ith the base of my Moravian style workbench completed, it’s time to turn my attention to the top. The design of my workbench has changed only slightly since I first shared my vision for a new bench on June 1, 2014. This early design doesn’t really portray a split top; rather a top with two slabs of wood joined in the middle with no gap like the current design (above – the tool cabinet design continues to evolve and will likely change even more after the top is finished). Before buying lumber, I needed to finalize the design of the top. My biggest concern has been the true size of the front vise; specifically, is it too big? After some considerable study, several months ago I purchased a large, 10″ Eclipse quick release vise from my local Woodcraft store. I never gave serious consideration to a leg vise like a true Moravian bench would have. As you will see in a photo below, I have a narrow traffic area in front of my current workbench; an area which also contains what I call the “Pole from Hell” – a Lally column which helps support the central structure of our home. But from a workshop perspective, this pole could not be in a more irritating location; very close to the left end of my current workbench. Leg vises have a wooden screw which protrudes outward and that combined with the depth of a thick vise chop had me looking for a more slender option. So, I opted for a big honkin’ cast iron vise that is more compact.
But, I have never checked the true size of this vise to ensure it will fit as seen in the SketchUp model. So, being that I have become abnormally reliant on SketchUp to help me visualize what I want to do, I simply took some basic measurements of the Eclipse vise and adjusted the vise in the SketchUp model to match and thankfully, it does fit.
Another item to consider: How to mount the vise? The traditional way is to simply bolt it in place with the rear jaw resting against the front edge of the workbench and the bottom of the vise mounted under the bench top, much like the Nicholson style workbenches at the Alabama Woodworker’s Guild (photo above).
I am an online member at Fine Woodworking.com. This gives me access to virtually all their content including how-to videos. While watching Ed Pirnik’s video series on the construction of his “Not So Big Workbench” I noticed Ed’s workbench was built with his cast iron vise buried in the top of the bench effectively making the front edge of the bench the rear jaw. I like the look…
But, what if I ever want to change out my vise? Things break, parts wear out. What if ten years from now I need to replace my vise? Or, let’s say that in the future, a new, super bodacious vise comes along that I just have to have? I decided that inserting the rear jaw of my vise into my workbench (a mostly permanent installation) would not be wise. I came to this conclusion while lying in bed this morning. I do some of my best woodworking thinking on Sunday mornings while trying to catch a few more minutes of sleep.
So, this is the final vise install design (I think)…
I’ll cut away material to inset the vise into the bench top and then add a removable insert, flush with the front edge which will enable me to change the vise if I ever want to.
With these details worked out, I began buying lumber and started forming the slabs. I have selected ash for the top and the glue-up process is shown below. Oh, and I have also bought a number of new clamps…
At present, I am working on the front half of the split top and have nine boards glued-up. When I get to eleven boards, I’ll head to the Alabama Woodworker’s Guild workshop to use their large jointer and planer and complete final straightening and sizing. Then I’ll repeat this process for the back half of the split top. This is going to take some time, but everything is going well.
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