My Ultimate Workbench Build #2: Baby got legs!!!

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Blog entry by RS Woodworks posted 06-30-2011 07:08 AM 6634 reads 2 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Getting started... Part 2 of My Ultimate Workbench Build series Part 3: Some of this wood is pithing me off! »

Well today was the first day that I actually did any work on this bench. Some time ago (maybe 3 years?) I saw an ad in Kijiji for some wood that a lady was selling her in the city. Her dad had passed on and as a former woodworker, he had left a whole bunch of wood behind. By the time I saw the ad and got there, most of the good stuff was gone. I did get a few nice wide mahogany boards, and then a couple of old barn beams. The two big ones were 8’ long and there were a few shorter pieces. Today, I cut those 8 footers down to use as the legs for my bench. I rough cut them to 37” long and then ran a face and an edge over the jointer. My planer is currently in the shop getting repaired, so the other face and edge will have to wait till I get it back.

I didn’t know when I bought these what kind of wood they were, but I did know that by the weight and heft of them, they were hardwood. Once I cut the rough ends off, I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of the beams is red oak, and the other is hard maple.

Here’s what they looked like before and after jointing.

As you can see, these things are pretty rough, even when cleaned up. They have checks, splits and cracks in them. They have nail holes, but fortunately no nails. I was careful to take my metal detector over them before doing anything to them.
They are roughly 5 1/2” x 3 1/2” at this stage. I think if I get rid of most of the checking, I can save 5” x 3” legs. That may be ok, but here is what I’m considering. Laminating 1/4” walnut on all four sides of each leg. This will make it look MUCH nicer IMO, and give me some thickness back. But I haven’t decided for sure on this yet and would love to hear your thoughts on this…


-- I restore the finest vintage tools! If you need a nice plane, saw, marking tool or brace, please let me know!

14 comments so far

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17678 posts in 3955 days

#1 posted 06-30-2011 11:44 AM

It’s an obvious choice for me to keep the splits and checks wherever they are. Square them up, select the best pair for the front then move forward. Wood that has character wins every time for me, and that applies double for wood in a workbench. Save the clear walnut for projects. Get those beams to 3 1/2×5 and get started on your top.

Good luck however you proceed, and keep posting, I’m ready to follow along!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View ergeek's profile


7 posts in 3859 days

#2 posted 06-30-2011 01:14 PM

I’m with Smitty – leave them as is. It’s a workbench, not furniture. As for the length, I was somewhat surprised when reading Chris Schwartz’s book on how strongly he makes the point that the bench MUST NOT BE TOO TALL. In fact it’s one of his 18 fundamental principles. He recommends the height be about where your pinkie intersects your hand. For me that’s around 32” and that’s what I’m building (I’m about your height). The reason for the low height is to allow your body to do the work when planing. I have found that on my current 36” bench my arms and shoulders get way too much work. I think he’s right on this one. Something to consider.

View ratchet's profile


1391 posts in 5124 days

#3 posted 06-30-2011 01:53 PM

I’m with Smitty, forget the checks (or fill them with epoxy) and keep the added thickness.
Character in a workbench is desirable, but weight and heft are ESSENTIAL.
Nice looking wood just the same.

View Bertha's profile


13624 posts in 4030 days

#4 posted 06-30-2011 02:44 PM

I’m with Smitty. The benches that leave my jaw dropped are the most well-worn and disfigured. You won’t mind manhandling something that looks like it’s been manhandled already. I think they’re wonderful.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View RS Woodworks's profile

RS Woodworks

533 posts in 4588 days

#5 posted 06-30-2011 05:56 PM

Thanks for the input guys. I really appreciate it. PArt of my goal is a good looking bench, and those legs sure don’t seem to fit the bill! BUT, I’m gonna finish planing them to final dimension and will go from there, not decide just yet.
Hans, on the height issue. I may end up going a hair lower than 35”, but not as much as 32” I don’t think. I have read Schwartz’ advise as well, and I’ve also read several other references that discuss the matter. Lon Schleining suggests standing with your arms beside you and then flattening your hands parallel to the floor. The height to your palms should be about ideal. That height for me is a hair under 35”. But these are all general guidlines to start with. What I have to go on is what I know already, and that is that using my table saw top for the past 2 years as my workbench, it is just about right, but a bit high. My table saw is 35 1/2” from the floor, but its on a roller base. I’d like it about that heigh, minus a bit. Works for me. :D

-- I restore the finest vintage tools! If you need a nice plane, saw, marking tool or brace, please let me know!

