My (Paul Sellers inspired) workbench and woodworking journey (work in progress)

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Blog entry by dbockel2 posted 01-03-2016 12:50 PM 15759 reads 14 times favorited 40 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Long story short, I was given a “starter set” of power tools a few years back, so to speak. After fooling around and making some basic items and adding a few new power tools along the way, I stopped and reassessed what I was doing. Why am I in the garage doing this? What do I hope to create? What am I trying to achieve? Am I achieving it? Am I getting anything out of this other than a pantry full of somewhat-good cutting boards? I built a few things (can see my projects) but I’m not sure what the point was. The Adirondack chairs were fun to figure out but they’re just outdoor patio furniture.

Along the way, I found Lumberjocks and ultimately created an account here. One day I started a forum thread soliciting ideas for a new tool for my collection. Should I get a new miter saw, a jointer, some other big, noisy, powerful device to make a garage full of dust with? Ultimately the responses are what got me to the point where I started to question the why. I don’t have a large barn or shed in which to build with a big shop full of power-tools. Nor do I know exactly what sorts of things I want to build. The tools are expensive, loud and very dangerous—especially with young children and the likelihood that I will still endure some hearing damage. And for what? It is fun to build things but something has been missing.

One response in my thread suggested I buy a hand plane…

After perusing Lumberjacks for more than a few months I knew the response was a serious one. I hadn’t really given it much thought. If anything, I thought I was getting more into woodworking and was watching a lot of Norm Abram’s videos which were really getting my interest level up. I told my wife I was getting into woodworking. Meanwhile, the more my interest levels rise, the more mediocre the quality of my work becomes. I don’t know why this has happened. I have taken time to build jigs, take multiple measurements, try to align/realign my current power-tools. When I work with the power tools I must set up sawhorses, which are themselves somewhat crude, as well as lug around the table saw and router. I have a small planer (bought in early 2015) which has only left me with more twisted boards when I thought it would help me work with flatter boards…in short I know that I have a real urge to build but I have never felt like my results have been worth much. Hell, I never knew the difference between a dado, a mortise/tenon or a dovetail (and I have still never attempted either of the latter two). But I knew I loved creating things…making things with my hands…

“Buy a hand plane.” Funny thing was, one of the first tools I had purchased was a “Buck Brothers” #4 hand plane at Home Depot because it was one of the only things I could afford but I never really figured out how or why to use it.

Shortly thereafter I stumbled upon a video of Paul Sellers building a workbench. It was ~25 minutes long—kind of long for a YouTube video. Maybe I’ll give it a whirl and see if it keeps my attention…

One thing I have always lacked is a proper work bench. I have watched several hours worth of youtube videos and seen enough online that I feel I have covered my bases somewhat and know what my limitations are since I didn’t have a fully outfitted “woodshop” with proper tools/tool stations.

Well, the premise of the new video was building yourself a proper bench when you don’t already have a proper bench, and with a limited set of easily accessible tools. Here was a guy with a set of saw horses, some 2×4’s and a hand plane. And he just started planing away. Beautiful, gossamer shavings of spruce ejecting steadily as he efficiently milled his stock to a flat, silky smooth finish, methodically dispensing knowledge and easily understandable techniques along the way. Here he was, working with a hand plane, a chisel and a hammer and some things I had never seen before—a marking gauge? . Creating things with his hands with purpose and a level of precision I did not think attainable with anything other than machines.. 25 minutes passed and I was hooked. Things were starting to come together to me. I’m going further into the rabbit hole.

So I decided to buy an old hand plane on Ebay and planned to restore it and start doing some research on what else I should get. Of course that meant I needed some sharpening stones, chisels, and a few other new but relatively inexpensive tools—nothing that would set me back as much as a single machine tool that would take up lots of space and that I probably wouldn’t use that well anyway.

