Category Archives: Building my benches

My 18th Century Workbench in progress 27


On Friday afternoon I finally fitted the planing stops. It must be at least 3 months since the Ysterhout scraps were laminated. During the coarse of these months, I had several different ideas as to how the planing stops should be kept in place. In the end I simply went with a very tight friction fit. In other words, you take a mallet and bliksem (colloquial Afrikaans meaning many things, depending on the context, in this particular case ‘clobber’ comes to mind) them in and out of their little nest. So far it works like a charm, but I will report on how it turns out in the long run.

I decided to place the planing stops in front of the leg vise, rather than behind it as seen in most traditional benches. This shortens the bench surface available for planing, but also means that most of the planing can be done without having to lean over the leg vise. For longer boards I will eventually have a stop at the very end of the bench as well.


During the course of last week, I moved all my bench planes to their new address. You will notice that some of them have leather sleeping bags to stop them from collecting excessive woodworking debris. I am slowly stitching these by hand during weekends away from the shop.


The idea all along was to fit a traditional crochet to operate in tandem with the leg vise, but last week I saw this idea on another blog (unfortunately I can not remember which). I simply drilled four x 3/4″ holes in the side of the top beyond the leg vise. A simple Assegaai dog can now be used in the appropriate hole as a stop.


This weekend was actually the first opportunity to use my new bench properly. In the pictures below you can see how it assisted in an array of different ways to do bread-and-butter type operations. I am working on a sliding deadman for each side of the bench.




I wrote a separate post on this shop made beader, which you should find in the recent posts section. I added the beads to hide the laminated nature of the stock that makes up the deadman.


Shop made tools used in building my 18th century bench


Seeing that my 18th century inspired bench is getting very close to being finished, I though it might be an interesting exercise to look at all the shop made tools that contributed to the final product. As you might know by now, I am based in Namibia. This means that I do not have the luxury of buying good quality woodworking tools from stores. At first it used to frustrate me with a vengeance, but over the past three years it became apparent that it is a blessing in disguise. Since I started building my own tools and restoring quality vintage tools, my learning curve went into overdrive.

Once you have managed to build (and to a lesser degree restored) a tool, you tend have a much better understanding of how it works. I also find it much more satisfying to use a shop built tool than any other.

So lets look at the lineup that helped me to build this bench. I simply picked photos from the 26 (at this stage) posts documenting the building process in superfluous detail. These posts are all entitled “My 18th Century Workbench in progress” followed by a number. I include links to posts I wrote on how each tool was built for in case you might want to take a closer look.


This is a shop made dowel plate and the mallet that did 90% of the damage needed to cut all the gargantuan through mortises.


This picture features a shop made wooden fore plane (right) and scrub plane (left). We will deal with the scrub plane later.


These sanding planes were used extensively during the tedious lamination phase.


My version of a birdcage awl (right), which I fashioned out of an old centre bit. The marking knife was made using an old plane blade and a scrap piece of Tamboti.


This is my heavy dead-blow mallet that was indispensable during the assembly of such massive joinery. It is also featured in the post entitled “Mallet Mania”


This turned Assegaai mallet was employed for the majority of the fine-tuning that the joinery needed.


At this stage I have to say that this scrub plane is my favourite shop made tool. It absolutely mutilates (in a good sort of way) any excess material that needs prompt attention. It also comes in handy as an aggressive fore plane due to it’s length. If it was not for this warmonger, I would still be trying to flatten the two laminated beams that makes up the twin-top of the bench.


A large shoulder plane with some je ne sais quoi.


This is my version of a Melencolia square.


Winding sticks



In the pictures below you can see a wooden jointer and straight edge.




This is my version of a panel gauge.



A few bench hooks.



My assembly table was probably the most indispensable shop made tool in building the bench. In the the pictures below you will also see the legvise and sliding deadman I built to enhance the repertoire of the assembly table. I chose a few photos that illustrates how the assembly table made short work of otherwise tricky tasks.




A flush plane



Some shop made squares.


I hope that this might inspire other novice woodworkers to build their shop and tools with their own shop made tools. It is a very satisfying journey.





My 18th Century Workbench in progress 26


On Friday afternoon I turned plugs for all the holes created in the bench top to attach hardware. They were then glued in overnight and worked flush to the top first thing on Saturday.


Initially I had plans to build quite elaborate sliding tool trays to occupy the space between the twin-top of my bench. After lots of thought I decided to first build very basic trays in order to get an idea of what I really need by using them for a while. This train of though produced these Masonite and Tasmanian Blackwood trays held together with 32 self-tapping and four traditional wood screws (each).

As you can see there are five trays in total. There are three that operate in the top groove and two in the bottom. They slide effortlessly to enable the bench user to be able to open up space when he/she would like to use F-style clamps through the split in the top. They also provide a very handy storage option for the bread and butter tools that are constantly used at the bench.

I made lids for the top three trays to prevent unwanted debris from nesting in them. The bottom two trays hide under the top ones, so they do not need lids. The top surface of the lids sit roughly 3 mm below the top of the bench, which creates a handy area to place tools that might want to roll off the bench. This is illustrated in the pictures by the Yankee screwdriver.


