Category Archives: Building my benches

Alternative workbench/assembly table (Chapter four)

I am pleased to finally relieve your vehement anticipation for the next chapter in our fantastical journey in building a makeshift workbench that is ultimately destined to become a dedicated assembly table. In this chapter we will concentrate on the creation of the edges of the table. The edges (of the table) were designed to enhance the table’s ability to hold boards while one works it’s edges (of the boards). It is also designed to make it easy to attach various future jigs and modifications.

I decided to use Ysterhout (Olea capensis macrocarpa) for this purpose, due to it’s high specific gravity. Most sources have it at > 1.0 which means that it sinks in water, the way I understand the measurement. The Ysterhout I used certainly does sink. I actually tried it. This beautiful species of wood is extremely hardwearing (Janka side hardness 10,050–13,750 N and Janka end hardness 9780–14,200 N), which I thought would be ideal on the edges of a table that is going to slave away as a workbench for a few years. Check out the je ne sais quoi of these Ysterhout trees.

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The problem with my Ysterhout is that it likes moving so much that I am always relieved to find it in the shop. I constantly worry that it might move to another neighborhood. This was the reasoning behind first building a fairly stable plywood apron to attach the Ysterhout edges to. The idea being that the former would keep the latter on the straight and narrow.

As a reminder of what I was aiming for in terms of these edges, see the Sketchup drawing below. I wanted to create a large sturdy T-channel for all the reasons above. As with most things, you can not readily buy something like this in Namibia so I came up with this plan.

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In the pictures below you can see were the process started. Two differently dimensioned Ysterhout strips for each of three sides of the table and their angle iron friends already cut to size.

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The preparation of the angle iron included drilling holes, countersinking them (in order to screw it to the Ysterhout) and treatment with a rust converter.

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The next step was to screw them into place with steel wood screws. In the first picture you can see how I clamped the two parts in order to keep the Ysterhout straight for the screwing activity to follow. No don’t worry we are not about to leap into porn, this is a family website.

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The Ysterhout-angle-iron-constituents were then screwed to the aprons and tabletop. The profusion of f-style clamps were needed to coax the ysterhout into position.

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Here you can see the table with the edges/T-channels in place on three sides. The side without a T-channel is the one on the opposite end where we installed the metal self-release-vise earlier in this epoch. I apologise for the poor quality of these pictures. It looks like I had some sawdust on the lens.

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Below you can see a quick test of the T-channel system, accepting a Festool mitre gage and a Bessey F-style clamp with considerable ease.

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Then I started with the really scary part of the edge attachment on the side of the table were the quick-release-vise live. What made this nerve-racking was the idea of having to use wider ysterhout boards and on top of that laminating two together in order to create the added thickness to encapsulate the inside face of the quick-release-vise. I wanted to enclose the inside face to create one flat surface on the entire edge of that end of the table.

In the pictures I chose you can follow the steps in preparing the edge. I removed a rectangular section from the inside board corresponding to the inside face of the vise before laminating it to the outside board. This was much easier than trying to chisel out the area after lamination. One would destroy several chisels (and probably limbs too) attempting to do that.

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All those screws were needed in conjunction with heaps of clamps to get the two pieces of ysterhout (each with it’s own ideas) to adhere to my intended configuration. You will not believe me if I tell you how much effort it took to do this, so I will not even try.

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Prior to attaching the edge I first inserted six 8mm nuts on the inside of the ysterhout communicating with 9 mm holes through to the outside. The idea with this was to created six points were one could easily attach various gadgets in future without having to first modify the table at all. You simply bolt the contraption of what ever nature to the edge with an 8 mm bolt or two.

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The only way I could flatten this monster was with a belt sander. Yes I know that is not the best way, but nothing else that I had available to me at the time made any impression on the wood. Therefore careful belt sander use and some serious sanding by hand enabled me to get it pretty damn flat. In the pictures below you can also see the cutout meant to open up the T-channel at each end of this ysterhout edge.

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Installing this edge was a mission in itself. First I rubbed grease on the inside face of the quick-release-vise. Then I mixed epoxy putty to fill in the 2-3 mm gap between the inside face of the vise and the recessed area of the ysterhout edge. The grease was meant to ensure that the putty does not stick to the inside face in case I ever need to remove the edge for some or other reason.

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The edge was then screwed to the table with 15 of the steel screws pictured. They are 5 x 100 mm each and again I had to use clamps as well to persuade the ysterhout to comply.

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That then concludes this chapter. Next time we will look at how I made the chop (at least I think that is what you call the wood that is meant to cover the moving jaw of the vise) and finished off the table. Hurrah!!!

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Alternative workbench/assembly table (Chapter three)

In this chapter we will start to look at the design elements of the table/bench top I cobbled together from various sources, which was predominantly driven by my frustration with previous ‘benches’.

The top shelve of the table is low enough to allow easy access during the use of F-style clamps that reach through the tabletop. One can even store a few jigs without it being in the way. The top shelve is fixed with wood screws to the teak sleeper and countersink bolts to the angle iron stretchers. This helps to stabilise the table in a dimension I do not know the name of.