So yesterday I finally took the plunge. For 30 minutes I went through the 2×4s at Home Depot looking for the straightest, least knottiest, least twisted boards I could find. I schlepped them home, got out my sawhorses, sharpened up my Stanley #4 and went to work cleaning everything up..

Sorry for the long winded intro, just setting the scene. More to come…

40 comments so far

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108 posts in 1560 days

#1 posted 01-03-2016 01:51 PM

Day 1: With freshly sharpened #4 in hand, I set my saws up in the garage and got to planing. I have been “practicing” with my hand plane for several weeks on scrap pieces of wood (milling down a stack of walnut strips I got at Rockler mainly) to get comfortable with the tool. With hindsight, this was great preparation on my part, even though it was completely unintentional. However, I can at least say that I was able to get comfortable setting the blade and really feeling how the tool was working—knowing when I was going against the grain vs. with it and where to focus on to remove twist, etc. So I was comfortable getting right down to business with this stack of 21 8’ 2×4s (which I think will not quite be enough so I’ll get a few more..)

Holy cow, this is hand plane Boot Camp! I sure wish I had a 4.5 (ha! just learned something!) After furiously planing for what felt like an hour on the first 2 boards I could really feel the soreness in my elbows and torso. My feet were a bit sore so I decided to put on some more rugged work shoes. Anyway, I know I needed the soreness. I crave it because it means I am learning—teaching myself and my body new skills.

I plowed through 12 boards on the first afternoon over the course of several hours. It got more methodical as it went along. I made use of a pair of incomplete winding sticks that I have been working on to measure any twist on the boards and to ensure they are as flat as reasonably possible before laminating the tops. Making sure I planed with the grain, taking care over knots which can feel downright jarring when you hit them with too much blade exposed! I even made an oil-soaked plane lubricating tool as Mr. Sellers suggests (I remembered this technique after the 5th board—wish I had remembered sooner!).

Before I knew it I was standing shin-deep in beautiful shavings. However they were a bit of a mess so I took a few minutes to get a refuse bag and scoop up the bulk of the shavings. I just used my hands to pick them all up. Imagine if this was a pile of sawdust! In any event, I was spent. I could not plane another board today. Both of my elbows felt like they needed Tommy John surgery. My torso was sore no matter how I bent and my lower back was worn out. Even my butt was quite sore from sitting on boards as I planed them. And likewise for my right knee, which I would place on top of the boards at times for leverage. But the pain is for a purpose. And I can tell that I’m getting better even with the basics just by going through this.

Trusty #4 bought on Ebay.

incomplete winding sticks I started making recently. They are very short because of a bad technique/tear out issue I caused when trying to force the wood to do something I wanted it to do, but impatiently. Lesson learned. But I think these sticks worked well enough for me today (I know they need more contrast—I think I’ll finish them when the bench is complete).

Bag-o-shavings and nice, flat boards in the background. I think they will glue up very nicely. If only those clamps would arrive!

That night I slept like a baby…I was still in a lot of pain but I knew my body would recover and I am hungry for more. The next day I told my wife my strategy was to clean up the remaining boards in a slower manner—perhaps doing 1 every time I ventured into the garage for a few minutes. It was hard to stay away but my body couldn’t take much so soon after yesterday so I only got a couple more done. And the clamps I ordered last week still haven’t arrived yet so I will try to finish up the remaining boards today and hope to start laminating tomorrow if all goes according to plan.

Things learned today:
1) Rome wasn’t built in a day! Neither will this bench be! (nor was it expected to be). Building this bench is really a set of classes in and of itself. I am learning basic components and assembling them together in a final product. I can’t wait to work on the joinery.
2) Take time to feel the grain to determine how best to approach it.
3) I got good at fine tuning the plane depth on the fly. It became almost second nature. I think this is a real plus.
4) Don’t force it—you will most likely damage the wood, yourself or both. I could hear Mr. Sellers in my head at times, telling me to be patient and persistent.

