Workbench

Workbench Wednesday – #13 (2015) 8-foot Nicholson

Thanks in great part to the exhortations of Mike Siemsen and his 2014 video The Naked Woodworker I decided to build myself a full-sized Nicholson bench in 2015.

As an aside, I found Mike’s video on work holding without vises or clamps to be a spectacular example of didactic media.

As has become my wont I used some excellent Southern Yellow Pine 2×12 stock for the bench.  After completing it I absolutely came to the conclusion that this is the simplest high-performance bench there is, and recommend it often to folks wanting to make a first workbench.  The basic chassis is simple enough and very quick to build, and there are a number of options and add-ons I have incorporated in later  versions.

The beauty of the Nicholson bench is that is so simple, and frankly easy, to build have the completed bench can be put to work in less than a single weekend, even taking time to worship.  Except for gluing the leg laminae together, the entire bench was build with decking screws.

Cutting up the lumber takes abut a good hour at most.

I start the actual assembly by gluing together the legs, using screws that were removed after the glue dried.

I cleaned up the edges of the legs with a #7, then screwed the outer aprons to the legs.  I immediately moved on to the inner aprons for the front and back, notching them for the cross battens of the top.  The strategy of using two laminae of aprons and more battens than probably necessary results in a lot of area that is amenable to using holdfasts throughout the bench, mitigating the need for vises and such on the basic bench, which was indeed was my goal for the project.

 

The overall assembly proceeded apace, requiring only a couple hours of dedicated time.  One of the things I did to streamline the process was to affix the aprons such that the protruded about 1/16″ above the leg tops so that they could be easily planed even and with nice clean edges, as is being done by my pal Tom here.  Actually, I recall spending more time chatting with ham than we did building the bench

 

A nice advantage to this procedure is that the top planks can be held to the aprons to plane the edges of the top, again resulting in a nice crisp edge.

The battens fit nicely into the already notched inner aprons, and I like to have way more battens than are strictly necessary.

After a couple weeks of settling into the atmosphere of the barn I flattened the top with the standard bench planes, then finished with a toothing plane.  In the end the bench was hoisted up to the fourth floor to be used alongside the laminated Roubo for video sessions.

The basic bench is a winner, and I recommend it as a starting point for new woodworking studios.  I like it so much I have built several more, both for myself and for friends.  I got my time down to about 6 hours for the basic Nicholson, with another dozen hours for tricking out.  Stay tuned.

Workbench Wednesday – Gravitating Towards FORP

Since setting up my studio in the barn more than a half dozen years ago I have concentrated my small objects d’art conservation projects and related fine work on a tiny Sjoberg workbench in the corner underneath the propane wall furnace.

Over the past year I have increasingly gravitated a variety of work to the massive French Oak Roubo Project workbench I began five years ago and finally got it assembled this year and placed on the opposite wall underneath some windows.

In the past couple of months I’ve found the little Sjoberg to be too constraining and am working almost exclusively with the FORP bench.  Yes, it was originally designed and built with heavy-duty furniture making in mind, but my comfort in using it this way is a revelation, and working in front north facing windows is spectacular.

Workbench Wednesday – #12 (2015) Putting the Studley Replica Top to Work

After returning home from the HO Studley exhibit and reassembling the pastiche workbench I changed my mind about completely rebuilding the base.  Though the base I built originally was for the exhibit only, to display the  construction of the top slab, I found that it was actually a pretty serviceable structure for the daily use of the top.  All it needed was a little more bracing for longitudinal triangulation and it could go to work as an every-day workhorse.

I added a stylistically-appropriate skirt and sure enough it was ready to go.  The large uninterrupted flat expanse of the slab made this a favorite for assemblies and related projects where the space was particularly helpful.  There was the hole left from mounting one of the piano-maker’s vices for the exhibit, but I could live with that.

Thanks to the generosity of DrDan I had a piano maker’s face vise already in-hand, and augmented with the Shelton vise the bench could be configured to my liking, more or less.  The wheel vise remained as installed in the exhibit picture, and the Shelton was used as the end vise.

