Monday, February 18, 2013

My first workbench: Finale!

Yes, you read the title correctly, in this post I will be finishing the workbench! Last time I left off with a completed frame, so logically one might think that all I need to do is attach the bench top. Unfortunately, due to the monkeying around I did trying to get the legs level despite the uneven floor resulted in an uneven top. When I place the bench top onto the frame, it would wobble from side to side. At this point, my only real option was to remove material from the high corners until the top would sit flat. So after a few hours of sanding using my random orbit sander, I managed to achieve this. Was this the most efficient method possible? Probably not. I think using a hand plane would have been much better, but I do not have one (and even if I did, I hear they take a bit of a time investment before you can actually use them properly).

I was reluctant to glue the top to the frame, because I thought it would be a good idea to leave open the option of removing the top should I need to in the future (for example, maybe I want to install some drawers or something), so instead I cut some 1-1/2"x1-1/2" scrap wood into small chunks as shown. I used my skill saw because it was easier on these small pieces than dragging out the big circular saw.
I cut six small pieces from this scrap wood using my jigsaw.
Before I continue, I think it is worthy of note that even though it is not completed, this is my first use of the workbench ever! All of my other tools are jealous of my jigsaw for being a part in this momentous occasion. With that out of the way, I clamped the pieces to the inside of the top of the frame, making sure the tops of these pieces were flush with the top of the frame. Following this, I drilled a series of pilot holes and then drove in some screws like so.
I clamped the pieces to the frame, making sure the tops are flush.
To mount these pieces, I first drilled a pilot hole and then used screws.
Because, again, the frame is not perfectly straight, I positioned the bench top in such a way as to maximize the amount of overhang on each end, then clamped the bench top down.
The top was then clamped to the frame.
Screwing the bench top to the small scrap pieces was a bit awkward as you probably can imagine when looking at the photos below.
The top was then screwed in place.
With the bench top mounted, it was time to add the centre supports I cut out near the beginning of the project. Because of its thickness, the bench top feels very sturdy, so perhaps it doesn't require this support, but I had it cut already and the original plans called for it. Plus it's not a hassle to install anyways. To begin, I placed the bench upside-down, and positioned the support in the centre. In retrospect, I probably should have turned the frame upside-down when mounting the top, it probably would have made things easier. With the support in place, I simply screwed it in as shown.
I then added the centre support for the bench top.
I did the same thing for the support for the shelf. In this case, the support is of higher importance since the shelf is much thinner (about 1/2"), and will have a seam that you will see later. Since this part of the frame is 'floating', I needed a way to make the centre support flush to the rest of the frame, so I clamped a small piece of plywood as a reference for the support piece, as shown below. The following photo shows both supports mounted.
Next the centre support for the shelf was added.
Here is a photo showing both supports in place.
The shelf is made from a piece of plywood which will have the corners notched out to accommodate the legs. But how do I know where to make the cuts for the notches? I used a very simple method: since I knew the plywood piece was oversized significantly, I simply placed it on top of the legs (with the bench still upside-down), and traced around the legs as depicted below. Using a straight edge, I extended to relevant lines to the edges and cut out the notches with a jigsaw.
I used a fairly simple method for determining the cuts. Measuring is sometimes over-rated!
I then extended the relevant lines to the edge.
A jigsaw is ideal for this cut.
With the notches cut, I determined the final dimensions of the shelf and used my circular saw to trim it appropriately. Following that, I made a cut down the centre. This was necessitated by the fact that there was no way to get the shelf in place without doing so (in order to achieve this, I would be required to install the shelf while assembling the frame. It wasn't worthwhile in my opinion). Finally, I screwed the shelf down, completing the assembly of the workbench.
I trimmed the shelf to size, then cut in in half to facilitate installation.
Screwing the shelf down marked the final step in the bench's assembly.
But that doesn't mean it's over! I found the plywood I used for the top to be a bit rough, so I used my random orbit sander to smooth it out (about a half hour of sanding). I also took this time to sand down some of the rough areas of the frame (i.e. saw marks, glue, etc.).
With a bit of sanding, the project is complete!
This concludes this simple workbench project. I look forward to making a lot of use of this beast. From the few cuts I did on it here, I can say that it is lightyears ahead of using a wooden pallet on the ground! For your viewing pleasure, I have some pictures of the completed project below.

I hope you have enjoyed following along on my first real woodworking project on this blog! If I don't have it up tonight, then soon I will post some details about this project, including the final schematics, on the 'projects' page. I hope you will join me again when I begin my next project!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Establishing the framework

With the end frame assemblies built and dry, I feel that now is a good time to discuss some of the issues I noticed. First of all, I will be the first to admit that I wasn't overly careful with making sure the legs were parallel and that there was no skew in the overall assembly. Knowing this, I wasn't surprised when I placed my level on top of the standing assembly and found that it wasn't level. So I got to work trimming off bits off the bottom of the leg on the higher side. But no matter what I did, it was never level, and never consistent from time to time. Then it dawned on me: my garage has a sloping floor! Worse yet: the floor is not uniformly sloped (i.e. it is very uneven), which explains the inconsistencies. Since this sin't preventable, I decided to go on with the frame assembly before I messed things up even more.

