxy stuff is too expensive!

    David McDonnel

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