The Bench Blog Bench

I called my blog “The Bench Blog” so I guess you’d like to see my bench.


Here it is:

This is the lumber that I will use to build my workbench.

My workbench… Nice, huh?

The first major project that I want to document here is going to be my bench build.  I have been planing this for the past year or so and have given a lot of thought to how I want to do it.  I read Christopher Schwarz’ book, The Workbench Design Book: The Art & Philosophy of Building Better Benches and I also read Lon Schleining’s The Workbench: A Complete Guide to Creating Your Perfect Bench.  I also watched an episode of “The Wood Whisperer” that showed a shop tour of David Marks workshop.  I thought the bench top was very interesting.  It’s outer apron was dovetailed into bread-board ends.  I have pieced together ideas from all over for what I want to build.

I estimated that I would need about 175 board feet to build my bench and I priced out hard maple from my local hardwood dealer.  After that sticker shock, I thought I’d better come up with some other options.  I thought about using construction grade dimensional lumber but that stuff can be hit and miss on what you get.

I found an ad on Craigslist for a local guy who was willing to mill Cedar or Douglas Fir lumber to order.  I explained to him what I planned to build and he asked me for a list with the measurements of each individual piece that I wanted.  We agreed upon a price and I went out to his property to buy the wood.  When I got there, he had already felled the tree and was bucking the trunk into eight foot lengths to mill my lumber.  I got to watch as he milled it all and a couple of hours later left with my trailer full of very wet Doug Fir.  In all I ended up with well over 220 board feet of lumber at what worked out to be about 45¢ a board foot.

I got:

  • 17 – 2x5s for the bench top (They actually measure about 2 ¼ x 5 ¼) that I plan to face laminate to make the bench top.
  • 5 – 3x6s (They actually measure about 3 ¼ x 6 ¼) that I will glue up to make 6×6 legs.
  • 5 – 2x6s (They actually measure about 2 ¼ x 6 ¼) for stretchers and maybe some vise chops.

There was a bunch of extra leftover pieces, odd sizes and boards with wane (bark inclusion).  I paid the guy a little extra and took the lot.

I got it all home and stacked it all to dry.  I  had spent plenty of time reading online about how to properly sticker and stack a load of lumber for drying.  Here was my first attempt.

Here is my workbench lumber as I stacked it on the first day.

Here is my workbench lumber as I stacked it on the first day.

I used some off-cuts as cribbing (the first layer of wood that you put down to build your stack upon) and laid out all the lumber so that it could get sufficient air flow for drying.  I cross-cut and ripped a few home center 2X4’s to make a bunch of stickers that were 3/4 inch thick.  It is important that you make sure they are all the same thickness or else you won’t get an even stack and you could introduce warping or twist into your lumber.  You also want to make sure that you line up all of the stickers so that they are directly above the cribbing and that they continue to line up as you build your stack.  The weight of the lumber helps to press down on any lower lumber and keep it flat.

Here is my lumber pile all set up for drying. I have a fan at one end and a dehumidifier at the other.

Here is my lumber pile all set up for drying. I have a fan at one end and a dehumidifier at the other.

I put a fan at one end of the pile and moved my dehumidifier from the house to the other.  I didn’t want all the moisture from the lumber building up in my garage and rusting my tools.  I kept the fan and dehumidifier running for a couple of weeks and pulled gallons and gallons of water out of the air.  Obviously not all of it was from the lumber pile, but I was getting about 2-3 gallons per day from my dehumidifier.

I kept spot checking the lumber with a moisture meter and found that I had dropped it to about 20 – 23% moisture content after only two weeks.  I also noticed some very slight checking on the ends of some of the boards.  I was concerned that I might be drying it too fast and could end up case hardening the wood.  I asked some questions about it on one of the woodworking forums and got loads of advise.  One poster, who said he ran a small sawmill, told me that I should not have any gaps along the side edges of the boards and that the fan should blow side to side through the stack not lengthwise.   He said that my stickers were too far apart (24″) and that I should reduce the spacing to somewhere in the 12 – 16″ range.  He also advised me to put taller cribbing underneath the pile to increase air movement and to paint the end-grain to promote even drying and prevent checking (checking is when the wood splits along the grain and can be seen on the end of the board).   I’m not sure if all of this is correct, but it sounded reasonable and I didn’t think it could hurt anything, so I followed his advice.

First layer of lumber in a stack for drying. You can see the cribbing and stickering.

Here is my second attempt and stacking the lumber pile.

As you can see, I added taller cribbing and eliminated the gaps between the boards in each layer.  When I took the stack apart to re-do it, I was quite surprised at how much lighter the wood was after only two weeks.

Lumber Drying Stack

I put down taller cribbing and then laid the first row with no gaps.

I made sure that my first row of stickers were well placed, straight, and even and continued to build the stack.

