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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited by Moderator)
I'm looking at building a knockdown Nicholson bench after Chris Schwarz's design. One question is, how well does the benchtop retain 'flatness'. I'm new to hand tools and haven't built a sturdy workbench before. I've considered the usual designs (Moravian, Nicholson, Roubo). Frankly the mortising in the Moravian and Roubo designs is intimidating to a newcomer. The knockdown Nicholson is appealing but I wonder how flat the top will stay (a layer of 2×12s face up with a partial layer below it) compared to a laminated top like the Moravian and Roubo designs use. I know I could modify a Nicholson to use a laminated top, I'd just like to keep the cost down if I can. Do you have any advice? Is a laminated top enough more stable to make it worth the extra cost? Thanks.

BTW I'm looking at a knockdown design because my shop is in my basement (not walkout) and someday I'd like to change that.
 

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Let the wood acclimate to your shop a while and find out how they'll move. I definitely suggest sticking with laminating two boards together face to face for the top boards of you intend to use hold fasts. The cost of the cheaper, easier construction is having to flatten more often. I wouldn't worry about flattening it by hand. With construction lumber it's fairly easy with a hand plane, if you're in to that. If not, it might be of more concern, as flattening is trickier, but presumably you'd have to figure it our out anyway for the initial flattening right? I wouldn't expect it to be that out of flat very quickly, and should get out of flat slower at it ages too
 

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I looked at that one and a ton of other designs before building mine. I ended up going the route of Richard Maguire's English Workbench. Similar style, just a traditional english bench. I made it a few years ago and haven't flattened it since i originally made it. Richard says you may need to flatten it every few years depending on environment. But to be honest, a perfectly flat workbench isn't a necessity. So I just haven't flattened it yet.
 

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I have used recycled construction wood and a recycled pick-nic bench for my Paul Sellers workbench.
The top is "only" 150 X 30 X 4.5 cm + a tool well.
Until now it has been big enough for me (and my workspace is limited anyway).
So it wasn't very expensive.
By the way, The Paul Sellers workbench can be knocked down (I made it in my back yard then moved it [5 main pieces] to my workspace in the attic).
My big expense was the quick release vise.
 

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My Moravian was my first "real" woodworking project, made a few mistakes but I learned a lot. For the bench you are describing you may want to check out Mortise and Tenon on you tube. He uses some flat top (long boards) horizontally for the top and has a philosophy of abuse it and replace it.
 

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about flatness.
Its importance depends how you work and on what project.

If you work like Paul Sellers, flatness isn't critical. ( except when making things like picture frames apparently.
He once re-flattened his bench for such a project).
look at the video here:
https://paulsellers.com/2022/01/newest-piece-of-the-year/
Planing in the vise.
 

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Frankly the mortising [...] is intimidating to a newcomer.
- Lumpy63
For everybody, there is a first time. Just make the jump. Use a scrap of wood for a first test.

A workbench is not a fine piece of furniture and it doesn't need to be perfect. Mine is not perfect but is nevertheless rock solid and perfectly functional.

The best video (IMO) about chopping mortises:

use mortise guides to get plumb mortises:
If you chop from either side in a thick leg, you will have a better chance that the two half mortises will meet nicely in the center (don't ask - it didn't affect the final result though).

for wide mortises, I use this method:
Wood Burin Metalworking hand tool Hand tool Stonemason's hammer

two mortises (with a 10 mm chisel) and then removing the waste in between.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thank you for your replies! I think there is a lot of good advice here. To AJ2, yes, I was looking at 'kiln dried' construction 2×12s. Overall, it sounds like I may have been over-emphasizing flatness a bit. I appreciate the comments about the English workbench and the Paul Sellers design. Sylvain, thank you for the video links. It looks like I need to continue educating myself before making a final decision about a bench design. I have tried making a 1"x1" mortise in a 2×4 remnant, but my current bench flexes so much (along with questionable sharpening technique on the chisel) that it didn't go as well as I'd hoped. Thanks again for all of the good advice.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
The Moravian bench design is very appealing, but the mortising looks challenging which held me back from selecting that design. Also I wasn't sure if the relatively small blind pegs that hold the top to the base would be sturdy enough long term (just thinking about their size vs the big tenons used on a Roubo)? It's just quite a contrast between the two designs. I saw that one LJ (Combo Prof) made a knock down Roubo using blind tenons to hold the top to the base. Lots of options to consider but the knockdown Nicholson seemed like a good, relatively economical choice for me, perhaps with a split top to allow some clamping to the top. I also wondered about making rectangular holes near the top of the aprons to allow clamping to the top, but since I haven't seen that done, maybe it's a bad idea and I just haven't thought of why yet.
 

