Workbenches on the cheap

I’ve recently been reminded of why I need a new workbench. I’ve got a couple of workbenches which done ok until now, but they are sub optimal. I’ve been renovating a couple of hand planes which I’ll talk about in a future post, but having completed the work I wanted to try them out. In my summer workshop, the bench consists of some construction 2 x 4s for legs and a worktop I rescued during spring cleanup. It has a vise underneath but it’s not ideal, and at the moment there are no bench dogs to hold the work down. A bench dog is a wooden peg (either square or round and there is a lot of debate about which is better) you put through the bench top to push against in order to hold down work. They are designed so the top of the dog doesn’t stick up higher than the work piece allowing you to run a tool  over the edge of the board without having to adjust the work piece. It’s easily remedied with some 3/4″ holes placed along it’s length, but they’re only any good if they’ve got something to push against. The vise would have to be adapted to have a dog on the top of it so I can clamp work flat on the worktop.

My other workbench which is all I have in my winter workshop is a Black and Decker Workmate, similar to this:


These are great for a job site bench or a kid or perhaps an assembly table. However it is far too low for my back, the work surface isn’t big enough even with an extension, and when you pound on it with a chisel and hammer the entire steel frame vibrates and rings.

So a new bench is in order. The current criteria:

  • Cheap. I don’t have a lot of money to put into it. This is my first workbench so I’m expecting to make some mistakes.
  • Mobile enough I can get it up the hill and into my summer workshop. Depending on how the year goes, and how well it’s made I might leave it up there and build a new one for the summer workshop.
  • Sturdy enough that I can plane or pound away on it without worrying about it collapsing.
  • Tall enough that I can stand at it and plane or assemble parts without hurting my back
  • Have at least one vise to hold down work, potentially two different vises.

Vises can be expensive, so I’m going to try using some pipe clamps to build a tail vise and a face vise.

Bench vises made with pipe clamps: in the sale I can get a pipe clamp for $10. Combined with a few lengths of black pipe, I can probably keep my costs down to the $30 – $40 range for two vises.

Another possibility which would be even cheaper and I could make myself is some cam clamps:

Cam clamps are great, but wouldn’t help me straighten an edge of a board, so I’ll probably need a face vise regardless. A face vice could also help clamp narrow boards edge on, so I could for example hand cut dovetails.

Videos on how to build a workbench:

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Bandsaw boxes in 10 easy steps

Very simple if you have a bandsaw:
1) Glue up some layers of plywood, sandwiched between two pieces of oak
2) Print out a cartoon shaped heart from the internet and stick to the top of the block. Add a stand to the piece of paper.
3) Follow the outline with the bandsaw, trying not to cut off your fingers with the saw. Doing “relief” cuts at the top and where the stand meets the body of the box makes means you don’t have to back out the blade.
4) Mark on the paper to show where you want to cut the drawer about 6mm from the edge of the outside. Cut out the shape, coming in at the bottom and following the curve round to the top central point, then back the blade out, and repeat the cut on the other side to create the drawer.
5) Cut off the front and back of the draw.
6) Carve out the inside of the draw with the bandsaw, in this case with two simple straight cuts.
7) Sand the drawer front and back smooth so you get a nice tight joint. Sand the inside and out of the box. The inside curves are easy with a spindle sander. The outside curves are best done with a flat sander, like my random orbit sander. Round off the corners of the front whilst you’re at it.
8) Glue the front and back of the drawers on, and the top of the heart shape back onto the base where the entry points for the bandsaw was created
9) Finally place the box on a sheet of sandpaper on a flat surface and sand the bottom of the box until it stops tipping. I’ve never made anything like this that didn’t tip when placed on a flat surface.
10) 5 coats of shellac with a light sanding with some 220 grit sand paper after the 1st coat, 3rd and 4th coat, leaving a minimum of an hour between the coats for the shellac to dry. In the cold weather we’ve been having I’ve been leaving it on front of a heater on a low setting to make sure the alcohol solvant flashes off properly.

