How to Build a Workbench – Gluing Up Aprons and Legs (part2)

The workbench

This next section is simple and straightforward. Firstly it’s good practice to glue up any laminated parts needed so that when we start the actual construction there is no downtime waiting for glue curing and set up. You may prefer to use solid stock rather than laminated legs and aprons, but I am trying to help those who do not have that luxury. Also, I like laminations. In some cases they are preferable to solid stock.

Today I prepped my leg material and glued them up and also planed the edges of 2x4s for the apron pieces. But first I planed the underside of my benchtops dead flat and checked them for being twist free. That’s important as twist in the tops can cause the bench itself to be twisted if it’s not corrected. Having taken down all irregularities with the smoothing plane first, I checked for twist using two 2 ½” battens. I used a crayon to darken one edge. This contrast makes the distant batten easier to sight in. We call these two sticks winding sticks. They guarantee twist free projects of every kind. It’s not necessary to plane the top side of the bench tops. We do this when the bench is finally together.

On the legs

It’s practical to cut the leg pieces to length first. This minimizes common defects such as bow and twist and therefore wastage on truing up stock. As my bench will be 38” tall when completed, I deduct the thickness of the benchtop plus 1 ¼” for the bearer that anchors the benchtops and well to the leg frames, so the overall length will be 34”. I cut my stock one inch longer. After the pieces are glued, I can cut the legs to length by removing ½” from each each end when the glue has dried.

 

 

 

 

I simply hand planed the two glue faces so that they were smooth and free from planer marks and any other snags that might prevent perfect adhesion over the whole of the surfaces. I am not aiming for perfectly straight stock so much as to ensure that they will glue well when together. As a general rule, if I can squeeze two sections of stock together using only hand and arm pressure then I know that glue will hold it. In this case I chose my stock carefully to minimize any possibility of twist, cup and bow and though I couldn’t guarantee perfection, I did find some nice flat and straight stock.

It is not necessary to square any edges at this point. We will plane the stock square later and that means planning the first face and then the adjoining faces as needed. Above, I am planing the one wide face of the wood with my #4 ½. A #4 will work equally well. Now I have glued all of my legs using the same clamps, but you can also clamp them individually if you feel more comfortable doing that. I am simply economising on clamp usage. I glued up the intermediate faces and left the others unglued. That way, when I separate the legs, I will have four laminated legs measuring about 3 ¾” by 3 7/8”. Close enough not to be of concern.

Note:

The size of the legs is not too critical and it may well be more a visual aesthetic as much as anything. I think legs need to look as though they uncompromisingly support the mass of the bench so 3” and up looks best. Fact is that a smaller section will indeed support the bench but might look too weak. On the other hand a lighter, shorter bench can look silly with massive legs. Just my thoughts really. Change sizes to suit your personal preference.

For those in the US, US 2x4s work fine even though they have rounded corners and not square. They will plane down square and without V’s in a few minutes of hand planing with a good sharp #4 or 4 1/2 . You should be able to buy SYP knot free as SYP pine studs that will work. That will give you a 3×3 ½ leg which is ample.

Gluing follows the same pattern as we used for the main laminated bench top sections. I zigzag the glue and rub-joint them together to expel air and distribute the glue evenly inside. In this case I stacked them up and then placed them in clamps. I even out the distribution of clamps starting with outer clamps and working toward the centre clamp.

 

Clamping from both sides evens out the pressure and ensures I get the good even pressure I need for perfect lamination. There is no glue between the second and third and fourth and fifth and sixth and seventh pieces remember.

 

The aprons and well board

I have used three pieces for laminating the aprons and as my stock is almost 4” after planing the edges I will end up with 12” aprons and a 12” well board. The aprons can be as narrow as 9” but no less and as wide as 12” is amply sufficient, both in strength and appearance. I used my laminated benchtop piece as a temporary bench and pushed the apron sections up against the tree to plane as before. We usually call this process jointing. You can improvise as need be and if necessary get down on your knees and plane on the ground. Soon you will have a bench to stand up to and work from. I am using a #4 ½ Stanley smoothing  plane, which works well, but a #4 works as well and you need no other. At the risk of being criticised, most will recommend straightening the edges with a longer plane and that’s fine if you have one, but in my view it’s not so necessary as simply squaring and smoothing for our purpose. Get as continuous a shaving as you can with each swipe and check along the length for square as you go. The closer to square the better. You need only plane joining edges at this stage.

