1st (Failed) Attempt at Hybrid Work Bench

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Project by PlumberMike posted 08-25-2020 01:47 AM 2123 views 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Disclaimer: As much as any person wants to hope and strive to achieve a final outcome that belongs up there with the “best of ‘em”, I believe it’s good to stay grounded. So many things can go wrong on a bench build, especially with time and budget constraints. The following is an example, and not for the weak stomached or people prone to stress induced seizures and/or high blood pressure. You were warned…

While I won’t be as negative as I initially felt about what is essentially my 3rd ever build, I definitely don’t want to come off as unconfident or looking for sympathy points. This won’t be the worst thing ever to come out of my tiny Kansas basement. That being said, at nearly every juncture imaginable I felt the hot sting of my right palm seamlessly finding its way to my unsuspecting forehead. From the table saw to the last stroke of my HF #4 plane (dude, I know… Shame was felt admitting to taking the bait!), I became increasingly more familiar with the taste of a heaping bag of sh*t. Luckily I was hungry enough to chew my way through to the finish line.

Prognosis? Heartburn. Treatment? Another chat with my advisors Evan Williams and Pall Mall. I was careful to remove them from the frame when documentation of this travesty occurred lest my post be mistaken for an alcohol and tobacco ad. What a humbling thing to willingly undergo.

My intention from the start here was to really study what the community here had learned before me. Tools, inspiration from various styles of famous builder’s and region’s benches… I wanted to smack this project out of the park and rip the cover off the ball in the process. The good news is that I’ve learned not to be so lofty. Best not to attempt my grasp to over extend my reach on things. The bad is that my rarely being able to navigate the delicate balance between half assing something and trying to be an over achiever leaves me often bound to land as far on one side of the fence as possible.

What I was certain of though, was that I admired especially the deign elements of Paul Sellers, as well as the Roubo and the Moravian benches. I had noticed by many other bench builds here that I’m not alone in this. At that point I started sketching and running at it. I had very limited time to pull this off before going crazy. I wasn’t spending another night working at the rickety bench left behind by the former owner of my house.

For my virgin run on a table saw and I found myself biffing nearly every rip. I chalked it up to needing to familiarize myself with the tool, as well as the quality of what I had access to. A used and well loved portable construction site saw from Menards was what I was afforded. The cheapest one offered at the time, which from the looks of it was nearly a decade ago. The poor fence on that guy looked like it used to double on the weekends as Chris Brown’s girlfriend. If you didn’t get the reference, trust me, I admire you all the more for it.

Not having the clamp length to secure the glue joints for the large portion of the surface left me looking at the only option I could really get away with, the wedge method. In the process, of course, I managed to flip the only board I had with a giant knot in the mix wrong-side up. Classic Mike… Where did I move ol Pall and Evan to again..?

Cut to removing the wedges and downforce I had secured in place, and I find myself looking at a brand new surprise; sure would have been nice to have the foresight to square up the edges, Holmes. Top form. Moving on.

Framed up nicely. I’ll give myself that. I didn’t really know if I’d go as far as committing to the leg vise at this point, so I left it for a later date and tossed the apron on the front, burned the tool well, and got to planning the thing true with the aforementioned #4 plane I begrudgingly now mention for the second time. I spent a long time flattening the cast iron sole of it and working that hideous quality of steel they called a blade into shape. I mean, a long time. For the hours I wasted, I could have worked extra hours and just bought a couple of LN planes I knew from research would have been worth every penny. Hand meet forehead was becoming the overall theme here. I’m not sure those still reading had caught on yet.

After feeling the effects of hours of trying to best my one liter friend, I resolved to just stain it with a cherry high light and save my one shot at dog holes for a night when I’ve recovered from my wounds. Again, I’m not feeling sorry for myself so much as the disappointment of nearly all of this being highly, highly avoidabe. A day later I find myself already laughing along with my wife about it. She won’t be laughing long though, as I secretly decided upon completion, that nauseatingly fugly (while still in the end highly functional) bench of my own creation would become my “gift” to her when I try again in a week or two. Whoever said chivalry is dead was right, and I just drop kicked its corpse. Hogan style.

-- "The cut worm forgives the plow." - William Blake

6 comments so far

View AC66's profile


2 posts in 467 days

#1 posted 08-25-2020 04:17 AM

I’m building my first workbench also. It’s a Roubo – style workbench, composite top and legs, I’m in the process of fitting the leg vise. I just spent parts of three days (the other parts of those days I had chores and “honey do’s”) doing one thing so I could do another so I could fix the tool I needed to make an extender for a forstner bit so I could fix the mistake I made drilling the hole for the leg vise screw. So I understand some of what you went through.

I recently found out that Lost Art Press just published a book by Christopher Schwarz who has made a variety of workbenches, mostly Roubo style, but using a variety of types of lumber and methods. He has written a number of articles about making various types of workbenches over the last twenty years, also the book “Workbenches Revised Edition: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use” but he also just this month publish “The Anarchist’s Workbench” (yes, anarchist has really, really bad connotations nowdays) which basically reviews a number of types of workbenches he’s made and still has in his shop, then goes into detail about making a simple, inexpensive workbench. The bench is a version of one he made for an article in the magazine Popular Woodworking about twenty years ago, but is revised to reflect his experience making workbenches and using them to make furniture. There’s a lot of detail, and he writes to some extent about how he made some of the design decisions.

