When I build a workbench in the old style, the rules for joinery change a bit for me.
The strength of the bench comes from the top – not the base. And the amount of contact surface between all the mortises and the tenons is formidable. So if you need a mallet to drive home all your individual joints, there is a fair chance that the bench won’t go together when all the pieces are brought together.
Here’s how I solve this problem. I don’t know if it’s traditional, but it does use traditional processes.
The joints in the base are looser than I like. They go in with hand pressure only. I undercut the shoulders of the tenons slightly to ensure they will pull up tight when drawbored.
For the giant tenons through the top, I fit the face cheeks tightly – like I would for a cabinet door, for examples. For the edge cheeks, however, I like to leave them a little loose.
These minor adjustments make assembly easier because the best way to assemble this bench is to put together all the parts at once. So I glue up the base (if I’m using glue) without clamps, drop the top onto the tenons on the legs and then finally drive home the drawbore pins through the joints in the base. Wedge the tenons through the benchtop.
This procedure has worked without fail so far. It allows you a little wiggle room so all the parts can come together. And it adds a mechanical interlock (drawbore pins and wedges) to make the bench seem like it is carved out of one solid chunk of wood.
We’re going to be assembling a bunch of workbenches on Sunday – my last day of class at Dictum GmbH. So be sure to check back later if you want to see a video of the process.
On Saturday, we did all the joinery in the tops, fit our joints and built the leg vises. It was a good day. A hot day. But a good one.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. Today’s video is a public service announcement from the handplane industry.
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