Treat your workbench like it’s scrap

Workbenches. Left out of the information out there for hobbyists is this: the workbench should be disposable. Not because it will be disposed of often. I haven’t had to replace mine yet; but the more I work, the more I have learned to treat mine like it’s scrap wood.

Just showing up here, out of the blue after a long absence, with some brief advice.

Often the best way to hold a piece where I want it on the benchtop is to screw some piece of scrap to the bench, to hold it down. No mussing about with doe’s foot, or re-smacking the holdfast down tight again. I use my holdfasts all the time. They’re wonderful. If I’m puzzled about how to secure something where it’s easiest to work on, I don’t waste time puzzling out hole placement or hunting the right width of board. I grab a 2 inch crew and my impact driver. Problem solved.

If I’m chopping a mortise, the last thing I want is another sacrifice board underneath my piece. That extra board subtracts from the force I’m applying with the chisel. I wouldn’t worry if it did, but despite this abuse, my workbench doesn’t have a lot of chop marks in it. There aren’t many times that I’m not chopping from both sides of a board to avoid mistakes.

I think one of the more important considerations woodworkers should consider when deciding on a bench design, is how willing they will be to treat it harshly.

The workbench is a tool. Make a tool, not a piece of furniture.

I’ve been thinking about revisiting some of the topics in my earlier posts to give my perspective today. For example, there are a lot of what were called “essential” tools that I’ve never had a use for. We’ll see what happens. Life keeps me busy, and deciding to use my time sharing my musings, which are no more value than what else is already out there, often doesn’t feel necessary.

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Workshop slowly emerging

With my bench built, the workshop is slowly coming together.


Getting this done 30 minutes or so at a time, over lunch, for a bit after work before dinner.

Going to raise that dutch tool chest about 10″ off the floor, which will have it with it’s lid open coming up just under the saws. Have another tool chest I haven’t figured out whether I’m going to move out here or keep in the house.

That chop saw has to go elsewhere.

I think a chisel rack to the right of the bench planes, where my mallet is hanging in this photo. Perhaps auger bits and braces to the right of that. Think I’ll put the lathe just out of frame, also on the right, in between my new bench and my father’s work bench.

Decisions and planning. Very good times.

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My “Naked Woodworker” Bench

Work on the garage finally reached a point where I could start work on assembling my workshop.

As mentioned in the last post, I put together my father’s workbench.

Last Saturday I also purchased the lumber and began work on what will be my principle workbench, ala Mike Siemsen’s Nicholson style bench from his DVD “The Naked Woodworker”.


In part because I’d considered it before, and largely due to the quality of the lumber at the local store, I made some design modifications to the bench. I chose to use 2×8 lumber instead of 1×8 for the ledgers. I also chose to purchase 2×6 lumber for the legs, rather than saw them out of the extra material from the aprons and top. That last decision wasn’t based so much on the quality of the material available, as it was laziness, and telling myself that I’d like to have a bit more scrap left over for odd jobs around the farm. Also, the 2×6 material available at the store was in really good shape.

There’s something you need to watch out for if you decide to go with 2×8 instead of 1×8 material for the ledgers. I’ll touch on that further on in this post.

I also decided I’d buy some No. 10 and No. 9 screws instead of only No. 8, based on what was available at the store that day.

We had guests visiting last Saturday, so I didn’t get around to doing anything with that lumber until Sunday. I’d thought I’d go out and just cut some of the pieces down to size. I wanted to be sure and review the DVD and notes before getting too far ahead of myself.

It’s felt great to be building something again. I’ve done a fair amount of work with wood in the past year, but that’s been in the vein of reattaching old doors to outbuildings, construction on the garage, and the like.

Crosscutting with a sharp saw is so much much different than it used to be, before I learned to sharpen my saws. It’s almost relaxing. Thanks again to Mike Siemsen. I took a saw sharpening class from him last year.

With most of the lumber cut to size, I was feeling good so forged ahead. I’d watched the video many times, and remembered how to lay out the positions of the ledgers on the aprons. Doing that would also allow me to cut much of the rest of the lumber to size. So I dove in and got the aprons and ledgers assembled before taking a break for lunch.


