Bowling Alley Workbench #10: The Top #2: Flat and Shine

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Blog entry by PurpLev posted 07-26-2009 05:50 AM 12919 reads 0 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 9: The Top #1: Tip, Tap, Top Part 10 of Bowling Alley Workbench series Part 11: A Cap for the Gentlemen, a Skirt for the Dames »

I had some good progress on the top today. it actually started a couple of days ago when I went ahead, cleaned up the buffer strip, and main top, and glued them up together, I also milled the end cap part (which is on top of the clamps in the photo):

I also ground down one of the corner of the Lee-Valley Tailvise Nut so that I’ll be able to install the vise higher up and the nut will have less interference with the table top:

I’m not a machinist, nor work with metal much (although it would have been nice to be able to make my own hardware), but I think this came out pretty nice.

Today I was able to work on flattening the top, which will help with the next few steps of adding the end-cap, skirt, and vises as I’ll have a better surface to reference to, and also have a top that I can work on.

Since the top is made of different parts, some that could not go through the planer, and others that I chose not to take through the planer – it means there is absolutely no alignment on the top surface. in order to flatten this with my largest hand plane (#5) I’ll need a lot of energy, patience, luck, and good fortune. since I didn’t want to plan that much ahead for the day I might run into all of those at the same time. I chose to take the majority of material with the Tage Frid router sled technique. I attached 2 rails to the sides of my bench. Tage I believe screwed those to the table/bench top, I chose to clamp them to the legs, since the legs are parallel and of the same height – which made for good reference points:

I hand jointed both rails to make them straight so that the sled can ride on them and keep the router at a fixed height above the workbench top.

The way the technique works, is you stretch a string between each 2 crossing ends of the rails, and the strings cross each other in the middle. you use risers to lift one of the strings the height of 1 string so that they should be touching in the middle but not affecting each others (not pushing down/up on each other), once you have your rails positioned like that – it means they are parallel to each other, I picked the idea to clamp the rails to the bench from Moai, I like it better than dealing with screws and holes (Thanks Francisco!):

The router itself is riding on a sled that rides on the long rails. the sled is 3/4” birch ply with 2 jointed 1 1/4” maple strips (pieces from the bowling alley) as stiffeners to keep it flat. I drilled a 1 1/2” slot in the middle using overlapping holes with a hole saw (probably not the best way, but it gave me the result I needed) and waxed the ply so that the router can slide easily on it:

you can see in the photo, right under the sled, that my router electric cable is spliced and taped… on one of the runs (back and forth) the cable decided to crawl under the sled… and the rest was sparks and history… luckily I was able to splice it back up, and the motor didn’t get fried, otherwise that would have been a VERY unfortunate end of things, with only half the bench half routed (1st pass)...

I used a Freud 1 1/4” flat bottom mortise bit, set the router to a low spot on the top, and started sliding it back and forth over and over again from one side of the top to the other, this created ALOT of chips:

this is the amount of chips from 1 pass – I had to go through 3 passes, as I kept on finding a lower spot than I had used as reference in each pass. I probably took off ~1/4” off of the top. not too bad considering that it’s nice and even:

OK, maybe not as even as one would like, but still – pretty close. since the router bit is supposed to be flat bottom – I’m not really sure why I got such a pronounced stripe effect… but a little work with my #4 smoother, and some scraping and this is the end result:

not too shabby for a first time on such a large surface. to that I must say – scraping is quite rewarding as you see the machine marks, and planing marks disappear right before your eyes, but to scrap such a large surface… well, as rewarding as it may be, I kept on telling myself that I’m never building another bench again… lol (self motivation). in order to reduce/eliminate the burning heat in the thumbs while scraping, I held a leather glove between my thumbs and the scraper- never felt a thing. and those shavings are just not from this world.

This is the top after scraping it. Yes – the maple actually shines, with nothing on it – this is bare wood:

I was hoping to get the endcap done today, but planing the top took the entire day, this was a long and labor intensive work. I did however was able to prepare the tenon for the endcap. using a straight edge guide, I routed a 3/4” deep, tenon on the edge of the benchtop:

and later using the same straight edge (positioned elsewhere though) I cut off the excess with a circular saw.

I then marked the mortise on the end cap to match the tenon, removed most material with the drill press and forstner bit (leaving enough extra material to give me support for chisel work later on), and chiseled the square mortise. so far I was only able to make the short mortise for lack of time, but at least things are set to be picked up next time around:

In the last picture, you can see that I’m actually utilizing the workbench already which is fantastic- it works great! I also got some holfasts from Gramecy Tools= (Thanks Chrys!), these are by far the best I’ve ever seen, and I’ll review them shortly – definitely worth it. you can also see my “mallet” – definitely one of my next projects…

quite a day, I’m tired, and you should be too after reading all of this…

Next, the End Cap, and Wagon Vise. followed by the Skirt, and last will be the leg vise… and that should wrap it up… but first… lets get to the next step.

