Building my Workbench #5: It's Knot So Bad

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Blog entry by HokieKen posted 11-07-2016 12:50 PM 1151 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Breaking Wind Part 5 of Building my Workbench series Part 6: Do these sticks make my slab look flat? »

I HAD come to enjoy hand planing immensely. The tool itself is brilliant and elegant in it’s simplicity and effectiveness. Restoring old planes and fettling them is a relaxant for me. I delight in taking a smoother and bringing a board to a finish that is flatter and feels smoother to the touch than one that has been sanded. I enjoy taking a jack or a router and curling off whisper thin shavings until an edge shows dead square to its reference face and there’s no sliver of light below my straight edge.

I’m sure in time, those feelings will return.

There are many, some of whom may be reading this, who are purely unplugged woodworkers. Who take their raw stock to final dimensions with the wonders known as hand planes. I am not one of them.

I spent all weekend, a total of 15-20 hours, working on my bench. I spent at least 10 of those hours hand-planing or sharpening plane irons. I am SORE. I do not like hand planing any more. What do I have to show for an entire weekend? 2 beams glued together to form the front slab of my top. That’s all.


Okay, that was a bit dramatic but, not untrue :-/ I did spend more time hand-planing this weekend than ever before. It’s mostly because flattening large timbers is new to me and it was a learning experience. It became an exercise in frustration because I really wanted to get these things flat. I want my bench to be as flat as I can possibly get it and I know that the flatter it is at glue up, the easier and truer it will be at final flattening. I’m still learning and I’m completely embarrassed about how long it took me to do it but, I am encouraged that the last beam I did took much less time and came out flatter than the first.

I flattened a face on each beam and then thicknessed them with the power planer. I can tell you that not all of the soreness I now suffer was a result of hand-planing. Running 8’ long 4×8 beams of white oak through a lunchbox planer by oneself over-and-over is not for the faint of heart! But, I ended up with 2 acceptable flat beams at about 3-3/8” thick so the ends justified the means:-)

I said in an earlier post that I was going to joint my glue-edges on my power jointer. Well, I was working alone and running them through the planer cured me of that thinking. Much easier to take a small tool to a big workpiece than a big workpiece to a big tool. So I jointed the edges with handplanes as well. That was satisfying. It went well and I got good edges in a reasonable amount of time.

Just a side-note, as much for my future reference as anything. (A) It takes less time to remove an iron, sharpen it, reset it and get back to work and finish the job than it does to try to finish the job with an iron that’s even moderately dull. (B) A little paraffin wax “squiggled” on the bottom of a jack or jointer plane GREATLY reduces the sliding friction and gives much greater control over the cut.

The good news is that I did get some tangible progress and I’m getting pretty excited ;-)

So here she is, the first completed portion of my bench when I quit for the evening yesterday:

I got started on a couple of other beams but after some scrub-planing, realized that they weren’t the best choices for the top. So, at least I have a bit of a jump on surfacing the timbers for the legs and stretchers. I found the wood wasn’t as clear as I initially thought but is still good enough for my bench and fantastic for what I paid for it. One beam is horribly checked.

I knew the end was unusable but didn’t realize that the checking runs pretty deep and about half way up the timber. I don’t think I’ll need it for the bench so I’ll rip the edges off and use them elsewhere (maybe a stand for my new lathe?)

So, why the “Knot…” in the title? There are a few small, tight knots in this lumber but so far nothing I’m concerned about. I don’t mind a few knots showing in the top, in fact, I think it gives character. But after surfacing, I did find this one big one that’s kinda messy and it’s on the side I’m making the top. You can see it here on the board closest.

So here’s you guys’ homework. By the way, y’all failed miserably on the last post. No one commented with a magic recipe for painlessly and effortlessly surfacing these timbers with handplanes ;-p But, my question for this week is how to handle this knot. My thinking is to use a burr in my dremel and remove all the punky wood from it then fill it with epoxy. I’m also thinking I’ll mix some stain into the epoxy so it doesn’t look like a big booger got stuck in my bench. Got a better way to handle it? I’ve filled knots with epoxy before but never anywhere visible and never on a working surface. If my method is good, will regular old 2-part epoxy work and can I just mix some oil-based stain in until I get the color I want? Or do I need to get some kind of special epoxy for a knot this big?

So, next up is surfacing and thicknessing one more plank this size and one smaller one to make the spacers that will form the “slots” for the tool wells. Then I’ll be able to finish the glue-up to complete the top and move on to the legs. I said in an earlier post that I wasn’t sure about the joinery for the legs to the top. I think I’ve decided on blind mortises. Tight on the front legs with elongated mortises on the back to allow for movement. As classy as the through tenon/dovetail is, I just don’t want the exposed end-grain in the top.

Thanks for checking in and sound off in the comments on how you’d handle my knot and with any other suggestions or criticisms you have!

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

6 comments so far

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17124 posts in 3591 days

#1 posted 11-07-2016 01:58 PM

Two ways to address the knot that I can think of, and one of them you’ve mentioned: fill it. ‘With what’ offers a range of options. I mixed sawdust w/ glue to create the fill for a couple of the voids in my benchtop, a solution that works just fine.

The other patch method is just that: a wood patch. If you have material left over, a piece that’s as thin as 1/2” to 3/4” can be used. Simply make the patch, outline it on the benchtop w/ your marking knife, then get busy chiseling to a depth that allows the patch to sit a bit proud. Plane flat, Bob’s your Uncle.

My .02, and worth half what you paid for it. :-) Good luck!

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

View Combo Prof's profile

Combo Prof

4544 posts in 2250 days

#2 posted 11-07-2016 02:05 PM

(1)You can just leave it alone it won’t effect the function of the work bench and will look cool.
(Maybe remove all the punky wood from it.)
Put it on the tool storage area of the bench and don’t worry about it.
(If you are right handed thats is as you face the bench the right back side.)

(2)You can chisel out a recess and fit in a patch, say a butterfly.

(3)You can fill with epoxy. I didn’t like the result when I did it Wish I had done (1). I have a streak of pith, but it looks cool.

-- Don K, (Holland, Michigan)

View HokieKen's profile


16022 posts in 2111 days

#3 posted 11-07-2016 02:37 PM

Thanks guys! I don’t want to patch it with a butterfly or another piece of wood because I like the look of this wood and would like to keep it “uninterrupted”. I did consider just leaving it Don. You can’t tell from the pic but it runs pretty deep. I just don’t think I want a hole that big and deep in there. I’m in no hurry to decide though, I’ll wait until the bench is done and flattened before I fill it so I don’t have to plane whatever I fill it with.

Smitty, I have used glue/sawdust on small voids before but this one’s deeper than I would think that would work with. I’d be concerned about the glue at the bottom fully curing. Have you done voids this deep (about 3/4”) using that method?

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1620 days

#4 posted 11-07-2016 03:05 PM

I agree with Don as to putting it on the tool storage end of the bench and do not worry about it; BUT if it is as deep as you say I like the epoxy idea … perhaps with a dark stain added. I like the knots!

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17124 posts in 3591 days

#5 posted 11-07-2016 06:35 PM

Kenny, short answer: Yes.

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

View thcyclist's profile


13 posts in 1524 days

#6 posted 12-02-2016 12:56 AM

You wouldn’t have to fill the whole hole with sawdust and glue, you can put in a piece of wood in there as filler.

But I’d also try to put in a filler patch, trying to match the grain.

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