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Final Design for the Top of my Moravian Workbench

With 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.

My big, heavy vise.

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.

Moravian workbench – current design.

Note how vises are mounted in this photo.

Another item to consider: How to mount the vise? The traditional way is to simply bolt it in place with the rear chop 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 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 chop. I like the look…

Same as Ed Pirnik – a nice design for a cast iron vise.

A quality look to the front chop.

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 chop 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)…

Note the insert on the front edge of the top.

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…

Five boards deep. And you can see the “Pole from Hell.”

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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Reader Builds the Bedside Table

On occasion, I’ll get an email alerting me to someone building a project following one of my woodworking plans. These emails are always welcome and are an instant bright spot in my day. Someone thought enough of something I designed to put it in their own home. Pretty sweet.

Such was the case when Irwin of Southern California sent me a message through my contact page. He was asking some questions about the plan and I asked him to take construction photos so I can feature his work on my blog. His project is completed and I am giving him an A+++.

The woodworking plan, components and a nice looking SawStop.

Lots of panels in this project – here, the sides and web frames.

The bedside table taking shape.

The face frame completed; door and drawer beads going on.

Base added. Irwin add his own design for the bracket feet.

Breadboard ends for top.

Finish being applied.

Nice color.

The completed bedside table (Irwin built the bed too).

In addition to learning how to make frame and panel sides and doors, this table is also a good teaching project for making beaded openings for the drawer and doors, making bracket feet and creating a table top with breadboard ends. The bedside table is one of my most popular plans; second only to the queen size bed I built. It feels good to know that yet another bedside table has been born. Irwin, great job!

Want to know more about this woodworking plan? See it by clicking here. You can save the document free of charge; I don’t even want your email address or ask you to sign up for a newsletter. See all my woodworking plans by clicking here (they are all free).

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Have a question or comment about this post? Leave me a comment below; but I also like email. Use my contact form to send me an email (click here).

Moravian Workbench: The Base is Finished

A project which has totally taken over most of my weekends is the renovation of my father-in-law’s home. It is a project which my wife is in charge of. She along with her brother and I have been directing a contractor who is bringing his old house up to date. Many of my Saturdays over the past two months have been spent doing small projects to help control renovation costs (oh, and college football has been a time eater too). Every now and then, I have been able to do a little work on my new workbench. A major turning point in the construction of this bench has arrived – the completion of the base.

Most recently, I have been fabricating the front and rear stretchers. These stretchers have long tenons which slide through mortises in the workbench legs and these legs are splayed adding a little complexity to my woodworking. Each tenon also has a mortise for a wedge. Cutting away all the material for the tenons has been a super slow process. I have tried two methods:

  • Using a plunge router and a straight bit to slowly form the tenons. I did this on the front stretcher.
  • Using my bandsaw to quickly remove waste for each tenon, then using a plane and my plunge router to fine tune the fit. I did this on the rear stretchers.

The first method leaves a mostly smooth surface which I then turned to my block plane and sander to zero in on the exact fit for the leg through mortise. Again, this is a very slow process and later I realized my router bit had become super dull making removing stock even more time-consuming.

Looking for a faster way to make the tenons, I turned to my bandsaw to quickly remove stock. My reservation in doing this first was that the resulting cut would need more work to clean up, but in the end, this method was faster. Plus, these stretchers are heavy (heavy on purpose). I bought a roller stand to help me control sending these beefy stretchers through my bandsaw. Let’s look at some photos…

Tenon cuts on the rear stretcher right off the bandsaw. The mostly completed front stretcher is shown in the background.

After cleaning up the bandsaw marks, I used a jig to get good angled shoulders on the tenons. Note the collar in the base of my router.

The completed stretchers after trimming their ends and a ton of careful fitting in their leg mortises.

At this point, I needed to make the wedges used to lock the legs to their stretchers. I turned to my miter saw and table saw to rough out each wedge and then used a hand plane to get the correct thickness…

Example wedge in a rough state.

After smoothing. Note the nice rays in the quarter sawn oak.

Wedge in place.

A workbench on top of a workbench. Legs in place; the workbench base is completed.

I can’t tell you how much hard work and brain power has gone into this workbench at this point. It is a relief just to get the front and rear stretchers completed. I am very pleased with how the various components have gone together. The workbench has some heft and is rock solid.

Next: begin to build the split top. It will be made from ash with a contrasting wood for the gap stop. I suspect this will also be a slow process. Stay tuned…

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Have a question or comment about this post? Leave me a comment below; but I also like email. Use my contact form to send me an email (click here).