It was while sitting down inside that something kept bugging me. Something didn’t feel quite right. I got out my laptop and reviewed the video, and the sketchup files.


Geez, I wish I hadn’t glued and screwed those pieces together. The ledgers are *not* supposed to be flush with the edge of the aprons. They are supposed to sit the width of a 2×4 down from the top of apron. Looks like I won’t be using 2x4s for my bearers. Going back out to the shop to look this blunder over, I found that I also managed to get the top and bottom, or left and right sides, or some combination of all of these turned around in my head. I attached the shorter of the 4 outside ledgers to the wrong end of the apron. I was going to have to fix that, or learn how to work left-handed.

Luckily, by not reviewing things beforehand I also forgot the bit about drilling clearance holes in the aprons for the screws that hold the ledger pieces in place while the glue dries. Because of this I had a less than perfect glue joint, and was able with the help of a chisel, small pry bar, and patience, to remove the two end ledger pieces from the front apron without too much damage. I was able to remove one ledger piece with little enough damage that I reused it. The other I cut new.

I considered my options with the ledgers being wrongly aligned to the edge of the aprons. I knew I wouldn’t be lucky enough to have done such a poor job on the glue up that I’d successfully remove all the ledger pieces without destroying the aprons, the ledgers, or both. I decided I’d need to cut new wider bearers to replace the 2x4s. That problem would wait until I got caught up to it. For the rest of the time I had left that Sunday I assembled the leg pieces.

I dutifully went about crosscutting the 2×6 material I had for the legs by hand. The lumber wasn’t as dry as I wish. Hand-sawing the first leg gave me grief as my saw kept binding up in the wood. I considered going and finding my old Stanley Sharptooth saw, as I new it had more set in the teeth. However I also have a chop-saw, and weighed my desire to stick to traditional tools to my desire to have this thing square and level when I was done. I opted to use the chop-saw.

This project has been a mix of traditional hand tool and power tool work for me. Where the power tools are better fit for the job, I’ve used them. That included using an impact driver throughout this project for the screws, and a drill for all the clearance holes.

On the other hand, there’s been plenty of opportunity to go traditional. I don’t know what power tool users do in the face of needing these notches cut for the legs. Bandsaw I guess? Much quicker and easier to get out the chisel and the mallet.


With time running out on Sunday, I had my aprons, ledgers, and legs assembled, mistakes and all.


Last week I took small bits of time over lunch and after work to continue work on the bench, 30 minutes or so at a time.

For the bearers, I used the leftover 3′ pieces of 2×12 from the top and aprons to cut 4″ wide bearers that fit right. Used the contractor’s saw for that, as time is short and I didn’t care to rip all 6 of those out. It would have been a good project to get better at ripping. When done, the bearers are invisible, and they don’t have to look good or be cut perfectly to do their job. Then again, I’m even less experienced using the contractor’s saw, so I got in some good practice with it.

Here’s a couple photos showing the issue with the bearers, and why 2×4’s wouldn’t work, in case it wasn’t clear above:



After that first blunder with the aprons and ledgers I’ve re-watched the different segments of video for each step along the way, making sure I remember what it is I’m doing. I’ve worried about the imperfections I’ve introduced along the way. That first leg I cut had an uneven shoulder. Took my large shoulder plane to it and corrected it some. Ended up also jointing that side of the bench more aggressively to get it level with the other side. Will the small issues in this build add up and result in my cussing this bench, rather than enjoying it?

The other afternoon while reviewing the video I spotted something, and it’s reassured me quite a bit.


Notice the shim Mike’s got under that back leg? Yeah. Imperfections happen. I suspect that bench later got it’s leg heights adjusted. There’s things to fix, and other things that you just work around. As one of you told me once: “It’s just wood.”

By Wednesday I had the jointing done, the legs and aprons assembled, the bearers installed and everything planed down flat.


Thursday I got the mortise for the planing stop cut, and the top glued and screwed in place. I also got the crochet cut to size.


Friday morning I attached the crochet, determined the location of the holes for the top and got those drilled.

Over lunch on Friday I laid out the location of the holes on the apron and the legs, and after work I drilled those as well.