View Luke's profile


290 posts in 4024 days

#6 posted 06-30-2011 06:08 PM

I agree with the above comments. love that quarter sawn bit of oak on that one piece.

View Bertha's profile


13624 posts in 4030 days

#7 posted 06-30-2011 06:38 PM

Ryan, you can always put your bench on massive adjustable levelers. By your vision of the final aesthetic, they might horrify the eyes, but they’ll give you an inch or two of adjustment room. I put these on my tiny bench (to be replaced) and even an inch helped my shoulders when handplaning. Just thinking outloud.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View kenn's profile


813 posts in 5057 days

#8 posted 06-30-2011 08:13 PM

I agree with all of the above…leave the wood as it is and just square it up. It’ll look great with a bit of BLO under your bench. Bench height is specific to the person and their work. With hand work, the lower height is easier on you. I’m 6’ 4” and my bench is 35”, but the length of your arms plays into the equation too. Good luck, we’ll be following along with you.

-- Every cloud has a silver lining

View Mauricio's profile


7170 posts in 4488 days

#9 posted 06-30-2011 10:41 PM

Leve it with checks, if you think it looks ugly fill it with epoxy, it will look awesome.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View TheHarr's profile


128 posts in 4876 days

#10 posted 07-03-2011 02:54 AM

Ryan, forget pretty, I love walnut, but forget it for a workbench top. It is just not hard enough.
Consider sugar maple or birch. Hardness and duribility mattert. Walnut is softer than sugar maple,
it has a specific gravity of .064, see “World woods in colur” by William A. Linclon, by Stobart Davis Ltd, Stobart
House , Pontyclere. It took less time to pull this book off my shelf and find the page than it did for me
to walk down stairs for a beer. If walnut is all you got—use it. If you have a small expense choice, go for
the surgar maple. The oak timbers look pretty good. I just split a bunch of red oak for my stove to keep
warm this winter. I want to see your bench when your are done. Don’t be shy, let it all hang out and give
us the pictures. We’re all rooting for you. Make us proud.

-- Wood is good.

View RS Woodworks's profile

RS Woodworks

533 posts in 4588 days

#11 posted 07-03-2011 05:22 AM

Thanks TheHarr. The top will be mostly hard maple, I’m using the walnut as some contrast wood only, there will be 4 stripes (2” thick each) of walnut in the top, each where the dog hole rows will be.
I lucked out (big time) and was just offered some more oak timbers that should work for me to match the legs. I’ll then save those maple posts for other parts on the bench…
Stay tuned for more soon (hopefully)....

-- I restore the finest vintage tools! If you need a nice plane, saw, marking tool or brace, please let me know!

View RoundestRock's profile


49 posts in 4190 days

#12 posted 07-03-2011 11:02 AM

Hey there Ryan! Thanks for stopping by to take a look at my bench today.

That joiner you have there is going to make like VASTLY better in building your bench. I hand planed mine. I will also never attempt that again.

You asked about the checks. I say keep them. In fact there are a number of such markings on my bench. You just don’t see them due to placement and picture resolution. There are 3 things visitors are going to pick out about your bench in order: 1 – is the top flat? 2 – does it have a nice finish? 3 – is it solid? After that what you don’t point out, they don’t notice. And don’t make the bench to pretty or you’ll be afraid to use it.

A few pointers to help keep you moving… Top first, the rest is easy. You can always make it shorter latter. My bench took over 1000 hours just to build, and it was worth every second. The same will be true of yours.

Love that wood grain BTW.

-- I only WISH I could do this for a living. Problem is I don't want to sell anything I make!

View TheHarr's profile


128 posts in 4876 days

#13 posted 07-04-2011 01:25 PM

To Ratche, or anyone who knows. You mentioned filling the holes with epoxy. I use this stuff all the time. Is there a specific type of epoxy you use for filling big cracks like this?

-- Wood is good.

View Bob Kollman's profile

Bob Kollman

1798 posts in 4528 days

#14 posted 07-04-2011 06:09 PM

Yes fill them cracks…

-- Bob Kenosha Wi.

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