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Next I moved on to prepare the aprons of the top. The aprons were made up by laminating plywood and designed wide enough to enable one to clamp material to the edge of the table. It is also thick enough to allow space for a fairly massive t-channel created with angle iron fixed to Ironwood (Olea capensis subsp. macrocarpa) This t-channel would eventually run along three sides of the tabletop to allow easy clamping to the side of the table with F-style Bessey clamps and the attachment of any future jigs. You can see rabbits cut into the apron plywood in some of the pictures. These were meant to accept a part of the angle iron that forms the mentioned t-channels. It might become a bit easier to understand as we progress to that part of the process. I include a crude Sketchup drawing to give you some idea of what I was aiming for.

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The aprons were then screwed and glued to three sides of the tabletop.

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The fourth side of the top needed a wider apron to allow secure attachment of the quick-release vice, which I decided to place in a unique (and therefore possibly stupid) location. I have since read that Mr Bench (Christopher Schwarz) advises bench builders not to design anything new, as the most useful designs have been established through trial and error over many centuries.

The vise was place in the middle of the end of the table (a design feature I have not yet come across in any book or internet source), with two pipe clamps on either side set up to act as removable end vises. The idea was that I could use these in conjunction with the quick release vise to form a type of twin-screw vise on either side of it. Proper twin-screw vises are as easy to come by around these parts as a spacecraft, hence the substantial improvisation.

Together with the fourth apron I fashioned another bit of laminated plywood to enable the quick-release vise’s base to reach across the heavy angle iron that forms the steel apron of the tabletop. You will see the rabbits cut into this piece creating a very tight custom fit to the angle iron apron. This design feature effectively fixed the quick-release vise to the metal carcass of the table, rather than only hanging on the plywood top. Steel woodscrews pass through the plywood top, then through the angle iron to imbed itself in the mentioned plywood spacer.

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In the pictures below you can follow the process in creating the said pipe-clamp-end-vises. I first drilled (partial) holes in the plywood apron that were meant to accept the pipes of the clamps. I then used these holes to mark the correct location were it needs to passes through the metal apron. Then drilled those holes with the bit pictured.

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Once this was done the bit of the pipe-clamp that slides over the pipe (do not know the correct term for it) was fixed to the inside of the metal apron. This design allows one to easily remove and insert the pipe-clamp, without having to fiddle under the top in order to insert the pipe into the bit I do not know the name of. I apologize for the poor quality of some of these pictures.

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Once all of the above preparation work was done I installed the quick-release vise. You can see that I used heaps of fairly heavy woodscrews and what we call coach bolts for this purpose. The woodworker in the second picture is called Pantu. He is our live-in gardener/builder/soccer coach of my children/receiver of rugby coaching from my son/babysitter etc etc. He likes to learn about woodworker in his free time and therefore does his bit towards our shop development. The third row of screws from the edge passes through the angle iron apron of the table.

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At some point a bit earlier in the process, I recessed an area that would accept a steel ruler on two of the edges of the tabletop. This would have been another job better suited to a router, but I had to do it with my newly acquired Festool TS155. On one of the pictures you can see that I had to make heaps of cuts (each only 2mm wide) to achieve what a router would have accomplished in one or two cuts.

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The actual rulers were installed only much later, after all the table’s edges were finished. We will embark upon that epoch in the next thrilling chapter on the table’s birth.

 

Alternative workbench/assembly table (Chapter two)

Finally after an anamnesis of note, we will proceed with the task of documenting the process of building an interim work surface with some proper work holding options. As stated in chapter one, most of the design features came from the Festool MFT table, but also included a smattering of random internet-generated ideas.

Due to my lack of tools to mill and laminate fairly large chucks of wood at the time I decided to get a steel structure made by a friend. In the pictures below you can see my rough hand drawn sketches to the welder. I apologise for the coloured lines running through the sketches, it must be some problem with my scanner. You will also see some gibberish mixed with english in my handwriting. This is Afrikaans, which is my first language. You have probably picked up that english is my second language.

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This became the carcass of the table to which I added all the bits over a ten month period. The steel frame was designed with 20mm threaded rod at the bottom of each leg in order to adjust the height of the table. The idea was that in this way I can get it on exactly the same level as my table saw (which I still did not have at this stage and therefore unsure about exact height) in order to use the assembly table as an extension table with the table saw.

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In the above photo you can see what I mean with the height adjustability. While the steel base was being built, I started the process of drilling the ‘dog holes’ in the plywood top. The problem I faced was that I did not have a functional router at the time and therefore had to use a handheld drill. In order to do a semi-descent job I decided to manufacture a guide jig for this purpose. I took a 2 meter piece of heavy angle iron (5mm thick) and drilled holes of 20mm diameter spaced 96mm (centre to centre) apart. This was stolen directly from the Festool MFT version as I thought there must be a fairly good reason why they decided on these measurements.

