Someone posted on Youtube to ask me to talk about the Stanley knife I am using in my videos on making the European workbench used by joiners, carpenters and furniture makers through the centuries. I guarantee one thing, at least I think, they would have loved to own the Stanley knife I have been using for years. It has become the only knife I use for 99.99% of my work and every students that discovers it demands to know where they can get it. I walk in my local Richard Williams in Deganwy and buy them there, but I have bought them in bulk. It’s not the US Stanley 10-049 folding pocket knife, not quite, but they look almost exactly the same. The UK is slightly more lightweight and more refined and the blades are a different shape, that said, they are both excellent knives for fine woodworking and the 10-049 blade could easily be reshaped if preferred. The Stanley 0-10-958 is exactly the tool I want for all my daily work no matter the wood. Though the blades are typically replaceable, I sharpen mine in the tool as I would any fixed blade knife. A blade usually lasts me a couple of years and I sharpen up most days and often several times per day. For fine or rough work this knife cuts it, no matter how you slice it, and it will be the best £9.50 you ever spent on a knife. Many people are searching for a good, quality dovetail knife to reach into the inside corners of the different types of dovetails. If you buy one of these knives for cutting shoulder lines for any joint type you will discover a close and true friend second to none.
Both knives have a comfortable and attractive epoxy coated die-cast metal body folding pocket knife. They close with a simple spring mechanism that enables the blade to be locked securely in the extended position or stored safely within the body. The knife comes with 2 x 5901 (Stanley 0-10-958). Spare blades are contained in the handle as per other Stanley utility knives.
As I said, I resharpen my blade over and over a thousand times or more in its lifetime, but replacement blades are only £3.50 for three. On the other hand, I discovered that Stanley makes a disposable knife that actually has the same 5901 (for the Stanley 0-10-958) blade in the plastic holder and these fit their Stanley 0-10-958. You can buy these in packs of three for under £1.50.
As you can see, I advocate diamond plates for sharpening and I have 3×8 plates, but smaller ones will do the same for knives. This is simply a matter of eyeballing the same angles on a fine plate and rubbing back and forth until the new cutting edge emerges. Any burr quickly falls of as soon as you use it.
I have all three vises fitted to my bench, two at opposite corners and to my right that is to perform tail-vise operations combining the poor man’s dog in the vise with dowel dogs in the benchtop. I will say up front that bench dogs and dogging systems are for me none essentials. Some may counter this and that’s fine, but I can and have worked without using any bench dogs for decades and when I have had them I forgot they were there. That said, the reason I added them here is to make the bench as comprehensively universal as possible. Many will love having bench surface-holding capabilities and this method does work well.
Many vises do not have the adjustable dog in the centre of the vise. The particular Record vises I bought do not have dogs, but I knew that when I bought them. In five minutes I will have a wooden bench dog fitted to my vise. It can be made from hardwood or from metal. On one of my benches I used 1/4” thick brass. Metal is unbreakable as a bench dog but wood will definitely get you going and should last for years.
I must cut a dado across the wooden lining on the outside jaw of my vise, between the wooden jaw and the inside face of the moving jaw. Mine is 5/16” by 1 ½” wide. There is no danger of the wooden jaw breaking, whether plywood or solid wood.
I cut the walls with a small saw. As long as they are square and parallel they will work. Cut down only to the depth line, no deeper. I used a router to finalize the depth, poor man’s or bought or you can finalize depth without a router and just a 1” chisel.
I used a 1″ chisel to remove the waste between the lines. In plywood this goes quickly without bevelling the sides as you would with solid wood because the layers separate easily and evenly. When almost to depth, use the router or if not follow the ply layer.
Relocate the lining. I am using threaded screws into the tapped jaw holes. This will hold permanently, better than regular screws. Remember also that a threaded bolt can be used to tap wood and you can always do that instead of screws.
