Making the Sliding Deadmen for My Workbench – Part 1

Things are zipping right along in the shop these days and the workbench build is entering its final stages.  The next item on my to do list is to make two sliding deadmen for the workbench.  I have designed my bench to be ambidextrous and as such it will need a deadman on each side.  Sometimes you will see these refered to as board jacks, but I find the previous term more colorful.  I didn’t have any lumber left from the tree that I had felled to make this bench that was suitable for making the deadmen.  I did however have two very nice 2x6s that I found at the local hardware store last year.  They are almost clear and are more like vertical grain douglas fir than construction timbers.

Two 2x6s that are destined to become the sliding deadmen on my bench.

Two 2x6s that are destined to become the sliding deadmen on my bench.

The growth rings were much tighter on these two than most construction lumber.

The growth rings were much tighter on these two than most construction lumber.

Using the cross-cut sled on my tablesaw, I cut the 2x6s to get two pieces that were just over double the length of the intended deadmen.

My shop after a recent reorganization.

My shop after a recent reorganization.

I then jointed one face flat, jointed one edge square, planed the opposing face, and ripped the other edge on the tablesaw.  A quick fast forward, and this was the result:

Two boards jointed, planed, and ripped to width.

Two boards jointed, planed, and ripped to width.

I then took these two boards and cut them in half one last time.  By folding them back upon themselves, I got two panels that are color and grain matched.  The effect isn’t quite as nice as book matching, but it still looks much better than putting two random boards together.

Each board was cut in half again and folded back upon itself.

Each board was cut in half again and folded back upon itself.

These will be glued up to make the two blanks from which I will make the deadmen.

This left two perfectly clear sliding deadman blanks.

This left two perfectly clear sliding deadman blanks.

A little Titebond III on the edges, and the boards spent the night in the clamps.

I glued and clamped the blanks and left them overnight to dry.

I glued and clamped the blanks and left them overnight to dry.

The next morning, I removed the boards from the clamps and scraped off the squeeze-out.

The dried blanks removed from the clamps.

The dried blanks removed from the clamps.

I then used a smoothing plane to clean up the faces.  They didn’t need much.  I have installed spiral segmented cutter heads in both my jointer and planer and the surface they leave is not bad.  It’s not finish ready, but it’s easy to make it so.

I cleaned up the blanks with a smoothing plane.

I cleaned up the blanks with a smoothing plane.

When I made the base of my workbench, I incorporated a V into the front of all the stretchers.  I also cut grooves into the underside of the benchtop.  These two details will allow me to quickly install or remove a sliding deadman by inserting a tongue cut on the top of the deadman, into the grove and then dropping the bottom of the deadman down onto the V of the stretcher.

To make the deadman, I need to start by cutting V-notch on the bottom.  The problem is, the deadmen and the stretchers are not the same thickness.  So I can’t just cut a 90° notch centered on the thickness of the deadman.  It will have to be off-set.  When I made the stretchers, I saved a small off-cut, as I thought it might come in handy at this stage for exactly this purpose.

This is a off-cut piece of the stretcher that I saved.

This is a off-cut piece of the stretcher that I saved.

The sliding deadmen should be more or less flush with the front of the benchtop, legs, and stretchers.  It is okay if the deadman is very slightly recessed, but not if it is proud. To lay out the notch, I stood the deadman blank on its edge and positioned the off-cut piece of stretcher about 1/32″ proud of the deadman.  I then used the off-cut to mark the deadman with a pencil.

Marking the stretcher location in the deadman.

Marking the stretcher location in the deadman.

This gave me the correct off-set location of the V-notch.

Here you can see the off-set.

Here you can see the off-set.

To cut the notch, I installed a tall fence on my tablesaw and tilted the blade to 45°.

A tall fence mounted on the table saw.

A tall fence mounted on the table saw.

I then installed a feather board to keep the deadman tight against the fence.

A featherboard helps to keep the deadman tight against the fence.

A featherboard helps to keep the deadman tight against the fence.

The resulting cut.

The resulting cut.

I adjusted the fence and then made the second cut to complete the notch.

The second cut was made with the blank laying flat on the table.

The second cut was made with the blank laying flat on the table.

The very apex of the notch was a little uneven, so I cleaned it up with a shoulder plane.

Cleaning up the V-notch with a shoulder plane.

Cleaning up the V-notch with a shoulder plane.

I wanted the deadmen to slide smoothly so I decided that I could improve the notch by sanding it.

Not bad, but I can get it a little smoother.

Not bad, but I can get it a little smoother.

The off-cut from the stretcher proved handy once again and I wrapped it in some 220 grit paper to smooth the inside of the V-notch.

The stretcher off-cut with some 220 grit paper.

The stretcher off-cut with some 220 grit paper.

This should do nicely!

The V-notch sanded.