The only down side was that the top was thicker than the Shelton could accommodate in terms of the retractable dog in the moving vise jaw.  At this point I had two options; excavate the underside of the bench slab or make and extended dog to project past the top surface.  I chose the latter.

 

I disassembled the dog and replaced it with a new one fabricated specifically to work with the slab thickness.  I made the new dog from rosewood.

 

Installed the vise works just fine, or as fine as a Shelton can.  The bench is placed in the geographical center of my shop and gets used on a daily basis, performing its duties skillfully.  That is, if an inanimate object can perform, skillfully or otherwise.

Workbench Wednesday – #12 (2015) Studley Replica Top Completion and Exhibit

With the laminated slab top assembled the task at hand was to get the Studley bench pastiche ready for the May 2015 exhibit. The purpose of this bench was to show the to the exhibit visitors the construction method Studley used for the top (the top was the only remaining structure remaining from the original work bench) and to hang several vises analogous to those of Studley’s.

I fabricated a pair of torsion-box end “legs,” joined to the underside by a pair of box cleats, and fitted together with a stretcher adequate to the task of it serving as the exhibit element.  I smoothed the top with planes and scrapers, and varnished it nicely for the exhibit; once back home that would be undone as it was a surface unsuited for real work.  With the edge trim affixed to two sides to better elucidate the structure, it was ready to hit the road.

It served its role well in Cedar Rapids.  Now it was time to get it back home and put it to work.

 

Workbench Wednesday – #12 (2015) Studley Replica (Top) Construction

The main point of this bench was to replicate Studley’s construction of the top for display at the 2015 exhibit of the HO Studley collection in Cedar Rapids, concurrent with the 2015 Handworks event in nearby Amana IA.  I had to guess at the details of the actual construction of the top since the owner of the Studley collection would not allow me to take a large core sample or cut a chunk out of the original workbench top.

 

Being limited to the observations I noted last week I charged ahead  The white oak I’d purchased from Jameel’s supplier was about the hardest stuff I have ever worked, it was rosewood hard.  After coaxing it through my lunchbox planer I assembled the two core  lamina using PVA glue and decking screws with washers.  Assembling laminate structures in this manner was a technique from four decades ago during my time in the foundry pattern shop where we glued and screwed or nailed everything together so we didn’t have to use clamps.  When it came time to sculpt the pattern for the molders on the foundry  floor we went back and removed all the metal fasteners first.

I repeated the procedure for the underside face of the bench.  C’mon, it was the underside.  Who cares if there were dozens of screw holes?  I know I certainly did not.

The show face consumed pretty much every clamp I owned in order to avoid the screw holes.  In the end I had a terrific flat and stable slab, just like Ol’ Henry did.  He was right about that, too.

Workbench Wednesday – #12 (2015) Studley Replica (Top)

On my first trip to visit the HO Studley tool cabinet I was quite expectantly anticipating the absolute headiness of the experience of being in the intimate presence of this iconic artifact.  The drive was a test of restraint as it was a long one and I had to reign in my excitement or I would be exhausted by the time I got there.  It was all I could do to avoid the temptation of non-stop daydreaming that would splatter me on an underpass, or calling literally every woodworker I knew to ask them, “Guess where I am going?”

When I arrived and met Mister Stewart, and he ushered me into the room containing the tool cabinet, I literally felt tingles.  Indeed, the tool cabinet and its contents were as amazing as I had psyched myself up for, hoping that I would not be disappointed.  I wasn’t.  But, much to my astonishment I realized that the workbench was every bit the masterpiece that the tool cabinet was.  I won’t blow smoke up your shop apron and tell you I spent as much time examining and photographing the bench as I did the tool cabinet, but it was a lot more than I was expecting.

I cannot really see myself using a tool repository like Studley’s for my everyday work, but I definitely could see me using the workbench all day, every day.  It was as you might expect from Studley, both ingenious and exquisite and all I kept thinking the day I drove from Studley to Cincinnati for WIA 2010 was, “I gotta make me one of these.”  Eventually I worked through Chris Schwarz to acquire a slab of mahogany 4″ thick by 28″ wide by seven feet long to make the top.