A link to a free – yes, free – digital copy of the book can be found two paragraphs up from the Table of Contents at the bottom of the web page:

The web page was posted several months after I started my workbench, I downloaded it and read it anyway, and to my pleasant surprise, many – not all – of the design decisions I had made with great doubt because I just didn’t know for sure were validated by statements in the book. I recommend you download it for free and read it. He also writes in it, not enough, about upgrading workbenches or replacing parts, or just plain fixing parts, like a crack opening up in the end of a benchtop made of two solid pieces of wood.

Schwarz’s Workbenches book, available on Amazon is probably the best non-free book about designing and building a workebench, his Anarchist’s Workbench is by far the best FREE information on workbench design and construction. Take a look at it before you do more to that workbench. Meanwhile, use it for making other things and think about how it could be different.

Good luck, press on.

View swirt's profile


6823 posts in 4260 days

#2 posted 08-26-2020 02:27 AM

It’s a little short, but it looks useable. Cut yourself some slack. As long as it doesn’t wobble, its useable. ;)
Nice work on the story too. It was a funny read.

-- Galootish log blog,

View PlumberMike's profile


19 posts in 481 days

#3 posted 08-26-2020 04:20 AM

Thank you Swirt! I appreciate the positive feedback so much! The scathing diatribe is kind of my version of cope I suppose.

I really enjoy using hand tools. Nothing compares to a nice sharp plane with a flat sole though. My wife also enjoys planing. Problem is she’s barely breaking 5’ tall. Even our pre existing bench which topped out at 31” height was a real pain for her to use the jack on. She literally took to setting on the bench top. Idk about y’all, but I don’t like bringing sawdust back into the house and eventually everything inside it. Even if it travels there on the ass of my young wife

-- "The cut worm forgives the plow." - William Blake

View PlumberMike's profile


19 posts in 481 days

#4 posted 08-26-2020 04:23 AM

(cont.) A small hunch for me is nothing when I would otherwise have to watch momma struggle to have fun. Exerting force all extended like she has to if she wants the leverage to remove bulk takes it’s toll on her quickly. I hate that. I spend 60hrs a week in odd positions as a groundwork plumber. My back is already used to the contortions.

Here’s the kicker though; I took remedial mathematics in high school. Dropped out at 15 and never even learned algebra. This was like an act of congress for me to even come close to a win here. Trying to get the height minus the makeup of the frame attached to the bench top and top of the legs. Figuring out the angle I wanted the legs.., and what length the actual miter cut needed to be. Weather to measure it from inside to inside, or outside, or whatever was nerve recking until I got it. The height of the finished product was very intentional, and I actually hit the desired height of a work surface within 3/16th of an inch when I pulled it off its side and finally checked it. I never planned on my first bench build being mine. Just embleshed a little for the sake of a little humor with my rant.

AC66, you really saved the day as well. Luckily just relaxing for a minute and calmly reading your link instead of rushing back to it with no strategy was just what the Dr. ordered. One by one, I’ve managed to turn nearly every mistake I made into a design feature. Even may manage to throw in some cool joinery on the tail. From dog hole positioning to what I plan to use for vises is starting to come together. I can barely manage the phrase without my mind picturing Steven Tyler, and those famous lips. Eww, dude actually DO look like a lady. I guess these days though, that’s considered hip. In fact, that’s pretty par for the course. Glad I grew up in easier, less confusing times.

Again, thanks fellas. Thee comments here seem to always be constructive and helpful. If only the real world was that way… I’ll update soon when I’m completely finished and have had a chance to fix whatever other boo boo’s I’m bound to encounter. I plan to really experiment with my methods of clamping, wedging and celebrating. Brought to you by Evan Williams… Enjoy responsibly. Oooor don’t. I’m not the “boss of you”, as my kids say

-- "The cut worm forgives the plow." - William Blake

View Sylvain's profile


1440 posts in 3787 days

#5 posted 08-26-2020 04:06 PM

It doesn’t look bad and seems perfectly usable.

Don’t jump immediately on another build; this one will be perfect to hone your skills.

As for Chris Schwarz and Paul Sellers, they have very very different views about work-holding and so have different views about the perfect workbench (Although, P.S. never said his workbench is the best one it is just what he has been using for 5 decades)
Anyway, it works for either of them.
So don’t consider what C. S. says as the only way to go.

-- Sylvain, Brussels, Belgium, Europe - The more I learn, the more there is to learn (and that is nice)

View drsurfrat's profile


1097 posts in 475 days

#6 posted 08-26-2020 05:59 PM

Your post is titled “Failure” and I kept looking for failures – but found none. It seems to be a great, useful bench. And if it was pristine, you’d hesitate to saw or chisel on it, which is counterproductive to woodworking.

Mike (near Boston)

-- Mike (near Boston) ... Laziness is the mother of invention, necessity is the mother of exhaustion - me

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