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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2014
    Location
    Seattle, Washington, USA
    Posts
    1,854

    Default The Game Changer - or - Two Guys, Two Dogs, and One Incredibly Heavy Workbench

    Like every great story, it's best to start at the beginning.

    This was my workbench:

    IMG_1594.jpgIMG_1595.jpg

    Pretty sure it was pine. The vises weren't great (to put it lightly), but they worked. The worst thing about using it was the way it skated across the floor whenever I tried to do any heavy planing. Jointing with the #8? forget it. I actually knocked it over once using a jack plane across the grain. My woodworking was about 30% ruining boards (the fun stuff) and 70% doing battle with that bench.

    Fast forward about a year. I was at IanW's workshop one afternoon shooting the breeze when I brought it up. Ian wasn't having any of it and we decided (meaning he offered) that we would unite our efforts and build the last workbench I would ever need.

    We got started at the beginning of August. The first step was to get all of the wood out and milled. Ian had some Queensland Blue Gum (E. tereticornis) from a tree he had felled and milled a few years ago. We sawed the edges off with a band saw, jointed and thicknessed what we could on his 12" machine, and took the rest to Wood 'n You to put through their 20" combo machine (which is awesome...).

    IMG_2359.jpgIMG_2360.jpg

    The bench is primarily comprised of two giant boards at ~60mm x 1850mm x 300mm. Incredibly heavy, hard stuff, but also absolutely stunning, especially out on the quartersawn grain.

    IMG_2362.jpg

    From there, we used a router jig to cut the slots for the rectangular bench dogs. They were oriented leaning 2 degrees toward the clamping surface. The dog board is Spotted Gum.

    IMG_2361.jpg

    Following this, we glued up the top, which, from front to back, is a vertical skirt board, a vertical dog board, and then the benchtop proper. At this point it was beginning to look like something.

    IMG_2364.jpg

    This is where, in my opinion, it got really fun (not that it wasn't already). The bench consists of a front vise and an end vise, both of which are made wholly by hand. This involved a handful of big, chunky dovetail joints, some very precise work, and some fitting and refitting. This was the first time I had made anything which involved moving parts that weren't box tops, doors, or drawers. The screws are threaded wooden spindles made from super hard outback timbers which Ian had stored for a rainy day. Most of the vise parts are Blue Gum, but there is a bit of Spotted Gum and Tallowwood thrown in for good measure, not to mention Tallowwood is a greasy timber which is good for sliding parts.

    IMG_2391.jpgIMG_2392.jpgIMG_2393.jpg

    The entire process was memorable, but likely the most memorable operation was the tapping of the vise screw holes. We had to cut 2" threads into a 60mm piece of Blue Gum, which, in addition to being hard as hell, is pretty gummy and sticky. The tap looks like any other tap, only on a giant scale. The only way we were ultimately able to do it with TWO grown men was to put 3ft extension rods on either side of the tap handle and walk in a circle. The process reminded me of that scene at the beginning of Conan the Barbarian when he gets kidnapped as a kid and made to push that big mill around, and then it flashes forward and he's grown up to become Arnold Schwarzenegger. Neither Ian nor myself got to be the Governor of California, unfortunately... but we did treat ourselves to lunch immediately afterward.

    IMG_2365.jpg

    The vises have sacrificial jaws which are made from Celtis, or Chinese Hackberry. We decided to use this stuff and Ian said "Ok, while you're doing that I'll mill some Celtis". I assumed that meant run it over the jointer, but all of a sudden I hear a two-stroke engine, and I soon realize he meant it quite literally...

    IMG_2385.jpg

    I didn't get any photos of the undercarriage assembly process. It's four posts with stretchers between them connected with mortise and tenon joints. As opposed to using bolts to secure the long stretchers, we used through tenons with Buloke tusks. This is the assembled but unfinished bench.

    IMG_2418.jpgIMG_2419.jpg

    After getting it to my house, I applied two coats of danish oil, drilled some round dog holes for holding oddly shaped pieces with the front vise, and completed all of the smaller, accessory parts like the bench dogs and the vise handles. Here are some photos of the finished product in-situ.

    IMG_2485.jpgIMG_2482.jpgIMG_2483.jpgIMG_2484.jpgIMG_2486.jpgIMG_2487.jpgIMG_2488.jpg

    I'm going to guess it weighs about 200kg, it's capable of clamping a 2m board, and every scrap of wood in it came from right here in Sunny Queensland.

