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BearTricks

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I’m finally in my workshop and need a surface to work on. There’s no reasonably priced options available locally so I’m back to building my own bench with the timber I have. I think I’ve probably watched every bench building video on YouTube by this point.

I’m working my way through Chris Schwarz’s book which suggests the best timber to work with is whatever is cheap and available. For me that’s 6 boards of sapele about 7 foot x 9 inch x 2.5 inch, and seven chunks of old slow grown pine joist that came out of my childhood home when it came down, all about 5 foot x 8 inch x 3 inch. I kind of like the sentimental idea of building a bench out of them.

They‘re essentially rough sawn with some cupping and some slight warping which I know isn’t ideal. I’ve attempted to plane the sapele on a couple of sawhorses over the years. It isn’t fun to work with and I’m hopeless. The pine planes slightly better but it’s going to take a while. One thing most of the YouTube videos don’t really focus on is that most of the benches are built with power tools, on an existing bench, with lovely straight PAR timber, by someone who has built ten benches in the past, or any combination of all four of these things.

With that in mind, what is the best (and cheapest) combination of power tools to make life easier for myself? The bench is going to be Moravian style, so I can take it apart and store it as space is limited. Probably somewhere between 4 and 5 feet long (this is shorter than most I’ve seen online so I’m worried it may be less stable) and 2 feet deep with no tool well. I was thinking rip the pine in half and laminate it for a roughly 3.5 inch thick top then build the legs and stretchers out of a combination of pine and sapele.

I‘d prefer to buy tools I’ll reuse so I’ve been avoiding looking at thicknessers and table saws but I may have to accept that I’ll need one (or both). I’ll only be doing light work on the bench hence wanting to avoid larger tools, but we are renovating the house over the next few years so I’d like the bench to be able to handle slightly larger projects if any come along. Out of these tools I think a table saw will get more use but I also have a healthy amount of fear of using them.

In all honesty I’m probably romanticising the idea of building a bench but I’ve waited this long for a space to work so I want something proper.

Any advice appreciated. Thanks.

Edit: Forgot to mention, the options for second hand machines locally are poor but I have been looking.
 

Adam W.

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If it's a Moravian bench you only need to plane the top and one edge, as the other surfaces are redundant and you can just butt the three pine joists together for the top, as it is fixed on with locating pegs. So really, the work is only in the legs and stretchers.
 

Jameshow

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I'd be tempted to use the sapele for the top.

Nice and heavy and damage resistant.

Cut the pine into 4x3" legs...

You want an apron to stop racking really.

You can bolt the legs through this....
 

__jvc26

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Showing how to build a bench without a bench, Richard Maguires series were great for me (though mine is an English style bench). He builds from rough sawn pine.

I used hand planes, three cheap chisels and a hardpoint £5 saw for mine. I was a total beginner too, so learnt through making it. It took a while, but for me at least was a useful learning experience — sharpening, planing technique, cutting joints, using chisels etc. etc.
 

Ttrees

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Waaay too short for planing anything of any length, as you said you want to "make life easier"
What about designing your own bench with a floating top if you need space,
and accept the fact that those Moravian benches aren't going to be practical for anyone regularly needing to dismantle it, apart from someone who goes to wood shows/fairs, and needs to dismantle it to get it into a car.

Hand planes are certainly efficient, no need to buy anything powered.
Make yourself a straight edge as long as the work.
David Charlesworth for understanding how to plane well, and after that David W on how to setup your hand planes cap iron for working with that interlocked sapele.

Here's a suggestion for a floating top bench, easy to put away vertically.
Ben's sawhorses/trestles would do nicely,very similar to Kris Harbour's ones on youtube.

Andrew Hunters bench below, if you're using western planes, it may need be a little longer, and at least as thick of a top as that, since you don't want to smack the toe of the plane against the wall/stable thing, as that is likely nessecairy to counter the lateral pressure from planing.
Sounds like that would suit your needs to me.
 

Terry - Somerset

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They are fairly large chunks of wood to start with.