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The idea of this jig was to get the holes lined up as close to perfect as possible given the method. It worked quite well in terms of getting it lined up square and straight. The weakness of my approach came as a result of using a handheld drill rather than a router. Using a handheld drill makes it very difficult to drill a hole that is exactly 90 degrees to the work surface in all directions. The dog holes of my table are therefore slightly off 90 degrees in a pretty random fashion. This leads to dogs that sit in the same way, but so far it has not really caused any hiccups from a functional point of view apart from reminding my obsessive compulsive daemons that it is imperfect. As this will eventually become a dedicated assembly table, the holes will be used primarily to accept F-style clamps through the top, in which case the slight error in alignment would have no effect. A router would have done a better job non the less. In the pictures below you can see the alignment of the holes and it being used to accept F-style clamps and my own version of bench dogs. I will write a post at some point in time about these dogs.

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The next step in this riveting ordeal was to create a heavy sleeper made up of laminate strips of Rhodesian Teak. The proposed purpose of this sleeper is to stabilize the metal carcass/frame in it’s length, especially for tasks such as hand planing. I bought some Rhodesian Teak boards that were harvested in Zambia. Apparently the harvesting of this wood has been stopped completely since I bought these boards about 18 months ago. In the last picture my son Didier pose with a hunting top and water boots in a town with an annual rainfall of 360 millimeters (14 in)!!!!

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In the next few photos you can see how the sleeper found it’s resting place between the two shelves underneath the table. The gap you see in the bottom shelve is meant to get rid of sawdust easily as the angle iron sides stands proud of it’s surface. You will also notice the colour difference of these two boards. I used scrap bits of chipboard that was recycled from the crates my father built to safely transport all the workshop equipment from George (RSA) to Windhoek (a journey of 1800km or 1118 miles).

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I think this will conclude chapter two. In the next chapter we will look at the cumbersome process involved in adding all the paraphernalia to the top of this table.

Alternative workbench/assembly table (chapter one)

I decided to build an assembly table that doubles up as a workbench as a first option. The plan is to extend the workshop at some point in future, at which time I will build the proper bench and have the benefit of having two dedicated areas for each task. For now I have to live with something that can do most of what a good bench can do (but not quite) and all that can be expected of an assembly table. At the moment I am thinking that my dream bench will probably be a variation of the so called Holtzapffel design. I am slowly working through the two books by Christopher Schwartz on the topic.

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The main reason I decided to go for the assembly table setup first was that I thought I could get more out of it as an all-round working surface. This is obviously open to debate and as these things go, I have learnt about the shortcomings of my setup only since using it. I will get back to that later on in this particular novel.

As this was my first project in my current shop after a 3 year hiatus away from any shop work, I thought it would be better to do something less involved before building my dream bench. This way I will have a surface to work on and get an opportunity to first hone my skills a bit. It also provides time in the shop to find out what type of bench would work best for me. I also had a serious lack of tools at that point in time, as everything I collected over the past years (in Kiwiland) were stolen between New Zealand and Namibia when we moved here.

The assembly table I designed included heaps of ideas from past frustrations with not having a proper bench and ideas found on the internet. However the bulk of the design came from the Festool MFT worktables.

So let’s go back to first explore where this so called experience/frustration with inadequate benches comes from. The first attempt at setting up a shop of my own was back in 2000 in the garage of our first house. This was in my home town of George on the south coast of South Africa. The bench I used was one that my father built many years ago. It has a steel carcass, cladded with wood. As my father used to be mainly a power tool woodworker it served him well. It served me well in those early years too, but later on while living in New Zealand I was force to become more hand tool orientated due to the cost of having to set up a new shop from scratch as I did not take any tools along. The bench is not ideal for hand tool work due to it’s limited work holding options. It reminds me of another reason I went for the assembly table setup as a first step and that is that I still have the green bench when I need to whack the daylights out of a piece of wood. Please note that this photo was taken while the shop was dormant during the 8 years we lived in New Zealand and only acted as a wood storage facility.

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Below you see it in it’s new home in Windhoek.

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In the pictures below you can get an idea of the frustrations I faced in the small single garage where I tried to do some basic work in New Zealand. The bench is a fire door on a hinge and two legs that can be removed quickly to enable the door to swivel down when the car wants to get back in it’s little house. The same goes for the Mitre saw which swiveled up during the vehicle’s sleeping hours. You can clearly see how this so called bench also lacked work holding abilities. This might be one reason why my current working platform has work holding options coming out of it’s ears.

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In my current shop I started off working on a piece of plywood on top of collapsable sawhorses that I built in 2000. This is obviously an frustration in itself. The sawhorses were even more keen than my dogs to take a walk (due to their collapsable nature) when ever pressure were applied in a horizontal direction.

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With all of that done you should have a good idea of what I have been through with ‘benches’ that might influence the design of the next working surface.

In our next thrilling chapter, we can then get on to the building of the actual bench and I am pretty sure you are going to have several sleepless nights waiting in ecstatic anticipation for it.