Monday, 30 December 2013

Cole Builds a Workbench

   Cole is the son of our friends and he is very interested in woodworking.
Some times he would come by and I would give him some wood to whittle with but I was pretty certain he had the malady of woodworking. Any boy his age that can whittle wood that long instead of playing video games must be sick. No need for a doctor as woodworking is a benevolent infliction of the genus homo sapiens.

   "What tools should I get if I want to do more woodworking", Cole asked me.
   "A workbench", I replied.
   " Umm, I meant tools....", he said again.
   " A workbench is a tool and should be your first tool when possible."

  He asked if I would help him build one. I agreed also I knew his mother was growing tired of the piles of wood chips under the kitchen table.

  First we need a top. As luck had it I came into possession of a used maple laminated work top that is 1 1/2 " thick. Lots of salvaged large dimension boards from cribbing used for steel deliveries. Some old drawers from the post office renovation that could be reworked and installed under the bench.

  The top was cut to finished dimensions first then we started on the legs and feet for the base.
The legs are through mortised into the feet and then wedges are driven into slots in the tenon to secure the legs without the use of glue. A bench gets a lot of racking and the wedges hold well and are easily repaired if need be.

  Cole mortised the holes on the awesome mortising machine which has a drill bit inside a square chisel. You pull down on a lever and behold. Perfectly square holes in the wood.

  I handed him a handsaw and showed him how to cut the tenons on the ends of the legs. I could tell he didn't find that as exciting as the mortise machine. A little sweat needs to go into a good bench.

  At the end of that first day he offered that I could go ahead and work on the bench without him so it could be finished. Ha Ha, no way buddy I thought.
  I told him I could wait for him to return whenever he was ready. Again he didn't find that as exciting as the mortising machine. He was beginning to realize that working wood takes more time in the shop than it does on the DIY channel.

  "Will this have a vise?", he asked. I said I would find something for him which turned out to be a nice one from Lee Valley. It's of good quality and good price. It should take a beating for many a year. I also managed to get a couple of bench pups with it for holding work on the bench.

  So we gave it a break for a while. I was beginning to wonder if he would return but sure enough he did contact me as Christmas break was on the horizon.

 On Friday we worked on assembling those legs and feet and burying those wedges into the tenons. We topped off the legs with a stretcher to allow us attachment to the work top.
Once the top was on we put in some stretchers between the legs. Getting nice and sturdy now. Enough for one afternoon.
  Saturday the vise was installed and some wood faces made for the vise and attached. I laid out marks on the bench top for him to bore all the holes for the bench dogs to fit in. Three rows of eight holes. Not as amazing as the mortiser again but he soldiered on to the last one.

  Next we put together some cases to insert drawers into and trimmed the fronts of them. Cole learned to look at the nail and not his thumb when hammering. I was going to say something but some lessons are best learned by oneself. Cole's eyes popped wide open. No tears, just disbelief.

   "Man that hurts", he said.
While he was walking back and forth holding his hand I told him why the accident had happened but it didn't seem to make it feel any better. It never does though.

 As I was laughing I offered him this advice, "Think about something else".
It never worked for me either but after a short bout with nausea the throbbing stops, not to mention the hot flash sweating.

 The top was cleaned with steel scraper cards. That was a fun lesson in sore and burning thumbs.

  "They feel better the more you use them", I lied to him.
He wasn't going for it but he kept scraping anyway.  I gave him some mineral oil to wipe onto the top, it helps keep the wood in good shape and repel some stains. Looking good.

  Enough for today. Cole had a family thing on Sunday so he would be back on Monday.

Monday, last day.

 Time to make and install the drawers. I did most of the drawer refurbishing as it was quite tricky. He'll get there soon enough. Cole went on to design and build some handles during the time I worked on the drawers.

  The handles he was working on were pretty cool but didn't really come together in the end for him. It was a valiant try though and good to see him take the initiative. You are powerless to work wood if you are afraid to fail. I was intrigued by his design. I might try some myself later.

  Like a true woodworker Cole looked to the work of others and made some handles similar to the ones I put on my assembly table. He figured those out by himself and I think they are very good. After some measuring and math work we had those handles installed in the centre of the drawer fronts.

  There are two camps of thought in the woodworking universe. One is to build a full height bench and have the vertically challenged wood chuck use a box to stand on. The other camp is to build to suit the height of the young maker. I chose the latter camp. As he grows he can add some blocking to the feet until he stops growing.
Here's Cole on his bench.
  If he is still using a bench when he is older then he will most likely build a traditional bench from maple with tail vise and side vise. Just like a pro. I'll help him if he want's me too. It is a very rewarding feeling passing on your knowledge to another. Woodworkers especially love to share their knowledge. I just hope he doesn't make me cut the leg tenons by hand.

Thanks for reading
Happy New Year


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