My new buddy.
To help me with the glue-ups (more specifically with the screws), I got myself a new helper, pictured on the right. I mentioned before that I do not really have an adequate tool for driving in screws. I've been using a craftsman cordless drill, which has been working quite well, but it is only a loan, so I kept my eyes open for a replacement for when I would need to return it. Thus, I found this lovely Porter Cable impact driver at Lowes (online) that had come down 50% in price. Except in multi-packs, I have never seen one as inexpensive (especially for an 18 V), so I purchased it. I have heard mixed opinions on where Porter Cable stands in terms of the quality of their (modern) tools, but I have so far thoroughly enjoyed this one!

Impact drivers are different than a regular drill, in that they add a rotational impact (imagine if you were tightening a bolt with a wrench, and you started hitting the wrench to help accomplish this). This not only delivers a much higher torque than the motor would normally be able to apply, but it also significantly lowers cam-out (that annoying situation where the bit spins around inside the screw head, stripping the screw and potentially damaging the bit). As a result, they are also very LOUD!

With all of that out of they way, let's take a look at the actual workbench project. I decided to modify the plans very slightly. Recall in the sketch I had the bench top cut flush to the frame. I realized (since my last post) that the edges of the table do not offer a convenient clamping area, unless I used my longer bar clamps. Since I have already assembled the ends (and cut the tabletop to its final size), I can't do anything about the width, however I still have freedom in how long I want the frame to be, so I decided I would cut the longer crosspieces shorter than the bench top so there is at least a lip to clamp onto on the edges. I decided to leave a 1-1/2" lip on each end, so I measured the length of the top to be close to 47-1/2", so I made a mark on the long crosspiece at about 44-1/2" (after squaring up one end as described previously for the short crosspieces). Once measured, I placed my cross-cutting jig as shown in the below photo, and cut the wood to size.
With the desired length marked on the wood, I can use my cross-cutting jig to cut.
All four pieces were cut to the same length.
With one piece cut to the correct length, I used it as a measuring stick to mark the other three pieces in the same manner as with the smaller crosspieces.

With this glue-up, I wanted to be a bit more careful. One of the problems with the end frames was that after adding glue, it was very difficult to keep the piece from sliding around while drilling in the screws. So to begin, I put the ends on their sides, and clamped the longer crosspieces in position as shown below.
The crosspieces are clamped in position so they cannot move around.
While clamped in position, I then drilled a pilot hole in each of the four contact areas. This way, after glue is added and I begin inserting the screws, the pilot hole will line the boards up as the screw sinks deeper into the wood.
I insert a pilot hole into each contact area to help with alignment once glue is applied.
With the pilot holes drilled, I unclamped one of the pieces and applied some glue. I then used my spreader to ensure an even coating of glue.
I apply and spread glue over all contact surfaces.
Once the pieces is placed in position, I inserted screws into the pilot holes using my new impact driver. This worked really well for imposing alignment.
Inserting screws into the pilot holes imposed alignment of the pieces.
I then repeated this process for the other crosspiece, and those on the other side of the workbench.
Putting the piece in place after applying glue.
Additional screws are added to apply pressure while the glue dries.
This whole process took place without a hitch. With proper tools and a better method, I was able to finish assembling this bench in a short time. Below is a photo of the (nearly) fully assembled frame. There will be two more supports added, but that will be later.
The finished (almost) frame!
Next time I will discuss some of the finessing that was required before the table top could be mounted. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Assembling the end frames

First off, I would like to wish you all a happy Valentine's Day! With that out of the way, it is now time to begin the first real bit of assembly. Here, I am going to join two pairs of legs together with the short horizontal supports I cut to size last time. To start, I laid out all of the pieces as shown below.
The legs are clamped to the pallet to keep them in line.
Once I found the correct positioning of the legs, I clamped them to the pallet below to hold them in place while I glue the crosspieces. In the photo, they are not in their proper location because I moved them away so I could apply glue to both the legs and crosspieces, which is shown below.
Like always, I apply glue to both surfaces and use a spreader to evenly distribute the glue.
For the lower support, I marked in pencil where it needs to go, so that I could accurately put it in place.
Using the pencil lines I drew, I place the crosspiece in it's correct location.
Once in place, I drilled in some screws to apply pressure while the glue dried. I tried to drill the screws directly into the wood, but the wood started to crack, so I decided to drill pilot holes first.
I use screws to keep the wood clamped down. It is always a good idea to consider first drilling pilot holes.
As you can see below, there was quite a bit of glue squeeze-out. Oh well! I'll just have to clean that up before moving onto the next step.
Now it is time to wait for the glue to dry.
One of the things I've learned is that it is easier to let the squeeze-out dry and then use a chisel or sander to remove it, rather than trying to wipe it while wet. This just smears the glue deeper into the wood grains.

I used the same process for the other two legs, which resulted in the lovely Valentine's Day couple you see below!