To make the vise dog I used a piece of oak 3/4″ x 1 1/2″ x 4″ long. I cut down the length, just under 5/16″, and then across the grain to form a lip so that the dog hook onto the vise when dropped into the mortise hole.
Now you can run parallel lines of holes equidistant from the vise (square across) and equally spaced on either side of a central line from the central vise dog in the vise. I also run dog holes inline centred with the vise dog. This allows pieces narrower than the distance between the main dogs to be dogged in. The reason we generally used two dogs rather than a single run where possible is that wider boards are held square to the length of the bench, which gives greater stability.
It can be difficult to bore holes square. I made a simple guide that clamps to the benchtop and bore holes guided by the two adjacent faces. I bore all the way through the top so that the holes remain free and clear. On the underside I screw small blocks to swivel. These remain covering the holes from beneath and stop the dogs from dropping through. If you have a lathe you can turn dogs like the ones shown. (Drawings shortly)
With the holes bored, I made oak dowels as dogs. Drop the dowel into the hole and mark the line at the bench top. Cut into the dog about quarter of the way and then saw or chop down. This flat face faces the vise dog and allows the workpiece to be anchored properly.
You can do this to the other vises and use the main bench top. When I make an additional feature for the well I will show you that too.
This is how it works now and this concludes phase one of making a good workbench..
The final stage of the bench make is to install the helping hands that grip the work of a lifetime. It’s so good to get to this stage and though I do not need any more benches (wherever I am I have a dozen or more to choose from), I want to know that you and hundreds if not thousands of others will own a fine workbench.
The vise is best fitted with an auger bit and brace (the first cordless drill) or of course you could use a drill-driver and paddle bit too. I begin by measuring the width of the vise jaw and adding 1/8”. Vises sometimes need repair or adjusting, and I like some room to maneuver heavy vises in and out. One sixteenth either side is enough.
Because I have wedges alongside the leg, I begin 1 ½” from the inside of the leg and then measure the width of 9 1/8”. Square the lines downwards and then take the measurement of the depth of the jaw from the inside of the ‘L’ formation of the casting and add another 1/8”, which will set the jaw 1/8” below the surface of the workbench when installed.
Measure component parts and transfer to the bench. Again, I find it best to give plenty of room around the vise. Sometimes something works loose and needs tightening or oiling or cleaning and there is little value to tight tolerances here.
With the shape mapped out onto the bench bore some holes inside of the outline, close together and even overlapping will work best. Now use the 1” chisel to separate the waste from the wanted working with the grain to prevent damage or too much rough tearout.
Offer the vise into the hole and lift it to the upper area to make sure it seats properly and doesn’t stick above the bench. In my case I must pack down by 7/8”. A piece of ¾” plywood and some masonite hardboard is perfect.
Screw in the lag bolts and washers and cinch them tight if the vise jaw is seating against the bench properly.
Drop the bench back down so that you can install the wooden vise jaws and also add two more lag bolts through the face of the jaw. This makes the jaw rock solid and immovable. Place the outer jaw lining in the vise and cinch it in the vise so that the liner stands slightly above the benchtop. This will be planed flush shortly. Screw the liner in place. I have used buffalo plywood for my jaws. It works really well and holds up to all kinds of pressures without buckling. Any hardwood will work too.
To install the second liner, open the front jaw all the way so that you can drill through the face of the jaw and into the bench top. Normally the wooden vise jaws are screwed through these holes, but I have a different method shown shortly. Drill the 3/16” pilot holes for the lag bolts and install them through the jaw.
Place the second jaw in place and just above the benchtop and cinch tight between the jaws so as to impress the bolt heads into the liner. Drill recesses centred on the dimples I have made my liners 2” wider than the jaws so that they overhang 1” either side.
I screw 1” wide packings on either side of the jaws that lie flush with the metal jaw. Now I install the second liner after drilling and countersinking the liner to receive the screws each side of the metal vise jaw. I plane the jaw liner flush with the benchtop and break the arrises with the plane.
