Waiting for Glue to Dry -- Workbench Project

Thursday, May 23, 2019 9:24 AM

I’m waiting for glue to dry on my workbench build so I thought I’d update what’s going on with the workbench and tell the story of how I got to this point. The workbench is finally coming together after countless hours of planning, looking at countless photos, reading countless articles, reading some books and watching countless YouTube videos. This build has taken far too long. 

This workbench is taking an eternity. It seems that I’ve been working on it forever. I have to realize, however, that since this project started with my original research I’ve had several issues with my heart, including a heart attack, heart bypass surgery and the instillation of a defribulator on top of everything else I do in my life and workshop other than this project. It was also interrupted by several woodworking projects.

The project started with a dream that one day I would have something better that my Black & Decker Workmate to build furniture on. While it has served me well on just about every woodworking and home improvement project I’ve done since I bought it in 1976 it’s time to have something better. 

I started the process with collecting a large amount of photos of workbenches on my computer. In addition to those photos I also collected photos of a wide variety of vises for workbenches. Somewhere along the line I purchased a DVD of Robert Lang’s 21st-Century Workbench and a copy of Workbenches - From Design & Theory to Construction & Use with a DVD by Christopher Schwarz plus The Workbench - A Complete Guide to Creating Your Perfect Bench by Lon Schleining and The Workbench Book by Scott Landis. I also poured over a myrid of magazine articles on workbenches both online and in magazines I’ve kept. After my wife and I were able to get a better Internet connection that didn’t have rediculas limits or excessive charges for going over our limit on data use I was finally able to explore the YouTube video library as well as the library of articles and videos on the Fine Woodworking website and others.

After doing all that my mind was leterally spinning. I had no idea where I wanted to start much less what workbench design I wanted to build nor which vises I wanted. The possibilities were enormous and mind boggling. After settling down a little I checked the possible costs for the lumber. I decided to use ash because I’d used it before and thought it would be as good as maple but less expensive. After making a basic design I visited my local hardwood dealers and priced the lumber I thought I’d need. If I recall correctly the possible cost for ash for the workbench came in around $700 for the base and top. After running that number past my wife I knew I was in trouble. That was only for the basic lumber minus vises and anything else that I needed like tools to make the bench. There was no way that we could come up with that amount for a workbench.

That’s when finding an alternative to ash was started. Here in Southern California most woods are expensive, especially hardwoods. They all have to be shipped in from other places. There is one wood, however, that is readily available at a reasonable price. That’s Douglas fir. While many of you in other parts of the country have readily available sources for a wide variety of woods Douglas fir is common here for construction. I was able to get some 12’ X 4" X 4" Douglas fir beams for very little. Unfortunately the only ones that were available were wet. Yes, you read that right. I bought several wet Douglas fir 4X4 beams for the base of my workbench. 

Drying the wood took quite a while. During that time I was cleaning out my shop and garage, reorganizing my workshop and I made an outfeed table for my table saw. I also was having heart issues that slowed me down though I didn’t realize what was happening at the time. The beams, at my wife’s chagrin, were out in our garden shed stickered on saw horses. I never checked on the beams until I finally got to the point when I was ready to start milling them. I have to say I was amazed at how straight they were and how dry they got. My care in selectiing the right ones from the bins at Lowe’s paid off. The garden shed had been a perfect kiln.

In the mean time I had discovered a butcher block slab of Rubberwood that was 6’ X 27” X 1 1/2” thick at one of the hardwood dealers for a little over $100. It looked perfect for a workbench top. I quickly researched rubber wood on my phone and decided that it was hard enough. I figured if I wanted a thicker top that I could put something else under it.

"Rubberwood is a light-colored medium-density tropical hardwood obtained from the Pará rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis), usually from trees grown in rubber plantations. Rubberwood is commonly advertised as an "environmentally friendly" wood, as it makes use of plantation trees that have already served a useful function. Although it had been used on a small scale before, its use for furniture making has become much more common in recent decades with the development of chemical treatments to protect the wood against fungal and insect attacks. There are extensive rubber plantations with mature trees, especially in Southeast Asia. The earlier practice was to burn the tree at the end of its latex- producing cycle. Rubberwood has a dense grain that is easily controlled in the kiln drying process. Rubberwood has very little shrinkage making it one of the more stable construction materials available for furniture, toys and kitchen accessories.

While my plan to make a Roubo or perhaps the 21st-Century workbench were now out I knew that I could come up with something that would work with my wood choices. Since I had wanted to incorporate storage into the base of my workbench I seriously considered a Shaker workbench design. Matt Kenny and Mike Pekovitch at Fine Woodworking had a series of videos showing them making a Shaker workbench that accompanied an article that had the plans. I started looking seriously at it and liked the fact that they had included a twin screw vise on their workbench instead of a leg vise that was on the original Shaker bench.