The V-notch sanded.

I then had to calculate how far up the deadman the tongue should be cut.  I drew it all out and re-checked my measurements.  I really didn’t want to screw this up and have to start over.

Laying out the rabbet for the top of the sliding deadman.

Laying out the rabbet for the top of the sliding deadman.

I first trimmed the deadman to final length and then cut the rabbet at the tablesaw.  I figured that it would be much easier to cut the rabbet in two passes than it would have been to install the stacked dado cutter head.  I first ran the deadmen through vertically.

Cutting the rabbet at the table saw.

Cutting the rabbet at the table saw.

The first cut of the rabbet.

The first cut of the rabbet.

And then laid it flat to finish the rabbet.

Completing the rabbet.

Completing the rabbet.

I found that the tongue left on the top of the deadman was just a little to thick for the groove in the underside of the benchtop.  If I had made the rabbet any deeper, it would have made the face of the deadman stick out proud of the benchtop when installed. Instead, I removed just a hair from the back side of the tongue.

Taking "a hair" off the back of the sliding deadman.

Taking “a hair” off the back of the sliding deadman.

Here’s the result:

The resulting tongue created at the top of the deadman.

The resulting tongue created at the top of the deadman.

I cleaned up the tongue with my shoulder plane and then rounded over all of the edges of the tongue with sandpaper.  The tongue needs to be smooth so that it slides well in the groove and doesn’t bind.

Cleaned up with the shoulder plane and then sanded.

Cleaned up with the shoulder plane and then sanded.

With this done, I tested the fit.  I was happy to find that they functioned exactly as they should.

Testing the fit.

Testing the fit.

This post is already getting a little long, so I will break it into two.  In the next post, I will dress up the sliding deadmen with a decorative profile and drill all of the holes for the adjustable dogs.  I’ll then apply a few coats of finish and wrap up this part of the build.

More soon.

 

– Jonathan White

 

About Jonathan

I am a woodworker and hand tool restorer / collector. I buy too many tools and don't build enough - I need help!
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7 Responses to Making the Sliding Deadmen for My Workbench – Part 1

  1. David says:

    Such detailed, precise and well thought out execution of build. However all this beautiful workmanship and you use local hardware construction grade lumber for the build. I would except from this caliper of work to use finer grades of wood, instead of 2x framing lumber. Also you may want to knock off flat the point edge of your 45 degree at the bottom. This pointy edge will only break in time with the deadman sliding back and forth.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks for your comments. When I started the workbench build, I did consider using hard maple. I estimated that I would need about 200 board feet of lumber and priced out the maple at my local hardwood dealer. At six dollars a board foot, I was looking at a $1200 bill just to get started. This was much more than I wanted to spend. I found A local sawyer who was willing to mill some lumber to my specification. He felled a Douglas Fir tree, which grow like weeds around here and cut it up as I had asked. He charged me $100 for this, which worked out to be a little over $0.40 a board foot.

      I found the sapele while on a trip to Bellingham and paid $100 for a board that was 12″ wide x 6/4 thick by 14′ long. That’s just under $5 a board foot. I used the sapele for the bread board ends, the edges of the bench, and the pin striping that runs throughout.

      The only construction lumber that I used in the bench, is the two 2x6s that I used here to make the sliding deadmen, and I’ll think you’d have to agree that they are of rather exceptional quality. I think that these cost me about $5 each.

      For vises, I went with the four Grizzly H7788 cabinet makers vises. I spent quite a lot of time and effort cleaning up the metalwork and repainting them, but they were only $50 each.

      All told, the lumber and vises have cost me about $410. That’s only a third the cost of my original quote for maple. There is certainly the argument that 30 years from now I might look back and wish I’d spent the extra money on the maple, but who knows? One thing I do know, is that if I’d have had to spend $1200 on the maple, I wouldn’t have built the bench.

      Thanks for the tip about the point on the bottom of the sliding deadman. I didn’t show it here, but I did slightly round it over with 220 grit paper to help prevent it from snagging on anything or splintering.

      All the best,

      Jonathan

  2. Marilyn says:

    Nicely done and great photos

  3. Pingback: Making the Sliding Deadmen for My Workbench - Part 2 | The Bench Blog

  4. jenesaisquoiwoodworking says:

    Hi Jonathan, your work is exceptionally precise and your shop looks like a operating theater, it must be an absolute joy to work in that space.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hey Gerhard,

      Great to hear form you. Thanks for the kind comments. I usually feel that the shop is a total wreck. The trick is to use a wide aperture lens and get a shallow depth of field. The background can’t look messy if it is out of focus, right? Messy or not, it is a joy be in the shop. I have to admit that sometimes I’ll take my cup of coffee out there even when I not working on anything.

      By the way, I love your new saw benches, they look great.

      All the best,

      Jonathan

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