The building phase of this project had it’s first birthday on Sunday the 1st of February. I managed to apply the first coat of finish only hours before the celebrations. For this purpose I prepared a 1:1:1 mixture of Tung Oil, Mineral turpentine and diesel. From my reading it seems as if wood borer (which frequents this particular neck of the woods) loves beech, so I though the addition of some diesel might persuade them to seek alternative pastures. In the pictures you can see how it made the Kaapse Swarthout, Witpeer, Ysterhout and Assegaai come alive, while It gave the beech a very slight amber tinge. It was followed up on Sunday with a coat of Wooddock. You might notice that I did not apply any finish to the top as it still awaits it’s final flattening. The plans is to use a Tung Oil and Varnish mixture for the top. Please note that it might be useful not to sand between coats as it creates a grippy texture, which is desirable on a workbench.


My 18th Century Workbench in progress 25

November 2014

My final job towards finishing my bench for 2014 was to start building the twin screw vise jaw. I managed to prepare the two beech boards (pictured) by hand a month or so earlier. Thus it had quite some time to settle. Lie-Nielsen provide a very detailed pdf document on how to build the jaw that goes with their hardware. It took some work with the router, a glue-up and Bob’s your Uncle!



I decided to take a few pictures to document the state of the bench prior to any work done for 2015.


2015 started off with some very tricky fitting work in order to get the twin screw vise fitted to the bench. The main reason for this is that I decided to drill holes in my 4″ bench top to accommodate the 2 ACME threaded rods, rather than to cut 2″ deep dados.

The Witpeer breadboard end had to be sawn off flush with the edge of the top before I could even start to fit the vise.


I did not take too many photos (during installation) as I was too busy swearing and struggling, but here are some pictures of the end result.



This weekend I focused on getting the end vise finished.


Then I made the two handles for the other two vises, using Assegaai and Beech.


Here are my first shop made Assegaai bench dogs in action.


My 18th Century Workbench in progress 24


Now that the pressure is off, I am enjoying the woodwork more than the few weeks leading up to assembling the bench. I have now returned to my usual rhythm of tinkering here and then tinkering there while listening to some jazz. In fact my woodwork is akin to the jazz genre in that my work follows my mood on the day. This a luxury one can only afford with a true hobby. As soon as you have to generate an income out of it, the work starts dictating your mood.

Anyway, here are two precious Assegaai (Curtisia dentata) boards being prepared for the lathe next year during the rainy season. I will use it to turn wooden dogs and thought that it would be best to do that during high humidity so that they will not get stuck at some stage. The last two pictures show the stock soaking in diesel. I could not work out whether the few signs of wood borers were active or inactive. To make sure, I gave it a diesel spa for halve a day.


Here I used the pictured tools to fit the Witpeer breadboard end. Only the two outside tenons were glued to allow the tops to move freely towards each other during times of high ambient humidity. The two inside tenons therefore also have mortises that allows space for the mentioned movement. You will also notice that I used draw pins to further strengthen the joints. It is important to remember to cut a slot (rather than a hole) for the draw pins on the inside tenons, in order to also allow for the movement.


I also started preparing stock for the two sliding “deadmen”. After much thought I dropped the idea of building the very extravagant design I originally planed. The main reason for this is to improve access to the shelve as much as possible. Therefore I thought that a simple yet solid Witpeer beam in the shape of an inverted T would work best. Here I am laminating the stock and doing some of the early prep work.


Here I started quite an elaborate process of fitting the quick release end vise and ensuring at the same time that the two ends of the twin-top are lined up perfectly.


I made a “cap” (for lack of a better term) for the bottom surface of the aprons. It ensures a better clamping surface and hides the 20 mm nuts.




My 18th Century Workbench in progress 23


I started chopping off the tentacles created by the protruding through-tenons locked in place with wedges and the draw pins. I used my newly acquired Disston no. 12 (ca 1896-1917), which has not been restored completely. I tried to saw off the first tentacle, but found that the saw could do with a sharpening. After that it performed admirably. You will notice that one saw nut is missing as I quickly put the saw back together for this job. I want to clean up the handle and do more work on the blade before finally reassembling it for years of excellent work.

The next tool used is also a rehabilitated old timer. The Bedrock no. 606 was used to plane the end grain flush to the surface of the bench.


I thought it might help in future when observing wood movement in the bench to document what the ambient humidity was around the time the bench was assembled. It remained very stable over the past 4 months ranging between 27-30%.


The bench was then turned on it’s side to get at the stretcher and apron tenons.



Once that was done, I started fitting the shelve. You will remember the Kaapse Swarthout (Maytenus peduncularis) boards I prepared some time ago for this purpose. The cleats were made up of Tasmanian Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) grown in the Knysna forrest. The shelve boards were addressed with my Lie-Nielsen tongue and groove plane before cut to final length. You can see how I made slots for the screws



In an earlier post I mentioned that the drawpin holes are not staggered as one should do. Mine are in the same plane. This for technical reasons to do with the design of my tenons. The way I got around this problem was to tap in drawpins that were in the order of 100 mm from the business end and a shorter one (pictured) from the other end to make it look as if they run all the way through the leg.