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145 posts in 1874 days

#2 posted 01-03-2016 03:39 PM

Good luck. You’ll do great.

Remember, there is no reason to be in a hurry. Enjoy the process.

But I will say, building mine almost killed me. But it turned out fine…

Keep going, and good luck.

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5 posts in 1576 days

#3 posted 01-04-2016 03:31 PM

Absolutely. The biggest problem I have seen with people starting out is: Instant gratification! Take your time. think about every move in advance and don’t worry. Love what You do or find something else to do. Build that creation on paper and in your mind before you commit to the wood. THEN, just because you have done a project before, Do it better this time.

-- Robert and Shea

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108 posts in 1560 days

#4 posted 01-05-2016 03:26 AM

Day 3: final flattening and first glue up.

Good news—the clamps finally arrived. I’m pretty sure I got what I paid for but that was what I expected. It’s not like I can purchase 36” Bessy clamps for $10 a piece! But who wouldn’t want them??? Anyway, I should’ve ordered 10 but I have a coupe of extra 24” Irwin clamps that I put on the ends to make up for it.

I finished flattening out the last few boards I bought (though I think I will need at least a few more before I’m done). My elbows have really been through the wringer but I must say, I feel pretty comfortable with the hand plane. Realizing that each individual shaving represents one stroke with the plane…that’s a lot of work! And this isn’t just a fluffy bag of shavings—they are packed in there. The hand plane on top is meant to show that. But the boards are nice and flat.

Finally comfortable enough that the boards were flat enough, I went through the clamping “dress rehearsal” to see how things fit together. It seemed like there were more gaps than I expected considering how hard I had worked to flatten everything out. I thought Sellers kind of blew through this part but I didn’t want to take any chances so I arranged/rearranged boards and did some minor planing on others to try to refine them a bit. Finally I was ready to pull the trigger.

Holy cow that was a lot of glue. And I wasn’t sure if I used enough but I used most of a bottle of Titebond II (and I only glued up a little over 5’ in length!). As I clamped everything down most of the gaps that gave me concern seemed to close up. I had a fair amount of glue squeeze out as well which I reallocated to gaps (or areas I thought had gaps). A lot of glue can mean a lot of squeeze out and fortunately I remembered the tip about using shavings to wipe up the excess glue. Good tip.

I decided to make a bench that is 5’ in length. It is compact enough to fit in m limited space but should be big enough to work on projects I am interested in. And if not, I can build a bigger one! I haven’t decided how deep to make it. The front portion will be 12”+ deep with the apron. Behind that will be a tool well and then probably a shallower back section. I have a little more time to think about it.

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9 posts in 1481 days

#5 posted 01-06-2016 11:35 PM

Looks great so far! Can’t wait to get mine started as well. Thanks for sharing so I can know what I’m getting into.

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108 posts in 1560 days

#6 posted 01-07-2016 01:13 PM

Day 3: Planing the table top flat.

I wish I could get more done during the week but when this is a hobby and there are work and kids and a family to attend to you take the time you can to work on your project when you can…

The glue took longer to dry than I thought but then again, I used quite a bit to glue up all of those boards. It is definitely very helpful to wipe off as much excess glue/squeeze out as you can as the next step of planing down the table top will be much easier/smoother without a bunch of glue in the way. I used a scraper to scrape off any large offending spots before hitting the top with the planer again.

This was a lot more planing than I was expecting—mainly because there is inconsistent height between the glued up boards on both the top and bottom, despite getting everything nicely lined up for the clamps—a fraction of an inch here and there can make a big difference in the grand scheme of things. Also, the 2×4’s I am using have edges that are slightly rounded over and I don’t want round edges—I want a perfectly flat surface so there was just a good bit more material to strip off to get flat/smooth—probably 1/4-1/2” of stock had to be removed from each side. It is very important to have both sides of the bench top flat/level else the final bench won’t be flat/level either. So take the time to do it right. It’s hard to unscramble an egg!

