How many workbenches do I need? I have my large Schwarz/Roubo workbench in the basement, my Roy Underhill portable workbench that I take to offsite classes and demos (and I have a second partially built to accommodate more people), and now I need four for the Close Grain School of Woodworking. Seven is the lucky number.
I like the workbench in Paul Sellers' book and DVD series Working Wood, so when I started the school, that was the design I chose. The combination of book and DVD provide an excellent guide to building it. He also addresses the issue of how to build a bench when you don't have a bench to work on. You can read my review of this series here.
This bench has a number of nice attributes. Built from construction-grade 2x4's and 2x6's, it's inexpensive (about $65 in materials, excluding the vise), so is affordable in multiples. It's a nice size, beefy without being too heavy. I can fit two of them in my van, possibly even all four, since I shortened them by a foot. It's also very sturdy, a combination of the laminated 2-by stock and the interlocking joinery. At that, it's simple to build.
It's also a time-tested design. Paul says it's been used in Britain for centuries, and he uses it in both his UK and US schools. The structure consists of two mortise and tenon leg frames, with aprons housed on them. This mechanical interlock provides excellent rigidity. The thick laminated top is secured to the apron, with a simple tool well behind it. With the addition of a traditional cast iron quick-release vise that itself weighs 40 lbs., it provides a solid work surface for students.
The design can also be adapted easily. As I mentioned, I shortened mine to 4', making it easy to build with 8' stock. That's the size of my portable workbench top, and I've found that to be adequate. Paul builds his at 38" high, which I found a bit too tall (but of course it depends on the individual). I made mine 36" and 34". The depth can be increased by additional laminations, and the size of the aprons can be changed. I also omitted the quarter-round molding in the tool well. Other than that, I followed the design exactly. I did notice after building two that I had oriented the leg laminations rotated 90 degrees from his, but that shouldn't be a problem.
Here I've documented building bench #2. I kept a good record of the time required. Excluding waiting for glue-ups, it was 28 hours of labor spread over 2 weeks. As with my Roubo, I did everything with hand tools, except that I used a benchtop planer to plane down the 2x4 edges to eliminate the rounded corners. Building these is good for practicing Paul's joinery techniques.
For the vise, I used the Anant version of the Record 52 1/2 ED quick-release vise, sold by Highland Hardware. Watching Paul work in the DVDs convinced me to spend the extra money for quick-release. He just goes zip-zip-zip moving workpieces in and out of it very efficiently. I have non-quick-release vises on my first workbench (oh, yeah, I forgot to count that one, 2x4's, plywood, and MDF, but it no longer counts), and they're slow and annoying to work with.
After planing, I worked on the top. I staged the glue-ups for the top and legs so that whenever I had anything in the clamps, I had other parts to work on. One thing I didn't do, that I did on the first one, was to run all the 2x4 faces through the planer. This resulted in poorer laminations than the first one. That was a pretty dumb mistake. Functionally, all the laminations are sturdy, but aesthetically they're not as good.
The top glued up.
I ran the planer on bench #1.
Flattening the top, starting with a #5 diagonally across it for heavy stock removal.
Final flattening with a #7, sighting across winding sticks to check for wind.
With the top flattened on both sides, I worked on the leg assemblies. First I planed them up clean and square.
Trimming a leg to length. The way to get a clean, square cut is to cut about 1/4" deep, then roll the piece, repeating for all four sides. Each little bit of kerf already established helps guide the next. Keep repeating until all the way through. Note the auxiliary bench hook on the right to support the far end of the piece.
The four legs trimmed and marked so I wouldn't get things mixed up as I fitted each joint.
Mortising a leg, using Paul Sellers' mortising technique.
Cutting the haunch in the top mortise. The haunch provides the twist-resistance of a full-width joint, even though the tenon will be only partial-width, due to the location at the top end of the leg. The actual tenon needs to be cut to fit this haunch.
Cutting the shoulder in the tenon on a rail.
Cutting the cheek of the tenon.
The tenons on the lower rails protrude 1/2" in the Art and Crafts fashion. Paul shows several possible end treatments. I chose to round them with a plane, then round off the corners with chisel and rasp.
Assembling the leg frame. The spacer blocks accommodate the protruding lower tenons.
The frame glued up.
Trimming the upper tenon end flush with a block plane.
The leg frames are attached to the top and well-board with bearer boards. I haven't used this method before. The bearers are predrilled with two sets of holes, then screwed to the top rail of the leg frames through the first set of holes. They'll be screwed to the top from the underside through the second set of holes.
For the screws that will secure the top, predrilling the holes at an angle.
Countersinking the holes on both sides.
Drilling the pilot holes in the top rail of the frame.
Glue-and-screw the bearer to the top rail.
With the leg assemblies complete, the next step is to cut the housings in the aprons, which I had already hand-jointed and edge-glued from 2x6's.
(Continue to part 2)