Getting a workbench flat and square


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I've been watching Paul Sellers on his build a workbench series of videos from a couple years ago. I'm trying to follow the details of what he does but sometimes the camera is too far away for me to catch details or he says something in passing that I need more explanation on. Mainly my question is how much/square/accurate does my table top need to be and how square do my legs need to be. He seems to be doing all his work with hand planes because he's got 50 years experience and he's a wood samurai. My results don't generally turn out that good. Since I'm still learning it's hard to tell where I'm making mistakes or just need more practice. I'd like to wind up with a workbench that's flat enough for me to use when I glue pieces together evenly or when I'm checking something like chair legs for evenness (can't trust my garage floor). Are there any other techniques I need to know about for flattening and squaring when I try to follow along with these vidoes?

 

Here's one of the episodes:

 

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Been a while since I watched those, so hints may be duplicated....

First, a perfectly flat and square workbence is a nice convenience, not a necessity. "Pretty close" is good enough for most things, and if you need 'dead flat' for something specific, lay a moving blanket on the bench, and a piece of mdf over that.

To achieve flatness with hand planes just takes sharpness and patience. Observe when the blade seems to catch the wood and dig in. When it does, plane from the opposite direction. Is your bench top made of planks, or an on-edge lamination? The grain direction issue is fussier in a lamination, unless you aligned the grain all one way before gluing it.

You need a straight edge, and maybe a set of winding sticks to sight along. These show your the highs, lows, and twist.

Making the legs square to the bench is of little importance, unless they are on plane with the sides or aprons. In that case, the legs offer additional clamping surface for large planks or panels to receive edge treatment.

For more insight into tuning your plane and checking for flat & square, Paul has many other excellent videos in his catalog to explain. For a more 'new to hand tool' friendly approach, check out Rex Kruger (Rex figures it out) on youtube. His 'Woodworking for Humans' playlist is a pretty easy to follow series, explaining the why as much as the how. And with very inexpensive tools, so there is no intimidation.

Graham Hayden @G S Haydon, another member here, had started out a similar series before life interrupted. Maybe he will pop in and offer some tips.

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Thanks for the help. I was very curious on the legs because in Paul's video he seems to use winding sticks at each end but not anywhere in between. It seems like that would tell you the legs are parallel or in plane at the ends but there could still be some deformation in the middle. One of the things I had hoped to do after I get the bench together is eventually put a shelf underneath it so I was actually thinking of using 4x4s for the legs, planing one edge then running it through my planer once I have a couple sides flat and square to make all that easier.

I am going to try the approach of using 2x4s on end and glueing them up. I just didn't want to invest a bunch of time into the wrong approach because that is a time consuming process.

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The bench I use is all spf 2x4 material. Its very soft, so it looks beat to crap all the time, but it holds my work pieces and stands up to pounding. If you want to use hold-fasts, I suggest that you at least buy yellow pine 2x10 or 12 stock and rip it down to size for the bench. It will dry much harder than the spf, so the hold-fast holes don't wallow out as much. I also suggest letting that material dry for 4-6 weeks to minimize movement after the bench is assembled.  

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I went the cheap and easy way and glued some MDF to a piece of 3/4" ply. It's flat, has endured for some years now, and does well enough. I always drool over better benches, but it does the trick so far and I have enough other things to make better that it's probably going to go for some years more.

I used 4x4s for the legs as you can't beat them for sturdiness in easy-to-find sizes. I don't know anyone at a lumber yard :) But I highly recommend either bracing is sheet goods to aid against racking. The heaviest bench can still rack if it's not properly braced. I like using sheet goods for that.

As for a bench below, what are your plans for that? Will you also put drawers in there?

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Making a bench like this is not fine furniture. It's practical carpentry skills that result in a bench you can build fine furniture on.

I actually think building a bench that's shown in the video is unrealistic unless you want to watch an experienced and skilled worker using limited tools.

I saw I guy on YT post a bench build and it was much more practical.

Once you have something like Rex has built you'll have learned a lot quickly and perhaps make another bench sometime in the future.

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Chip, I haven't decided yet but I think drawers is what I would do. Some place where I could put my more precise tools like squares and protractors that I don't want banged up around in my toolboxes. I wound up finding some nice douglas fir 4x4s so I will just try making some legs and see how it turns out.

GS, I've actually watched that video, too. I vegged out these past few days watching Rex and Paul. Between the two of them I'm learning a lot.

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Meatwad, In all of Paul Sellers videos... he is teaching you the habits necessary to improve your woodworking skill. All the little nuance's and tips he shows you will improve your skills. Since most people start out woodworking needing a quality bench that doesn't rack and is quite solid in every direction he shows what has proven to work for him. He does suggest using winding sticks at different points along the length when truing lumber. Making the parts as square as possible will make assembly's stronger and also improve your future skills. Using knife walls prevent tear out which will improve  your joinery. Sharpening often will save time and effort not take time and effort. Even his oil in a can is a great tip, and has helped me be more efficient. Good woodworking is a skill that requires repetition and good habits can only help you in achieving that goal.

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It's either the latest FWW or Woodsmith magazine has an English workbench that's quite similar to the one Rex shows in his video (which I've also seen). They added a couple things but it's really close to the same thing. Just FYI....

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On 7/5/2020 at 7:59 PM, blackoak said:

I gotta say , Meatwad is one of the best "nicknames " I've seen .  Well done , welcome .

I thought it was a friendly Corona virus at first.

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