I’ve been getting questions almost daily about the 18th-century French-style workbench I built for the cover of the August 2010 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. The questions go something like this:
1. Has the benchtop exploded into pieces yet, you dufus?
2. Has the epoxy shattered?
3. How are your chiropractic bills with that leg vise?
During the last four months I’ve been using the bench quite a bit and have built four projects on it. I feel like it’s pretty much broken in, though I still have some uncertainty ahead with my benchtop (more on this in a minute).
Here are some of the changes I’ve made to the bench in the last four months and some things I’ve observed about its behavior.
The first alteration I made was to add a tool rack along the back edge of the benchtop. This is a traditional French feature that shows up on many plates in AndrÃ?Â© Roubo’s 18th-century books on woodworking. The rack is 28-1/2″ long and 3″ wide. It’s made from 1/2″-thick material in two layers. One layer consists of spacers. The other layer is the long piece that contains the tools.
I’ve found that a 1/2″-wide slot is a great width for many bench tools. Your results may vary. The rack is nailed onto the bench using some cool iron nails I found at VanDyke’s Restorers.
I like the tool rack quite a bit. The only time it gets in the way is when I’m dovetailing. I had to pull the tools out of the rack to transfer my tails onto my pin board, which was secured in my leg vise. If I cut pins first, this wouldn’t be a problem, by the way.
I also added a hinged lid that covers the space above the shelf. This creates a little toolbox that has been handy for stowing stuff. It’s a nice addition, but it’s not a game-changer.
I also added some stop chamfers with a lamb’s tongue detail on the long stretchers. I think it lightens the look of the base a bit, and I like stop chamfers.
About the Top
I rather like the way the slab top looks. Of course, most people have wondered if the through-tenons and through-dovetails are tearing the bench apart. So far, no.
But the top is moving.
When the top came into our shop it had been sitting outside for several years and it was at about 15 percent moisture content. After being inside since February, it’s now down to about 13 percent. Black cherry usually ends up at 10 percent moisture content in our shop, so it still needs to dry out a bit.
As the top lost moisture, it shrank a bit and squeezed out some of the epoxy I had forced into the cracks. This epoxy is flexible so it didn’t shatter or crack. It simply bulged out like a vein on your arm. So I took a card scraper and trimmed off the proud epoxy. It took about 15 minutes.
In June I checked the top for flatness and found that one section in the middle had moved a bit. That was a good excuse for me to whip out the jointer plane and true it up. This also removed the finish from the top. While the old finish looked good, I had added too much varnish into my finish mixture so the top was a little slicker than I wanted.
So after flattening the top I put on two coats of straight boiled linseed oil, and now the top is grippier.
About the Vises
I couldn’t be happier with the leg vise. The Lake Erie wooden screw is fast and robust. And I’m glad I placed the vise’s parallel guide above the leg. I can reach down and move the pin without stooping much at all. In fact, I can usually just drop my arm and reach the pin while I’m adjusting the tommy bar of the vise.
The end vise is also a success. It’s an old Sheldon quick-release vise. Unlike modern quick-release vises, it doesn’t move much , maybe an 1/8″ when you engage the lever. I was concerned that this wouldn’t be enough pressure. It turns out to be ideal. In fact, I like it because you don’t tend to over-tighten it and bow your stock.
Other Changes Ahead
I can’t wait to get this bench against a wall. While it hasn’t tipped a bit, I just feel more comfortable working against a wall. Also, I need to make some more hickory bench dogs. The two that I have made have been a complete success.
If you’re going to be at Woodworking in America this October you’ll be able to see this bench in person and give it a thumbs-up or -down. But for me, I think this bench is a success. I like the way it works and the way it looks. Do I wish it were bigger? Sure. I always prefer a bigger bench. But for a short bench, this is a fine one.
– Christopher Schwarz
Workbench Resources , Free and Otherwise
– Want to mainline some workbench information? You can read every blog post I’ve written about workbenches in the last five-plus years by clicking here. Hope you have some bandwidth handy.
– We filmed a DVD of the construction of this bench. It includes many details we didn’t have room for in the magazine article, including a slideshow of all of the construction photos. You can order the DVD “Build an 18th-century Workbench” from the WoodworkersBookshop.com.
– I have a second workbench book coming out this fall titled “The Workbench Design Book.” My first book is on sale in our store: “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use.”
Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.