A couple of weeks ago I started cutting material for a proper workbench, but therein I hit a snag, I didn’t have anything decent to firmly rest the wood on to be able to cut it well, so the project got laid aside for a moment while I had a rethink. I then thought of the Saw Bench project by Robin Gates featured in the April 2018 edition of The Woodworker & Woodturner. So, decision made, I got started.
Step 1: I had the pallet in storage. It was originally seven boards wide, but was cut down to five so it could be used temporarily under my desk to raise my P.C. off the floor. At one point while not in use my sister-in-law’s Jack Russell thought it good fund to chew into it a bit too! Anyhow, I’ve used this wood for other projects and decided that it would be good for building my saw bench. so first job was to carefully dismantle it.
Step 2: I then had to decide on the basic measurements, the most important being the height. In his article Robin Gates bulit his 500mm high, but that was to suit his personal needs. I had to decide on the best height for mine. I have an old chair, which had suffered a broken plastic seat some time ago. I had replaced it with a plywood top, which my wife sneakily used to practice her caligraphy on! I have found this chair to be quite a good height on several occasions, and somewhat inspiring to sit on too! So that set my height to 450mm. So, time to start measuring and cutting.
Step 3: The first job was to sort out the bench top. For this I decided to cut the tongue-and-groove joints using my Dad’s old Record No.50 Combination Plane. I’ve only used this tool once before, and that was almost 30 years ago to cut the half laps need for cabinet doors, and Dad did the setting up on that occasion. I had quite a bit of difficulty with this. The wood itself is knotty pine, so it didn’t cooperate very well, and I didn’t get the settings quite right, so the tongue ended up a bit off-centre, so I had to make sure that the matching groove was equally off-centre. Once I got started though I didn’t want to stop, and went a cut a tongue on what was supposed to be the outside edge! Duh!
Step 5: Gluing together was fairly straight-forward. The joints lined up almost perfectly, and I had sufficient clamps and blocks to take care of the whole job.
Step 6: While the top was in clamps I made a start on the legs. I clamped them together to match the markings correctly, though in the photo above right you might notice that I had started marking the wrong sides and had to correct myself.
Step 7: I decided, as Robin Gates did, to avoid using screws and nails throughout this project. It is afterall a saw bench, and it would be unwise to have metal get in the way of sharp saw teeth, so this meant making sure that all joints were carefully cut so that assembly would be fairly tight. My dog Elsa often enjoys her bit of the project, the chewing up of scraps! Once the legs were assembled I then cut the recess in the cross-rails for the bottom support that joins the legs together, and doubles as a shelf.
Step 8: Assembly of the leg structure went quite smoothly. The only issues where that due to the nature of this low-grade wood there were occasional breakouts, as can be seen on the left-front leg, but these were only minor and don’t affect the structural integrity of the bench.
Step 9: I did a little bit of planing down of the underside of the the bench top ready for fixing it onto the legs. Dad’s old Record No.6 never lets me down!
So far, so good!
Step 10: In a departure from the original design I decided to add cross-rails to the tops of the legs to support the bench top. In the original two planks were used to make the top, and they were thicker. In mine the planks are narrower, and thinner, meaning I had to use three to make the top. Support under the top was therefore essential. I ripped an offcut from the bench top down the middle. I measured down from the top of the legs the thickness of the bench top, plus another 2mm…
… and from there I laid over the supports for marking. I then cut and chiselled out the waste, fine tuning with a Record bullnose plane. Lastly, they were glued and clamped into place.
Step 11: The bench top had to be prepared for marking out. Firstly, the extra tongue had to be planed down, and at the same time the bench was planed parallel.
Step 12: The bench top was laid down upside-down and the legs carefully position on top for marking out. The photo top-left shows the next step. I marked 15 degree lines. This is another departure from the original design cutting half-tongues to join down the top I decided on single wide dovetail style joints, the full depth of the legs.
Step 13: Cutting was quite straightforward.
Step 14: Fitting the bench top wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped. I had made the mistake of not marking which way around it should go, so when it came time to assembly I had to figure this out on the hop before the glue started to set. Thankfully, I got it right, and the joints were suitably tight.
Note to self: always make sure you mark ALL your joints!
Step 14: After being left in clamps overnight all that was left to do was plane down the top surface. First I tackled the tops of the legs with an old Acorn smoothing plane. This is a budget plane from around 50 years ago, it’s not terribly good to use, but it is good for rough jobs like this one. Once the legs were brought down to the level of the bench top I then went back to my trusty Record No.6 to finish off the job.
I’m not concerned with applying any kind of finish, it is afterall built from rought materials, and for a life of hard work. As it is, I am very happy with it.
The best thing about this whole project though is that it gave me a chance to practice skills necessary for building a workbench, and I’m sure this saw bench will be a great help to me when it comes to cutting wood for it too. I’d recommend this project to anyone. If nothing else, you could finish it up and sit it in your hallway!