Ideally you would need a bench to have any real chance of planing them for either tops or frame.

If you are only planning light work I do wonder why you need such a thick top. 2+ inches of sapele would be plenty IMHO. In fact a 5 foot bench will be too small for anything very heavy unless frequently belting the daylights out of something with a chisel and lump hammer.

Sawing either the sapele or pine without a bench would be difficult - although you could make or buy saw horses.

Personal view - consider what tools you may want in the short/medium term. Bandsaw may well be one. With a 4-5 inch capacity and 10+ inch throat this would likely be a useful addition medium term and would allow you wood to be sawn to size. With a decent blade should leave a "clean" sawn finish.

Ideally I would add a basic lunchbox thicknesser (or possibly planer/thicknesser) to finish the components.

Alternative if you want some exercise is build frame, temporary plywood or MDF top which would be flat and allow you to work on finishing.
 

Ttrees

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Find a local joinery shop to plane it up, for a few quid it will save you hours of blood, sweat and tears.
And crosscut that sapele in about 10 seconds, before one has the time to figure out how much of a PITA a short bench would be???

Not that I am suggesting that you said that, but from reading this thread, seemingly to me anyway....
the OP possibly has tunnel vision to 'need' a short bench, not that he said that either,
but a short bench is no good for planing anything longer than it, like say more sapele
or other similar interlocked timber which needs the cap iron utilized, i.e things needs to be flat
ala Charleswoth tolerances, to use the hand plane to it's potential.
This makes life a whole lot easier than other methods like scraping or sanding,
start as you mean to go on kinda thing, as errors accumulate if you try cheating yourself.

Tom
 

BearTricks

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Maybe I need to rethink this again then. The short length of the bench was mainly due to space restrictions.
 

Orraloon

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Ask yourself how long will be the longest board you will want to normally plane by hand. Your bench does not need be longer than that. There are also workarounds for the odd board longer than the bench. All to often folks are tempted to build the ultimate monster bench taking up all all too much of the shed space. Remember after the place is fitted out with bench, machines, tools and wood storage you still need space to actually make stuff. Sure a long bench is great but if you have a small shed then an 8' bench is a tad overindulgent.

If it's a Moravian bench you only need to plane the top and one edge, as the other surfaces are redundant and you can just butt the three pine joists together for the top, as it is fixed on with locating pegs. So really, the work is only in the legs and stretchers.

I also agree with Adam's advice about keeping it simple. My dad came from a family of carpenters and the benches they used only the top and front apron were planed. All pine as well. Better timbers would have been saved for something more up market than a bench.
Regards
John
 

thetyreman

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mine is 5 foot long and I find it is fine, I'd go for unsorted redwood pine ask for 'fifths', and do most of the work on a pair of sawhorses, build it to fit your space, that's why mine is the size it is, if I had the right space I'd build a longer one.
 

Jameshow

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I have an 8ft by 32" bench.

I have a bandsaw and stack of screw boxes on the other end...

So usable bench (if clear) is about 5 ft long!!!
 

johnnyb

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I have no opinion on the length or design of your bench. but I would second planing up using machinery( ala doug) you will struggle to find anyone to plane used timber unfortuneatly.
remember flat and square is only the start but without it nothing will click.
Good luck btw
 

Jacob

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I rate the trad British bench as best for most purposes and very easy to make. It doesn't get a mention in many of the fashionable woodwork books but it used to be the norm almost everywhere.
You only need to plane the top beam flat and the narrow back apron level with the beam. The rest of it takes care of itself - no precision required if just reasonably accurate

Screenshot 2022-05-03 at 18.51.05.png
 

Ttrees

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I reckon it doesn't get much mentioning as there's not too many folk who have made a nice version of it, or should I say more importantly for accuracy's sake, have kept it that way!
(presuming one wants to do accurate work like using a plane well)
i.e multiple saw cuts from pure laziness and ignorance on pretty much all of them.

Not a fault of the bench though, especially on such a short bench where you could simply take two steps and not make it into just a spoiled elevation.