Tomorrow I show the poor man’s dogging system for none dogged vises.
I realise that these posts are long, but we are invading the worlds of make believe benches, stepping off of the conveyor belt to fantasyland and getting into real woodworking again. To do that we have to have a real working bench that no one can really criticise as being useless, amateurish, fanciful, indulgent or stupid. Time was when a workbench was something you worked on; you cut with a saw on it, chopped on it, chiselled into it even. Sometimes you miscut and gouged it, maybe even once or twice a day. Rusty saws got derusted on it and old planes were restored and sharpened on it. I know we all have different paradigms, but my bench is a working, worked on, worked with, worked in, worked from bench. More polished and highly refined workbenches don’t really work to well for me. My chisels commonly slip and saws catch the bench corners as I work, with or without care, with or without bench hooks. I’d rather be concerned about my furniture and perfecting it than my workbench. Let’s get going.
Fitting the well board
For me and hundreds of thousands of joiners and cabinetmakers before me, the well is critical. I spoke earlier of its intrinsic value to the wellbeing of my tools and my work.
Before we can actually fit the well between the two benchtops we must fix the benchtops to the bearers. At the moment they are only anchored at the lower portion of the aprons. They could be open at the top of the housing dadoes where you cannot see too well. Two long clamps, cinching the two opposites together will give good seating between the apron and the leg frame.
First check that the ends of the benchtops line up by checking with a straightedge. With the benchtops and aprons clamped against one another, drill a hole large enough the take the whole shank of the 5/16″ (8mm) bolt through the bearer. 5/16″ is large enough.
Angle it if need be, so that you have good access and the drill chuck is not impaired. Drilling through the bearer first prevents parallel threading that typically keeps the two components apart and therefore prevents proper seating. This gap results in inefficient transfer of force to the legs during benchtop chopping. It’s good to get it right.
I clamped my benchtop down before cinching up the lag bolt. 2 ½” x 5/16” lag bolts are a good size to go through the bearer and into the benchtop. Drill a 5/16” hole through the bearer and then a 3/16” pilot hole into the benchtop. This will ease the bolt and prevents undue stress in the wood.
With all of the lag bolts and washers in place, remove the clamps. We are now ready to fit the well board to the first benchtop. I checked my benchtop for straightness when I surface planed it previously. Offering the well board to one side will show where if necessary you need to plane. Plane the edge until it fits tightly to the benchtop and than mark the opposite side from underneath.
To do this, tighten two clamps on the apron, one at each end and place the wellboard on edge so that it sits above the benchtop. Clamp one end of the wellboard to the apron and plane as needed.
Now you must plane off the excess width until it fits in between the two bench tops. I find it best to create a slight taper fit so that the underside has a measure of lead-in. Technically, the well need not be tight. It will more than likely shrink anyway. But I prefer to start out tight. The internal well corners will be covered by corner mould.
With the wellboard fitted I cut the board to length but first checked that the bench was square and that the benchtop lined up from side to side using a straightedge across the two ends. In my case the bench was dead square and leveled and both ends lined up perfectly. If it is not square, remember that clamps out of parallel can clamp a unit like this out of square so you can actually use them in counter position to pull them into square too. You must first make certain that the bench frames are still level and out of twist with one another. It’s simply a question of packing up beneath one leg as necessary.
I dropped my wellboard in place, letting it overhang at each end, and used a straightedge to create the knifewall I need to cut the board to length. Do this to both ends simultaneously. Now tap the wellboard beyond the end so you can access the cut. There is no need to knifewall the under side as we will be bevelling this later. Do the same to the other end and you are ready to plane the ends. Work from either side so that there is no broken fibre on the outcut. This is also a good time to remove the arris by planing. Two strokes should be enough.
Cutting the housing dado over the bearer.
