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Should I make my workbench entirely by hand?

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ian33a

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I planed a lot by hand before I could afford a secondhand planer/thicknesser. Because that was what I could afford to do. It was doable but the problem was that I spent so much time planing that I just couldn't possible make the stuff I wanted to make. There wasn't time enough.

We need to remember that pure hand tool work was in an era when lots of things were different.
A joiner usually worked in his own kitchen by the light from the open fire except for those few hours a day when there was some daylight coming in through single glazed windows covered by a thick layer of ice and condensation. In our modern world that would be a serious fire hazard but in a time when someone was in the kitchen which was often the only heated room all day and night looking after the fire it was significantly less of a fire hazard than it would be today.
Back then most joiners would also have either an apprentice or a son or a farmhand or even his wife helping him to and fro with less qualified parts of the job. You had to be two persons to use the big scrub plane efficiently. One pushing and one pulling. Without a helper you couldn't prepare stock fast enough even by the standards of the time.
Timber was cheap and plentiful and people were very good at planning ahead. Materials were often selected in the woods and either sawn or split and hewn (pit saw blades were costly) to roughly suitable dimensions for the purpose in mind and then dried. Therefore there wasn't that much need to resaw timber. If a boaŕd was too thick it was very often hewn thinner with an axe as the material was cheap while bow saw blades and files were expensive and not to be worn more than necsessary. Most woodland was village commons where any villager could take as much as he needed and there was timber enough for everyone. Only the straihtest and most easily worked timber was chosen for joinery. Straight timber with smooth grain is much faster to work.
People were skilled with axes. Honestly how many of you would think of crosscutting a 6x12 inch beam square and smooth with an axe just to save wear on the saw blade. Or to hew away the waste from the round side of the last board to come out of a log just to save wear on the valuable pit saw. In the past that was just a normal everyday occurance at any construction site or any shipyard and many joiners dabbled with some house or ship carpentry or boatbuilding in the summer months. The axe and chopping block were just as important parts of a joiner's workplace as were the workbench and the long plane.

Theese facts hold true in Finland and most of Sweden but I rekon even in Britain things were very different 200 years ago.
You make very valid points and your post makes a very interesting read.

The way things are going, the UK will be operating in this mode again quite soon ! ;)
 

Ttrees

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I'd still want to make sure the straight edge is flat, you should check it whilst your first pair of boards
are jointed, flip it upside down and see.
Good job its longer than the stock.
Been looking for a good straight edge myself which is milled on both edges,
as I always end up using my timbers for the job at hand, and just shim/stack blocks on my temporary bench for a reference.

Is there any markings on the straight edge, definitely a good idea to draw a centerline on the stock
and if no markings, this side up kinda thing, should it have a better edge than the other.
Could do your bench too with a pencil, might as well do everything you can, even if you can get timber like that for so cheap.


The methodology you say is most surely a sensible approach and preferred for you're application,
as timber is better with a little hollowed if it's not perfectly dry...
But if you have to clamp the timbers so the edges close up, then that's gonna be a fight to do a few boards at a time, and it might likely not be perfect if you have to force things.

Depending on how tough the timber is, it looks clean and defect free to me, then that means more camber is likely to be an easier time keeping those edges proud,
so you will get the real important experience from this regardless of by hand or power, should you wish to get rid of any scalloping, some say by hand makes a superior bond

In my experience, if you need use the cap iron on a close setting, (with a 50 deg cap profile) is when you run the risk of taking off the edges whilst your hollowing out the middle a shaving, and is more difficult than say Charlesworth's methodology, but alas necessary for my timbers.

With that tiny bit of extra camber, you should be able to do this reliably and not see any gaps.
If you cannot get to that stage, never planed much stuff longer than my bench, but imagine it would be a headache to do some laminations of longer stock,
I'd really be worth using a few of them on top of the bench for support if you could rig up something.

Should that not work as well as you'd like, and you can't get a gap to close up everywhere, then I see no reason to punish yourself working longer timbers on a shorter bench, and would definitely test the machine out, it might likely tell you something, should it have reliable accuracy.
If you do this glue up in stages, and need force a bit I suggest you leave the last board(s) thicker to allow for mistakes.

Getting cold, might be an idea to have the timbers higher, should you not have a heat source on the ground like a room or underfloor heating.
If things are on the cold side, then I would not have them getting the remaining heat from the summer being replaced with the cold.
In my case higher is warmer, and chairs won't do, had glues not set before bringing in cold timber to the house on a chair beside the stove, (a thermal mass issue.)

Much easier to stick an oil rad under the lot if it's at bench height, and could even make a tent with a big blanket which is surprisingly good at holding in heat after glue up.
Beware of cracks if doing this, and not just the end grain, should there be knots,
keep the outside very damp, wet cloth every 10 mins for me in the house, cold garage seems a bit more forgiving and also 1500w compared to 2000w full blast oil rad.

Religion now after getting a few surprises.
I used to think the moisture might cool things down after my glues blues, but
apparently this might have beneficial effect, as it's what the folks used to do in the times of hide glue ups.
I hope someone can give more info about this, to clarify whatever it is what I'm on about, as nothing more dangerous as a half understood thing, and I must have been very sleepy when I acquired that tid bit.
tent.JPG

All the best with the bench
Tom
 

tibi

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Thank you Tom for your reply. I have flattened my current bench three months ago so that I can start with this new bench build. I currently have a 2.5 m aluminium straight edge that I used when building my workshop. This will be my straight edge that I will use for planing the top. My current bench is only 1.5m long, so 0.5m will overhang. I would need to use clamps and plane the top boards in sections. I will test them against each other and plane off the high points.

