A new bench for Woodworking in America
It seems only fitting that my newest workbench was made, in part, for the upcoming Woodworking in America conference. I cannot think of anyone who has renewed the interest (and importance) of benches more than Chris Schwarz. I was armed with his book as well as Scott Landis’s book. I poured thorough both to see if there were any bits of wisdom that I had previously overlooked. There were a few and will be incorporated into this bench - although maybe not in time for Sept. 30th.
This was bench number 4 for me. My bench use has not changed too much in the last 15 years, so the overall design is quite similar. I like a tail vice, a face vice and square dog holes, 36" off the ground and I do like the option of storing tools below. A few of the new additions will be a planing stop integrated into the end and the use of two holdfasts.
This new bench had only one requirement - it had to fit into our Jetta wagon (with the seats down) and come apart for easy transportation. I have done a bit of site-work over the last 12 months and lugging an 8' bench (when one does not own a truck) really sucks. Between that and the upcoming conference - it was time to build another bench.
Here are the specs; the top is 60" long, 20" deep and made up of a 1-5/8" thick core of hard maple. The skirt is 3-7/8" as are the bread-board ends. The tail vice jaw is Walnut, the base is Red Elm and the end panels are spalted Mulberry.
This bench also features a very new quick release tail vice by Veritas. Riley and I had an opportunity to see a prototype of this vice when we visited Lee Valley head office this past February - so when I was given an opportunity to try one out I jumped at it. For south-paws like myself, this vice is perfect - it is completely reversible and literally took a few minutes to switch the orientation around. It did pose one massive challenge though. The bench top is only 60" and the tail vice needs 17" of mounting space and the face vice on the other end needs 8". If I followed tradition and kept the base between the vices, a chipmunk would be able to topple it.
The only solution I could come up with was to position one of the legs over the tail vice hardware - to use the vice hardware itself as a support surface. There are 4 mounting lag screws that travel through the vice hardware and into the underside of the bench top. I bought two new lag screws that were 1-1/2" longer than the supplied lags and made a bridge between these two locations. The bridge had some cutouts to allow for the moving parts to move freely - but I figured it was worth a shot. As I was pondering what metal to make the bridge out of, I walked past a very large piece of African Blackwood. And then smiled. I have often joked with people that African Blackwood has more in common with mild steel than wood... so why not make the bridge out of Blackwood?
Unfortunately, the above photo is the only one I have of the Blackwood bridge and how it provides support for the leg.
Note how the leg just clears the row of dog holes.
Here is a photo of another minor modification - the bread board end wraps around the hardware.
The quick release vice is remarkably smooth and a real treat to use. Please feel free to stop in an check it out at WWIA.
I also wanted to share an odd-ball technique for dealing with really warped, thin pieces of lumber. Several years ago, I had an opportunity to buy a small pile of really striking spalted Mulberry. They were already surfaced to 1/2" thick, and sadly, were extremely twisted. They sat in my shop for years as I tried to figure out a way to use them. I decided to use two of them for the end panels of the bench. There was no way to re-saw them so I decided to try a backwards veneer approach; glue the substrate on first, then re-saw.
Here is the sandwich. From left to right; a piece of 1/2" thick, Baltic Birch plywood, 1/2" thick piece of spalted Mulberry, 7/8" BB plywood, Mulberry, 1/2"BB plywood. The three piece of Baltic Birch ply. were stiff enough to just about flatten the two pieces of Mulberry.
Here is the first re-sawn slice. The piece on the left has a 1/2" piece of BB and about 3/16" of Mulberry. The Mulberry was strong enough to introduce a bit of twist in this first piece, but with a flat face on the BB side, a few passes through the thickness planer reduced the Mulberry enough that it stayed flat. I also put the right hand side through the thickness planer - all I wanted was a parallel sandwich to re-saw the other side (to get the other 1/2" piece of plywood off). With the two 1/2" pieces of BB plywood removed, the 7/8" piece was now strong enough to keep the Mulberry flat. I counted the plys and re-sawed the 7/8" plywood down the middle. A few passes through the thickness planer, and I had two wonderfully book-matched panels.
Here is the glue-up. I really debated on how to orient the book-matches. In the end, I decided to do them differently to use as a teaching tool to show people how striking this effect can be.
Here are the finished glued up panels.
I should also confess that this is not the first time I have used this technique. One of my other benches has the same Mulberry panels (and Red Elm base). The acidic yellow of the mulberry will fade in time and “works” extremely well with the Red Elm. Which reminds me - I had better get a few coats of finish on the bench - WWIA is only a month away.