Use a knife to cut either side of the bearer underneath and remove the wellboard. Mark the depth of the housing with a marking gauge or you can use the router to do this also. You want to leave 1” of material on the topside. In my case it is 5/8” deep. This depends on the thickness of your wellboard.
Chisel out the recess as you did previously for the apron housings. This time you can work the housing dado from both sides, so mark both sides for depth.
Yesterday we locked the aprons to the bench with clamps and bolts and screws and lifted the main laminated benchtops in place to dry fit before gluing them to the aprons. This process takes some thinking through to ensure all of the components are together; clamps, hammers, wedges, screws, bolts, lag screws and so on. Think it through. It’s you and your bench in your garage or back yard. Rehearsal is always critically important before final glue-up.
If your measurements are correct, all of the wedges will be the same, but there may be a variance between each joint. I think it best to cut one wedge to a specific recess and then try the one wedge in the other joints. If they are close, you can cut the other three, slightly oversized, ready to plane to fit as needed. I screw the specially shaped lock bar to the inside of the apron, not tightly but enough to turn with my fingers.
With the frames fitted to each housing I stand the bench frame and suspend the other end of the apron at a similar height. Pull the apron and frame together and clamp them together at the lower edge of the apron.
Dry-fit the laminated benchtop to make certain that the edge of the laminated top meets the apron with no gaps above or below. Use clamps to draw them together but not to clamp out any out of squareness. If there is an unclosing joint line it must be planed to fit. If all seems well, you can bolt the apron through the legs at the lower area using a 3/8” x 5 ½” carriage bolt, below the top crossrail of the leg frame assembly. If you plan on having a tail vise in the second leg frame assembly, you cannot bolt through the leg as the rails will be too low. In this case you will use 2 ½” x 5/16” lag screws together with a washer. If you plan on a permanent assembly you can glue also. You can also glue and screw with three 2 ½” #12 screws.
Time to rest and leave overnight for the glue to dry completely.
Here is the next installation of the videos, part 2. The videos are not very well synchronised with the rest of this tutorial as the videos take some time to edit.
I hope that this video will show some techniques that you cannot capture with still photography. Hopefully when I am done with this current project we will be able to put it all together in a more organised way.
Garden benches anyone can build. Yet it will take a few days, a few hand tools and few sticks of wood, but you will have your bench and you will never need another unless you want one.
Well, when you think about it, a week ago this didn’t look much like anything more than a bunch of two by’s in B&Q (Home Depot US equivalent) and today I did glue on the main laminated bench tops to the apron boards. This evening I quit with my last clamp up at 9.51pm. Bit too late to post after such a full day. Lots to tell you all beyond the joy of pulling this together two days ahead of schedule. We filmed the whole of it, wrote the whole of, drew the whole of it, photographed the whole of it and now the whole of it is is yours to build at home in your own back yard. In a few short days it will all be a completed how-to for hundreds of thousands of people like you to build their own bench and we will have done what we set out to do.
Next instalment will have to be tomorrow folks. Oh, and BTW, thank you for all of your emails public and private and those following here and on Facebook. The Q’s are really good and I will get my answers to you very shortly.
Cutting the housings
I have seen many (and even had to work on) low-grade benches without aprons. Admittedly they were assembly products shabbily made by workers who knew nothing about much beyond earning a living, and so I didn’t expect much at all. Aprons are critical to a good bench in many ways not the least is the absolute unwavering rigidity essential to a hand tool workbench.
Imagine the benchtop sections glued permanently to the aprons and you begin to see them more like a rigid length of angle-iron anchored at the extreme edges. A perfect harmony of parts. On this bench you can chop mortises and pound just about anywhere along its length with zero flex and bounce back—dead rigid. For someone like me who doesn’t like having to move to over-the-leg positions to reduce inefficiency it’s an absolute. This bench does it all.