I got the slab home and nestled into the barn awaiting the decks to clear so I could begin.

Imagine my surprise when on a later return visit to continue documenting Studley more fully and I was able to study the underside of the bench, and more particularly the holes into which the alignment pins from the under-bench cabinet fit, I discovered that the bench top construction was not what I had expected.  Suddenly I had a giant mahogany slab available for another function; Studley’s bench was a laminated construction.

With Jameel Abraham I went to a lumber dealer he patronized and bought what I needed for the bench top.  It was select white oak for the core and mahogany for the faces.  Notwithstanding the “mahogany” was no such thing, at least I had materials to begin the replica bench to include in the exhibit.

Lest you lose any sleep worrying about the abandoned mahogany slab (it was true swietenia, not the phony pastiche that is often sold as “mahogany”), fear not.  I have plans for it in the not-to-distant future.

Stay tuned.

Workbench Wednesday — Bench #11 (2014), Portable Bench 2.0, Part 3

Back at home after GroopShop 2014 Bill continued to assemble, finish, and augment the folding portable workbench we had built as a demo for GroopShop.

After installing the folding diagonal leg braces he gave it a trial run and found it to be too light for his tastes.  Plenty sturdy enough but too light to work with comfortably.  So, he made a shelf to fit between the lower cross braces of the legs and serve as a storage space, clearing the space around the bench and adding mass to the overall unit.  The shelf was made using the exact same technology as the top.  Like the top it was amazingly light in relationship to its strength and utility.

One of the really cool features is that the shelf fits neatly in between the folded legs underneath the top.  As you can see he even has room for a second shelf if ever one is needed.

After painting the leg units black, it was going to be used in a museum gallery after all, he set it up and found it to fulfill his needs precisely.  I don’t think he ever found the need to install the vises, but the set-up for them remains in place and ready to go any time he needs it.

I believe he uses it regularly as a wonderful assembly table in his own shop, ready to be folded up and easily transported to a new on-site project where it is needed.

Sometimes improvement occurs as a flash of inspiration, sometimes through an incremental grind.  This bench concept was a bit of both, and the improvements I made in this version carried over into the next folding workbench model, which I believe is workbench #20 or 21 in the series.  I will be recounting the changes in great detail.

I do not have a workbench problem.  I have a lot of workbenches.  Big difference.

Workbench Wednesday — Bench #11 (2014), Portable Bench 2.0, Part 2

With everything cut and fitted for the top it was time to git ‘er done and put it all together.  Following the layout of the grid already traced on the the underside of the first face, a glue line was rapidly distributed along the delineated route.

As soon as that was done the grid was set in place, and the top of the grid was also doused with glue and the second face of the bench top was laid onto it.

By my rough estimate this provided almost 50 liner feet of 3-inch deep I-beam construction for the whole thing.  It was not going to fail until there was enough stress placed on it until the wood literally exploded.

Using the sophisticated engineering for which The Barn is famous, the top assembly was clamped and the glue allowed to dry.

While that was occurring the folding legs were assembled and attached.  Nothing special, certainly no elegant joinery.  Just good precise work.

At that point Groopstock 2014 was done and Bill took the unit home to finish up.

Stay tuned.

Workbench Wednesday (a day late) — Bench #11 (2014), Portable Bench 2.0, Part 1

I guess it says something about the nature of life in the hinterlands, I literally did not remember that yesterday was Wednesday and posted the wrong thing. — DCW

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At GroopShop 2014, which I hosted, the program included BillR and me building him a high performance portable workbench similar to my Workbench #2.  The portable bench is strictly a power tool project, for the most part I used my cordless power tools, a pneumatic crown stapler and white glue.

This bench has several improvements over the original, and on Workbench #21(?) I take the concept even further in several respects.

