Sunday, December 13, 2015

Bench build

Removing cup with the scrub plane
As with any woodworker the workbench is the center of activity and a good flat work bench is not essential but highly desirable. Much can be done with saw horses, 2x4s and other make do techniques but there is nothing more satisfying than having a nice slab top flat piece of wood on which to work.

The bench I used initially in my shed consisted of a steel frame with three 50x200x2000 slabs on top bolted to the frame with coach bolts. I mounted a 8" dawn vice on the front and drilled dog holes to clamp larger pieces. When I moved in to my current house all of the benches were inches high with rubbish, junk, tools and miscellaneous paraphernalia. After cleaning it off I discovered cupped, twisted and warped boards. This served as my bench for about three years before I became annoyed enough to want to do something better.

Small flattening jig
A few months ago I purchased a cache of hand tools including a Veritas quick release end vice for an excellent price. The problem is that it requires a flat bench with an apron, which I did not have. Time for some reconstructive surgery. The veritas quick release vice is more or less a mechanism that screws under the bench to which you can secure a slab of wood the same cross sectional area as your apron. You then drill dog holes in the top and side which gives you three methods of holding wood. First between the jaw and the apron. Thus you can hold long pieces such as stretchers for cutting tenons. Then using dogs along the top of the bench for planing for instance. Finally along the face using dogs to plane edges to to chop mortices.

Apron glue up
I began surfacing the slabs of the bench top by using a scrub plane to remove the bulk of the twist cup and warp. I made a small flattening jig to flatten each board. In the mean time I used some (what I think is) meranti timbers recovered from the house renovations jointed, glued and re-jointed for the apron and end vice jaw. I used the thicknesser to face the timbers for the apron which produced some nice clean glue surfaces. The timbers had some bow but gluing and clamping gave me a nice solid piece that I could then resurface for the apron. I used a scraper to remove the glue and then a random orbit sander to remove any residue left.

Apron jointed

I bought a jointer at this stage so I used that to true up the top face and edges of both the apron and bench timbers for a glue up. In the picture of the re-surfaced apron you can see the vice jaw glueup in the background. After the glue up I used a jig with a router fitted with a surfacing bit and a pair of jointed boards to surface the top of the bench so that it was dead flat. I will not go into the full technique since that is a topic all on its own and has been covered elsewhere by others including Mark Spagnolo, The Wood Whisperer. I then mounted the end vice to the under side of the bench and secured the sliding jaw to the vice.

End vice mounted under bench

Vice jaw

I glued the apron to the front face of the bench. I planed the apron flush with the bench top. I then drilled a series of dog holes along the top and side of the apron. Once the bench was complete I used a home made wax blend using 50/50 bees wax and boiled linseed oil with enough gum turpentine to produce a nice wipe on paste. This produced a nice finish on the bench.

Glueing the apron to the bench top

Plane the apron

Completed and finished bench

 At this stage my bench was flat and I had the end vice and apron fitted and it was sitting on the steel frame. The weight of the bench is sufficient to hold it in place. Being jarrah it is very heavy. The bench was serviceable but missing a front vice. To get around this hurdle I made a mini bench from jarrah to which I fitted my Dawn 8" wood vice to provide some clamping but this was not particularly convenient. 
Large quick release front vice
I bought a large quick release front vice online for $95 plus shipping. This is available from a number of suppliers in the quick release and standard versions. I preferred the quick release which was not available from my local supplier so I bought it online. There is no leaver for the quick release. It uses a split nut which closes when you screw the vice clockwise and releases when you twist the handle a quarter turn anticlockwise.