Thanks for reading,

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

17 comments so far

View kenn's profile


813 posts in 4725 days

#1 posted 07-26-2009 06:04 AM

You are making some great progress. It looks to me like you’ve got the hardest part done and there is nothing like using it a little bit, you start to see what you’ll have when it’s finished. Keep going!

-- Every cloud has a silver lining

View MedicKen's profile


1615 posts in 4467 days

#2 posted 07-26-2009 06:08 AM

Looking good. I wish I could find some old lanes like that. I have seen a few listing here on a local CL but I never got a response. Keep up the good work, cant wait to see the finished bench

-- My job is to give my kids things to discuss with their [email protected]

View Don K.'s profile

Don K.

1075 posts in 4332 days

#3 posted 07-26-2009 06:22 AM

Looking great so far…I have really enjoyed following along with you and look forward to seeing the finished product.

-- Don S.E. OK

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

3704 posts in 4443 days

#4 posted 07-26-2009 11:25 AM

Wonderful accounting of the trials and tribulations of leveling a top with a router. It came out fine though didn’t it.
Nice series to follow. Thnx.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View Splinterman's profile


23074 posts in 4366 days

#5 posted 07-26-2009 11:35 AM

Hey PurpLev,
Now that will be a real good bench when completed….......great posting….....well done.

View ellen35's profile


2749 posts in 4438 days

#6 posted 07-26-2009 01:34 PM

Nice work, Sharon.
Looks like you’re making real progress!
That will be one fine bench when you finish!

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View ChuckV's profile


3354 posts in 4532 days

#7 posted 07-26-2009 02:01 PM

That is very impressive. I can imagine that it is a great feeling to actually start to be able to use what you have completed so far as a base for the remaining parts.
Thank you for taking the time to document your progress – I imagine that there are times that you are grateful for the chance to take a break and snap a few photos.

-- "Melodies decaying in sweet dissonance." - I. Anderson

View Karson's profile


35270 posts in 5406 days

#8 posted 07-26-2009 03:34 PM

The bench is looking great Nice job on the top.

I did the sled thing on mine also. It makes it a lot more manageable and consistant across the whole surface.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View Brad_Nailor's profile


2545 posts in 4963 days

#9 posted 07-26-2009 03:54 PM

Nice job, dude! That router method seems to work great and is pretty simple and straightforward. This bench is turning into an heirloom piece…it’s going to be too nice to beat on! Getting psyched to see the finished piece!


View charlton's profile


88 posts in 4414 days

#10 posted 07-26-2009 04:34 PM

Looking good!

View sIKE's profile


1271 posts in 4759 days

#11 posted 07-26-2009 05:36 PM


You are making great progress, I have a feeling this bench is going to look very nice when it is all said and done. An eye hook the size of the cord at the appropriate end of the sled should keep the cord chewer at bay…

-- //FC - Round Rock, TX - "Experience is what you get just after you need it"

View PurpLev's profile


8645 posts in 4654 days

#12 posted 07-27-2009 03:46 AM

Thanks for the comments everyone, I was busy all day lone trying to get the show on the road, and one day closer to the finish line.

Indeed the router sled method quickens things up – there was ALOT of material that was taken off the top to make it flat, and I seriously wouldn’t like to hand plane the entire thing – and I didn’t … lol.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6873 posts in 4985 days

#13 posted 07-27-2009 03:37 PM


Oh man, it is looking good! You are getting there.

Fantastic job!

I have a couple cords like that too. Funny thing is nobody did it. Or at least will admit to it.

Even my shaper has a cord like that, which I can’t figure out. How you cut a shaper cord, is beyond me.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View PurpLev's profile


8645 posts in 4654 days

#14 posted 07-27-2009 03:54 PM

LOL…. Lee, as I was reading how nobody admits doing it to your routers, I could see how that would work… but then when you say that it’s also the shaper?? maybe it really did “just happen”

I was actually going to send you a PM once this is done, so you can just read through it without getting too tired ;)

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Greg Smith's profile

Greg Smith

8 posts in 3684 days

#15 posted 02-03-2011 03:50 AM

Sanding timber is one of my favorite pastimes. I enjoy the smell, the sawdust and of course the visual of a smooth and prepared material ready for its final finish.

-- Greg Smith -

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