Finished – my workbench

Custom workbench

As I posted back in October, I’ve been making my workbench for the past three months. It has been deeply rewarding and challenging – as good work should be.

To recap the construction for the tech-heads:

English boxwood vice handle
English boxwood vice handle

The underframe is made of American oak that has been fumed with ammonia to give a rich chocolate brown colour and finished with five coats of Danish oil. The joints are held together using either glued ‘through’ or ‘stopped’ mortise-and-tenon joints. The two end frames are held together by the horizontal stretchers that pull both end frames together at the bottom and are held in place with dry-fit ‘through’ tenons with Beech wedges to allow for disassembly.

The benchtop (affixed to the underframe by bolts for disassembly) is made out of four boards of European beech, three of which have been biscuited and panel-glued for the main work surface at the front. The singular back rail of beech is separated from the front work surface by a tool-well made from four boards of 8mm birch ply. These tool-wells should be easy to remove to allow clamping from both sides of the bench, as well as hardy for dropping heavy tools into and cheap to replace as they don’t form part of the ‘working surface’.

The benchtop has both a metal carpenter’s front vice (made by Record #53, with the jaw surfaces made by me out of beech) and a dove-tailed tail vice (made by me out of beech excluding the metal screw) with corresponding set of parallel dog holes at 100mm along the length of the bench (‘dogs’ are used to hold work horizontally against the tail vice). The tail vice handle is made out of turned English boxwood (an incredibly hard, slow-growing and beautiful wood that is only usually found in sizes big enough for tool handles). This was generously given to me by my cousin Steve Shipp.

I made many mistakes, but luckily none ‘fatal’ that had me completely starting afresh with the major components. I did manage to commit a school-boy error by not checking whether the handle of the tail vice fitted the holder (even with people reminding me to do so…) before I spent a day polishing it. Rather than put this back on the lathe and pull it down to fit, I took the more punishing but less time consuming route of filing out the metal holder to enlarge it.

Every joint and every surface has come under the scrutiny of that 0.2mm tolerance I so regularly harp on about – and I’m happy to say that I’ve met the challenge (mostly). Not only is this good practice for the furniture I’ll be making, but it is important for the bench in it’s own right – this bench is a precision tool. If the bench top isn’t dead flat, or the jaws of the vice don’t meet perfectly, then these biases will infiltrate my work and set me running in circles chasing errors down a rabbit hole. David says that after every ‘big job’ he planes down the surface of his workbench again to ensure flatness and to keep the top clean. It might sound like unnecessary work, but these types of measures when all combined help to maintain the discipline required to produce fine furniture.

My workbench is already showing signs of cosmetic wear and tear, and I wonder how long I will continue to fuss about it? As the memory of the time and effort invested in this bench fades, I suspect so too will the neuroticism. In any case, after a good 40 years of use I could always flip it onto Ebay and sell it as a hipster kitchen island

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5 thoughts

  1. Thanks Derek (sorry for the late reply). No problems getting them glued up. The top is 3 inch Beech stock of from inch wide boards. I used a biscuiter to get location flushness and then put a ever so slight curve both across the width and length of the joint to make sure the joint is under tension the right way to counter any tendency for the joint to open over time.

  2. Just found your post about the bench. Very nice work! Are those beech 4×6’s for the top? Any problem getting those glued up? I’ve considered that approach myself.

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