Not including the glue up and shellac drying times, probably took me a couple of hours or so to do. The sanding takes the most time because you have to start with the 80 grit sandpaper, then the 120 grit and finish with the 220.
Of course without a bandsaw, it’s rather more difficult but could be done with a coping saw if you really want to spend hours cutting it by hand.

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Measure twice, glue once?

I’ve finally managed to glue all the pieces together of the main case.  It took all of my long clamps to keep it together.

Andrew’s _IMG_0899 Andrew’s _IMG_0898

 

That meant there were no more clamps to glue up the panel for the base of the cabinet. So I took a leaf out of Izzy Swann‘s book:

I put some packing tape down on the work top to stop the panel from gluing itself to the surface.

Andrew’s _IMG_0902 Andrew’s _IMG_0901

 

Unfortunately, after the glue had dried I discovered I’d measured it wrong and I didn’t need the middle pieces at all, that the two long pieces glued together would be more than wide enough. *sigh*

After the glue had dried on the case, I discovered that the glue on the top and bottom rabbet hadn’t quite set or it was just a dry joint – not enough glue. So I had to put some more glue in between the top and bottom corners and the case:

Andrew’s _IMG_0903 Andrew’s _IMG_0904

 

This time I used a cinder block as a weight to clamp it up, with some lateral clamping to make sure the case stayed square the sides didn’t splay outwards. That did the trick! The main case is now complete.

I’ve marked up the top. I want a 3/4″ overhang round the outside of the case. I also need to take into account the doors on the front of the case, which will also be 3/4″ thick, so I needed to double up the overhang. I took some 3/4″ scrap plywood (doubled up at the front) and drew round the top. NB: 3/4″ plywood isn’t 3/4″ thick. The cheap crap I have from China is 18mm which is 0.708″ – a long way from 0.75″. Never the less, it’s close enough and if I cut a little bit wide it’ll look just fine. Once the top and bottom are cut out, then I’ll route the edge and fix the top to the case. I’m planning to use some figure 8 connectors, or similar arrangement. The bottom is a different matter and since I have to rework the panel for there, I’m consider a different strategy.

Divide and conquer

The shelves are now to thickness and cut to width. Some sanding of the end to ensure they fit and they are almost ready to go. I used a router to cut the dadoes in the case and because the bit is round, so is the end of the cut. I could attempt to square off the dado, but that would be difficult. My smallest chisel is 10 mm. I decided to try a different route and round over the edge. I did try to use a router to do the rounder over with a 1/8″ round over bit, but the shelves are too small to do it by hand. The router table wasn’t very effective as I couldn’t reliably get the depth right and anyway the shelves aren’t exactly 1/4″ thick. Then I remembered a video done by Matthias Wandel:

After a little trial and error I found that 3 45º strokes with my block plane, followed by a 22.5º either side of that created a very close round over, which is completed with a little light sanding.

Once the shelves are ready, I positioned them in the cabinet for a dry fit. I drew where the dadoes meet the shelves which give me a start line to mark out where the dividers go. To make sure I get the dadoes in the right places, I used the layout marks from the dadoes and a compass to find the center of the board. I think this must be one of the first times I’ve used a compass for something other than drawing a circle. The layout lines were then used as a reference point to make sure my router was in the right place to cut the dadoes. A 1/4″ v-groove bit has a sharp point and can help position the router on the line so the fence can be zeroed in.

1/4" V Groove bit

Swap the v-groove bit for the 1/4″ straight bit to make the cut and the dadoes are perfectly down the middle of the board. The depth of cut can be determined by dropping the router bit onto the workpiece whilst the motor is off, then placing an appropriate diameter drill bit in the depth stop. I did a couple of test cuts and worked out the best depth. After doing a couple of cuts things when a little wrong. I didn’t realise and cut one of the shelves in half. I didn’t realise until after I’d finished the second cut because of all the dust in the channel. Luckily I had enough stock prepared and was pleasantly surprised at how fast I was able to get a new shelf ready.

As I was finishing up, I managed to get one divider cut and placed in the dry assembly.