My current planing procedure is that I plane the center part off, i.e. outer perimeter of the face must be higher than center. then I will try to plane off the edges, but not overdo it so that center is higher than the perimeter. So my board is considered to be flat, when it is tiny hollow in the center, i.e. lower in the center than on perimeter. The same applies to edge jointing. Straight edge must not pivot, so that I can clamp the boards together and ends will not part. I also check the twist with winding sticks, but I find it ra
I'd still want to make sure the straight edge is flat, you should check it whilst your first pair of boards
are jointed, flip it upside down and see.
Good job its longer than the stock.
Been looking for a good straight edge myself which is milled on both edges,
as I always end up using my timbers for the job at hand, and just shim/stack blocks on my temporary bench for a reference.

Is there any markings on the straight edge, definitely a good idea to draw a centerline on the stock
and if no markings, this side up kinda thing, should it have a better edge than the other.
Could do your bench too with a pencil, might as well do everything you can, even if you can get timber like that for so cheap.


The methodology you say is most surely a sensible approach and preferred for you're application,
as timber is better with a little hollowed if it's not perfectly dry...
But if you have to clamp the timbers so the edges close up, then that's gonna be a fight to do a few boards at a time, and it might likely not be perfect if you have to force things.

Depending on how tough the timber is, it looks clean and defect free to me, then that means more camber is likely to be an easier time keeping those edges proud,
so you will get the real important experience from this regardless of by hand or power, should you wish to get rid of any scalloping, some say by hand makes a superior bond

In my experience, if you need use the cap iron on a close setting, (with a 50 deg cap profile) is when you run the risk of taking off the edges whilst your hollowing out the middle a shaving, and is more difficult than say Charlesworth's methodology, but alas necessary for my timbers.

With that tiny bit of extra camber, you should be able to do this reliably and not see any gaps.
If you cannot get to that stage, never planed much stuff longer than my bench, but imagine it would be a headache to do some laminations of longer stock,
I'd really be worth using a few of them on top of the bench for support if you could rig up something.

Should that not work as well as you'd like, and you can't get a gap to close up everywhere, then I see no reason to punish yourself working longer timbers on a shorter bench, and would definitely test the machine out, it might likely tell you something, should it have reliable accuracy.
If you do this glue up in stages, and need force a bit I suggest you leave the last board(s) thicker to allow for mistakes.

Getting cold, might be an idea to have the timbers higher, should you not have a heat source on the ground like a room or underfloor heating.
If things are on the cold side, then I would not have them getting the remaining heat from the summer being replaced with the cold.
In my case higher is warmer, and chairs won't do, had glues not set before bringing in cold timber to the house on a chair beside the stove, (a thermal mass issue.)

Much easier to stick an oil rad under the lot if it's at bench height, and could even make a tent with a big blanket which is surprisingly good at holding in heat after glue up.
Beware of cracks if doing this, and not just the end grain, should there be knots,
keep the outside very damp, wet cloth every 10 mins for me in the house, cold garage seems a bit more forgiving and also 1500w compared to 2000w full blast oil rad.

Religion now after getting a few surprises.
I used to think the moisture might cool things down after my glues blues, but
apparently this might have beneficial effect, as it's what the folks used to do in the times of hide glue ups.
I hope someone can give more info about this, to clarify whatever it is what I'm on about, as nothing more dangerous as a half understood thing, and I must have been very sleepy when I acquired that tid bit.
View attachment 121216
All the best with the bench
Tom
Thank you very much Tom for useful ideas for building my bench.

Yesterday, I have tried to run through the thicknesser one of the boards that I have flattened one face and edge by hand. The board had dimensions 120x40x440 mm. I have first used the thickness planer on the rough opposite side and then run the side, that has been already planed flat by a hand plane to get two perfectly coplanar faces.

I have compared the results with my hand planed only board of the same size under the straight edge and the results were very similar in terms of overal flatness. I was happy to find that. However if I hand planed S4S, i was out by 0.1 - 0.2 mm in thickness of the board by hand planing - by being very careful, whereas thicknesser was out only up to 0.05 mm. Not to say that it is much less effort to thickness by a machine.

The surface quality was leagues ahead by using the hand plane than the thicknesser. And I have Makita benchtop thicknesser with almost new set of knives.
I have only used no.5 jack plane with a cambered blade. No smoothing plane was needed. On some boards there is a little tear out present in closed areas, so I will address it with a smoother or scraper later.

However I know that if I hand plane wider and longer boards, it will be more difficult to match the accuracy of the thicknesser.

I will glue the wood in stages as I do not have that many clamps. I will glue each leg and stretcher separately (glue up of 2 or 3 boards)

and I will have two separate blocks of 7 boards for the top. So I will glue up groups of 3 and 4 boards and then glue them together to form a 7 board half of the top.

When I assemble two halves of the top into their corresponding mortices there will be a gap between them that will be just for one final board. That board will be planed tight and hammered in the gap between two halves. Thus it would be easier for me to disassemble to top later, e.g. for some maintenance. Top will not be glued or drawbored with the leg tenons. It will be held by gravity.
 

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