The work bench

My Paul Sellers inspired work bench

I saw a British gentleman flailing a hand plane at some wood propped up against a tree. Some episodes later, he had a work bench. Well, giddyup! I thought to myself.

From my experience, a solid and well built workbench is critical if you want to get anything done. They can be expensive, and I really do not like the style of workbenches I’ve used in the past.

Høvelbenk, source: Digitalt museum

Unless you are willing to shell out a good stack of money for the larger models, this type of workbench is small, light and with rather bad vises. Not a fine joinery type of bench, although it is fine for crude and heavy work. All those dog holes are great for trapping shavings, splinters and what have you – and there are other work holding options that just works a lot better. I wanted something that is fast to use – slap the piece in place, tighten the vise or whack the holdfast, and you are good to go. I saw the light on this watching Paul Sellers work.

So I did my research, made a quick Sketchup drawing as I wanted a bigger bench than what Paul uses. My bench is longer, deeper and a bit highter. I followed the plans otherwise. A big stack of construction wood was purchased and brought home. I followed Paul’s plans and methods, and planed the boards to make the sides smooth and relatively flat for the lamination. There is really no need for perfectly flat boards, as you can clamp minor bow and twist out of the boards. That being said, make your work as easy as possible and choose the best lumber you can. Fusilli is great for pasta dishes and Seinfeld shows, not workbench tops!

I sorted the pieces so that the best side faced up, the curving would be eliminated and any twist would not affect the result. All gaps could be closed with just hand pressure, so I was good to go. I squiggled a glue line, did the loop-de-loop and wiggled the boards together. I placed the boards on clamps on a cardboard cored door (those things are dead flat and hold up a lot of weight), and added more clamps. Clamps, clamps, clamps. I got a bit of glue squeeze-out, but not that much.
I cannot for the life of me understand why a lot of woodworkers slather glue like gravy on a piece of turkey (ya need lots of gravy. Gravy is love. Gravy is life!), just to squeeeeeeze everything out. They have more glue on the bench than in the project… But I digress.

Now, I am all for using hand tools, but I also own power tools. So I slapped a router sled together to do the bulk of the flattening. Machines are great for donkey work like that. Besides, at the time I had only one hand plane, and did not yet have any means to sharpen the iron effectively. Time for making noise and chips!

The laminated slabs was now flat, but very rough. I repeated the process on the underside. On with the finer tools.

After smoothing the top (the bottom got a quick once-over to remove any roughness), I glued the aprons to the slab. To create a tool well, I added one stud to the stack and glued the far apron to that. I raised the flattened slab a couple of millimeters so that the apron pieces stood proud of the surface. Later on, I planed them flush. I used a few clamps to make sure the aprons were square to the bottom of the slab.

After the aprons were glued, I cut a rabbet to hold the tool well board.

I propped the top onto some sawhorses and flattened the aprons to the top. I stood for a good while just running my hands over the top and taking it all in Imagining perfect dovetails, crisp rabbets… Man, I’m simple!

Time for some legs, baby! I laminated 2×4» beams and planed them 4S. That means all faces flat and perpendicular to eachother. I chopped mortises and made the rails. The top rails got haunched tenons.

After the glueup I flushed the rails, planed the protruding ends on the top rail flush to the legs and rounded the lower protuding ends of the rails to make them look nice and to remove sharp edges.

I then cut the recesses for the legs in the aprons, including the angled wall for the wedges.

The legs got screwed to the top and the wedges installed. Then the bench was flipped and finally stood on its own feet! Major milestone!

I used my Dewalt tracksaw to trim the ends of the bench, and used the 04 smoothing plane to smooth the ends.

I then ordered the Eclipse 9» woodworking vise with quick release from Toolstop. I installed it as close to the leg as possible*, and made jaws from plywood. The total width is about 11» (about 28cm). I planed the plywood flush with the top, then the moving jaw was lined with leather (improves grip tremendously). The brown, plastic face of the fixed jaw plywood was sanded off.

*Mounting the vise close to the leg, on the inside, makes sure the forces you apply on it is transferred to the floor. Ideally, the vise should be mounted directly over the legs, but that is of course not possible.

After a quick sanding to remove sharp edges and smooth the surface, I applied two coats of tung oil. No further work has been done so far, but I will re-flatten the bench during 2021. The shop has been renovated, and I’ll let the bench «settle» in the new and improved environment.

The bench is heavy, big, sturdy and rock solid (apart from a bit of rocking under heavy planing, but I have a plan for that). I would not hesitate to park my car on that thing!

I have done a lot of work to my shop. When we bought the house in April 2019, the shop was just a cold garage. Since then I’ve built a wall to replace the garage door, put in a new and insulated door and started mounting plywood and OSB sheets on the walls. The floor has been leveled and painted with epoxy paint. I will continue to renovate the shop going forward.

The bench in its new location.

The bench has proven to be extremely stable and good to use. I made it a bit too tall, so I’ll have to shorten the legs a bit. I intend to extend the front apron down another 8» or so (I’ll use drawbored loose tenons in addition to glue. Should be extremely solid). This will make the bench rigid, as it has tendencies to rock under heavy use. Paul Sellers’s plans calls for four bolts trough the aprons and legs. I have not installed these yet.

After one year, the tool well board is too narrow as the top shrank a bit after the shop environment was improved (warmer and lower humidity). The top needs a good re-flatten and I’ve drilled a few dog holes to accommodate the use of a holdfast and the Veritas planing stop.

This thing works incredibly well! I ordered just one, but will order another one in the future. With the Eclipse vise, a Lie-Nielsen holdfast and a batten, I think I have all the work holding abilities I need for most of my work.

On non-flush mounting of the vise

There are some debate about whether or not the vise should be mounted flush to the workbench or not. I think the reason is that people wants to be able to hold long pieces to the bench using holdfasts. I’ve thought about this, and I have a few options to consider.

  1. Add a board to the front apron, but leave a 20cm gap near the vise. Should at least extend down just past the guide bars on the vise.
  2. Add a removable board to the front apron, leaving that 200mm gap (I try to make imperial heads spin here…). Use holdfast or clamps across the bench top to hold your work piece.
  3. Flush mount the vise and add a removable fixed jaw. The drawback is less meat around the vise as you have to chop off a hefty chunk of that apron. Might not matter at all, but I see very little gain in doing so. Harder to do, too. Be mindful of one fact: you will have to replace the vise jaws eventually…
  4. Make a bench hook that you can hang anywhere on the edge of the apron. It should be as thick as the fixed jaw and extend down to the same height as the guide bars on the vise. Drill dog holes for a holdfast along the apron to secure the work piece, sandwiching the bench hook between the work piece and the bench.

Several ways to skin a cat, I guess. For me, the vise is meant for smaller pieces and joinery. To hold bigger pieces, I’ll think of other options.

This is the main reason why I advocate a non-flush vise, or at least a fixed jaw liner (see pont 3 above though):

You can’t do this with the vise flush mounted. Or… you could. Dunno if you should, though…

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