The New Yankee Workshop - Chapter 2 The Workbench #1: Beginning - Preparing the Materials and Making the first cuts

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Blog entry by camps764 posted 01-19-2013 04:48 AM 5520 reads 1 time favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of The New Yankee Workshop - Chapter 2 The Workbench series Part 2: The bench dog assembly »

For those of you that haven’t been following – I recently decided that I would work through an entire woodworking book full of projects – The New Yankee Workshop by Norm Abram – to build my current skills, learn a few new techniques, and correct some of my bad habits I’ve picked up by being self-taught.

The first project in the book was a medicine cabinet. You can read about it here

The second project in the book is one I’ve been pretty excited about – the workbench.

The workbench itself is fairly light duty – but it looks like a good opportunity to build my first workbench and get a feel for what I’d like out of a more permanent (and more expensive) bench in the future.

The project calls for a relatively modest set of materials.

The frame is made out of six to seven 8’ 2×4’s – douglas fir or pine – as straight and clear as possible
The top is made out of a 3/4” sheet of plywood and a 1/4” thick sheet of hard board.
The bench dog assembly is made out of the same 2×4’s as the frame.
The entire top is skirted with 3/4” thick hardwood of your choice – in the book Norm uses oak.
A 9” Swedish Bench Screw for the vise
Some 3/4” hard wood (oak) for the bench dogs and the block that attaches to the bench screw.

Because this bench is going to be a skill building project, and more of a prototype than a permanent worker, I decided to use as much material as I had on hand. Partially because I have a lot of recycled wood that has been waiting for a project, and partially because I don’t want to spend a ton of money on this particular project because I have a lot more projects coming up in the book that call for more expensive materials.

Although I have a nice selection of reclaimed 2×4’s from a barn in TX (Story of how it got to me is for another blog) I don’t have enough of it that is straight and clear. Even though I didn’t have enough 2×4 material, I did have a large pile of fairly straight 2×6” wood that was reclaimed from a deck in Omaha. The wood itself is fairly light and not very dense, but it cuts nice and the price was definitely right.

After sorting through my pile, I found enough lumber to get me started.

The first step was to rip it down to the right width. I did this in two passes. The first pass I cut it a little wider than the final width. I wanted to get it close, and relieve some of the internal stress from the wood to get a safer, more accurate final width.

With everything cut to width, the next step was to cut all of the frame pieces to length. I have to admit, this was something that I haven’t done in the past. Typically I have cut pieces as I go, adjusting on the fly. Sometimes it works and the flexibility is nice, but I think some of the errors I run into that require flexibility come from silly mistakes that would be avoided by focusing on getting all of my components ready at once. Additionally, from a workflow perspective it makes sense, only setting up the tool once to make all of that type of cut, as opposed to constantly switching saw blades in and out or moving stop blocks, etc.

Following the cut list in the book, this went pretty quickly using the miter saw station.

Big ol pile of happiness.

Next, the book recommended something else new…doing all of my joinery layout at once, instead of laying it out as I go. At this point the baby was sleeping for the night and I was tired of my wife coming into the garage and giving me dirty looks so I turned on the radio, powered down the saws, got the tape measure and combo square out, and went to town. Each joint was marked up, and the waste was indicated with X’s.

Because there are multiple lap joints on each frame component this helps prevent accidentally cutting joints on the wrong sides…I have to say that it honestly worked (imagine that!) When it came time to cut all of the joints it was easy to sort and make all of the cuts in the right spot.

The next day I got up early and got back down to the shop to cut all of the frame joinery.

The book stated in the main text (this is important) that all of the lap joints should be 3/8” deep. The book said it was so, so that’s exactly what I did.

Using a trick I learned on the last project, I set up a stop block to help with accuracy on the repetitious cuts. I was able to quickly line up similar pieces and cut the joinery.

Looks like I really am learning something from this project!

I’m not going to show pictures of me cutting all of the frame lap joints because all of the pictures would look like the one above. But, I followed all of the layout lines I made the night before and went to town for the next hour or so.

Here are the lap joints in the legs cut out.

At this point I decided to hit the pause button and re-read the section and read ahead to get an idea of where I was going next. As I was scanning the page I noticed one of the pictures said…”all of the frame joinery is 3/8” thick except the legs…” in tiny text. The main project text didn’t say anything about this. Luckily the leg lap joints need to have additional material removed instead of added…I reset the dado blade to the right depth and quickly fixed the leg stock. Not a huge deal, but slightly annoying – Looks like I need to read the main text as well as all of the captions on the pictures to make sure there is no conflicting info.

Here you can see the lap and butt joints from part of the bench top frame. Just including it to show how simple the joinery is.

You’ll also notice the rabbet in the picture above. Two of the pieces required a shallow groove to accept a tool tray that will be added later in the project. This was straight forward and I didn’t get pictures of it. I set the dado blade to the right height and width and ran the board across the table saw along the rip fence to get the rabbet.

After all of the joinery was cut I started assembling the pieces. All of the joints are glued and screwed together. At this point I decided to only screw everything together. Once I know that everything goes together the way I want I will backtrack and add glue if I don’t think it is stable enough. I like the idea of being able to knock the whole thing down if need be.

With the frame together I added the legs. I used a speed square and a clamp to make sure the legs were square (ish) to the frame.

Here’s a quick shot of the frame fully assembled, on the floor, waiting for the feet.

Next I followed the instructions in the book and took the feet over to the miter saw to add a decorative bevel on the front edge. In the book (and video) Norm says this is so he won’t stub his toe…I don’t see how it will help, but don’t want to question the gospel of Norm – so I did it too.

The feet are attached by fitting the rabbets over the ends of the legs like so…

With the feet on I used a little persuasion from my persuader (mallet) to get them snug and then screwed them onto the legs.

Each leg got a set of risers to add stability. They are just 3.5” x 3.5” square pieces cut from one of the scrap “2×4’s”

Here they are on the floor… They ALMOST look like classy bench feet….almost.

At this point I had the bench up and on it’s feet.

In the next blog I’ll show how I created the bench dog assembly, attached it, cut the bench top to size, including the slot for the bench dogs. and discuss my solution to my Swedish Bench Screw dilemma.

-- Steve

4 comments so far

View ejvc's profile


107 posts in 2636 days

#1 posted 01-19-2013 11:04 PM

You know, I hate to say this, but a) it is possible that Norm is wrong occasionally; and b) the editing of the book might not be very good. I think it’s wise for you to check and re-check everything.

-- Building stuff with my daughter (6). Pretty new to woodworking, I mostly sew...

View camps764's profile


867 posts in 3036 days

#2 posted 01-20-2013 02:05 PM

Blasphemer! ;) I totally agree with you. I’ve bumped into a few editing oddities as I’ve been working through the book – I’m glad all of his projects are on Youtube – I’ve bounced out there a few times to actually see Norm complete the step that is confusing me.

-- Steve

View billy709's profile


6 posts in 1460 days

#3 posted 04-13-2016 01:39 PM

I don’t have dado blades for my table saw. I know it will be more time consuming but couldn’t I simply make a series of cuts with my regular table saw blade and chisel or plane out the area to clean it up?

Or, would this be too much work and time-consuming to be practical?

-- Novice in GA

View camps764's profile


867 posts in 3036 days

#4 posted 04-16-2016 04:57 PM

yep – regular blade and a chisel will get you to the same spot – The only thing you’ll need to anticipate is the angle of the tooth on your table saw blade. On a dado blade they are ground flat to leave a flat bottom – typical blades have an angle on their teeth. I’d layout my lines, use my table saw to cut just shy of the line and then chisel a flat bottom to the line.

-- Steve

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