I set the plane a bit more aggressively for this exercise given that it was clear I had a good bit of wood to plane off. I’m eager to start the next part of the bench—I think I’ve got the hand plane down pretty good at this point!

fwiw, at least I think I did a reasonably good job of making a top with as few visible knots as possible.

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108 posts in 1560 days

#7 posted 01-08-2016 02:29 PM

....It’s been a bit slow going but I want to make sure the benchtop is as flat as possible. With hindsight, I should have tried to plane the original boards a bit more on all sides to get the thickness as consistent as possible—some boards are thicker than others (usually a tell-tale sign is indentations/marks on the sides of the boards where the feeder pulled them through the mill—usually 2-3mm thick so a fair amount of smoothing/scrubbing to take them down and get the whole top level/flat). I know Paul seemed to blow through the original surface smoothing pretty rapidly—perhaps his stock was more square than mine. I wanted to make sure I had a clean glue-up along the edges so that my lamination is seamless across the benchtop. I think I have done a reasonably good job of that but as mentioned previously, the 2×4’s that I purchased have rounded edges which means additional planing or else the benchtop will have ridges along the surface.

There are 2 sides of the benchtop to plane—the top and the underside which will have the dadoes that attach to the legs—these joints need to be as flat as possible so as to mount flush and minimize any chance of vibration. I am going to make the assumption that the underside flatness is more critical now than the top side as I should be able to plane the top after completion to make any minor adjustments. So hopefully I am about done with the planing of the top. Next step, cross-cutting the tops to length (5’) and laminating the aprons/wellboard.

I hope I am not being overly repetitive/long-winded/boring. Just trying to keep a detailed log of all of this (that’s the point, right?!)

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108 posts in 1560 days

#8 posted 01-10-2016 03:55 AM

Starting to come together. A bit more progress today. The first thing I did this morning was sharpen my plane. I have not sharpened it since the initial sharpening prior to flattening all of the boards. Sellers said in the video that the blade would/should last about that long so I was determined to try to do it. Despite several knots along the way, my plane held up through it all. But the difference after I sharpened it today was night and day. I can now really appreciate the power of a freshly sharpened blade having immersed myself in what’s been an intense crash course.

I got the tops flattened out nicely and cut to length. I also started gluing up the aprons. Got to test out the newly sharpened crosscut saw today. It worked pretty well and I got a sense for a few right/wrong techniques (more below).

Dull blade (sort-of)

Sharpened and stropped and ready to go. One of my first projects will be to make a better sharpening stone plate.

I reset the blade a couple of times and had shavings coming off even thinner but this is pretty typical. Four thousandths of an inch…not bad!

obsessing over flatness. Still irked about the roundover and visible glue. But this is the underside of the benchtop so it won’t be visible. The other side is a bit cleaner I think.

My first knife-wall! :)

Sawing on the waste side, just out of square

Pay attention to the lines! The result of pulling the blade back too soon and being vulnerable to getting off line. I also managed to bend the saw blade in one spot. Grr.

I love end-grain. But it can gum things up a bit too.

Front and back bench tops (from the underside). Just need to get the aprons and legs glued up so I can start the chisel work. Slightly chamfered edges on the ends.

I need to think about a front vise (and possible tail vise at some point). If anyone reading this has ay recommendations, I’d love to hear them.

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16344 posts in 3228 days

#9 posted 01-10-2016 07:04 AM

Seriously consider a leg vise. So simple, and effective, but inexpensive.

Nice work, fun blog to read! Congrats on progress.

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

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108 posts in 1560 days

#10 posted 01-13-2016 02:26 PM

No pictures to put up—I have basically been laminating the legs, aprons and wellboard while obsessively trying to make sure all of my surfaces are perfectly flat. I am not certain if I am getting the flatness I desire—I keep checking with my winding sticks and my square and I think everything looks and feels very flat but every now and then I feel some wobble—perhaps it is the sawhorses I am using and the periodic appearance of some wood shavings under and around the boards that might be throwing things off too.