The finished assemblies! Don't they look cute together?
I know last time I alluded to some challenges. I was referring to something I later discovered about these assemblies, but I will talk about that next time. I don't want to dampen anyone's Valentine's Day with bad news after all!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dimensioning the end supports

Let's go back to the plans for this project. Shown below is the same sketch shown earlier, except with the bench top and lower shelf missing. What I will be doing next is assembling the end frames. i.e. I will be attaching the short horizontal supports to the legs, generating two leg assemblies. Later, I will attach these assemblies together via the longer horizontal supports. The centre supports will be added in after.
Sketch of the workbench showing the skeletal frame.
Again, before I can do this, I need to cut the lumber to the right size. I began by cutting them roughly to size from the lumber I purchased to get 6 roughly 2' long pieces (I took this opportunity to also cut the centre supports since they will be the same length). Next, I needed to cut a little bit off of one end of each of the pieces, so that I have one square end to measure from. Below, you can see how I first attempted to do this by 'ganging' the pieces together, thus requiring me to cut only once.
This was the 'lazy man's' way of cutting these boards to size. It didn't work.
Unfortunately, this did not result in uniform or square cuts due to the unevenness of the cutting surface, therefore I knew I would have to do them one-by-one. But using the cutting guide on such a small piece of wood is unwieldy, so I created a small jig to assist with this. Below, you can see that I attatched two pieces of wood at a 90 degree angle.
This jig worked much better, and it removes the necessity of measuring where to put the saw guide.
The crosspiece that rests along the length of the wood keeps the 'guide' piece square. The length of this crosspiece (to the right of the guide) is cut off such that it's length matches the distance between the saw blade and the edge of the plate. Thus, as shown below, I can make a straight, square cut. I did this for all 6 pieces.
Easy as pie!
With one end square, I measured the length I needed to cut it. I don't want to use numerical measurements, because they are not always the most accurate. Form the drawing above you can see I want this piece to fit along the end of the top, between two other 2x4's. Shown below is my method of determining the length of wood I need.
Rather than dealing with numerical measurements, I can transfer the cut location directly using the true length.
I clamped two 2x4's to the sides of the bench top, put the square end of the small 2x4 against one of the longer ones, and then put a pencil mark where I need to cut as shown. I made the cut using the same jig as above. Now that I have one piece cut to size, I don't need this setup any more. As shown below, I can simply use the cut piece to determine where to cut on the rest of the pieces.
Now that I have one piece cut to size, marking where to cut on the rest of the pieces is easy!
Next time, I will be assembling the end frame pieces and discussing some of the challenges I faced, and am still facing by not having a very well thought out setup for keeping things aligned.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Cutting that workload down to size

Glued-up legs. Dry glue drips and smears can easily be seen.
With the glue on the table top and legs dry, it is time to cut them to their final size. Beginning with the legs, I noticed that there was quite a bit of glue squeeze-out (shown right), so I thought it prudent to clean up the dry glue first so that the surfaces would be relatively flat. For this job, I took out my random-orbit sander and went to town! Below are a few pictures of this process.

The random-orbit sander makes quick work of this job!
A comparison of the same leg before and after a fairly quick sanding.
As you can see, a fairly short sanding can lead to satisfactory results. I didn't bother with the ends, since I will just be cutting those off anyways.

Cutting the legs down to size.
Before cutting the legs to size, it was necessary to first square-up one end, since the boards aren't aligned very precisely. I do not own a chop-saw or mitre saw, so I will again be using a circular saw. To the left, I show the set-up I used to accomplish this. I clamped the four legs side-by-side and used my saw guide to first cut a small amount from one end. Since the depth of cut is larger than what my saw can handle, I needed to do this from both sides. Below you can see more clearly why this is necessary.

Before and after cutting the legs.

Bench legs cut to their final size.
Once this was done, I was able to measure how high I wanted the legs. Since I want my bench to be about 36" high, and I need to subtract 1-1/2" to account for the top, I should make the legs 34-1/2" long. After measuring and cutting using the same method, I end up with 4 equivalent legs, shown to the right. Because of the method I used, the ends of the legs are not exactly flat, but I think they are close enough for this project. I may need to doctor them up a bit though if I run into problems. In the future, I might try to find a better way to do this.

With the legs done, I moved on to the table top. Again, since it is very difficult to have two pieces aligned, it will always be necessary to trim the edges after a face-to-face glue-up like this, which is why it is a good idea to have your pieces oversized initially. Since I am not required to have an exact set of dimensions, it doesn't matter to me, I will simply trim the edges, and the result will be my final size. I used the same basic methods to accomplish this; some pictures are shown below.
Cutting one edge of the bench top.
Bench top edge: before and after trimming.
This was a pretty exciting step, since it was the first once involving cutting, which I enjoyed greatly. Next time, I will do some more cutting as I make the horizontal supports for the ends of the bench. For your amusement, I will leave you with a picture of the mess (part of it) I made during all of this cutting.
What a mess! Good thing I have a shop vac to clean it up later.