 

 

 

Andrew’s _IMG_0891 Andrew’s _IMG_0890 Andrew’s _IMG_0892

Magnetic personality

At some point I managed to knock my tray of 200 odd drill bits on the floor. With all the dust and the incredibly small diameter bits, it was quite difficult to get them all. Until I remembered I had a super strong magnet from inside a dead hard drive, and used it to sweep the debris to pick up the drill bits.

A little more work

I had the opportunity to get into the shop for a few hours this afternoon. I finished laying out the dadoes for the shelving. It’s during this process I noticed a discrepancy in my layout. The bottom two draws are supposed to be 2″ deep, but the bottom draw will be 2 1/4″ deep. It doesn’t really matter and might make gaining access to the secret compartment easier. Still, too late now!

My plan calls for 1/4″ dadoes for the shelves to sit in. I mounted my 1/4″ router bit in my small hand held router, and set up the fence to make the dadoes. I slipped a little at once point and the router bit took a little chunk out of the panel. Thankfully it’s going to be on the inside so I don’t think I’ll need to do anything about it.

With the dadoes cut, I thought I’d just double check the width of the dadoes with my calipers. Lucky I did. The very cheap router bit set I’ve got aren’t exactly milled to the most accurate degree. Turns out my .25″ is closer to .235″ so it’s lucky I don’t need to actually route a dado exactly 1/4″ wide. Once the dadoes were cut, I put the 3/8″ rabbet in the back of the box to accept the back piece when the time comes.

I’ve dry fit the case to double check the fit and to see how it’s all coming together.

Andrew’s _IMG_0887 Andrew’s _IMG_0885 Andrew’s _IMG_0884 Andrew’s _IMG_0889 Andrew’s _IMG_0888

The wood panels I have aren’t quite wide enough to fill the dadoes all the way back, so once I’ve finished fitting the top and bottom I’ll need to shaved down the width of the shelves and shape some small pieces to fit in the back of the dadoes. Not a terrible solution as they won’t be seen and won’t affect the performance of the draws that’ll be resting on them and the 1/4″ shelves will more than strong enough to hold the weight of the drawers and their contents, especially once the dividers are installed.

Next I need to finish cleaning up the epoxy and scrape the insides of the panels to smooth them ready for finish. I also need to resaw some more 1/4″ stock for the remaining shelf and the dividers. Then I need to cut the dadoes in the shelves for the dividers and route the round overs for the fronts of the shelves.

Somehow the top and bottom aren’t quite square which is a little odd because the were cut in one pass on my mitre saw, so I need to square those edges up to make a nice tight fit. This might require building another tool – a shooting (or chuting depending on your heritage) board. I don’t think my hand plane sides are quite square and anyway it needs a lot more work before it’s going to be usable as a plane. It’s fine if the stock is thin, but much more than 1/2″ and it’s very hard to push though, let alone be used to smooth anything big and flat.

So I might end up building a sanding block system and see how that works out.

A pox on epoxy

So the glue up of the side panels didn’t go quite as planned, most because one of the panels twisted. The cawls helped a lot, but there is still a minor twist in it. I had considered building a new side panel, but I think I’m going to persevere with it for now. I see a lot of clamping my future!

I also had a minor blow with some epoxy. I don’t use a lot of epoxy, so I’ve been buying the 5 minute stuff that comes in the twin syringe so you get equal doses of resin and hardener. Except I don’t think the batch I mixed to seal and stabilize the knots on one of the panels had enough hardener in it or I didn’t mix it enough. I mixed and poured it yesterday evening in preparation for today’s day in the shop, and came down this morning to a goey mess. The hole I sealed on the other panel was fine so I know the epoxy itself was good, but I had mixed the batches separately. I’ve managed to clean off the resin from the panel and I’ll have another go at sealing the holes. I’ve sanded the side panels with some 80 grit as it’s easier to do that whilst it’s flat. This has removed the majority of the epoxy mess, but my sander is too big to fit in the flat panel so I’m going to have to have another go by hand. I’ll probably sand all the way up to 220 in preparation of finishing as it’ll be easier to do before the glue up.

With the rabbets in the side panel done (very easy on my new router table :), I’ve glued up some panels for the top and bottom of the carcass to the desired width.