A couple of thoughts/lessons/observations:

1) Paul’s boards have crisper edges on them than the studs/2×4s I have been buying. I’m not sure if that is a European thing or if he is spending more time preparing the wood than it appears (it really looks like he just gives the boards a once over with the plane and then things come together perfectly. My experience has been more time consuming and perhaps with more wood waste). That said, he’s been doing this for 50 years while I have been doing it for a couple tops.

2) Thus, Paul’s post glue/laminating results look MUCH better than mine and require MUCH less post-glue cleanup (unless that is happening behind the scenes).

3) I’m so glad I sharpened my cross cut saw. It makes a huge difference and I have found I can cut very accurately if I 1) use the knife wall, 2) make sure my saw cuts straight on the vertical edge of the board all the way down before pulling the blade back and making a longer cut. Not sure if I explained that well but basically establish the line down through the board before making the longer cross-cut. It makes it very easy to stay on line.

4) I am slow as I want to make everything as accurate as possible. I hope I am not being counterproductive.

5) It is really nice to have this bench become functional AS I build it. I have a very rigid surface on which to clamp other boards to and work right now since the tops are laminated and they are very stout and not prone to moving much.

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108 posts in 1560 days

#11 posted 01-14-2016 02:42 PM

A little bit of eye candy/photos. I have finished laminating the legs and should have them all planed, squared and cut to length this evening. I originally cut them at 39” which is too long—but was done on purpose so I could trim them down to height (I think 36” will be the final length which should put the benchtop at around 40”. That might be a little bit too high so I could trim more but better to make them too long than not long enough. I am 6’ tall and hate hunching over. My current “bench” (table with wheels on it) comes in at around 33” tall and it is not that bad so I think I will have ample room to trim the legs down if I don’t like the bench height. Should be a fun weekend and it is a long holiday weekend so hopefully I can actually finish this beast!

For the last glue up I did 2 sets of legs (i.e. no glue between boards 2 and 3) and decided to try to use as many clamps as I possibly could just for kicks. I had nothing better to do.

Check out that lamination. Perfectly seamless and beautiful end grain!

And it is nicely square. Let’s hope I get all 4 this square! Look at that leg stand on its own…:)

The necessary tools.

Thanks for reading!

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108 posts in 1560 days

#12 posted 01-15-2016 02:09 PM

Looking back it seems like a lot of pictures look pretty similar so maybe boring to see (i.e. it doesn’t look like I’m making that much progress, but I really am!)

Tonight I finished cleaning up the legs (well not finished—I planed them down to square but still need to cut them to length).

More importantly, tonight a rusted out hand plane I recently won on Ebay arrived so I spent time restoring it. And I am thrilled with the results. I think I’ve managed just fine with my other plane but upon opening the new one last night I immediately noticed that it had a more robust cap iron on it that appears to have better, more sturdy iron coverage. I decided this will be my smoothing plane and my other one will become a scrub plane (I believe the major difference is the scrub plane will have a wider mouth and more blade curvature, enabling it to hog off larger imperfections in the wood. Anyway, I am thrilled with how the restoration came out. This will be my new #1.



Here are all 4 legs. I was just messing around—put them all side by side to see how straight they were along the edges and then decided to clamp them in that position overnight (for no good reason). Maybe they’ll become marginally straighter! lol..

Should be a fun weekend!

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108 posts in 1560 days

#13 posted 01-17-2016 05:19 AM

Cutting the mortises (finally)!! I thought I would make more progress today but I had several distractions that kept me from starting until after noon and only having a few hours to put into it today. First I had to get up with the kids, then I had to drop my car for service and took an Uber home Made my wife breakfast in bed, paid bills, called an Uber to go pick up my car, came home, looked at the clock and it was already lunch time.