Each tongue and grooved shelve board were fixed to the cleat with two traditional wood screws sitting in a slot that allows for plenty of wood movement.


The kids helped to assemble the shelve and clearly enjoyed the finished product.


Now I will turn my attention to the legvise. You will find the pictures and write-up in the post entitled “My 18th Century Workbench in Progress 18”


My 18th Century Workbench in progress 22


The bench was finally assembled on Sunday 22/10/2014!!!

We managed to do the glue-up in two very stressful hours between 15h30 and 17h30, after working under the gun all weekend to get the last prep work done.

At the beginning of the week I drew up a list of the most important bits to get done before assembly, which was scheduled for Sunday. As you can see it is a curious eclectic ensemble of Afrikaans and English.



Early in the week I made these custom 20 mm bolts, which will fix each of the two parts of the twin-top to the aprons in two places.



This is the board of Assegaai I transformed into drawpins. The process is documented chronologically in the pictures. Curtisia dentata is especially well suite to use as draw pins due to it’s characteristics of being extremely tough, strong and elastic. Dry Assegaai also shrinks less than most other wood, which is why it was the preferred wood to use for wagon wheel spokes in the Old Cape Colony.




Some handcut Witpeer wedges to lock the through-tenons permanently in place.


The tenons of the long stretchers ended up looking like this, shortly before being glued into place for ever (I hope).



The final dry run went very smooth. I expected something to not fit perfectly, but for a change it was not the case. You can see how my wife and friend Siegmund Mengersson (who happened to be around) helped, as this is not a one man job.



We then took the whole thing apart and took a few photos with the whole family. The reason being that the whole family spent the weekend wondering in and out of the shop.




Then on Sunday afternoon we mixed the epoxy (discussed in an earlier post) and raced through 2 hours, which felt like 15 min. We only just managed to get the job done within the recommended 2 hours open-time of this particular epoxy adhesive.

What impressed me most was how the Assegaai drawpins closed up the shoulders of the aprons and stretchers. We used clamps to take the stress off the pins while hitting them home, but could visually see how they tightened up the joints. We removed the clamps immediately after and the joints stayed perfectly tight and closed up.

What worked particularly well, was the 13 mm x 150 mm drawpin that was tapped through the sliding-dovetail-through-tenon into the top. These did not need any assistance from clamps. It simply pulled the leg into the top as if they were made out of the same piece of timber. I have never seen this method used for the mentioned joint, but I can really recommend it (from this case study of one).



A few pictures of an exhausted yet relieved wannabe-18th-century-woodworker, his heir and the object of his toil since the 2nd of February 2014.

photo 1photo 3photo 4

It is done!!!


Well, not quite, but it is glued up!!! And that before the humidity changed. At 15h30 on the 12th of October 2014, my wife and I started assembling the bench. It was a very stressful 2 hours, but now I can relax and work at my usual leisurely pace.

I will soon have some better photos, but here are a few to wet the appetite.

photo 1photo 3photo 4


My 18th Century Workbench in progress 21


I really do hope that this will be the last post that does not include a picture of the assembled bench. I am starting to get a bit worried that I might not be able to get it assembled before the major changes in humidity. To give you an idea, the ambient humidity in my shop change from around 25-30% in winter to 75-80% during the rainy season.

Here you can see how I fitted the legvise hardware to the leg that will play host to the mentioned vise.


The next task was to do some of the preparation work to eventually fit the breadboard-end. The rest of this process can only be done once the bench is assembled for the (hopefully) final dry run.


This piece of Ysterhout was processed as pictured to become the planing stops. You can also see how I marked out and chopped the holes in the top to accommodate them. My cousin, a Urologist from Cape Town, did the final tidying up of the two orifices. He seems to have a particular talent when it comes to an orifice.


While he was perambulating the two orifices, I started fitting the long stretchers to their legs.


Here I just finished excavations for the end vise to be fitted.


My 18th Century Workbench in progress 20


I started off the weekend by using my no 78 Stanley rabbet plane with it’s sexy (yeah right) shop made fence to shape the moulding at the top of the long stretchers. The moulding has three primary functions. It aims to hide the fact that it is a laminated beam of Witpeer. You will find that the two small steps are placed to hide the lamination line on the side of the stretcher.


The chamfer I am working on here creates a v-shaped surface for the foot of the sliding deadman to slide on and hopefully adds some aesthetic value too.


Here you can see the array of planes used the create the moulding.


I then moved on to seating the twin screw vise stand offs. The 30 mm diameter holes meant to accept the ACME threaded rod were already drilled through the top a week or so ago. I used an electric hand drill with a spade bit to remove the bulk of the waste before chopping the rest out with my Lie-Nielsen ½” mortise chisel.


That got me this far.


The electric router removed most of the waste for the shoulders (so to speak) of the stand offs. I then used the router plane pictured to dial it in to the exact depth.




The result.



Next I marked out and drilled the holdfast holes in the legs on the drill press. You will notice that the ¾” holes are relieved to 1″ from the back of the leg.