Zizag the glue evenly and get used to this. It’s quick and efficient and works well for everything. I have glued up each apron and well board individually, but you can also gang them up and use the same amount of clamps. Gluing narrower multi-component laminations requires even compression using clamps from both sides. When we glued the legs we need even pressure to even out the glue from both sides. In the case of the aprons and well board, we clamp to even out the glue and to prevent the boards from bulging into a camber.

Remember that it’s good practice to remove excess glue squeeze out from between each of the joints as this ensures that the glue dries more readily

12 comments

  1. Matthew Hills says:

    Any trips to the strop or stones to re-hone your planes during the day’s work?  (and when do you have time for the garden work ?!)

    Matt

    • Yes, that will show on the video shortly. I have to say that my wife, Liz, is the main flower gardner more than I, but I do rake up my shavings every time and on one occasion vacuumed them up with the mower because the grass needed cutting anyway!

  2. Brandon Avakian says:

    Paul,

    Thank you for posting the second part of the workbench build. I purchased aluminum bar clamps today from Harbor Freight (US). They were $8.99 each for 2′ long clamps. Thank you for the recommendation.

    Brandon Avakian

    • Thanks for that Brandon. Don’t forget, these clamps are vastly transformed when retrofitted with strips of wood inside; not too tight to start as as the wood goes in it gets harder to hammer the wood home. Also, the nuts on the end of the tommie bar come lose so its best to superglue them or use loctite on them.

  3. Paul
    my top is 70mm by 90 mm, that is 2 3/4 inches thick. the well board and aprons in 2X4 seems disproportionate. What is the minimum thickness for them?
    Paul, this is a great project!

    • I think that you are right. 1″ – 1 1/4″ is idea but that’s not a standard size either side of the pond. On UK 2x4s its far too thick. In the US a 2×4 is 1 1/2″ thick and that’s too thick and clunky looking. I am planning on a dado on the underside of the well board and then chamfering the underside of the well board at the ends so that visually it looks flush with the undersides of the bench top pieces. I like the idea of the dado because t will give lateral stability to the whole. I think if somepne has access to thinner stock or they can machine to thinner section then they should, but I want people to be able to progress with store-bought wood so that they are not put off.

  4. Rich Harkrader says:

    Paul, what exactly is the purpose of the apron on a workbench? It seems like the main thing it would accomplish is making it difficult to clamp workpieces to the top of the bench. What am I missing? Thanks!

    • The apron is so critical and it doesn’t hinder clamping to the bench at all. I use 2′ sash clamps that work perfectly. For three to four centuries, perhaps more even, joiners have created this stile of workbench in Britain. Furniture makers too have used this style more than what is actually being touted as a “European” workbench.
      The apron gives rock solid stability to the legs, uniting them to the long laminated benchtop. Because the apron is glued long grain to long grain to the laminated benchtop, you effectively create a triangular angle iron corner that gives all the stability you need to the overall structure of the bench. During rigorous planing and scraping operations, the bench stays doggedly put, stable and rigid. There is no flex at all. Especially is this so with heavier pieces. Above all of that, you can pound just about anywhere along the length of the bench with no flex in the benchtop. It was an incredible strategy really, and very simple.

  5. GaryG says:

    Hi Paul,

    I’m in the process of building your bench and do not understand the “no glue between 2&3, 4&5 and 6&7 for the top? I went and glued between them all will that be a problem?
    Thanks,
    Gary

    • Don says:

      GaryG,
      I believe that he was referring to the glue up of the leg laminations all in one batch. There would be glue between board 1&2 (leg one), 3&4 (leg two), etc.

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