I can't say I'd be fond of that design as the vice would be an obstacle on a short bench,
many have longer versions of this which makes slightly more sense to me,
but the apron doesn't lend itself to clamping things at all either.

For longer accurate work all done by hand, due to space constraints,
say for laminating timbers where errors planing would be very evident, I'd argue that a longer flat surface is far far more important than having a vice.
(a common theme for folks ditching the hand plane and getting a throwaway P/T because they cannot figure out whats wrong, whilst planing in a vice and exactly copying methodology of dishonest folk, whose work is clearly deflecting whilst planing)

Trying to use a hand plane in sapele or whatever might be perceived by some folk as difficult to work with, but those folks use machines and try to pretend somethings flat, rather than actually making the work flat and making it far easier for themselves instead.

Just saying as a permanently fixed vice is likely complicating the job should one want to achieve good tolerances in longer work, but need the adaptability of putting it away.

I reckon it's a safe gamble to assume, say a bed or something of that length, wouldn't be too "out there" to consider making in future?
However, I'm not saying that you couldn't have a real hefty beam stored upright and at hand for placing onto the bench occasionally, should you be adamant to have a short bench.
Might be a bit tall though, but that ain't an issue should you plan for it.

All the best
Tom
 

Jacob

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I reckon it doesn't get much mentioning as there's not too many folk who have made a nice version of it,
Depends what you mean by "nice". Millions have made a useful version of it - it used to be in every school, college, factory, etc. That's nice enough for me!
I can't say I'd be fond of that design as the vice would be an obstacle on a short bench,
Hmm not really.
but the apron doesn't lend itself to clamping things at all either.
The apron is FOR clamping e.g board on edge in vice. And for supporting things - drill hole, knock in dowel etc, or clamp a short batten on as a prop.
The apron also braces the whole bench and the beam - the legs are housed into it which also means you don't need stretchers, which is handy if you want a clear floor under.
Never heard of a Moravian bench so I googled it and they seem to be much the same as the trad Brit bench but without the apron Original Moravian Workbench on Display
 
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Fitzroy

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I started a bench build in 2017. Then got too busy with other needs, and built a number of projects (shelves, desk x 2, coffee table, hifi stand, bench) on a ‘temporary’ bench. With only clamps for work holding, don’t get me wrong it was a total pita but it’s still doable. I’m now back to finishing the bench but with a much better understanding of what I want/need from the bench.

Built from 4x2 and 18mm OSB.

113B93AE-7C8D-43A0-9919-E2DEC079D788.jpeg
 

Ttrees

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Hello Jacob, sorry haven't got the jist of the multi quote thing, hopefully those commas thingamajigs will do.

"Nice" as in fancy timbers and all the rest, which some folk wanna see.
But the important part to me as someone who doesn't have a good/any P/T was underneath that sentence.
Not hacked to bits and as such can offer more, school, college nor factory applies here due to multiple reasons, i.e good tolerance without using machinery.

"Vice is in the way" if you want to use your body efficiently and get behind the tool, which one may never figure out if it's there all the time, not to mention wider boards.
Might not be an issue with a longer bench though.

"Apron" your argument hasn't mentioned how you clamp stuff onto the top of the bench, anywhere,
unless you want to make the top into a cheese like thing for use with holdfasts.
Workarounds for both top and edge work though, I just think clamps are more versatile for me.

Say one wants a surface which they don't want to destroy whilst doing something else,
a simple sheet or two of ply offcut, means either boring holes into that for holdfasts, or only having partial protection of the top.
Just seems a lot more faff than I want, not to say I'm super adamant that this is all that important,
the other things above are the most important things to me.

Tom
 

Jacob

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........chinery.

"Vice is in the way" if you want to use your body efficiently and get behind the tool, which one may never figure out if it's there all the time, not to mention wider boards.
Just wind the vice in, no problem
"Apron" your argument hasn't mentioned how you clamp stuff onto the top of the bench, anywhere,
Stuff sits on top of the bench and usually doesn't need clamping. Usual to plane up to stop - retractable on this bench.
 
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