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Yet another english style workbench build

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billw

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Thanks. Until it is finished I won't know if I can take on a project this size! This is literally the first proper thing I've attempted. That's probably why I'm being overly precious with little chips etc! As others have said it's just a workbench that's going to get battered anyway. Are you limited on space to build something large?
Yeah space is a bit precious at the moment, but I have a bench already - not a great one admittedly - and longer term I think I'll be making things that don't require huge amounts of room, or large machinery. I'm already in the mindset of thinking about how to design with components that have pretty small widths and thicknesses!
 

SteL

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Right onto the aprons now. Here I said I'd have a go at ditching the guides when sawing the shoulders. I chickened out! Instead, I did the shoulders with the guide and the relief cuts were used as practice. Using the tips here and elsewhere I can report I'm still at 50/50 on getting it straight. Here's my first attempt...

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Second attempt...

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That's the way it continued for all the cuts - Mr 50/50!

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The notches for the legs were just bigger versions of the joints on the legs...

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I did make a slight cockup on the first attempt at this joint. I was trying to get the angle to match the angle on the leg exactly when it doesn't really matter as they're going to be set apart a bit to allow for expansion of the apron. Anyway, that sent me down a path where I ended up having to come down a couple mm and reshape the slope. The apron will sit a couple of mm lower on that leg now, but they're oversized so I can sort that when levelling them on top. Luckily it was the back apron as well!

It was a workout trying to position the legs for marking...

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I was very pleased when I did my first dry fit that everything lined up and the thing is solid without anything actually holding it together. In fact, it took some effort to get it back apart.

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You can see the back right apron joint is almost level with the trestle - definitely not part of the plan. That's because I was faffing around with the angle too much as I've already said. Those aprons will be planed to be level with the trestle eventually so I'm just glad it didn't end up any further down.

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I then finished off the rest of the notches in the aprons

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The bearer notches were a bit of work - all 8 of them. I timed myself doing the second to last one and it took me 22 minutes from marking to finish. The first ones would have been easily 30 minutes and a couple of them even longer. Being a beginner, I'm not interested in how quickly I'm going but when I'm working on this bench hours seem to disappear so I just wanted to account for at least some of them!

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You can see my invisible steel-capped safety flip-flops there - very appropriate for working with chisels and heavy wood.

I somehow made one of the bearer notches too deep. I thought to myself, so long as that isn't near the corner where the apron sits low down (the cockup mentioned before) I should be alright because the aprons will be getting planed down anyway. Surely the woodworking gods wouldn't allow me to make two cockups in exactly the same place. Of course, it was in the same place. So I had to put a little insert in on that one...

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So two cockups combined to give me a bit of a headache but nothing major. I hope as I get more experienced to see these issues coming and basically think ahead more!

The other thing that I hope to improve on is positioning and holding the work. You wouldn't believe the ways I tried to position the legs and aprons together so I could mark them up. WIth them being heavy and big I had a nightmare in a smallish shed. I went back and watched the video on how Richard positions them and it's obvious when you see it - I was like spiderman climbing all over the place!
 

MikeG.

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I tell you what, you're doing some pretty decent joinery there. That's going to be a really strong bench when it's done.

Planing the aprons down is a step I'd have tried to avoid, I reckon, because you've now got to decide on a final line. How you decide where that should be, and how you mark it all around the bench, I'm really not too sure about. Maybe you'll just have to stand it on a flat surface, find the low point, and then take that height around the aprons with pinch sticks, or a batten cut to length.
 

SteL

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I tell you what, you're doing some pretty decent joinery there. That's going to be a really strong bench when it's done.

Planing the aprons down is a step I'd have tried to avoid, I reckon, because you've now got to decide on a final line. How you decide where that should be, and how you mark it all around the bench, I'm really not too sure about. Maybe you'll just have to stand it on a flat surface, find the low point, and then take that height around the aprons with pinch sticks, or a batten cut to length.
Thanks, MikeG. I'm pleased how it is turning out so far. Fingers crossed it stays that way! I've been worrying about flattening the aprons down. I'm mooching about the place looking for a flat even surface to use. I've been eyeing up the kitchen floor to do it on but I'll have to get that past the boss first! I know the trestles are both the exact same height as each other, so I just need to uniformly take the aprons down to be level with them while on a flat level surface. That's going to be easy near to the trestles but harder in the middle. I'll have to rewatch the video on this bit because I recall wedges being used to remove twist from the bench before assembly as well.

