Stuff I’ve built: my new workbench

  • January, 2009

Janus, the Roman god of doorways and guy the month of January was named afterThere’s nothing like the first few days of a new year.  All of the new calendars are out for display.  All of the tragedies and triumphs of the previous year are tucked away into memory and the new year is a fresh slate.

No wonder why the month January is named after the Roman god Janus – the two-faced god of doorways, as well as beginnings and endings, who looked backward and forward at the same time.

This year, I’m looking forward to working with my latest project – a new workbench.

Oh, sure, a year ago I was extolling the virtues of Big Ugly, my solid core door on a 2×4 base that graced the center of my shop.  I built so many projects on that bench, and it served me well for more than four years.

The new benchHowever, it’s shortcomings were becoming more apparent every time I used it.  First of all, it was very rickety.  I would hand plane on the bench, and it would rack, wasting most of my energy.  It was also way too light for the kind of work  I was doing.  That was shown dramatically when I was trying to plane some maple for a recent project.  For every stroke on the board, the bench actually rotated a few degrees.  By the time I got the board planed, the bench was at a 45 degree angle to where I began.  The time had finally come.

This bench is a model built with elements of a few different plans.  The base came from the Shop Notes Heavy Duty Workbench plan. It’s a glue up of two 3″ wide boards ripped from a 2×12 southern yellow pine.  The insert is MDF glued in place, locking the legs together into a pretty rugged – and heavy – assembly.

The two rails are SYP, and are mortised in place and held with a set of Veritas bench bolts.  One word of caution – drill bits have this tendency to wander when you drill – so I did have to enlarge the holes for the cross dowel slightly. Even with that slight sidetrack, the base bolted together and is extremely sturdy.

The result is a very heavy, rock solid base that is also longer than the base on Big Ugly.  Not only does that provide more support at the edges of the bench, it also allows me to store more power tools under the bench.  The result is even more weight and more free space on my other tool storage shelves.

The bench edge onThe top is a hybrid construction.  I wanted the strength of natural wood for the dog holes, yet I also wanted a dead flat surface that I could replace if it ever got beat up.  The core of this – going back to our friend Janus – is a solid core door my neighbor salvaged from a dumpster.  It had some surface damage, but was sound for my purpose.  I cut it to a width of 27″ and routed a groove in the side to accept a spline.

From there, I mounted and trimmed a piece of MDF to fit the top.  Again, more weight and, if it ever got too beat up, I could replace it.

The sides are made out of three pieces of SYP ripped from larger dimesional lumber.  Each assembly is 3″ thick by 4.5″ wide – giving my bench a final width of 36″ – plenty big for use as a bench and outfeed table for my table saw.  I routed a mating groove on these pieces and glued them to the solid core door, but not the MDF. Again, this makes replacing the MDF easy should it get dinged up.

Covered for paint projectsFrom there, I bored the 3/4″ dog holes four inches on center so I could use my Veritas wonder pups as a tail vise and bolted my old Wilton vise to the bench.

I finished the bench with two coats of thinned polyurethane and a final coat of furniture wax.  Hopefully, this will help keep glue drips from sticking to the bench during those big glue ups.

And, finally, the most important piece I included on this bench is a heavy canvas drop cloth.  This way, whenever anything needs to be painted or finished, I can put the drop cloth down and save the top from the humiliation of being coated in paint.

So far, I have done some planing on the bench, and the improvement is dramatic.  The bench doesn’t even shimmy when I lean into the planing – a very promising sign of what can be done now.

As far as Big Ugly, well, I can’t let the old girl go without a final tribute.  I am now making calls to some charities to see if anyone wants it as a work table.  If not, I’ll cut the top into a few pieces to preserve her memory, and burn the legs in a fire on a cool night.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.