I decided on a 24” twin screw vise no matter what style of bench I made. I was used to the vise on my Black & Decker Workmate which was esentially a 24” twin screw vise. I was able to get a “new in the sealed box" 16 7/8” Veritas Twin Screw Vise off Facebook Marketplace for a great price and bought the 24” conversion kit from Lee Valley. By doing that I saved over $100. 

It was the tail vise that I found to be the biggest challenge. Other than a leg vise and shoulder vise all types of face vises can be used as tail vises plus some additional types. There is the traditional tail vise with it’s sagging and diffult construction and a wagon vise that seemed to be the most popular type of end vise. I had made a wide variety of designs for a wagon vise and thought that’s what I wanted. After exchanging some messages with Brian at BearKat Wood about both the wagon vise and the traditional tail vises that he made for his two workbenches I wasn’t sure. He made a strong case for using a tail vise instead of the wagon vise. After making both he wished that he had included the tail vise on both benches. The more I researched end vises the more I liked the functionality of a tail vise but didn’t like the drawbacks. 

Then suddenly one day literally I stumbled on the Veritas Quick Release Sliding Tail Vise from Lee Valley while searching for something on the Internet. That was a game-changer for me. It seemed to solve all the problems of a traditional tail vise and added the quick release function. Unfortunately I couldn’t find much about this vise. Even the Lee Valley website and video didn’t say much about it. Several workbench videos showed the vise installed but nothing more. Most often the vise wasn’t even mentioned in the video. Extensive searches on the Internet didn’t provide much more with the exception of a blog entry by Chritopher Schwarz. It included a short video with Megan Fitzpatrick, in sandles, showing how the vise operated. This is part of what Chris said about the vise in his blog:

"Like a machinist’s quick-release vise, it is easy to install , even to retrofit. We added this vise to the LVL Workbench in about a couple hours of work. We cut out the recess for the vise using a jigsaw and trued it up with a chisel plane. Then we bolted the hardware to the underside of the top and made the walnut chop.

Like a tail vise, it offers 100-percent support to wide panels when you are working on them and gets your row of dog holes right up in the front of the benchtop where you want them.

Like a machinist’s quick-release vise, you turn a lever and the the jaw slides open and closed with a satisfying swoosh.

Like a tail vise, you can lock the threads so that the jaw opens and closes with a screw-feed action. That means you can use this vise for assembly, disassembly and holding your work

Like a quick-release vise, it has guide bars to keep it from racking and it doesn’t sag.

But like a tail vise, there are no bars that get in the way of the vise’s functions.

I think this vise is going to be a real game-changer when it comes to deciding which end vise to install on your bench."

So where am I in this build? I have abandoned the Shaker design after I bought the Veritas tail vise. It wouldn’t work on that style of bench. Right now I have four shallow mortises to cut and a few more holes to drill before I can assemble the base for the workbench. That part is nearing completion. Adding the top and upper front and back rails should not take too long with the exception of drilling the holes for the front vise and bench dog holes. I’m still not sure if I’ll drill the dog holes before or after I install the upper front rail. They are actually drilled in the top of that rail. Since my drillpress is now functioning correctly I’m leaning toward using it if that’s possible. I’ll know more after the drill bit I’ll be using arrives in the mail tomorrow.

The biggest unknown ahead of me is installing the vises. While there are many YouTube videos showing instillation of the Veritas Twin Screw Vise none of them seems to show everything involved. I’ll need to review some of them and piece the information together before I install that vise. While the Lee Valley instructions are good I’m somewhat dissapointed in them and the lack of instillation videos on their website. As for the tail vise there is very little about it online as I mentioned above. I can’t find any information other than the written Veritas directions on installing it. I’m trusting Christopher’s quote on the ease of instillation, “We added this vise to the LVL Workbench in about a couple hours of work.” If that’s the case I should hopefully have it installed in a day, maybe two. We’ll see what happens.

So I’m getting closer. I know this build has been very frustrating for my YouTube subscribers and viewers but I’m not making the bench for them or even for a YouTube video. Yes, there will be several videos on this build coming because I have literally hours of clips that I’ve taken but in the end this build was for me as a replacement for my Workmate. While it has served me well for all my woodworking projects and coultless home improvement projects since I bought it in 1976 the Workmate needs to be retired. The end is almost in sight. Oh, and you ask what kind of bench are you making? The closest I can get is a Holtzapffel but even then there will be some surprises that I’m not reveiling right now that will add to that. You’ll just have to wait.