Workbench #1: Hand plane usage help

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Blog entry by russde posted 04-19-2012 11:15 PM 2600 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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Ok, I am a beginner, a noob, an fng (for you military types). I have a basement to work in and have been purchasing tools to work with (the fun part, so far).

Tonight I started on ‘my workbench’. It’s going to be cheap, it’s going to be ugly, but I need it to be functional. The top is 2×4 Doug fir from a box store. I am aiming for a 5’ x 3’ surface solely due to space constraints (living on-base, military, I’m lucky to have a basement to work in, so I’m not complaining).

Tonight I began. Time is precious, so this is going to be done in stages. I cut three boards to the proper length, and then grabbed my #7 and began beating them into submission. Here’s the question: The fir planes easily enough with a freshly sharpened blade, but what about those pesky knots? Do I just power through them? I spent a fair bit of time honing that edge, I’d hate to chip, dent, or roll it by hitting an absurdly hard pine knot.

The plan is to cut, plane and glue up 3 boards a day for the next week or so, then start on the base.
Hand planing on a workmate sucks, I have discovered that sitting on the workpiece while it’s clamped in the workmate is the best strategy. But I’m open to suggestions.

I took a short drive today and met a fellow that teaches woodworking at a high school (I didn’t know they still taught that, good thing I think); I bought an old (50’s) 12” band saw that he restored. He gave me, offered after I mentioned that the Wilton front vises on the ‘student’ workbenches were just like one I had recently purchased, two more Wilton front vises! These are larger (9” vs 7”) and in better shape than the one I bought last week. I now have 3 front vises and the hardware to make a mouton vise. In addition, this fellow (Bob) gave me an old table saw, it needs a motor and drive pulley, but still, he just gave it to me. Woodworkers, and yes I’m generalizing here, are cool people.

8 comments so far

View Andy Panko's profile

Andy Panko

90 posts in 3816 days

#1 posted 04-20-2012 12:17 AM

Yes, you can cut through the knots with your #7, but it will obviously ruin the edge on your blade much faster. And depending on how gnarly the knot is, it may even damage the edge to the point that you need to regrind it, instead of just rehoning it.

I’ve never really thought about how else to approach the matter. I guess you can use some other means to knock down the knots and surrounding area (cheap block plane? rasp? rotary tool?) before doing your passes with your #7. That will save wear and tear on your #7 blade so you don’t have to resharpen it as much.

-- Andy Panko, Edison NJ,

View SamuelP's profile


793 posts in 4141 days

#2 posted 04-20-2012 12:43 AM

When I did my top out of 2×4s I found the truest ones I could and then glued them flat. This leaves ridges in the top so I planed the top down flat. I made sure that one of the sides of my top was free of knots or close to it. When there was a bad knot or bad tear out I cut it out and made a plug. It has worked good so far.

Good luck.

-- -Sam - FL- "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns somthing he can in no other way" -Mark Twain

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1628 posts in 5059 days

#3 posted 04-20-2012 01:05 AM

You could put a few drops mineral oil (cheaper from the grocer) on the knot, rub it in then let it soak in to soften the knot. Also try to keep the grain running in the same direction, less tear-out later when planing the top.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View DrewM's profile


176 posts in 4493 days

#4 posted 04-20-2012 01:26 AM

here is my cheap doug fir workbench made from box store 2×4s. I hand planed it flat and the knots didn’t pose a huge problem. as mentioned before I tried to make the exposed side as clear as possible. good luck with your bench, I had a great time building mine.

-- Drew, Delaware

View tsangell's profile


216 posts in 4187 days

#5 posted 04-20-2012 02:30 PM

Plane through it, and sharpen before you think you need to, and if it feels wrong either reduce the cut or sharpen again. (You won’t/can’t ruin the tool unless you hit something like a nail.) Though it feels like you are being unproductive when you stop to sharpen, powering through with a dull iron is way more work.

Bench opinions are plentiful, but as someone who is working on my first bench which is 2×4 and MDF, and as a heavy hand-tool user I feel I can add something.

My bench is about 2.5’ x 4’ and I would recommend a bench that is more like 2 feet deep and 6 feet long if you can manage it, especially if you’re going to use planes. Too much depth is a bit inconvenient, and any extra length is great. A leg vise, all the way to the left of the bench would also maximize work area on a small bench but this type of vise will require a heavier leg and strong joinery to the top. I would also guess that you’re planning to make it too tall, as I did… Standing with your arms relaxed, the height of the joint at your wrist/hand is about as high as I would ever want if you plan to use planes. An inch or so below this is great. Also, if you can manage to make the legs flush to the front of the bench, you’ll appreciate it in the future.

Christopher Schwarz has an excellent book on workbenches, if you’re the kind who likes to research.

View russde's profile


109 posts in 4334 days

#6 posted 04-23-2012 09:00 PM

Andy- Good thought, I used an old, cheap 3/4” chisel at first, works

Sam-Thanks. I was able to re-orient the two that were glued up already, and now make sure I mark the ‘top’ surface on each board, the side without knots. Only 1 so far has knots on both sides, and it will wait for another project.

Tim-I read your comment about grain direction, but didn’t really understand it…until I had done some more planing, now it makes sense.

Drew-Your bench is one that I have bookmarked for ideas, already have the poplar board that will help me create the tool ‘grooves’.

tsangelll-ding ding ding, winner! Once I devised a way of using my workmate in conjunction with a saw horse, 2 clamps and the lower concrete wall in the basement (I’ll post a pic tomorrow) I was finally able to put some torque into the plane. With the ‘proper’ amount of force behind it, the #7 sails right through the knots, being able to use your legs makes all the difference in the world. The blade is still shaving sharp.

Back to the dungeon…I mean workshop.

View russde's profile


109 posts in 4334 days

#7 posted 04-25-2012 10:34 PM

I planed and glued up one leg set today and two more boards for the top, this is a slow way to make a bench, but, it’s progress.
Learning things too. I convexed the blade on the #5 I bought from Don (thanks Don!) and am now using it as a scrub plane. Soooooo much easier to use the scrub, then the #7 and finish with the #4. Might be overkill for the pine 2×4’s, but I did notice that a) I was done with these 4 boards faster than I would have been with just the #7 and the #4 and b) the glue seemed to spread MUCH easier.
I also made a trip to Harbor Freight and bought some more bar clamps because I don’t have enough long ones to clamp the complete top together.

View DrewM's profile


176 posts in 4493 days

#8 posted 04-26-2012 05:21 PM

keep it up, and make sure to post pictures when its done!

-- Drew, Delaware

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