Monday, December 28, 2009


I have 3 weeks off school for xmas, so between all the sitting on the couch and eating 8-10 meals a day I've been rebuilding the top of my workbench. I built my bench while I was working at a timberframing shop in Invermere BC in 2004. It originally had a tailvise that I purchased from Atlas Machine in Toronto (if you have 'The Workbench Book" it's the tailvise that Michael Fortune designed for his bench) but no front vise because I never made my mind up about what to use. Unfortunately the benchtop warped very badly when I brought it back here to Alberta and despite my repeated attempts to flatten it I eventually admitted defeat. The warpage caused the tailvise to become inoperable and I had planed the top down so much I had almost reached the 'shoulder' of the dog holes on one corner.

After doing some research before starting my new benchtop I decided to forgo the tailvise and instead incorporate a wagon vise. The first wagon vise I saw was the one used on the Roubo bench on Khalaf Oud Luthiery's blog: (which is where the image below is from).

I have since seen a couple other versions, none as pretty as the one shown above however. The thing I like about the wagon vise is how rigid it is. When I was at the IP it seemed like I was constantly having to tweak my tailvise to get it flat to the benchtop, which isn't a concern with a wagon vise. The obvious disadvantage is the lack of ability to clamp pieces on-edge perpendicular to the front apron.

I've mentioned in recent posts how much maple costs in these parts, so in order to reduce costs I only made the top 1-1/2" thick, which is a bit scant. Realistically though, I don't forsee myself working on huge heavy pieces where a bench's rigidity may be called to question, and if I do see some deflection in the top I can always stiffen it up somehow.

After using a few different benches there were definitely a few things I wanted to incorporate into this bench, like lots of dog holes. It's frustrating when dog holes are spaced 3-4 inches apart because sometimes the piece you're planing ends up being 'between holes' and you have to either open your vise up super far or add a piece of scrap between your work and the dog. I also added a row of round dog holes because there's so many good workholding gizmos out there designed for them. Cutting all the dog holes was by far the single most labor intensive step, but I prefer using square dogs for planing.

Man, you sure need lots of clamps to build a benchtop. Even though I don't really like them I bought 5 pipe clamps just for this glue up. I clamped aluminum extrusions on either end to help keep the whole assembly flat - it worked well.

Next step - build the vise.


jbreau said...

nice benchtop cody. looks to be big and beefy.
i went with a wagon vise on mine too, but i haven't finished the bench yet.
happy new year.

Cody said...

Hey, thanks Jacques! Yeah, she's pretty big: 93' x 31'. Both benches I've built were large so I can spread out. I don't really like tool trays; while I think they're a good idea I'm way too messy to utilize them. They just fill up with shit.

What are you doing for your wagon vise hardware? And how's your hand?!

jbreau said...

i went with something i saw in a woodwork magazine. seth janofsky's bench. he used a veneer press screw, so that's what i got. straight from lee valley. cheap, just like me.
i was just looking at the pictures of your hand yesterday, and mine was not nearly as bad as yours. i hit mine about as bad as the least affected of yours. it's healing nicely, but it was a bitch to get the stiches out... they had to cut and dig a little to see the knot. needless to say, i got a little warm under the collar. are you out of the woods with your hand?

Cody said...

I saw that veneer press/wagon vise setup in Charles Schwartz's blog, and in his book on workbenches. Its cheapness totally reminded me of you :)

Glad to hear your finger isn't too bad. I was lucky to have been given dissolvable stitches, I can imagine how much it must've hurt getting those removed. On my pinky finger, which got a piece of bone knocked off, if a nurse accidentally snagged a piece of the stitches during dressing changes it would damn near make me faint. It felt like the stitches went into my finger and were connected directly to my butthole, which puckered tightly every time a stitch was snagged!

My hand is doing well. The scars keep peeling and cracking, which is annoying, but the mobility is all back as well as some of the feeling in my finger tips. I'll be back to picking my nose in no time.


The bench looks great Cody. I am jealous. My bench moves all over the place having all wood mechanics. One day I will design my own, probably a big square with like 4 vices, one on each corner. The wagon vice looks good, I want to see how you end up liking it. I might make one of those too. I still need to line my vice with leather. I still haven't finished my shoulder vice. I should but to be honest, I hate them. I'm a front vice man.