Cribbing, lumber, and stickers being laid down to start a drying stack.

Cribbing, lumber, and stickers being laid down to start a drying stack.

I painted the end grain to help with the checking and set up some fans to keep air moving over the stack.  I used the dehumidifier only intermittently for a few more weeks.

Here is the re-stacked lumber with the ends painted to prevent checking.

Here is the re-stacked lumber with the ends painted to prevent checking.

It has now been about a year and the wood is a pretty consistent 14-16% moisture content.  That is about where I expect it to stay considering the coastal Pacific Northwest environment.   After the first month or two of drying, I was still seeing a huge difference in the meter readings between the heartwood (about 19%) and the sapwood (about 36%).  Since it has been stacked for the past year this variation has gone away and the meter readings are more consistent throughout.  The wood has been stored in my garage for the past year.  It is in the exact spot where my workbench is going to sit when finished.  I live in coastal Washington State and the weather here is quite humid throughout the year.  There is some seasonal humidity change but it is not pronounced.  The average daily high for humidity is above 90% for every month of the year.  The average daily low varies from about 55% to about 70%.  I may be wrong, but I don’t anticipate a huge amount of seasonal wood movement.  I expect the wood to remain at about 15% moisture content for as long as it stays in my shop.

Before I begin to build, here are my plans and intentions:

  • The base will be in the Roubo style.
  • I plan to use 6″ square legs, flush with the bench top.
  • There will be lower stretchers and sliding deadmen, flush with the legs.
  • I will install some sort of slats between the stretchers to make a shelf.
  • I will mortise and tenon the legs to the top, but I don’t know yet if I will use the through dovetail / double tenon from Roubo’s plate 11 bench.
  • The top will be a glue up of 2×5 douglas fir.  By the time I account for wood lost during milling it will probably be 4 1/2 – 4 3/4″ thick.
  • I will use round dog holes.
  • I have some 6/4 sapele that I plan to wrap around the outer edge of the bench-top.  I also want to use this for breadboard style ends.  I’m still trying to figure out my exact plans for this part.  More to come on this latter.

Here’s where I’m sort of going off on my own and departing from the conventional wisdom.  Only time will tell if this plan is good, but I’m going for it.   I am somewhat ambidextrous but mainly left-handed.  I have used right-handed benches before and found that I like the face vise from a right-handed bench but the tail vise from a left-handed bench.  So I’m going to build an ambidextrous workbench.

I really like the benchcrafted hardware; I think that it is probably the best available on the market today but unfortunately, I can’t afford it.  The Veritas and Lie-Nielsen twin screws are also really nice, but again, not in my budget.  I was in the Grizzly Showroom in Bellingham, WA earlier this year and found their Cabinet Maker’s Vise hardware.   I was impressed with the quality of the machining especially considering that they only cost $50. I bought four of them.  I really like the way these mount to the bench from the under side.  I don’t have to cut into the bench-top to install them and should I later decide that I want to make a change, like a leg vise, they are easily removable.

So, here’s my crazy plan.  I going to build an ambidextrous workbench with two face vises on one end (on opposite sides) and two tail vises on the other end.  For the tail vises, I will use the same cabinet maker’s vise hardware but mounted in the tail vise configuration and with large chops that have dog holes drilled in them.  To accommodate the opposing front vises, the bench-top will need to be about 30″ wide.  I’m OK with this since the bench will also have to double as my assembly table.  I don’t have room for a second table.  I realize that a narrower bench is better for planing assembled casework and drawers, but plan on accomplishing this by using boards placed across the bench and held down with hold fasts.  These could stick out over the side of the bench and support casework for planing.

A Roubo-ish style bench, but with four Grizzly face vises to be used either left or right-handed.  What shall I call it?

How about… “The Ambidextrous Grizz-ubo?”

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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4 Responses to The Bench Blog Bench

  1. Pingback: The Workbench Build Begins | The Bench Blog

  2. Pingback: Purple Douglas Fir? | The Bench Blog

  3. Matt Harris says:

    I hope this is not an overstep but do you by chance know if the individual you got the wood from is still in action? Unfortunately i live more in the desert part of the PNW so i haven’t had much luck locating someone near me to provide this service.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hello Matt,

      I’m not sure if the guy is still cutting or not. I found him while browsing on the “materials” section of the Olympic Peninsula Craigslist site. I remember at the time I was getting the lumber milled that I thought to myself, you need to save this guy’s phone number. I know that I wrote it down, but it’s been two years and can’t find it.

      Since then, I have found other local sawyers with small mills that will cut logs to order. I know of at least two locally. If you are in central or eastern Washington, there has to be something available that would be closer than driving all the way out here though. I have been very lucky with craigslist.

      I haven’t tried this, but the woodmizer website lists people that own mills and will do cutom work. Might be worth checking out.

      Good luck.


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