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After the P.S. workbench, I did a Moravian for the son.
Those skew mortises look challenging, but, finally were not much more difficult than straight ones.

If you choose the vertical vise on the Moravian workbench, there is no effort in those pegs when one tighten the vise.
And the backboard of the vise has wide tenons in the top and in the bottom stretcher.
On the version with an angled leg-vise, Will Meyers increased the size of the peg.
On a Roubo, tightening a piece against the top will tend to push the top away. That is a reason to have the double tenon on top of the leg. The effort is then contained in the leg and the vise-leg.

There should not be much effort in the pegs when planing, especially if your plane is sharp ;-)

I also wondered about making rectangular holes near the top of the aprons to allow clamping to the top, .
- Lumpy63
Just use sash clamps long enough to bridge the width of the apron.
 

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The all consuming obsession for "perfect flatness" always amazes me. Perhaps it can be achieved with a metal top, but wood has its own properties.
Ask yourself this: How flat could the workbench of Thomas Chippendale, Duncan Phyfe, Thomas Sheraton or the Dominy family hve been….
There will be some variances. We all have to live with it. The "Nicholson" design is a good sturdy workbench, which will serve you well. At 62, the best woodworking lesson I've learned is not to waste time over-thinking these things, just DO it. Your worst enemy is self doubt.
 

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Plenty of ways to be flat. A bench like the one recently done in Woodworkers journal takes 4 layers of MDF, plenty of mass in that, and offers knock down construction via through bolts. Mass, all of the hand tool features you could ask for, and pretty straight forward construction. It can even be set with retractable wheels to make it mobile in place.

From Woodworkers Journal August 2022

On You Tube

I agree with Aj about construction lumber. Fine for building homes, but way too unstable for finer projects. Sure I know a lot of people still use it, but swapping for a better dried hardwood for the framework, will be something you'll never regret. 2×4's for roll around work carts and multi use assembly tables, sure knock yourself out, but for a BENCH, use stable wood.

Acclimating a dogs hind leg, is still a dogs hind leg. For flat, it isn't a good base to start with, and especially to finish on. I did construction, and home repair/renovation for over 40 years, and I can count on my fingers the number of times I saw 2×4 lumber that I thought, gee I could build a workbench from this. Evidently it really doesn't grow on trees.
 

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My bench top is very flat I keep it that way so I can handplane a board. I find it easy to hand plane a board flat if the surface under it is flat. I don't know anyone can plane a board over a hump or dip. I wonder if some of the comments are from wood grinders. And don't understand what a handtool bench is.
I would not use construction lumber to build a work bench unless the growth rings are very tight. I think the best bench top is hard maple because that's what I have.
I would like to suggest you spend a little bit more and use poplar. Its harder then fir with wide rings and cut beautifully with the grain and across.
Good Luck
 

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Don't listen to the nay sayers. Construction 2×12s, most especially SYP construction lumber works great for a workbench. SYP flattens as well as most hardwoods. SYP ranges from 690-870 on the Janka scale, poplar is 540. but Hard Maple is 1450.

I do think laminated tops are the bomb.
 

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I would like to point out a character of pines and fir construction lumber. It actually has both soft and hard rings that we can see that are surrounded by soft layers. This is what makes cutting across the grain difficult and sometimes hand planing tricky.
The big box stores in my area do not carry 2x construction lumber kiln dried. That's a problem because as its dried it will warp,bow, twist and cup. I do realize we can get around that but there's one more drawback. The pitch will flow until it's set. To set the pitch it needs to be kiln dried or lots of time 40 or 50 years.How much sap will flow nobody knows but the tree will think it's still alive and when its warm enough or hot enough it will ooze pitch.
I write this not just for the op but for anyone passing through looking for information.
Construction lumber is great for framing walls or sheds etc because of the attributes I mentioned above.
Good Luck
 

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For me it's that the average moisture % on SPF construction goods is usually way North of 20% up to 35% That isn't the picture of stable wood. If you are first guy when they pop the bands off a rick of 2×4, 6, 8, 10, 12 I don't care what size you pick, sorting through them you'll have wet hands. Not occasionally, every time. That is way to wet to call it stable, and sitting around on your garage floor for a week, month, year, doesn't do anything except allow it to go to that dogs hind leg form it so loves to become.
 
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