New Bench: Prelude

When I was in my early twenties, I built a workbench. At that time, I owned  a 9-inch builders saw, 4-inch jointer and a “radial drill press”. All three were Delta tools and they were bought new. This was around 1970, so they were branded “Rockwell/Delta”. I also had a Porter-Cable router with 1/4″ collet. Truth be told, I had no training or experience. I did own the old Delta “Getting The Most Out Of Your…” books for the tools I owned. I had picked up a few magazines but there wasn’t much available until Fine Woodworking was launched. I still have issue #1 and every issue since. But I digress. The point to this is, that I was completely unbothered by my lack of actual knowledge. I was unafraid, unapologetic and, for the most part, clueless.

With all of this going for me, I decided I could build a bench. I bought some 2-by-4’s and built a basic “H” frame for the ends and simple two-by rails.  The rails were bolted to the ends using the old “nut in the hole” trick. But the end frames were mortised! You see, I had splurged on the mortise attachment for the drill press and it worked pretty well.

For the top, I bought three sheets of CD plywood. After cutting them down to about 36″ x 80″, I laid them on the floor of the spare bedroom that was my shop. I can’t remember what I used to protect the floor, maybe some more two-by. Anyway, I laid out a 6″ grid and drilled 1/4″ holes through all three sheets. Then I separated them and applied lots of glue and laid them back down like pancakes. Then I hammered carriage bolts into the holes and turned the stack upside down, bolts pointing up. Nuts and washers tightened, it sat for a day while the glue dried. By the way, the dimensions for the top were dictated by the space available in the workshop. I think the room was roughly 7 feet by nine feet plus a six-foot wide closet. Not a lot of room.

It never occurred to me to worry about getting it flat (I didn’t know about winding sticks). I just never thought about it. With the lamination now on the base ( I was a strong guy), I drilled up through the frame and sunk lag screws into the bottom of the benchtop.

Next came the vise. I had just bought a Record 52-1/2. Without looking for instructions, I figured out that I needed a spacer between the vise and the underside of the bench. For some reason, I decided to recess the fixed jaw into the benchtop. That was one ugly chisel job. So the big moment was upon me–time to attached the vise and start using the bench. So I crawled under the bench and drilled some holes for the lag screws that would hold the vise. And then I held the vise up with one hand and screwed one of the lags in and so on until all four lags were in place. Anyone seeing this would have laughed their heads off, but I didn’t know any better.

This all happened while I was in college. After graduation, my woodworking stuff was usually stored away. There was a brief time when I had everything set up in a double garage. That’s when I bought the Rockwell/Delta 14″ band saw. But those few years were the exception.

So now, after years of neglect, I’ve been slowly putting together a new workshop. It’s a basement, in the building where my business has been for close to 25 years. (I’ve been moving veeeeerrrrrry slow. For all that time, I’ve used that space as a place to do whatever was required for the business; so there has always been a sort of shop. Just not one that a woodworker would want.

I still have most of that bench…the top, the vise and some of the base.  For my new bench, I’ll be using the laminated top and the vise, nothing else. About that laminated benchtop–I checked recently and was amazed that after everything, that top is within 1/16″ of being flat. Not bad considering I never even gave it a thought until forty years after building it. The new base will have support under the top and I plan on coaxing the top into true by bolting it to the supports. It might work.

And finally, I want to explain the title of the blog. Growing old has replaced that fearless young man with a rather timid geezer. I want to do things better than before. I plan everything now. It irritates my wife quite a bit. I try to explain and justify, but she tells me that this is the age of “Just Do It” and I need to wake up. Easy for her; her hobby is gardening. I used to garden. Stop that. This is not about the wife. She’s more right than wrong. I’m TRYING to loosen up.

And now, it’s time to start on that bench.

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