In my last shop, I was crammed for space after adding, arguably, too many tools for the space. One concession I made was to eliminate my 4′ x 8′ assembly table in favor of a smaller, traditional hickory woodworking workbench. In that space, it was a great decision. A year or so later and we moved to our current home with my current shop. This new space allowed me to go back to a new 4′ x 8′ assembly table and since building the new assembly table I have only used my second workbench as a shelf. That’s it. Just a shelf. This workbench deserves a better life than to be used as a shelf. More on the final destination of this workbench in the coming months…
When pulling the workbench to the front of the shop to initially sell it I noticed a large open seam in the workbench top. Regardless of this workbench staying with me or leaving, an open seam in the top is unacceptable. My research indicates that this open glue seam is due to one of two reasons. Either I didn’t leave it in clamps long enough or it’s a glue starved joint. Either way, it’s my fault. I’m 99% sure I left the top glue up in clamps overnight so my guess is that it is a glue starved joint. I just didn’t add enough glue. Here you can see the open seam with a flashlight shining all the way through.
The solution for filling the seam and stabilizing it is to use TotalBoat penetrating epoxy. I chose this vs regular high performance epoxy because of it’s thinner characteristics. It will, for lack of a better term, penetrate into the small area of the seam with no problem.
The first step, seal the top of the workbench with clear packing tape. The entire top. Not just where the seam in question is. The ENTIRE top. I don’t plan on having this workbench flipped over again so I might as well go crazy with the penetrating epoxy and use it on anything and everything that will absorb the epoxy.
Removing the leg vise will make flipping the workbench over. I’m already dreading that at this stage.
The bottom shelf needs to be removed too. It’s just a junk piece of plywood with a couple of cleats on the bottom. I’ll replace this with something better.
With two 2×4 boards on the floor to prevent my hands from being pinched, the workbench is rolled over. This is only a 6′ workbench so it’s not earth-shattering heavy…but it is pretty darn heavy.
Time to mix some epoxy. The ratio is one pump from each of the containers. I don’t recall how many I went with but it was too much. Again, I don’t plan on having the workbench upside down again so I might as well lean towards the side of overkill.
Pouring this stuff is almost like water. My initial thought when pouring was that I should have made a hot glue dam around the seam to better concentrate the epoxy into where it is needed. However, a cheap acid brush worked well at directing the epoxy where it needed to go. The seam was thirsty! It used quite a bit of epoxy.
With extra in the cup I scoured over the entire bottom side of the workbench top looking for an excuse to pour.
The epoxy needs to cure overnight before I flip the workbench back over. In the meantime I shifted gears to making a better lower shelf. The plywood shelf sat on top of the front and back rail and was held in place with a couple of cleats on the bottom side inside the rails. For the new shelf, I wanted to attach cleats to the rails so that the top of the shelf slats would be flush with the top of the rails. For the shelf cleats, I used a piece of walnut that has been lingering on my lumber rack for far too long.
Just screws to attach it to the rails.
For the shelf slats, I went with curly ash. I have a bunch of this on hand that has a few defects here and there that disqualifies it for furniture projects. It’s too good to go to the burn pile or the landfill so using it in a shop project like this is a great use of material.
Most of it had edges on an angle to the grain. Because I’m not worried about 100% efficiency with this material I chose to rip a new edge parallel to the grain at the bandsaw.
The new edge gets jointed next.
All of these boards were previously jointed and planed before going to the lumber rack. To my surprise, they were all still flat. Planing was necessary to bring everything down to .75” thickness.
With the jointed face against the table saw sled fence one end of each board can be cut square.
Followed by cutting the other end square. I used the flip stop on the fence to cut all of these boards a touch too long. I’ll trim them to the final size as they go in one by one.
Finally, the boards are ripped to the final width. The exact width dimension isn’t critical. I’m just going for whatever the board allows.
