Workbench #1: Blogging in medias res

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Blog entry by mileskimball posted 01-09-2013 05:17 AM 1782 reads 1 time favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Workbench series Part 2: Iterative design »

I’m starting with Lumberjocks in the middle of a project, but here goes.

The project is (I know, yet another) Roubo-style workbench, but I feel less that I’m following the crowd than following my past self: I built my my first workbench in this style while in grad school in Kentucky in 1991, after watching an episode of Roy Underhill.
Truth be told, I went with this style then for simple reasons:
  • It was inexpensive if you used pine. We were poor in grad school!
  • I could make it with limited tools—I owned only a panel saw, a back saw, a jack plane, 3 chisels, and my grandfather’s brace, plus various old wrenches and screwdrivers.
  • I could make sense of the wagon vise. (I never could figure out from the pictures in magazines how one of those L-shaped end vices fit together.)

I used 15 2×4s, four 4×4s for legs, 2×6s for stretchers, and a block of walnut I reclaimed from a tree that blew down in the back yard the year before for the “wagon” of the wagon vise. A hardware store was going out of business, and I procured a 3’ piece of 1 1/4” threaded rod and 2 nuts and washers, which I had welded together to form a flanged nut ($25 – a fortune!).

The whole process took weeks, planing each board between classes and studying. The walnut wagon for the vise was especially tricky to do by hand to close tolerances. I cut the dog hole with the brace and bit, squaring it up with a 3/4” chisel, then cut dadoes on either side to mesh with walnut runners screwed in the wagon slot in the bench. The vise corner received my first ever dovetails – ugly, but serviceable.

By the time I finished, I’d learned a lot about wood and its ways. But I never got to build much but the bench itself, as the demands of school and career grew. I eventually sold it to a neighbor before we left Kentucky, but regretted it ever since.

Call me sentimental, but now I’m remaking that bench. I’m a bit too busy (old?) to plug away with hand tools, and there’s more money available now, so I’ve built my shop up to include all the standard goodies: TS, bandsaw, jointer, planer, and lots of hand tools. But I’m still going with fir, because it’s inexpensive and I won’t wince (much) when I drop a chisel on it, the way I would with a nice hardwood. I figure I can always upgrade to a maple top if the mood strikes me. (The abstemious habits of grad school are character-forming!)

I also like to test my ingenuity, so I’m building the vises (leg and wagon) with hardware mostly obtainable from a big box hardware store. The exception is the screws, which are $32 Shop Fox jobs.

In my next post I’ll review my design process, which used Sketchup pretty extensively. Love that program!

-- Miles

2 comments so far

View GlennsGrandson's profile


443 posts in 2785 days

#1 posted 01-09-2013 06:38 AM

Looking forward to seeing your progress, you can never have enough pictures.

If you’re looking to get any workbench related questions answered head over to the Work bench smack down forum and be prepared to get answers very quickly.

-- Grant - N Dakota

View mileskimball's profile


97 posts in 2490 days

#2 posted 01-09-2013 04:52 PM

Thanks, Grant! I appreciate your welcome and advice. Pictures are coming!

-- Miles

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