My Ultimate Workbench Build #5: Joint, plane and repeat....

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Blog entry by RS Woodworks posted 07-16-2011 07:54 AM 11631 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: A sneak peak at the top layout... maple and walnut in love!! Part 5 of My Ultimate Workbench Build series Part 6: Planing, and chopping mortises... »

Well, with the boards for the top cut to rough length and rough thickness, and the general layout for the top decided on, it’s time to start squaring up the lumber and getting ready to glue the top all together. I started out with jointing one face and one edge flat and square on the 6” general jointer. I set up a roller stand to the exact height on both the infeed and outfeed side. It’s time consuming, but squaring all the lumber is probably the single most important step in the process if you want to end up with a nice flat top.

After one face and one edge is treated, it’s on to the planer where the other face is treated. Then, off to the table saw where the other edge is cut parallel to the first, and to the desired thickness, in this case, just a hair over 3” (3.10” to be exact). The boards are then ready for glue up.

Because the top is so wide, I decided to glue it up in three more manageable sections first. Each section consists of 5 boards and is approximately 9” wide. At 6’ long, 9” wide and 3” thick, these sections would be hefty by themselves, but still manageable to run thru the planer to clean up the faces again. I used the granite top of my table saw as a flat point of reference for the sections. I used a length of MDF to ensure a long enough surface, and covered that with plastic to prevent glue squeeze out from getting everywhere.

Once I had all three sections glued up, I used the 5 1/4 jack plane to knock off the glue chunks and high spots, to ensure a nice flate side to be down on the planer table.

I again made good use of the roller stands to make sure these heavy pieces were properly supported while running through the planer.

Once the three sections were all planed to the exact same thickness (2.89” was what I ended up with) with perfectly flat face on both sides, it was time to join them together. This glue up was even more important to get even, as misaligning them even slightly would mean a lot of hand planing.

I used some maple boards on top of my saw horses to give a flater surface to work on. Even the table saw wasn’t wide enough for this task. The ends were simple enough to align as I clamp them, so I decided on just a single caul in the middle to ensure the sections were alligned. I like to use duct tape on the cauls, to prevent gluing them to the surface. Glue won’t stick to the duct tape very well, so they are very easy to remove.

The final width of the top is 26 5/8”. A bit shy of my goal to keep it between 27 and 28”, but still a pretty wide top for a bench.

Well thats about it for now… next time I start to hand plane the top with the #7 jointer plane, to get it perfectly flat and ready for use. In the mean time, I want to have you guys help me answer a question.

In choosing the material I have at hand for the legs (see previous blog entries) I am considering using the white oak for the front two legs (only have two of them) and maple for the other two. I could go with all maple legs, but two of the beams have the pith included and some pretty serious cracks in them. I think they are stable now, but don’t really want to use those for the legs at all. My only other option is to use fir for all four legs, as I have enough of that, But I was kinda thinking I would stick with hard woods for the heft and stability. But another thing to consider is that material will be clamped against the front left leg with the leg vise, so maybe a softer wood is a better choice there?
So, which woods would you use for the legs, of my options? And is using a softer wood for the clamping surfaces a good idea? If thats the case, should I use fir for the end vise faces as well?

Thanks for looking, commenting, and answering my questions!

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

4 comments so far

View ergeek's profile


7 posts in 3443 days

#1 posted 07-16-2011 01:11 PM

Hi Ryan,
Great progress! You’ve taken great care with your glue-up and its paid off in a very flat, solid top. I can’t speak from experience, and I defer somewhat to Chris Schwartz’s experience on choice of wood. He says softwood is just fine, as long as it’s hefty enough to suit. The pieces you have certainly are that. The main reason I’m using ash in my bench is that it was the cheapest wood I could find. As for whether a softer wood is better for a clamp surface, I don’t think it will matter much. The workpiece will be held flat against the leg so there are no hard edges there. With a leg vise, there will be racking, so the chop will sometimes be somewhat skewed to the piece and put more pressure on the corner of the work piece. Yet the chop will be hardwood – so in total it seems the leg wood choice isn’t much of a factor.

How are you joining the legs to the top? Are you using through dovetail & tenon per Chris’s book?


View Manitario's profile


2816 posts in 3804 days

#2 posted 07-16-2011 03:53 PM

I’m enjoying this blog. I look forward to seeing the rest of your bench come together.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View RS Woodworks's profile

RS Woodworks

533 posts in 4172 days

#3 posted 07-16-2011 04:20 PM

Thanks guys! I’m glad at least a few are still following this.
Hans, in my book by Chris Schwartz (Workbenches: From Design and Theory to Construction and Use), Chris actually demonstrates his roubo bench build (the one on the cover) with pinned (drawborn) mortise and tennons to attach the legs to the top. I will be doing that, and likely making my own dowels for the pins out of walnut.

I know that some people add leather or cork to the faces of their vices, for a softer grip, and better grip, which is where my thinking was coming from with the softer wood. But I think your right in that it won’t matter much. I’ll probably stick with the hardwoods for the legs. Now it’s just deciding which ones?

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

View MGW's profile


39 posts in 3417 days

#4 posted 07-28-2011 03:48 PM

Great job. I’m following!

-- Michael, North Carolina -- Whittling away the time making fine lumber into perfect fire stove fuel.

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