I wasn’t sure how much yield I was going to get out of the pile of boards but I ended up with three extra boards. I needed a total of 39 inches and had close to 60 inches to play with. I knew I was going with a tongue and groove joint for all of the shelf slats, which will loose .375” per slat. That loss times eight joints equals a total loss of three inches. So, for the 39 inches of final length, I needed 42” of rough material.
The bit I’m using is a combination tongue and groove bit (use code JAYBATES15 to save 15% at bitsbits.com). It has two cutters spaced precisely by a bearing. The distance between the bearing and the tip of the cutters is .375”, which is where the loss comes from. To cut the tongue the bit is raised so the center of the bearing is centered on the thickness of the material. To cut the groove the bit is lowered so the center of the top cutter is centered on the thickness of the material. I’ll start with the groove.
Adjusting the height very precisely is a breeze with this router lift.
Time to get groovy. (insert your favorite dad joke here)
It’s a quick process to run these through. Next, the bit is raised and a test board is run through until a good fitting joint is achieved. The friction fit of the actual tongue and groove is always going to be great due to the precision in the bit. What we’re looking for with the test board is for all of the wide faces of the boards to be flush.
The last board needs to be trimmed down. To get a precise measurement of the assembled shelf without having to deal with tight joints at this stage I stacked the joints instead of seating them. You’ll see this better in the picture after this one.
My goal was to leave a 1/4” gap between the end of the last slat and the legs of the workbench. This will allow for seasonal expansion and contraction. Is it enough? I’m not sure. Time will tell! Because the slats aren’t going to be glued down the end boards can always be planed as needed.
The shelf slats need a finish and for that, I’m going with garnet shellac. I have no idea what pound cut this is. I don’t use this kind of shellac often enough to demand a density consistency so I normally just put what looks like a cup of flakes into these small mason jars. Then fill with denatured alcohol, of course.
Wow. What a transformation. This wood is gorgeous!
The reason I justified using this gorgeous wood for a shop project is that it has some defects here and there. Here you can see some tension set showing through in the wood. Not good enough for furniture but plenty good enough for a shelf on a workbench.
By now it was the next day and the epoxy has had time to cure enough to sand it. So that’s exactly what I did. There are not many “game changers” with woodworking tools but a quality sander sure is one. This is the Rotex 150 and man-o-man can it chew through stuff in a hurry. Super quick cleanup.
Time to flip the workbench back over. Not a fun task. Here’s a pro tip for you. If you want to expose your horrible lifting form simply record yourself flipping a workbench over.
The clear packing tape can be removed. This provides a similar feeling to pulling the clear protective film off of a brand new widescreen TV. And this I know, as I recently purchased my current massive 42” LCD TV back in 2010.
Hickory is brutal on hand planes. The grain is interlocking and goes in all kinds of crazy directions. Tearout is almost guaranteed with a random direction glue-up like this. The top is pretty flat as is so I only used the sander to give the top a quick “cleaning.”
Finally, the slat boards can be cut to the final length as they are installed. I chose to wait until this stage to cut them to final length because the long rails of the workbench have a very slight bow toward the middle of the workbench. This means the outside boards are about .125” longer than the middle boards. I wanted a clean, uniform install with no uneven gaps.
The shelf fits like a glove with a little wiggle room for expansion and contraction.
A few closing remarks on workbenches. I don’t recommend a film finish for a workbench. Film finishes will make the workbench slick and provide less traction for work holding. Instead, I recommend either no finish at all or danish oil. Danish oil will penetrate a little bit and offer some protection against spills.
Also, I put a set of these workbench casters on this workbench to be able to easily move it around as needed. They are a great product. To make them even better I joined them with a piece of .5” square tube and a couple of bolts. This allows you to lift up one side of the workbench with one press of the foot.
Also #2, make a leg vise. Leg vises have the highest clamping pressure per dollar spent on hardware. Leg vise screws are very inexpensive and easy to install.
That’s it. One final picture of the newly installed shelf. The curly ash isn’t an exact match of the hickory but it’s close enough. Most of it will be covered by tools anyway.