I've just had a look at pinch sticks. Thinking about it, that would definitely help gauge the size all around. I think I'll cut a batten for it. Thanks for the tip.

On an unpopular note, I've ordered a big wooden screw and nut for the vice. It'll give me a chance to have a go at some mortise and tenon joints at least! I'm just waiting for that to arrive now so as I can lay it out on the front apron before it is glued and nailed.
 

samhay

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Looking good. I pinched, some of Richard's design elements for my bench.

You can use wedges to prop up a corner to get some/most of the wind out. This will save some time planeing the aprons, but means you may well have to trim or shim the legs when you're done. If you have a little extra height to play with, that's no big deal. Planeing the aprons is not difficult either, but you'll need long enough winding sticks to span front-to-back.
 

Trainee neophyte

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You can see my invisible steel-capped safety flip-flops there - very appropriate for working with chisels and heavy wood.
I have a pair just like those - pretty soon I am going to lose a toe, and then everyone will say "I toed you so". Never have an jury that lends itself to puns - your just asking for abuse.
 

SteL

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Looking good. I pinched, some of Richard's design elements for my bench.

You can use wedges to prop up a corner to get some/most of the wind out. This will save some time planeing the aprons, but means you may well have to trim or shim the legs when you're done. If you have a little extra height to play with, that's no big deal. Planeing the aprons is not difficult either, but you'll need long enough winding sticks to span front-to-back.
Thanks. That's true, the winding sticks I have are only 18" so I might have to look up how to make some. I'm just following everything to the letter to hopefully avoid major unforeseen cockups! I'm nowhere near the stage where I can start going off script.

p.s. where did you find the wooden screw?
Someone on here pointed out Dictum (Germany) sell them. I could only find them in the US so that saved on delivery and duty. Still very expensive, though!
 

MikeG.

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Don't use winding sticks along the length as described above. They're for the ends only. If they are parallel at either end of the bench, then all you need is a straight line between them.......so some sort of straight edge, or just sight along the benchtop.
 

samhay

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>Don't use winding sticks along the length as described above.
Agreed, and I think we're saying the same thing - you need winding sticks that can run perpendicular to the apron and can span from front to back. If this bench is ~24" deep then the 18" ones you currently have won't work. You don't need anything fancy though and you should be able to make do with offcuts. It only has to be flat and true enough to get the planks to sit nicely on the top of the apron without gaps (assuming the top planks are reasonably flat).

The wooden screws look great, but also cost more than my bench. Are you planning on doing the old school face vice like this?
 

SteL

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>Don't use winding sticks along the length as described above.
Agreed, and I think we're saying the same thing - you need winding sticks that can run perpendicular to the apron and can span from front to back. If this bench is ~24" deep then the 18" ones you currently have won't work. You don't need anything fancy though and you should be able to make do with offcuts. It only has to be flat and true enough to get the planks to sit nicely on the top of the apron without gaps (assuming the top planks are reasonably flat).

The wooden screws look great, but also cost more than my bench. Are you planning on doing the old school face vice like this?
Thanks, I've got some long offcuts I'll cut in half and plane together. That's the one! My bench is just over half the length of that beast. If it turns out over half as good I'll be happy!

I know, all the timber for the bench cost about £150 so the vice screw will be more expensive than all the other parts put together!
 

SteL

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After waiting for my vice screw & nut to finally arrive, I set to putting a whopping great hole in the apron. I did a few test runs of this on scrap first and it ended up not being as bad as I thought it would be to get through. I didn't understand what Richard meant on the video by saying if you come in from both sides you'll end up with a bit in the middle that the drill can't reach. I thought I'd just sail right through but once there's no material for the screw of the bit to pull on, that's the end of your hole. I was dubious about the solution as well... knocking it out with a hammer, but it worked nicely after a clean up with a knife.

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Next, chop another big hole for the vice guide. This took me a while, to be honest. I was tempted to get the drill out but I persevered with the chisel. Maybe a proper mortice chisel would have helped but I haven't got one and I'm trying not to keep buying tools!

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Then a notch for the vice screw to sit in - that knot made life pretty difficult. I swapped from just using a chisel to a Record router plane I've had knocking about. I don't use it because I can't get the hang of sharpening the irons for it and it feels like it takes forever lowering the iron by tiny amounts.

