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Next to my workbench at home, I keep an antique tool chest that has a tricky, sticky and unpredictable lock. Most days, I can open the chest with ease. I rotate the key. The cylinders turn. The lid lifts to reveal tools, hardware and supplies that I use every day.

But every so often, the lock refuses to work. I rotate the key. The cylinders turn. The lid sticks. I curse and then repeat the process until the lid opens. However, a couple times during the last decade, no amount of fiddling would open the chest. And instead of reaching for a wrecking bar, I’d just walk away and come back to the chest later on.

Some days, I get that same uncertain feeling in my chest whenever I get ready to flatten and join some boards that are particularly long, wide or wild. Today was one of those days as I set out to flatten the top of my work-in-progress: an English-style workbench. The section of benchtop that was on deck this afternoon was 22″ wide and 8′ long. It was reasonably flat, but it needed to be really flat to sit tight onto the base of the bench.

Some days, it doesn’t matter how skilled you are. Or how many times you’ve trued up a slab of wonky wood. Some days the wood wins and you go home with your tail between your legs.

The first challenge when dealing with wide and long panels is finding a place to work on them. With this section of the top, the answer was simple. I placed it on the base itself and pushed it against the heads of a couple screws that I placed into the holes that eventually will join the base to the top.

The ends were a little out of true and some quick work with a fore plane across the grain brought them into line with the center section of the top. A couple passes diagonally across the top with the fore plane got the surface flat enough to push against the fence of our powered jointer.

Senior Editor Glen Huey looked over as I was working the top and offered (sincerely, but with a twinkle in his eye) to put the benchtop in his truck and run it through his wide-belt sander in his shop at home.

I declined, saying that the exercise with the fore plane would allow me to justify drinking a second beer tonight after work. Glen smiled and nodded his head.

All was going well, but edge-jointing the top piece was another tricky piece of work. It’s another part of a project that can go wrong for no good reason. I jointed the edge. I jointed its mate and showed them to one another. I was shooting for a spring joint and I got one, but it was a little strong on one end of the top.

Undeterred, I straightened out the end with a few passes of a block plane. Within a few minutes the whole top was glued up and clamped with a tight seam all along the 8′ top.

I had earned an extra beer, and the tool chest didn’t win this round.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 4 comments
  • Christopher Schwarz


    I have four benches now… soon to be three. When I finish a bench I usually sell one or give it away. This English bench will become my primary bench at home. My grandfather’s bench will stay (hard to say no to that), and I’m going to give my current bench at home to our managing editor.

    Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick has really walked right up to the line with building furniture. She’s now building stuff without asking a lot of questions or for assistance.

    I think she needs a bench.


  • Christopher Fitch

    Hey Christopher, I hope the trip went well…did you get my email?

    Also, how many benches do you have now?


  • Christopher Schwarz


    I liked Germany (I’m half German). But I don’t believe I’ll ever want another big sausage on a spinach salad again.

    As to this project, it is one of those projects that is a challenge the entire way. The size of the workpieces are bad enough. Using yellow pine makes it more difficult — it finished accimating while I was in Germany. More twisting!

    And the fact that it has to be a work of engineering as well as woodworking makes it just a total… expletive deleted.

    I’ll post more later on during the weekend.

  • Dave Brown

    An excellent blog Christopher — it’s good to know that even the experts among us still get tested by wonky wood.

    Glad to hear you made it back from Germany ok. Has your taste in beer or the accompanying food been enhanced by your trip? It’s always fun to try new foods in a foreign country.

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