If you’ll pardon the bluster, I think I have the world’s worst workbench. I’m sure that the guys using hollow core doors on cinder blocks will disagree, perhaps rightfully. But I think my pile would give theirs a run for their money. I’ve never worked on a hollow core door setup, but I once used a scrap of 3/8″ ply on two stacks of used tires, and that had more to recommend it. It was easier to clamp things to, this bench has a skirt and braces everywhere that work together to prevent adequate clamping. But at least it looks like a proper workbench.
Lately this bench has gotten worse. I know, I wouldn’t have believed it either. The blots and screws that (more or less) hold it together were all loose. I found myself taking some test passes on the edge of a small piece of Canary Pine (another story) and and bench would lozenge about 6″ and at the end of the stroke it would snap back upright. I had all four of the legs for my new bench on it, and after three passes with the plane on the scrap pine they got shot off the end on the rebound. Crimeny.
So, bright and early Saturday I decided to see if I could fix the worst of the problems. Just make it good enough to help me finish making my new bench (and perhaps plane my scrap of Canary Pine). I started by tightening all of the bolts and screws. The ones that held the end vise together had lost their nuts, so I picked up some new barrel nuts that are made for knock down furniture at the hardware store. I took the end cap off and flattened the mating faces and bolted it back together with a slather of wood glue for good measure. The alignment between the end cap and the stretcher at the top of the legs was off by 1/8″, so I planed that flat too. And tightened everything I could.
The bench uses 4 lag bolts to hold the top to the legs, you won’t be surprised to learn they were loose. I got some slightly longer/thicker bolts at the hardware store and replaced all four, and added an extra bolt at the far end of the bench where it’s wider for the shoulder vise. Not surprisingly, this helped stabilize the wracking.
I added some L-brackets to the stretchers to help resist wracking too. The stretchers a a key weak point. When the stretchers are in the right orientation with the bolt tight they do their best to keep the vise straight. But it only takes a little bit of use for them to loosen, and of course the stretchers flop over horizontally and are completely useless then.
Finally, I addressed the cupped and twisted top. I probably could have skipped this step — not because the bench didn’t need it, but because in my ever-hopeful mind I’m anticipating being finished with the new bench soon. But I have this bit of Canary Pine that needs flattening…
So, onto flattening. I used my #5 Stanley (the one I restored for a rusty $14 hunk earlier this year) to traverse the top and take out the cup.
Once I had the cup flattened, I switched to the #8 (“heart buster”) and started in on my cardio workout. I had to work in a few localized areas and on the diagonal to get things even, then I started working lengthwise. Finally, I laid out some pencil lines so I could track my progress and used a light cut and even strokes to erase them.
Until the lines were gone. I really have to either join a gym (and go) or spend more time planing. I still feel like I’m 18 and can do anything, until I sling that jointer plane around for half an hour.
After a coat of Boiled Linseed Oil, I’m ready to put it through it’s paces. This actually surprised me, I thought I would be ready for a nap.
So, what’s the result? The lozenge problem is cured, thank the gods. The top is flat. The end vise still racks, but only about 1/4″ instead of 2″. The shoulder vise isn’t any better than it was. It’s still too light, but the 150 pound cast iron angle plate I have clamped to the legs helps with that. I need to make some handles for the vises. It had metal handles with pressed-on plastic balls that immediately fell off and bounced away never to be seen again.