I don’t know about you, but sometimes distractions have the benefit of energizing me to take on the bigger tasks. I have two tables and a dozen Windsor chairs to make and I was looking for an improved method of holding/securing the thick pine chair seats while I fashion them with hand tools. I was excited when I found a design for a chairmaker’s bench on Drew Langsner’s website for Country Workshops (www.countryworkshops.com).
So here I go with building a modest 2 by 4 foot bench that will comfortably fit in my compact workshop. It features a laminated plywood top that exceeds the thickness of an earlier laminated bench top that involved three layers of 3/4 inch thick plywood. This one involved five layers of plywood that I had available from previous projects. After I laminated the plywood top I squared up the ends, trued the edges, filled voids in the laminations, and then treated the edges with two coats of epoxy. I made some modifications on the Country Workshop’s design by beefing up the size and weight of the legs and stretchers. My goal included a desire to make the bench plenty heavy so it didn’t move when I used a drawknife or spokeshave on the seats or other chair parts. One modification was to include a couple pieces of 1 3/4 inch thick red oak for the rear and front vise jaws. I notched the two front legs, which are roughly 5 5/8- 5 3/4 inch square, for the rear vise jaw.
The front vise jaw is a whopping 30 inches long with 24 inches between the steel screws. This bench features the Veritas Twin Screw Vise which is chain driven so that turning the right screw automatically adjusts the left one. I really like this vise. In the future I may opt to increase the length of the front vise jaw to 36 inches or more in length. With the steel support pins to clear the screws which are greased, the 30 inch vise jaw length limits me on clamping stock on the ends of the jaw like you would with a leg vise. Live and learn I guess. If I make another front vise jaw I think I’ll increase the thickness to 2 1/4 inches so it has more wood especially at the bottom edge. This would seem more optimal when you look at the amount of wood material on the inside bottom edge of the front vise jaw. Based on Veritas recommendations, the inside surface of the front vise jaw should be beveled about 2 degrees which means cutting away a wedge that is 7/32 inch at the base. You notice this more when you drill five 3/4 inch dog holes in the center of the vise jaw and counter bore them to 1 inch diameter for the bottom 2 inches. I’ll try it out the way it is for now. I need to make some chairs.
The legs started with douglas fir 4 by 4s that I laminated up with 2 by 6 and 2 x 4 stock. Needless to say it took a bunch of clamps and numerous glue ups. For the stretchers I used doubled up 2 by 6s and for the top stretchers I used 4 by 4s. With the design change on the front of the bench, it meant that the rear vise jaw became an apron on the bench. While I don’t like aprons on a bench per se, this modification gave me more control on assembling the bench together. Lag screws were used to hold the rear vise jaw and top together. Another piece of 1 3/4 inch thick red oak was used to help flatten the plywood top and to give me 3 1/2 inches of material thickness on the front edge of the bench in case I wanted to use F style clamps. That helped me avoid some otherwise unwanted limitations with an apron on a bench. In this case the rear vise jaw/apron is about 7 3/8 inches wide.
On this project I learned a lot more about using Forstner bits, upcut spiral router bits and brad point bits in a 3 inch thick laminated bench top. For one thing I didn’t realize that the Forstner bits being sold in many stores aren’t all made with HSS, which causes drilling speed to be more important when the bits are made out of carbon steel. Needless to say I lost temper in a couple of them and will now swear by HSS and not complain about the added cost. Nor did I have enough appreciation for the fact that the routing speed would matter as much as it did with HSS spiral upcut bits. It turned out that my standard go to Porter Cable router with 23,000 rpm was too fast for the 3/4 inch diameter Onsrud HSS bit I bought from Woodcraft. I used the spiral upcut bit on my bench top to make bench dog holes. Glen Huey of Popular Woodworking did a feature on using the upcut spiral bit to make dog holes on his benchtop using the same Porter Cable router. One difference was that my bench top is laminated plywood and Glen’s bench was hardwood. If you look at the 5 inch by 5 inch grid of dog holes you’ll see why it mattered to me. After about 5 holes, I discovered that the router bit burnt the wood and needed sharpening.
I am not done with the project. The many holes in the bench top will get an epoxy treatment so that the end grain of the plywood is hardened and durable for use with holdfasts and bench dogs. A West System epoxy with slower hardening time will be used on the dog holes. If I need more holes I’ll definitely use a lower rpm speed on the router bit and will see if my bit sharpening efforts succeeded or if I’ll need to task it to a professional machinist.
A couple things I am planning to do include building a tool tray for along the back side of the bench. I realized I needed this after my 3/4 inch brad point bit went rolling across the bench only to hit the floor. Man was I relieved to see that the spurs and center point were unscathed from the concrete floor. I use rubber mats but they aren’t everywhere. I also am using the area underneath the bench in the stretcher area for a tool storage compartment. I got the idea from Chris Schwarz (blog.lostartpress.com/2010/05/28/another-roubo-bench-fin/) and it entailed adding 1 inch square strips with glue and cut nails along the inside bottom edges of the stretchers. Roy Underhill also featured this idea on one of his episodes of building a Roubo bench on the Woodwright’s shop back in 2007 (French Bench). I then added tongue and grooved boards for a bottom that were attached with 1 1/2 inch long slotted screws. To accommodate some possible movement, I made the holes oblong for the screws and gapped the tongue and groove joints. What is left to do on the storage compartment is to build a lid with a raised panel and attach it with a couple reproduction T shaped hinges. If you like the hinges on Chris Schwarz’s bench storage lid they can be obtained from http://www.vandykes.com. I have an old oak panel that I will salvage for the raised panel and the frame will involve some red oak rails and stiles. I’ll post a follow up article when the bench is completed.
Thanks for looking. Blessings on your furniture making efforts too!