I finished today laying out the dadoes for the shelves. Next week, I’ll route the dadoes and resaw the stock for the shelves and dividers. If I have time, I’ll glue up the main carcass.

Epilogue

So my re-working of the epoxy has improved the situation for the long dark streak but the two holes that had already been filled by epoxy, I wasn’t so lucky. They were rather deep and I didn’t take the old epoxy which it turns out was a mistake. Overnight the old epoxy half hardened and had gone white. So I spent an hour digging out the old epoxy and cleaning out the holes ready to be refilled. I’ll try again to fill the holes again tonight.

The long dark streak through the middle of the board caused by a branch coming out from the trunk which I’d stabilized with epoxy. Epoxy is gap filling meaning as you apply it, it will flow into gaps. I pasted a layer of epoxy on the dark streak which set good and hard. Ordinarily I’d use my random orbit sander to remove the excess, but the panel is too narrow to get the sander in and anyway the round disc won’t go into the corners. So I’ve resorted to using a utility knife blade to remove the excess and whilst I’m at it used it as a cabinet scraper to smooth the surface. This is very effective and can get wood smoother than 220 grit sand paper. If I had a proper cabinet scraper it would be quicker and more efficient.

It’s scary what you can do with sandpaper

We all know what sandpaper is – right? It’s sand stuck on paper like the Chinese did in the 13th Century – right? Well it’s not that simple. Most sandpaper isn’t sand any more or is it paper either. There’s garnet, aluminium oxide in resin, silica carbide and so on. Then there’s different grits. You can get 36 grit for floor sanders used to flatten cupped floor boards, all the way up to 3000 grit designed for the automotive industry to polish sheet metal on cars to make them smooth enough for paint to go on. You might even be able to get higher grits than that, though you’re now getting into the area of polishing.

You can also use it to sharpen chisels and hand planes and is known as the ‘scary sharp’ method. I have a set of three very cheap chisels – 10 mm, 19 mm and 25 mm. Over the years I have not really looked after them but then I’ve not really been using them for much but chiseling out mortises for door hinges and sitting them in the draw some place. Well now I need to use them a little more frequently but they were dull and had a number of chips on the edge which made them even more difficult to use. I already had an oil stone and a honing guide – this one in fact. I had tried to sharpen the chisels with the stone, but the medium grit is just not agressive enough and I ended up with a divet down the middle of the stone. The chisels were better, but not massively so as I’d not managed to get rid of the chips and dings. Then I found out about scary sharp, and invested in some 320, 400 and 600 grit paper. I already had some 1500 grit paper.

Why use different grits?

General finishes

As you can see from the graphic, the first grit is very agressive and takes a lot of material off, leaving deep grooves. As you progress through the grits you can remove the peaks, leaving a progressively smoother surface. I started with the 320 grit papers and used all three sheets I’d bought levelling out the edges of the chisels. I probably ended up removing 0.25 mm doing just that. A felt tipped pen is very useful at this stage as you can mark the bevel and the back, then do your sharpening to make sure you’re going all the way across the blade. Once I was happy that I’d straightened the edges of the chisels I moved onto the higher grits, progressing from one grit to the next once I was happy I’d smoothed the surface.

Whilst using the papers I would periodically blow off the steel filings and then use a magnet to pick off the finer dust. I could have used water as a lubricant, but I’d taped the sand paper to some plywood and I was concerned the water would start to de-laminate the plywood as I worked.

The oil stone came with a honing guide. This allows me to hold the chisel or hand plane blade at a fixed angle, typically 25º. Many experienced (i.e. not me) woodworkers can hold the chisel at that angle by hand but it’s a skill I’ve not practiced.

As you can see below you can now see the reflection of my finger holding my iPhone, in the bevel of the 19 mm chisel.

Reflection in chisel

Now all I need to do is use the fine side of my oil stone, and put a micro bevel (also known as a secondary bevel) in the edge. A micro bevel is typically 5º variation of the main bevel, so in this instance 30º. It only takes a few swipes on the fine grit to establish this edge but adds durability to the edge of the blade.