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Oh, here are the screw and nut...

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very nice

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No massive cockups. In fact, I had a bit of good luck. The diagram for where to place the nut has it about 1/2" higher than mine. Because of my ugly knot, I decided it was worth putting it just below it (although it was still lurking underneath anyway). It was only later on when I was patting myself on the back I remembered those aprons are oversized. Then I remembered Richard said in the video to remember to take that into account when measuring. When I started to work out the scale of the problem I realised that the knot had saved my bacon by making me put the nut lower.

Next, I will be getting them aprons nailed and glued. It will start to look like a bench then (hopefully).
 

SteL

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Right onto the glueing and hammering. I watched a David Charlesworth video a couple of weeks ago where he referred to this stage as the point where within a few minutes you can ruin days of work (something along those lines anyway!) With those words of encouragement, I started to think about getting those aprons nailed and glued on. My plan was to do this in the kitchen where it is flat until someone asked the obvious question of how will I carry it back out. I decided to do another dry fit to see how heavy it was.

I can't remember if I've already mentioned this but I used flooring straps for the dry fittings. I only own 4 x 30cm clamps and there aren't many easy clamping opportunities around the bench. They've been a lifesaver and will come in handy for the glue up.

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Anyway, the bench is just about liftable without the top on if you stand inside it and sort of deadlift it right in the middle. As I'm only 5ft 7, that only lifts the bench about 3 inches off the ground so there's no chance of me moving it on my own and I wanted to crack on.

I just fount the most level area I could and got on with it. Beforehand I gave the trestles a quick tart up with my plane and chamfered the edges

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Like a fool, I'd bought 5-inch oval wire nails for this job. My calculation was 4-inch leg plus a 2-inch apron. I was forgetting that the leg and apron are like a double joint fitting into each other. I'm just glad I held one of the nails up to the leg before I'd started glueing.

Whenever I've used adhesives in the past I know I start rushing and making mistakes that lead to more mistakes. It's like someone starts the countdown clock, the music starts and I'm fumbling to form a four-letter word from the letters. I was determined to be calm and methodical and try to anticipate those mistakes before the glue goes on and the sweat comes out! So cockup number 1 was fixable. I still had a load of those smaller cut nails. I didn't want to use them after they caused a split in one of the top rails, but they were the only alternative to hand.

And so let the panic commence!

I was so focused on the glue that I didn't remember to take any photos at this point! I will say that true to form I did start to mess about and panic. I also learned that I'm a messy gluer-upper! I thought you can't have too much, so slap it in there. I was having to clean up all over the place and what did I reach for? An oily rag! So that was even more of a mess. So cockup number 2 - not having the things I'm going to need to hand. I finally found some clean rags to continue with.

So these images are from when the red mist descended...

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I didn't really perceive hammering as a skill but I do now. I was trying to be as careful as possible getting those nails in but as you can see I left my hammer mark on the 3rd nail down on the leg, and for some unknown reason my hammer was attracted to a spot in the centre of the 4 nails on the diagonal brace. It is going to need a good cleanup that now! I think it was probably fatigue that led to these misplaced blows. Those cut nails didn't just fly in easy at all. You could hear the pitch of them changing as they got tighter in and as they got closer in they got harder to move.

One thing I didn't aticipate was hitting the nails that are already in the trestles behind. You wouldn't think you would be that unlucky but that happned on two of the nails for me. I had to take them out and change their angle. I should've roughly checked they weren't aligned before hammering.

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I initially decided not to put nails into the diagonal brace, then I thought I'd have a go at clinching nails (I've not tried it before) but I wish I never started it. I was using nails that didn't like the idea of bending so easy. It also added those few out of place hammer blows on the apron. I should've quit while I was ahead!

Next was to plane the aprons down to be level with the trestles. I didn't end up using the pinch stick/baton idea because the floor wasn't a good reference now. Because I know the trestle joints were marked off each other, so long as the joints are tight, the thing should be level. I then used the straightest length I had to span the trestles and I butted it up against the inside of the apron for a rough guideline, then just a square to check the level.

I hacked off most of it with a #4 with a massive camber on, then went to a #5 1/2 - oh, I know I said I wasn't going to buy any more planes... but... in anticipation of this step I bought an old #7 to finish it. I can't help myself! That's the last one now.