One of the primary modifications for this bench was to extend the length to a full five feet rather than the earlier four foot length, we kept the two-foot width.  This not only provided a larger work station BillR needed for his project but also made the alignment of the legs much simpler.  They simply abutted each other at their feet when folded as opposed to being off-set so they could be folded side-by-side in the initial effort.  We used Tom’s bench as the platform for building this one, it was perfectly flat and the same size as what we wanted.

Another change was moving to 1/4″ thick ribs rather than 3/8.”  The 1/3 reduction in rib thickness had no effect on the strength, that was all the result of the web height for the rib.  So now the whole thing could be made from a sheet of 1/4″ baltic birch and a few pieces of 1/2″.  I ripped the faces using my cordless saw and a straightedge, then ripped all the ribstock from the remainders.

The perimeter was still made from 1/2″ b.b., with the ends doubled since I wanted to make this retrofit-able with twin screws vises.  I pre-drilled the holes for the eventual tapping before I began assembly.The half inch edge stock made it simple to use a crown stapler to assemble the outer edges and make whole thing simple to build.

I also pre-drilled the holes for the vise screws to pass through the ribs.

We dry-fit all the ribs and were ready for assembling the top.  The last step before that was to mark the location of all the ribs on the underside of the face.

More next week.

(Thanks to JoshuaK for all the preceding pictures.)

Workbench Wednesday – #10 (2013) FORP Bench, Assembled and at Work

With a little logistical cogitation my pal John and I, both 60-somethings and neither of us mesomorphs, managed to maneuver the 300+ pound top of the French Oak Roubo Project workbench out into the light.  Immediately I was struck by both the magnificence of the 240(?) year old white oak slab, and the waney void adjacent to a glue line on the underside of it.  I suppose at one time I was just going to leave it as-is, an admittedly foggy memory going back four years, but given that one of the leg mortises needed to go right through the flawed region I decided instead to fill it.  I could have grafted in another piece of oak but instead fell back on a tried-and-true method of repair that I have employed several times in the past as it was especially well suited for a repair of this size.

I first sized (primed) the margins of the effected area with standard West System epoxy, thinned about 25% with acetone to get deep penetration.  One of the reasons for any potential epoxy failures, whether in adhesion, consolidation or filling, is that the epoxy does not penetrate adequately to knit the entire construct together nicely.  What then often happens also is that the differences between the high density inelastic epoxy and the less dense, much more elastic wood, may result in a fracture at their margin when they are intimately bound together in a cyclic stressful environment.  The diluted epoxy addresses the first of these problems, the filling of epoxy with large wood flakes addresses the second.

 

In this case I ran a scrap of oak through the power planer to yield the typically large shavings you would expect from the machine.  I took handfuls of these shavings and packed them down into the void that had been previously primed with the thinned epoxy.

I then drizzled un-thinned epoxy on top of the wood flakes, then sprinkled on more shavings and packed them again through some wax paper.  I left the entire fill to harden overnight.

An additional feature of fills like this is that when the volume is large enough, the exothermic reaction of the epoxy hardening causes the adhesive to actually boil in place, aerating the  fluid as it hardens and reducing further the density of the hardened fill.  This is a very good thing.

The resulting repair is much closer in density to the wood, thus reducing the risk of a system fracture at their interface, and yields a repair that can be easily smoothed with a rasp or Surform tool.

The success of the repair can be clearly seen in the edges of the mortises I drilled and pounded through the slab and the repair.  It held together wonderfully and had working properties nearly identical to the adjacent oak.

When I set aside the oak Roubo bench 4+ years ago it was still quite  ways from being done.  The leg tenons were all cut, but only two of the dovetailed mortises and none of the rectangular mortises, so clearly a lot of drilling and chopping was in store.  There was nothing exceptional about the task or process other than it required flipping the top a couple of times to get the job done.  The last two dovetailed open mortises took about an hour to knock out.