Next time I build this bench, I’m going to hold off on drilling the lowest holes on the legs. Will I ever need that lowest one? Time will tell. They’re close enough to the edge and the end of the leg, that there’s a real risk of splitting a chunk out. Don’t think that would likely impact the functionality of the bench, but why risk it?

Alternatively, if I decide that final low hole is really worth having, I could secure the bottom of the leg with a clamp so it doesn’t risk splitting, and then drill the hole.

Here I’ve got a very small split that developed on one leg:


Here’s the bench with all the holes drilled. Close to complete:


There is one issue anyone choosing to use 2×8 material for their ledgers should watch out for. My holdfasts are just touching the tops of the ledgers. I’ll get that fixed with little work. I examined the Sketchup plans, and located my dog holes 3″ from the edge of the bench without thinking about the fact that I’ve got a 1 1/2″ apron and a 1 1/2″ ledger piece down below.

Anyone who chooses to go with 2×8 material I’d advise to locate those dog holes 3 1/8″ off the edge of the bench.




Saturday morning I went into town and picked out a board to use for the center stick. Ended up buying an 8 foot 1×3″ of oak. The design suggest a 1×2, but the pieces of 1×2 were milled down to 1 1/2″, so I went with the wider piece (which was milled to 2 1/2″).

Fitting this stick seems like it will be a pretty easy thing to do watching the video and reviewing the plans. I advise folks to make sure the lumber they choose for this is dead straight. My center stick is fighting me some. It’s not a dead straight piece of wood. I have to use the mallet to knock it up and out, and down and back in. With time I think it’ll tame out.

And here’s a tip for anyone else building this bench. It dawned on me while cutting the notches. Once you’ve got your notches laid out and you’re ready to start cutting them out, take some of those extra nuts you’ve got on hand that you use to attach the carriage bolts, and drop them down on top of the bearers.

That’ll raise your stick just high enough that you can cut the verticals with the stick inserted into the bench, without much risk of leaving deep saw marks in your bench top.



On Sunday morning I went and picked up a couple 3/4″ oak dowels, and cut them down to use as pegs. They’re really tight in places. We’ll see how things stand once the wood reaches some equilibrium with my garage.

I haven’t installed any blocking underneath the dog holes yet. I’ve tested my Gramercy holdfasts on the bench. They seem to grab a half-inch thick piece of wood fine. If I start encountering issues, I’ll experiment with installing some blocking.

And here we are. It’s more stout that I thought it would be. It isn’t going to move around on me much. With the bench built, I’m excited to be putting my workshop together, and looking forward to doing some woodworking!



I don’t know what I can add to reviews of “The Naked Woodworker” that haven’t already been stated elsewhere.

It is as of today THE purchase anyone wanting to get started woodworking should make. I do think this bench could be built in a day, if you’ve got a full day to devote to it. First time beginner, make it 2 days, as you figure out which tool does what and how best to use it. But what’s the hurry? Enjoy building the bench. Using construction grade lumber really takes the pressure off. Screw up a cut? You’re out at worst a 2×12 board. The design is robust enough small errors won’t impact the functionality of this bench, either.

Posted in Books, Magazines, & DVDs, Experts, Getting Started, Work Shop, workbench | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

My Father’s Workbench

Last week I got my father’s workbench put back together.


It was one of the first things he built. He never had very much space to work in, and so this bench was a good choice for him.

The plans for the bench can still be purchased, here:

I don’t find it a joy to work on. It’s a bit too high, and never feels as stable as I’d like. It served him well though for quite a few years.

I was also always fascinated by the concept. Collapsed as it is here, it protrudes about a foot from the wall. Before I took up woodworking, I thought the design could be adapted for a kitchen workstation, where space is at a premium.

Here’s an exploded view, grabbed from the plans:


Over the years he modified it, adding a twin-screw-of-sorts face vise instead of the single, and a tail vise. The tail vise interferes with the leg on the right side being able to extend all the way. The two face vises don’t make a good twin screw set-up. In addition, the two additional vises make it way heavier than it was meant to be, meaning that setting it up is quite a bit more of a chore than it’s supposed to be. He had installed a rope and pulley system over the bench to make that easier.

