Workbench Day 10: Glue up finished and joinery starts…

I got up with the sun today to get a head start on bench before the munchkins got up.  First order of business was to unclamp the 2nd half that I glued up last night.  Then, after a quick run with the plane to smooth out the mating faces, I glued up the two halves.

It’s now one massive slab of wood where a little over a week ago, it was just a collection of 16 2x4s.  This thing is gratifyingly heavy as well.  I’m estimating it’s at least 150, maybe 160 pounds (the wood along should be about that much, plus all that glue…).  It’s not going to be fun to play with this thing during the assembly, I can tell that right now.

While I had the glue drying on the top, I decided to try and shim the top thanks to a suggestion I got from a fellow Lumberjock (thanks Robb!).  I used one of the thinner pieces of offcut from when I trimmed the 2x4s edgewise (see Day 7) and wouldn’t you know it, it fit perfectly!  Somehow, the thing was trimmed to a paper thin sliver and widened out to exactly the depth I need.  After doing a little happy dance at 5:30am in the garage, I realized that I should be slapping my forehead in disgust instead.  Obviously, the piece that fit so perfectly in the…ah…divit?…was the very piece that was cut out of that spot creating the problem in the first place.  So, I just corrected my mistake with some glue and clamps.

A perfect fit.

I have come to realize a BIG takeaway from this project already: I over planned this project and I’m making it harder on myself.  For example, the problem slice I just fixed.  If I hadn’t cut the edges off the 2x4s and just hand planed every board, I would have a much nicer looking bench.  The top would be nice (which I think it will be when it’s all said and done) and the bottom of the top would have been nice too (like all the other fantastic benches out there).  Mine will look a bit…rough…on the bottom.  Ah well.  It’s a workbench, not a Chippendale, right?

Thinking out loud here, the main reason I was planning on using the power tools to rip the edges to width was to make a sharp edge without all the planning.  There are a number of knots on the edges (or there were) of the 2x4s that would have required me to plane a LOT to get a flat surface, and even then, now that I think about it, I would have ended up with uneven boards!  I know for a fact my planning skills are no where near good enough to plane 16 planks to an even thickness.  At least I don’t think they are…Hmmm….well at any rate, the Sky Fort looms in the not so distant future and we’re going to need a workbench—pretty or not—possibly as early as next weekend depending on how fast and when it ships.   Planing the entire thing by hand would push the completion date back to December at my speed!

That’s when I heard an odd noise come from outside the garage.  I walked to the window and this is what I saw:

Mmmmm….Thanksgiving dinner getting itself ready in my backyard!

After watching my feathered visitors for a few minutes, I realized I was getting hungry…yeah, the one on the left looks delicious!  So, it was time for breakfast and get ready for the kiddos to wake up.

This afternoon at nap time I got back to work.  The weather here in Wisconsin is absolutely gorgeous.  Had the garage doors up and the breeze was perfect.   The clamps came off as it had been about 7 hours since gluing the two sections.  This thing is rock steady (I’m still not going to do anything stressful with it, turning, etc., until I get 24 under my belt on letting the glue dry) and HEAVY.  The top is already pretty darn flat (for my standards at least!).  I can tell, thanks to the shim on the right side, the top will not be that big of a deal to flatten with the plane.  My hard work is paying off!

Can’t even explain how excited I am right now!

So.  The dreaded next step.  Mortise and tenon time.  Following guidance from Roy Underhill and Christopher Schwarz (those two again!?) I marked the dimensions of my tenon from yesterday on the appropriate face of the left rear leg (gotta start somewhere).  I decided to use the measurement from Schwarz’s Workbenches book, that is the bottom of the stretcher is 5” from the floor.  Once I got the lines transferred from the tenon to the leg, I took a deep breath and prepared to cut the mortise.

I don’t have access to a drill press or a brace and bit.  But I do have a corded drill and a 5/8” paddle bit.  So…I gritted my teeth, lined up the drill and started making holes.  I originally was going to have through-tenons on the stretchers, but realized (just now!) that doing that will force me to move the short stretchers up or below the long stretchers, making an asthetically ugly bench.  That layout certainly wouldn’t help a future shelf for bench appliances between the stretchers either.

So, some quick adjustments and I decided to do half-blind tenons (I think that’s the right term).  The (new) plan is for the tenon to go halfway through the leg.  The short stretcher tenon (when it’s cut) will do the same thing at a perpendicular angle.  If I do this right, then the two mortises should meet in the middle of the leg, without crossing the streams and blowing up the neighborhood.  According to the Schwarz, if I make my tneons a hair shorter than the mortise, that meeting of the mortises will provide just the right amount of space for excess glue to pool.  That’s the idea, at least.

I hollowed out the mortise with the paddle bit as much as I dared and left what you see below.

It begins…

Next up, I took my chisels and started to shave away the nubs that stuck out into the void, then began to pare away at the mortise walls and creep up on the mortise layout lines.  Then continued to shore up the first side…And started to work my way around the mortise, slowly creeping up on the layout lines…


When I was almost there, I checked the fit of the tenon.  It was too tight to squeeze in.  That’s when I remembered my block plane.  I figured this would be a good time to break it in.  I chamfered the edges of the tenon and test fit the joint a half dozen more times, shaving a little off the tenon cheeks, the mortise walls and everything in-between until…

May not be up to St. Roy’s standards, but for a first timer, I’m satisfied!

It FITS!  I did it! And as soon as I shouted my excitement, I heard Harrison Ford in my head say “That’s great kid, don’t get cocky.”  Ahem.

However, I had just enough time left in my work period to lay out exactly how long the bench will be after trimming the ends, measure for the other side of the long stretcher and locate where the tenon will be.  And the kids started to wake and my excitement could hardly be contained.

I hope tomorrow’s mortise and tenon won’t take me an hour and a half!  Feeling a lot more confident about my skills (such as they are)…as long as I can remember Han Solo’s advise and not get cocky and impatient, I feel like this is all going to come together nicely.

One down…7 more to go!


About Steven M. Vaught

A native son of Delaware, now living in Illinois, Steven is a writer, family historian, amateur astronomer, sometimes-gardener, woodworker, father to three wonderful children, husband to a wonderful wife, and caretaker of one cheeky vizsla.
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3 Responses to Workbench Day 10: Glue up finished and joinery starts…

  1. David says:

    You have it. It really doesn’t get any more complicated than that. A wide chisel is easier to trim the tenon cheeks. If you don’t have one, just pop the iron out of the plane and use that. As far as planing down the surface, there are some tricks. The biggest is using a plane with a lot of camber (curve in the blade). A Krenov style plane is easy and fun to make for the special types. Don’t rush out and buy one. You can use regular block plane replacement irons and it will end up costing less than $10 to make one. Cheaper if you are resourceful.

    • Awesome, you’re giving me ideas for projects already! A Krenov style plane? I think I’ve seen that mentioned before but never investigated. You have piqued my curiosity….I would love to make my tools.

      Thanks for visiting and for the virtual thumbs up!

  2. David says:

    There is a pic of one on my LJ projects but I have reshaped it since then. They are really addictive.

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