Drilling and chopping the closed mortises went smoothly.  For three of the four.  And the fourth?  Grrrrr!  For some inexplicable reason I switched from a Forstner-style bit to a long auger bit for my drill, and it went astray.  Not just astray but bound tighter than a drum and would not move forward or backward (a theme that was not yet fully played out).  After a lot of fussing and fuming I was eventually forced to drive it through the other face using my sledge hammer.  Sheer brute force.  I was reminded of my late friend Mel Wachowiak’s quip, “With enough force you can pull he tail off a living cow.”  Or drive a 7/8 auger bit through an inch of solid oak.

This blew out a chunk of the face adjacent to the mortise, leaving me less cheery than you might expect, my anger being tempered only by the fact that all this damage took place on the underside of the slab. An hour later I had knitted together all the splintered wood and glued it back in place to leave overnight.  In the end it was a patience-expanding experience.

The good news is that the repaired place (epoxy and shavings filled) held up perfectly when chopping the mortise in that area.  The repair felt just like the adjacent wood and held a nice crisp corner with no chipping or fracture.

So now the mortises were all done and seemed to provide a nice snug fit, and I was looking forward to driving the legs home in the morning.

Oh, about that…

I was eagerly anticipating installing the legs after having it wait on me for more than fours years.  The joinery was all done, the repairs completed, and all looked well.  The first few whacks on the bottom of the legs (the bench was upside down) produced pleasing results, and flipped the bench over the finish driving them home from the top.

A few good moments of movement, then, nothing.  No mount of persuasion would budge the legs any more than about halfway in.  Even with my 12 lb. sledge nothing was moving.  On any of the four legs.  So I tried driving them back out to fiddle with the joint shoulders.  Nothing happened.  No matter how hard I beat on it.  A cold clammy sweat began prickling me all over.

Then a stroke of genius came down.  How about if I used a hydraulic bottle jack and placed it under the bridge between the two balconies with a 6×6 post filling the excess space?  I practically dislocated something patting myself on the back for that one.

The first attempts revealed the propensity for the jack force to lift up the bridge beams.  No big deal, I just cut 4×4 spacers to fit between the top of the bridge beams and the barn frame, essentially bringing the entire weight of the barn into the equation.

I began to have some results as I levered the 12-ton jack and could hear and see the legs creeping into their mortises.  Then I started hearing creaks from places far away, and rapidly backed off when I realized that the process was literally inflicting enough force to potentially tear the barn apart.

This episode opened an avenue for contemplation.  Namely, how about constructing a frame to capture both the feet of the legs and the hydraulic jack against the slab top?

Brilliant! sez I, and I set about making one such device from oak 6x6s and framing 2x4s.  I placed the lower 6×6 cross piece underneath the feet at one end of the bench and captured the bottle jack with the other 6×6 above the slab.  Good concept, poor execution.  The corners were pinned with 1/4″ lag bolts, which almost immediately bent to such a degree that the unit was not functional.

For the next iteration I ripped a pile of surplus 3/4″ CDX plywood into 5″ wide strips, the fashioned them into a more robust frame what was three pieces for the stiles and seven pieces for the beams, all glued and screwed with four 1/2″ carriage bolts holding each corner together.

I held my breath as I maneuvered the bench and the frame to their respective locations, placed the bottle jack directly over one of the legs  with a metal bar at the top to transfer the force to the frame and started pumping the lever arm.  The results were almost immediate and immensely gratifying as I worked my way around the bench from leg to leg.  With each new stroke of the handle the legs would be driven into the mortises about 3/16.”  In about 30 minutes I had all four legs seated and a huge note of thanks for the person who invented the portable hydraulic jack.

At “peak compression” I noted that even the seven-layer beam deflected almost a half inch due to the force.

Finally the bench was on its feet, with zero wobble and clearly no need for glue in the joints.  I installed the stretchers and the shelf, and having already completed the game of Tetris required to move it where it was going and the six steps of moving other things to make it happen, including four other workbenches to new locations,  with two 8-foot workbenches being hoisted to the fourth floor, and the 450 lb. FORP bench slid easily to its new home.

Some day I will finish all the details, but for now I am too busy using it to stop and do that.