The time finally came to join my workbench top to its base. I was as careful as I could be in my layout for all these joints, but I’ll be the first to admit, I was really nervous about this glue-up. Eight large tenons and eight corresponding mortises, and they all have to line up just right… Also, the benchtop weighs a couple of hundred pounds and there is no option for a dry fit (it may not come back apart). I’m trusting my measurements and hoping that I got everything right.
Since the base had already received three coats of finish, I masked off everything thoroughly, to make sure it didn’t get covered in glue.
I got all of the things I thought I would need during the assembly. Not pictured is the growler of Mack & Jacks African Amber Ale that I used to entice three friends into helping me. You see the massive sledge hammer and scrap doug fir? Boy was that a good idea, as the bench wouldn’t have come together without them.
Three friends came over and helped me with the assembly. We were moving quite quickly and I did not take any pictures during the glue-up. As I don’t have any pictures of this part, I’ll do my best to describe how it was done.
We each got a cup of glue and a chip brush. A fairly heavy coat of glue was painted onto all of the faces of the tenons (we each took a leg). Then the walls of all the mortises got painted with glue (again, each taking a pair of mortises). I guess we spent about five to eight minutes applying the glue. This is with four people working at the same time! If I’d have had to apply all the glue alone, I think I would have been running up against the open time limit of the glue.
We each took a corner of the bench and lifted it onto the base. Wow, this thing is heavy. I don’t think that it could have been done by two people. The benchtop slid about two inches onto the five-inch tenons, and stopped. At this point I put some scrap wood on the benchtop over the mortises and ‘tapped” it with the sledge hammer. The benchtop slid about ¼” further onto the tenons with each tap. I found that I had to keep moving from one leg to the other working around the bench in a circular pattern, hitting as I went, to get the joints to seat. Towards the end, I was having to hit pretty hard with the sledge hammer and I completely demolished several pieces of scrap fir. That’s okay though, as I managed to avoid denting my benchtop.
When the benchtop was fully seated against the shoulders of the leg tenons, I got a fair bit of squeeze out running down the legs. Good job I masked them! I then brushed a coat of glue onto each side of the oak wedges and started to drive them in. When driving two wedges into a single tenon (one on each side), it is important to try and drive them equally. This means a few taps on one and then a few on the other, switching back and forth between the two. This stops the whole tenon from moving to one side or the other of the mortise if there is any slop in the joint. It also makes sure that the tenon flairs out equally on both sides and should result in oak wedges that appear to be the same thickness when planed flush with the benchtop. So, there are both mechanical and aesthetic reasons for doing it this way.
When the 16th wedge was driven in as far as it would go, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
And then… we drained the growler. Sledge hammering is thirsty work after all.
After everyone left, I just sat down for a while in my shop. I can’t begin to tell you how happy I was that it went together as planned. The sense of relief and accomplishment was more than I had anticipated. My bench has been a year in the making and this was the last great hurdle. The bench is certainly not done yet, but there is no other part of this build that I am worried about. It’s all downhill coasting from here.
After about 45 minutes, I scraped off all the excess glue and called it a night.
The following morning, the tenons were dry enough to be trimmed.
I got out a hand saw and proceeded to flush trim the tenons.
I really need to buy a flush trim saw. The Veritas one looks very nice, why haven’t I bought it? Using the handsaw was not ideal and it has dug into the benchtop a little. This will get cleaned up when I flatten the benchtop.
With the glue dry and the tenons trimmed, it was time to take off all the masking paper and reveal the bench. It was also time to dismantle the remnants of the lumber pile that I have been using for the past year to build the bench. You can see it behind the bench below. It has to go, as the bench is going to sit right there.
I actually ended up doing quite an extensive shop re-organization and all of the major large tools were moved. I think I finally have my shop in a configuration that will work “permanently” and that I can run rigid ducting to for my dust collection system.
After moving everything around, I managed to wrestle the bench into position.
So, this is where my bench is going to sit in my shop:
I still have quite a few things to do, but I finally feel like I’m entering the home stretch.
In my next post, I’ll fix my little screw-up with the face vise skirts and start putting the vises on.
– Jonathan White