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It's finally starting to look like a bench. It is rock solid even without the top and the only things I'm not happy with so far are cosmetic. I've never built a piece of furniture so when I do in the future I'm going to have to be a hell of a lot more delicate!

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You can see above the amount of glue residue left on the diagonal brace. That's from where I nearly dropped the apron in panic mode with corporal Jones screaming in the background. As I caught it, all the glue in the notch pressed on the diagonal brace. I wiped it with a rag but it still left a slight residue. I had to crack on becuase at that time I had glue sitting in all the other notches waiting for their new home. I'm not sure on the best way to clean that up now. Sandpaper? Maybe blockplane?

Next step will be to get all the bearers in and then nail the planked top on. I can already anticipate a problem here, though. You can see how much of a twist there is in that middle board above. I'm confident it'll flatten when nailed, I just don't know how I'm going to plane its edges straight and test fit it next to the other planks to visually check the small gap is nice and even between them. There's no obvious way I can think to clamp it down. I can't take that much twist out with a plane or there will be nothing left of the board. Any suggestions would be appreciated!
 

AndyT

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I'd just like to say well done and thanks as well for writing up the whole experience so clearly and frankly. I'm sure it will be really useful for anyone else wanting to build a bench like this. It's good to see mention of the sort of thing that isn't always obvious - like the weight of a complete assembly or the effect of a bit of panic.

As for your twisted board - I've no idea if this is right, but if I was in your shoes and couldn't replace it with a straighter piece, this is what I would do. I'd get someone else to hold one end while I pressed down on the other, to get a feel for how strong the twisting force is. If it relaxed into place fairly easily, I'd just fit it and make good. But although that wood work on a thin floor board it might not work here. If it didn't, I'd try fixing one end flat but on the other I would put a thin wedge of wood onto the top of the supporting member, not as thick all of the twist but maybe half of it, so that the board would sit down onto it without too much forcing. After it was fixed, I'd then plane the bump off - but I would only be removing half as much wood compared to making it flat on both sides.
As for getting the width even, can you just start at the front and add a board at a time? If so, then any surplus width will be an overhang at the back and can be planed off afterwards, or after a trial fit.
 

thetyreman

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looks really good I like your work rate and level of progress,

my experience with twist is that it's better to use a new board than try and get it to untwist especially with thicker stock like this. I had a similar thing happen to me during my workbench build, tried to salvage it and it simply wouldn't stop twisting so just used a new piece, if you put in the twisted board it can distort the bench slightly by trying to pull it.
 

SteL

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Thanks, AndyT & thetyreman. The twist is too strong to get out with hand pressure, but I've just got it out with clamps on either end. I think I'll take both of your advice and get a new length for it. I could even get one hardwood plank to go as the front board where most of the work will be and put the front one to the middle. Not sure that would look great but it'd be hardwearing. I might research a hardwood that wouldn't look totally different from the pine if that is possible. I've never tried to do anything with hardwood, though and I've still got to put a big hole in the front plank for the planing stop. At least the timber yard might be open to the public now so I can choose my own. I'll have a ponder! Thanks for the advice.
 

Cabinetman

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Hi SteL, most impressed, not sure really why you are using nails except that’s what probably other people have told you, but that’s not your fault. I like the way you defeat your problems, I always think that what makes a good woodworker is the way they can think ahead in an innovative way to solve the problems to get a great end result.
Now have a look at my post, it’s called something like " I think this should be required viewing for every woodworker " A really great woodworker showing how to hold timber down or against a bench using bench holdfasts, a strange thing that lifts out of the centre of the bench, and a strange angled stick on the front apron.
I know, gobbledygook but you watch it, I know you will be amazed. Happy woodworking Ian
 

Blaidd-Drwg

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Really excellent write-ups on this build. I finished my English/Nicholson style bench about 6 months ago and the weight very quickly became an issue (before I had finished building it). So I got some casters that are foot activated (just a lever that you flip up or down) and I am able to move my workbench around without any trouble.

They were not cheap, but they have been worth every penny.
 

Phil Pascoe

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I could just lift one end of mine - I got a three wheeled dolly from Lidl or Aldi and kicked it in under the lifted end then lifted the other end to move it. Easy. They're about £12 now iirc.
 

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