My current plan is to use it as a dedicated joinery bench. The height is right for it. I haven’t decided for sure, but I’m thinking about removing the shoulder vise and reducing the bench down to one face vise again. That’ll involve reducing the width of the top (or building a new one), where it was cut out to make room for the shoulder vise.

I really like the tool storage. Everything is right at hand.

Since getting this set up last week, I’ve purchased the lumber and started work on my Nicholson bench, following the Naked Woodworker DVD from Mike Siemsen. I’ve taken a few photos, lightly documenting the process and showing a real doozy of an error.

Stay tuned.

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Checking in

A lot has happened since my last post, and though for a while I worked hard at not doing so, I’ve been thinking about this blog quite a bit.

Over the Summer my father died of lung cancer. It was a gruesome ordeal. I know the experience changed me – probably not for the better. I’m still sorting through how and suspect I’ll be doing that for some time.

One comparatively trivial change has been figuring out my approach to this blog. My father had also taken up woodworking, and this blog was a way for me to share the hobby with him.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what the hobby means to me now, and how I will approach this blog – whether I will still do this blog – going forward.

I think things will continue both with woodworking and this blog much as they always have. Eventually.

Right now, I lost so much time this summer caring for my father and family, that there hasn’t been time for woodworking.

I think that is going to change relatively soon. Another month or so and I hope to finally get a workbench built in the new garage/workshop that has been just near a year in the making.

Winter is coming fast, and I think I’m ready. Here in Minnesota you’ve got to be sure and get a lot of things taken care of before winter hits in force. We’re raising chickens this year, and preparing housing has taken up a lot of time.

When work allows (not often – work is only as busy as it is now every eight years) I’m cleaning up tools. Lots more tools. I’m not even able to make a list of the tools I own now. That’s my message for beginning woodworkers, as like I did not very long ago, they wonder how they’ll ever have all the tools people say are essential: don’t worry too much about it. There comes a point where the tools just start finding you.

The high temperature tomorrow is forecast to be 58 degrees. A low of 41. The leaves on the trees are just starting to change. It’s quite noticeable that it’s getting dark earlier each day, as the air dries out and thoughts shift direction toward things you might try to get done that don’t involve being outside.

I hope to be back at the bench soon.

Posted in Non-Germane | 5 Comments

My Own Mallet

Work and the world have caught up with me in a big way, and haven’t left much time for anything else. When I’ve thought about posting (or even reading) something, I’ve realized that the same time could be spent woodworking, and have opted for the latter.

And there hasn’t been a lot of time for that.

There has though been enough for me to finish making myself a mallet, out of a piece of Osage Orange firewood and some Ash. Here’s a photo gallery, with the story in the captions.

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Making a Mallet

If there aren’t too many cracks in all the wrong places, the plan is to turn this piece of Osage Orange firewood into a new mallet.

Shavings included in photo, just because Osage Orange is pretty.


Posted in Projects, Wood & Lumber | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Sell a Kidney

When we talk about wood being one of the more expensive components of this hobby, we usually aren’t talking about wood-pulp.

This January though, Lost Art Press is staking claim to our meager dollars, first with The Anarchist’s Design Book, and now with The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years.

I’m on track to spend more on paper this year than 4/4 lumber.

So be it. I really don’t know how, if you’re at all able to scratch together the dough, you don’t buy the Hayward books. Close to 900 pages long in two volumes (so far, as they say). I will be completely shocked if I don’t feel I got a good deal for my money when the title ships.

If they keep this pace up over at LAP, month after month, I may start campaigning for them to go against their current model and start releasing paper-backs. Have to have some money leftover to try all this stuff out that I’ve been reading about in their books.

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Tools and Family

I recently made a trip South to see my family, and came back with a car load of tools.

It wasn’t very long ago at all that I looked at the list of essential tools woodworkers should have, and wondered if I shouldn’t find some other hobby, as these would take ages, and a small fortune to accumulate.

If you’re in that place now, take heart. There comes a point when the tools just start to find you.

As I ran out of space in our Corolla to fit everything, I wondered whether I hadn’t passed some threshold, and was no longer a woodworker that liked old tools, but an old tool collector that dabbled with wood-working. The jury is still out. I’ll strive to just make sure I’m enjoying myself regardless, and not worry about it.