It seems like it took forever to get to this point (even just this day!)—like I was just treading water, planing wood and gluing it up, then planing again to try to make everything perfectly square (a challenge if you ask me. This is precision woodworking and since this is my bench I want it to be as square as I can possibly get it.. I worked on the legs a bit more with the plane and cut them down to 36”. If I did the math right, that would but the bench-top height at around 40”. I’m 6’ tall and I think this should be a decent height for me but if it is too tall at least I can saw off an inch or two if necessary. I just can’t add height.

Finally time to do some joinery—something I truly have little experience with so, here goes nothing.

Following Sellers’ method, (he said he used a 1/2” chisel. My mortising gauge is apparently not quite long enough to center on my legs but I was able to get it centered at a 5/8” width so I guess I’ll just have a thicker tenon when I’m done.

Just patiently hammer away methodically, no more than 1/8” at a time, always leading with the bevel. By leading with the bevel, the chisel’s design prevents you from cutting any deeper into the wood than you have measured. Also it keeps you from “bruising” the edges of the joints. Then you can clean things up using the flat edge flush to the walls/marking lines to make the mortise walls as clean as possible. I think I got better as I progressed—I did 2 legs tonight. Ultimately it took me a couple of passes on each side of the leg to chop all the way through but I just kept hammering away methodically and didn’t force it. Forcing it is an easy way to get tear out.

While this is a nice looking piece of wood I believe it was a less than ideal piece for a leg. The center is like a big knot running throughout the leg…on both sides! But oh well, if nothing else this would be a learning experience. Turns out it wasn’t too bad. Also, I used a small stepladder as a footrest of sorts as I sat on the legs while I hammered on them to make sure everything was secure and vibration minimized.

And there you go, 1 pair of legs complete. I’ll hopefully finish the other 2 tomorrow in quicker fashion and then move on on to the leg spacers/tenon joints.

Other things learned so far…

Whenever going through a piece of weed, wither with a chisel or across an edge with a plane, make sure to move the tool in an inward direction. Don’t plane away from the center or you risk chipout on the outer edge. This is a common cause of chipout and should be easy to manage (though I had some places…)

The grain of the wood determines so much and it is important to approach it with the right tool from the right direction to get the best results.

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108 posts in 1560 days

#14 posted 01-17-2016 08:15 PM

First major setback. Mayday! Mayday! I knew I was going to do something like this. I have enough leftover wood for a do-over but not much patience (and of course lack of patience is probably got me into this situation to begin with! So what did I do? Hint: It happens at the 9” line.

I hate it when that happens. I could finish the bench with one set of legs that has a higher support brace than the other and I’m sure that, functionally, the bench would be fine. But it would be difficult to put a shelf in down the road should I want to. Also, if I follow the plans as Paul Sellers did it in the video, I should have also moved the mortises lower on 2 legs to accommodate a future tail vise option. So it’s a double-do-over option. Oh well, I guess I won’t get done this weekend after all.

Making the mortises is a bit of a pain in the ass and I think it is probably exacerbated by my decision to use the 5/8” chisel size (because my mortise/marking isn’t quite long enough to center itself on the leg face with a 1/2” measurement… Anyway, despite having an extremely sharp chisel it was not a very clean process cutting out the mortise holes. Especially near the ends. The wood has this sort of “layer cake” quality to it when chopping down the grain and it chops out in little bits. However I had issues with tear out/tear down inside the wood—it just wasn’t chopping out. Was there too much surface vibration? Chisel need to be even sharper? I dunno but I need to go cut 2 more legs.

Layer cake.

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54 posts in 3274 days

#15 posted 01-18-2016 07:32 PM

Why not chop the mortises in the “wrong” legs to the matching correct length and carefully fit a “dutchman” in the incorrect ones? You could make them dark – like redwood or walnut – and say they are a design feature.

-- Third rail

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