Front vice jaw
I began by marking out the position on the top of the bench where I was going to mount the vice. The position of the leg underneath determined how far from the end I was able to mount it.  This then set the jaw width. I wanted the jaw as high as the apron but I did not want to join the jaw and wanted to make it from a single piece.  However the piece of wood I was going to use was not quite wide enough but it was certainly wide enough for a substantial vice jaw. I cut a section from the rough board and jointed a face and one edge. I then faced the other side on the thicknesser and the final edge on the table saw. I cleaned up the saw marks with a hand plane. I finally cut each end on the sliding compound saw to final length. I wanted the jaw tapered either end so I marked out a taper on the ends of the jaw and cut to the line on the band saw. I then used a hand plane to clean up the bandsaw marks and to true the taper which was slightly off doe to the blade not being perfect. I need to get a new blade on the band saw since it does not cut perfectly straight.

Vice face
I found a nice piece of tight grained wood but quite soft to use as a vice face. I cut a piece slightly oversize jointed the faces and glued it to the vice jaw. I then planed it flush. This provides a nice clamping surface so as to not damage softer woods. Jarrah is very hard and can damage softer woods.

I wanted the vice screw to sit about half way up the jaw so I bade a spacer to fit underneath the bench to lower the vice mounting to achieve this. I flipped the bench and marked the position of the vice mount on the underside. I then checked that the bottom surface of the bench was square to the apron at this point since if it was out of square then the jaw would not sit flush against the apron which served as the inner jaw of the vice. The bench to apron was exactly 90 deg so I just took a few swipes of the hand plane to clean up the mating area. I marked the mounting hole position on the spacer I prepared and then marked four Xes on the spacer away from the vice mounting holes to drill for screws to mount the spacer to the bench. I drilled and countersunk pilot holes in the spacer and the bench. I glued the spacer in place and secured it with four 14G x 55 mm countersunk wood screws. The vice body has three 8 mm countersunk holes and 4 x 8mm plain holes. I drilled pilot holes for the three countersunk screws very slightly displaced towards the front. This meant that as the screws were tightened they would place a slight pressure into the back of the apron helping to keep it tight. I then secured the frame and used the holes in the vice to drill the holes through from the back of the apron for the screw and the two rails.

Underside of mounted vice
 I stopped as soon as the drill poked through then came in from the front to produce a nice clean hole. I then clamped the jaw to the front of the apron making sure that the top and end was flush with the apron then drilled through form the apron to the jaw. I then took the jaw to the table saw to dill nice square holes through the jaw. Again I came in from both sides to produce a nice clean hole.

I drilled and screwed the four 8mm coach screws, together with teh 8G x 75mm wood screws to secure the vice frame to the bench underside. I assembled the vice then tightened the vice with the jaw in position before drilling and screwing the jaw with three 12G x 75mm wood screws.

Vice handle blank
The vice does not come with a handle. It is designed to take either 3/4" standard galv water pipe which would be perfectly serviceable.  However it would be much nicer to use some dowling. 1" or 25mm would fit perfectly but I thought it would be nice to turn up a handle from some really hard wood I had. I cut a blank from some very nice clear piece of straight grained wood I had. The grain must be very straight and clear from any defects that may weaken the wood. I used a caliper to set the diameter and turned it on the lather. After sanding to 320 I used the same home made wax I used for the top to burnish the wood.

Finishing the handle

I need to make a trip to the hardware store to gt some 1" end caps for it.

I finally used the same beeswax, boiled linseed oil mixture to finish the vice jaw.

The vice operates smoothly and slides well back and forth. The jaw is nicely parallel to the apron and applies a lot of clamping pressure. I will finally drill three dog holes along the top of the vice then a series of dog holes in line with those three with spacing just slightly less than the vice opening.

Finished front vice
I am really pleased with the bench overall. It provides many clamping options which I will extend with some more judiciously placed dog holes in line with those I will drill for the front vice to provide even more versatility. It is flat solid and serviceable and will allow me to hone my woodworking skills as I produce some fine furniture. As a woodworker who loves the visceral feel of working with hand tools but enjoys the shortcuts of power tools I think that this bench is ideal. I can hold work for use with both hand tools and power tools.

Completed bench
Finally I would like to produce a set of sturdy wood legs for this bench rather than the steel frame on which is sits. The frame is certainly solid, no question, but I think a nice set of wood legs would be more elegant.

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