Some of the tools acquired belonged to my grandfather, who worked as a carpenter. My No. 5 Jack Plane, which I’ve had forever, belonged to him. Now I’ve brought home his old toolbox, and a number of additional tools that were his. The toolbox doesn’t offer any windows into the highly skilled methods of craftsmen of old. What it shows is someone making a living, and not spending money where it didn’t need spent. He built this box while working in a shipyard during World War II, out of plywood and nails. He used it the rest of his working life. My mother talks about him coming home at the end of the day, this thing slung across his shoulder. I’m going to insure that its condition doesn’t deteriorate, and make small repairs as needed to keep it in one piece.


I also have a couple of handsaws that were his – they’re in rough shape. Both are Disston’s, but neither are very old. I think one that was clearly a favorite – it’s been sharpened down to under 4″ wide, is probably from the 60’s. There’s another Disston that never saw much use that I think may be as recent as the 70’s or even later. I also took a double-sided pruning saw that was likely not used by my Grandfather but instead by my Grandmother. There are a few hammers, an old brace, and stuff.


I’m hoping I can get this breast drill that we think was his cleaned up enough to work. It’s rusted solid right now. I’m not even sure all the parts have been found yet.



This small “fastener toolbox” I remember from when I was a kid. It might not be the easiest way to keep fasteners at the ready while at your bench, but it’s great for when you need to take the tools to the work.


I don’t know what this tool is. That’s a flat-head screwdriver on the end.


This metal vise was left behind by one of my uncles. I’m sure it will come in very useful, once cleaned up.


My stepfather worked as an auto-mechanic when I was growing up. He’s also always had a fascination with old tools. So at auctions or other sales, when something catches his eye he often comes home with it. I helped make a little additional space for him to store stuff by taking a couple braces and some bits off his hands, as well as a small saw sharpening vise.


Also a handful of more old handsaws.


Somewhere he found this old, um, “table saw.” You take an electric motor and attach it to this by way of a belt, and you’re up and running.


I’m very excited to get this mounted somewhere and put it to work. A manual drill press. It’s big and heavy, and we think it works as is.


My mother bought my stepfather these molding planes. There’s 16 different profiles here. Very likely the priciest tools collected on this trip.


After visiting with my mother and stepfather, I traveled to Kansas City to see my father. He took up woodworking as a hobby a few years before I did. The day I arrived we went to a meeting of the Kansas City Woodworker’s Guild. Very impressive place.

Waiting for me when I arrived at his house was my Christmas present this year, a tool chest he made for me out of cherry.



I’m still haven’t decided if this chest will go near my workbench, or be a chest that I use to keep tools stored away from the weather in. It’s very nicely finished, and it’s going to be hard to decide it’s OK if it gets scratched and dinged up, as it will if I start working out of it. Regardless, it will be treasured, and passed on to future generations.

I’ve got several more months of rust removal and sharpening ahead of me. Starting to wonder if we shouldn’t have built a larger garage….

Posted in Non-Germane, Tools | 10 Comments

The Anarchist’s Design Book

I just finished reading Christopher Schwarz’s latest, The Anarchist’s Design Book.

I won’t give a full review, as even though this is a work of non-fiction I don’t want to offer any spoilers.

What I will say is this: if you were wondering whether this would be a book you’d have to buy in order to know what people were talking about, the answer is yes.

So just go buy it. We’ll all be using ‘ADB’ as shorthand the same as we’ve been using ‘ATC’ for a few years now.

It is a different book than The Anarchist’s Tool Chest. Where the ATC contained instructions on how to build a tool chest, and in-depth discussion on tools, ADB contains 12 projects, walked through beginning to end.

What it also contains is a long discussion of ideas that I think the hobbyists among us will be talking about for some time to come. Ideas about what to make, how to make, why to make, and what tools are needed to get busy making stuff.

If you want to know what people are talking about, you’ll need to read the book. The PDF version costs $23. The hardcover costs $47, and until February 15th includes a PDF version as well. The hardcover is not expected to ship until late February.

Posted in Books, Magazines, & DVDs, Experts | 2 Comments