    All in all it took about a month, which was mostly due to me losing about 2 weeks to field work. We initially discussed it taking about a week. We may have been able to do that if we hadn't spent many hours chatting, drinking coffee, and taking long lunch breaks, but where's the fun in that? I came out of it with the best workbench I've ever even seen (much less owned), I learned a lot, and I think I can safely say we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

    I'll one day take this back to the U.S. The finish may fade. It may get scratched, dented, scarred, or stained here and there, but I will always truly appreciate every minute spent using it as well as every minute spent making it.

    Cheers,
    Luke

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2015
    Location
    Canberra, ACT
    Posts
    51

    Default

    Wow, an absolutely beautiful bench, I love the vices! What did you use to secure the metal guide rods for the front vice?

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Location
    Sutherland Shire, Sydney
    Age
    66
    Posts
    1,187

    Default Lifetime job

    Gees that is a nice looking bench. The extra gravity you have built into it will make it a joy to use.

    Alan...

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Brisbane (western suburbs)
    Age
    73
    Posts
    9,109

    Default

    Okay, I guess I've been outed, so I can throw in my 2c. I have to say, it was a lot of fun doing the bench with Luke, and believe me, there was no way this old codger could have done it on his own, when Luke says this stuff is heavy, he's not being woosy - it's heavy! I think even the (ex) governor of California would have trouble getting this bench to move under the most vigorous planing session.

    Backstory:
    The Bluegum was actually 'harvested' from a tree that was dropped because it was very close to, & leaning (slightly) towards a neighbor's house. A team of pros dropped it for them (there was no way I would have been game to tackle it!). They munched up the branches & left the barrel on the ground, 4 1/2M of straight trunk, about 800mm diameter at the base, tapering to about 650 before a major fork. I've had access to a few BGs from round here before, and they were full of gum veins & defects from fire & other injuries, so when I was offered the wood, I wasn't super enthusiastic, but I thought it could be useful to make garden beds, so duly trotted over with my chainsaw & slabbing rail to do battle with it. When I saw the quality of wood, I began to take a different view. Slab after slab came off clean and defect free, and nicely figured to boot. There was only a small section near the base that had suffered damage earlier in the tree's life. I was very reluctant to consign this nice wood to holding up piles of dirt, so I tucked it away to season & have a think about it for a while. I even considered making myself a new bench from it - my 30-something year old bench occasionally frustrates me when I want to clamp something a bit longer than the dogs can manage. It's such a rare occasion, and it would have caused me great angst deciding what to do with the old bench (I'm not usually sentimental about such things as workbenches, but this bench has lots of good history & associations attached to it!). So when Luke told me what a beast of a bench he was forced to work on, I saw the solution to my dilemma - that Bluegum could be put to good use after all!

    Luke has told the story of the build - it did take quite a bit longer than I initially expected, due mainly to his unpredictable work schedule, but if you added up the hours actually spent working on it, it wouldn't have been that much more than my estimate, and remember, that included preparing the wood from rough stock, which took at least a day & a half, from memory. (And a plug for "Wood'N'You" - jointing & planing the monstrous top pieces on their thumping great machine made life so much easier when it came to glue-ups. Those two great chunks of timber went together so well, it only took a few swipes of a smoothing plavne to make the join perfect! I could never have gotten it so accurate on my 'domestic' machine). I had to resist doing anything while Luke was off in the field at his day job, but I wanted the bench to be his own creation, not mine, so tried to stick to advising & helping, or at least only doing little 'routine' bits which anyone could do. All the major joints are his (& most are pretty good, considering the size & toughness of this wood! ).

    So I think we've both ended up happy with the outcome. I enjoyed helping someone get themselves a decent workbench & got to see a far better application of the Bluegum than rotting away as garden beds, and received a very nice 'thankyou' gift to boot, so I'm certainly happy.

    And the good news is, there's still a bit of wood left, enough for the small accessory bench I've been thinking about making for at least 10 years. Sometime in the next 10 years it will happen.....

    Cheers,
    IW

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
    Location
    Sydney Upper North Shore
    Posts
    3,353

    Default

    Great bench, great story.

