When all four layers are glued together, cut your top to its finished size using a circular saw and a straight scrap of wood to guide it. Because the top is so thick, you’ll have to cut from both sides, so lay out your cutting lines with care.
Skirt Will Test Your Skills
Time: 6:29 to11:49
Now gather the skirt pieces and begin laying out the finger joints for the corners. These joints are mostly decorative. Butt joints or miters will do just as well (and save you some time).
Here’s how we cut the finger joints: First lay out the joints on the end pieces that have just one tongue or stub sticking out. Each finger is 1-3/8″ long and 1″ wide. Cut the waste away using a hand saw or band saw and check the fit against your top. When it fits perfectly, use these joints to lay out the mating joints on the long skirt pieces. Cut the notches on the long skirt pieces and check the fit of your joints. Tune them up using a chisel, a rabbet plane or a shoulder plane.
Now glue the skirt pieces to the top. Because each “ply” in plywood runs the opposite direction of the ply above it, there’s actually a fair amount of long grain on the edges of your top. This means the skirt will stay stuck just fine using only glue. Add as many clamps as you can. While that glue dries, start reading the directions for installing the vise, because that’s the next step.
The instructions that come with the Veritas vise are complete and easy to follow; it just takes some time to get everything moving smoothly. Before you begin, be sure your drill press’s table is square to the chuck – this will save you lots of frustration. Once you get your vise installed, place the top on a couple sawhorses (you’ll need a friend) and get ready to build the base.
A Stout Base
Time: 11:49 to 14:54
The base of this bench is built with mortise-and-tenon joints. The two assembled ends are glued together and then pegged using dowels. The ends are attached to the front and back rails using an unglued mortise-and-tenon joint plus bench bolts.
The first step is to make a practice mortise in a piece of scrap that you can use to size all your tenons. I made my mortises on a drill press using a 3/4″-diameter Forstner bit and a fence. You can make really clean mortises this way. After you’ve made your test mortise, head to the table saw to make all of your tenons.
I make my tenons using a dado stack in my table saw. The fence determines the length of the tenon; the height of the dado blades determines the measurement of the tenons’ shoulders. Set the height of the dado stack to 5/16″, cut a tenon on some scrap as shown in the photos and see if it fits your test mortise. If the fit is firm and smooth, cut all the tenons on the front, back and end rails.
Now use your tenons to lay out the locations of your mortises on your legs. Use the diagrams as a guide. Cut your mortises using your drill press. Now get ready to install the bench bolts.
Big Bad Bench Bolts
Time: 14:54 to 18:59
The set of bench bolts for this project set us back $20, but they are worth it. There are less expensive alternatives to this specialty hardware, but none is as easy to install.
Begin installing the bench bolts by drilling a 1-1/8″-diameter counterbore in the legs that’s 1/2″ deep and centered on the location of the rail. Then drill a 1/2″-diameter hole in the center of that counterbore that goes all the way through the leg and into the mortise.
Now dry assemble the ends plus the front and back rails and clamp everything together. Use a 5/8″ brad-point drill bit to mark the center of your hole on the end of each tenon.
Disassemble the bench and clamp the front rail to your top or in a vise. Use a doweling jig and a 5/8″ drill bit to continue boring the hole for the bench bolt. You’ll need to drill about 3-3/4″ into the rail. Repeat this process on the other tenons.
Now you need to drill a 1-1/4″-diameter hole that intersects the 5/8″ hole you just drilled in the rail. This 1-1/4″-diameter hole holds a special round nut that pulls everything together. To accurately locate where this 1-1/4″ hole should be, I made a simple jig shown in the photos above that I picked up from from another project. This jig works like a charm and I recommend you use one. Sometimes drill bits can wander – even when guided by a doweling jig – and this jig ensures success.
Plane or sand all your legs and rails and assemble the bench’s base. First glue the end rails between the legs. Glue and clamp that assembly. When it’s dry, drill a 3/8″-diameter hole through each joint that’s about 2″ deep. Then glue and hammer a peg through the tenons using 2-1/8″-long sections of 3/8″-diameter dowel stock into each hole. Then install the bench bolts and use a ratchet and socket to bring everything together.
Now screw the 5″ braces to the legs using the photo above as a guide. Turn the top upside down on the sawhorses and place the assembled base in position. Screw it down.
Dog Holes and Details
Time: 18:59 to 23:02
Dog holes on a bench are essential for clamping large panels, holding table legs and even clamping difficult-to-clamp assemblies. Most round dog holes are 3/4″ in diameter so they accept a wide range of commercial dogs.
We made our own dogs for this bench to keep us from blowing our $180 budget. (If your budget isn’t as strict, we recommend the Veritas brass Bench Pups. They are $13.25 for a pair. Ask for item # 05G04.04. Contact Lee Valley Tools
Our homemade dogs are made using 3″-long sections of 3/4″ dowel screwed to 5/8″ x 1-1/2″ x 1-1/2″ pieces of scrap hardwood.
First drill the dog hole in your tail vise’s jaw using your drill press. While you have the vise jaw off the bench, go ahead and add the edge detail of your choice to the ends. We chose a traditional large bead. A chamfer would be quicker, as would be doing absolutely nothing.
Now put the vise’s jaw back in place and lay out the locations of your dog holes in the top. They can be anywhere from 8″ to 11″ apart. You’ll have to build a simple jig to cut the holes. It’s made from three pieces of scrap and is shown in action in the photo at left.
We bored the dog holes using a 3/4″ auger bit in a corded drill. Use a low speed on your drill for this operation because you need buckets of torque.
Now chamfer the rim of each dog hole; this prevents the grain from ripping up when you pull the occasionally stubborn dog from its hole (bad dog!). Use a chamfer bit in your plunge router to make this cut. Or you can simply ease the rims using some sandpaper.
We sanded the top using #120-grit sandpaper in a random-orbit sander and called it a day. Break all the sharp edges using #120-grit sandpaper. You don’t need a fancy finish on this bench – just something to protect it from spills and scrapes. We took some off-the-shelf satin polyurethane, thinned it down to three parts poly and one part mineral spirits and ragged on two coats. Allow the finish to dry at least four hours between coats.
Then we turned the stopwatch off and checked our time: 23 hours and 2 minutes. We had just enough time left to sweep the floor in case someone else needed to work down there. PW