On my benches I don’t rely only on the housing dado. I want something that locks and continues to lock the legs into the apron housings and never turns lose. I also want my bench to be disassembled for moving from time to time. A wedged housing dado resolves the issues. The idea came to me when I needed to build 15 benches that could be dismantled and shipped to another venue on tour or simply moved from an upstairs workshop to a downstairs workshop. The doorways were narrow and so too the stairs and the lift (elevator US) was a mere 6’8″ by 3′ by 4′.By adding a simple wedge to the inside of the legs, at each of the joints, I could guarantee the lateral stability absolutely essential to a hand tool woodworking bench. The more it racks the more rock solid the wedges seat in each of the joints and there lies the increased success of what was already a truly solid and functional bench.
Knock-down benches often have faults but these benches have been tested by hundreds of students over the years so include this feature and enjoy a good bench. When I have made benches in the past, I found that even with glue and screws or bolts, shoving them across uneven floors carelessly or regularly can rack the joints, break the glue line and weaken the rigidity of the bench. Including the joint around the leg area is quick and simple with a handful of basic tools and eliminates this problem. Imagine, a mallet, a 1” chisel and a very simple poor man’s router.
The drawings show the position of the recesses, one to each end of both aprons as exact opposites. You will measure the recess by following the measurements. You will make the wedge to suit later. It’s best to layout the joint with the square and pencil, so that you can fully visualise where you will be cutting. Begin by squaring the line 9″ from the end of the apron as shown This housing dado goes from the bottom edge of the apron board up and in my case stops 2 13/16″ from the top edge.
Stand the leg frame onto the apron and against the first line to establish the exact line for the leg itself, in my case just under 4″. Now I measure and add 1″ to the bottom and 1 1/2″ at the top and join the lines. This is my wedge allowance.
See drawing above an image here:
Square the lines onto the bottom edge and then run a gauge line set to 5/8” between the lines. To keep parallel to the bench top you can either use a marking gauge or set your square to 1/16” more than the thickness of your benchtop. That way the apron will stick past the main benchtop by 1/16” and you can plane it level after the apron is glued to the benchtop.
Deepen the wall with vertical chops along the length and alternate between vertical and horizontal cuts, down to the 5/8” depth line established by the gauge.
You must now remove the waste from between the walls, which is simple and straightforward. Start near the surface, about ¼” down and chop away the waste. Take care not to cut downwards and forfeit the exact depth you need across the surface.
If you cut down to about 1/16” above the gauge line, you can then use the router or the poor man’s router to establish the final depth.
Three more to go and you are done. Then we can start assembly!! Whoohoo!!
Preparing the aprons
Your aprons are glued up into 12″ wide panels and now they must be planed and sized to correspond with the benchtops.
By now your benchtop sections should be cut and planed dead square and to finished length. Whatever length you make your bench is up to you but the two should be identical in length. There could however be some variance in width, but I would not plane or cut one down to match the other using a hand saw or plane whether the difference is marginal or a lot. It’s unnecessary, and ripping through 3” stock by hand is hard work. It is unlikely that there will be much difference. It is however best if the benchtops are parallel and I would spend time narrowing any margins to zero.
Surface plane the aprons to remove any discrepancies and prepare them for sanding later. Mark the face with the face mark. Once the inside and outside faces are levelled and clean the edges must be squared and planed straight if necessary.You must first establish a straight edge along one long edge by sighting and planing as necessary and then plane the opposite edge dead parallel to the first on both of the aprons. This guarantees that the square registers to create true knife walls for crosscutting the ends to length and also to establish a cut wall to the walls of the housing dado.
This in turn guarantees that the legs stand square to the bench top and thereby square to the floor on which the bench will stand.
Follow the same steps as you did for your benchtop to cut the first end square, plane it and check your planing with the square in both directions. Now offer it to the benchtop, flush the approved end on which it will finally be glued and, using the knife, mark the dead length.
By taking the dead length with the knife from the benchtop using the square and knife, the two will correspond perfectly during final assembly. Square the line to create the knife wall all around and crosscut to length.