    Thanks

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2014
    Location
    Seattle, Washington, USA
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    1,854

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by ironik View Post
    Wow, an absolutely beautiful bench, I love the vices! What did you use to secure the metal guide rods for the front vice?
    The front vise rides along four lengths of steel tubing, two of which move and two of which are stationary. The moving guides were welded perpendicularly onto two small, steel plates which are recessed into the thick piece of spotted gum which makes up the bulk of the front vise and into which the round dog holes are drilled (see photos). If you remove the piece of red gum which has the moulding cut into it you would be able to see the two little plates recessed into some shallow mortises in the Spotted Gum.

    Hope that answers your question.

    Cheers,
    Luke

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2015
    Location
    Canberra, ACT
    Posts
    51

    Default

    Ah, thank you. Welding makes sense, would be very strong. I was thinking of implementing something similar with a spare vice screw I had, hence the question. Your build looks very sturdy and definitely going to be a source of inspiration when the time comes... although a much more 'ghetto' version.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Location
    Brisbane
    Posts
    1,726

    Default

    WOW how to make a guy jealous ... Seriously though - What a brilliant bench and great story too. I have been wondering what to do with some wonderful slabs of the same timber that I scored when one of my neighbours large blue gums died. I tried to get a local Darra joinery to resaw them for me but they just held them for a few months and then said they couldn't do it. Unfortunately they are too heavy for me to lift and handle by myself but maybe now thanks to your story, I know to take them to Wood 'N' You if I get enthusiastic again (Not that I could hope to achieve your level of vice construction in a 100 years).

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Brisbane (western suburbs)
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    73
    Posts
    9,109

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by ironik View Post
    Ah, thank you. Welding makes sense, would be very strong. I was thinking of implementing something similar with a spare vice screw I had, hence the question. Your build looks very sturdy and definitely going to be a source of inspiration when the time comes... although a much more 'ghetto' version.
    ironik, when I built my front vise (which is the prototype for Luke's), I didn't have access to a welder, so what I did was buy a couple of lengths of 1/2" pipe, each threaded on one end. These were screwed into matching threaded pipe flanges, so that I could attach them to the front jaw of the vise with a couple pf coach screws. This was then covered with a matching piece of wood so that the jaw looks like one solid piece. I'm not sure you can still buy the flanges, so welding a strip of steel across the pipe is probably the best option, now. It's a pretty simple job to drill a couple of holes & attach the end-piece, so if you know anyone with the gear, it's about a six-pack's worth of work.

    And the screw in my vise is a metal tail-vise screw, so your idea has precedent....

    Cheers,
    IW

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Location
    Perth
    Posts
    23,393

    Default

    Bench looks great but what about some pics of the dogs?

  11. #11
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    North of the coathanger, Sydney
    Age
    64
    Posts
    9,415

    Default

    cool bench

    and a super cool bench build with a mate story
    regards
    Nick
    veni, vidi,
    tornavi
    Without wood it's just ...

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Brisbane (western suburbs)
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    73
    Posts
    9,109

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by BobL View Post
    Bench looks great but what about some pics of the dogs?
    Do you mean these? Dogs 2.jpg

    Or these? Tess.jpg Chloe.jpg

    One is a 'real' dog, the others are not really dogs, but I'll let you figure that out.....

    Cheers,
    IW

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Location
    Brookfield, Brisbane
    Age
    45
    Posts
    869

    Default

    Beautiful

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Brisbane (western suburbs)
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    73
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    9,109

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Xanthorrhoeas View Post
    .... I know to take them to Wood 'N' You if I get enthusiastic again .....
    Just make sure you have a strong young bloke with you when you go, to help feed them through the machines, & use your experience & cunning so that he gets the heavy end each time.....

    Seriously, we did have a bit of a tussle machining the wood (which Luke alluded to). It wanted to stick to metal surfaces, & took double the effort an equivalent bit of some other wood would require to push it over the jointer. The feed rolls on the planer needed some help to keep it moving through, too. Hand planing wasn't so bad, as long as we kept wiping the plane soles with a block of paraffin wax, but there were frequent pauses to re-sharpen blades! On the positive side, it scrapes nicely, so if you have the patience & stamina, you could put a very fine a finish on it....

    Cheers,
    IW

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Dundowran Beach
    Age
    72
    Posts
    19,917

    Thumbs up

    What a stunner!!!bravabravabrava

    More fun to be had there than is right for any one person! Yes, I am jealous!!

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