For one, the bench itself is a good size. While its width as a tad short at just over 1 ½’, the length is a great 5’ long. Even better, this bench is made out of birch wood. Birchwood is similar to beech in that it is strong but soft enough to prevent inadvertent dulling of your tools. However, birch has a bit of an advantage over beech in that it is not a porous which makes staining on the Windsor Design a more worry-free affair.
A workbench needs to be heavy enough that it doesn't move under you while you're working, and stiff enough that it doesn't rack itself to pieces under the forces that will be placed upon it. It doesn't take many hours of planing a board or hammering a chisel for a worktable made of nailed 2x4s to come apart. Traditional bench designs use mortise-and-tenon joinery, which is strong and rigid, but not really suited for a novice woodworker who doesn't already have a bench.
Anyway, the reason I bring all this up is not to brag, but to alert you to a great deal. Recently, we had a chance to acquire the last print copies of these five books, which were sitting, overlooked, in a warehouse. The books mainly have black and white interiors and beautiful hand-drawn illustrations. And every one offers more than 300 pages of excellent advice on woodworking projects and techniques.
Another aspect that might irk some buyers is the fact that the capacity of this bench is less than great outside of weight. The top’s surface area is a bit on the smaller end, though its length is more in line with larger models. The width though is less than two feet which can limit some projects. Similarly, the vice capacity is the second smallest on our list at 4 ½”, though this too can be modded with optional additions.
In ancient times, the woodworker’s bench consisted of a plank or split log with four splayed legs. Descendants of those benches are manufactured today, usually with a top of hardwood slabs glued together. The norm nowadays is four straight legs supporting the bulk above, often with braces and a shelf below. Despite the improvements, the linkage to Greek and Roman antecedents is still evident.
For those who would like to have the benefit of a woodworker’s extensive experience with hand tools, this is the book to own. Crammed with practical information, it is the next best thing to looking over a craftsman’s shoulder as he works with his tools, asking questions and getting straight answers in plain language, seeing how each tool is held and manipulated to get the best work out of it. From bit brace, chisel, and mallet to saws, specialized planes, drawknife, and spokeshave, Aldren Watson describes in detail the actions of the tools basic to good woodworking. All the procedures are explicitly illustrated with handsome line drawings, and an appendix gives plans and dimensions for making a workbench and other necessary pieces of shop equipment.”
Grouping George Nakashima’s The Soul of a Tree and Jim Krenov’s Worker in Wood with Nick Offerman’s Good Clean Fun might seem sacrilegious, but we like how the trio’s perspectives encompass the diverse spirit of woodworking. The older books combine photos of exceptional work with serious reflections on the nature of craftsmanship. Nick is equally passionate about wood and woodworking, but he’s more willing to admit that he’s enjoying himself–a good example for all of us to follow.
After you have all the holes clean, set things up for your glue-up. You want everything on-hand before you start - drill, driver bit, glue, roller or whatever you're going to spread the glue with, and four clamps for the corners. You'll need a flat surface to do the glue-up on - I used my hollow core door on top my bench base - and another somewhat-flat surface to put the other panel on. My folding table was still holding my oak countertop, which makes a great flat surface, but I want to make sure I didn't drip glue on it so I covered it with some painters plastic that was left over from the last bedroom we painted.
Using shelving in your room or kitchen is a great way to arrange and de-clutter space… I know, such ground-breaking term it is. Do not write me off yet, I just want to show you how you can build some clean floating corner shelving that appears to have no brackets. You can create them at no cost, and the hardest part of the plan is figuring out what you are going to put on these shelves when you are finished.
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I was using 2-1/2" coarse Kreg pocket hole screws. Kreg screws are supposed to be self-tapping, but the coarse-thread screws are intended to be self-tapping in softwood, and the fine-thread screws they intend for use in hardwoods aren't available in 2-1/2" lengths. I decided to drill pilot holes in the oak. Just to make sure, I did a test hole in the scrap piece I'd cut off.
Cabinetmaking at the highest level is an art, a discipline, a philosophy–even a way of life–in addition to being a useful craft. In this book one of the greatest living cabinetmakers reflects on the deeper meanings of his craft and explains for less accomplished workers how the right attitudes toward materials, tools, and time can increase the joys of this complex activity. Craftspeople in every medium will be inspired by this account of getting started and developing habits that lessen the difficulties of a complex craft.
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Finishing is often an afterthought and spraying a finish isn’t exactly the first technique discussed when the topic does come up. While it’s often easier to wipe on a couple of coats of finish and be done with it, there are times when spraying a finish makes the most sense. There are many advantages to spraying a finish but there are some drawbacks too. Spray Finishing Made Simple does what it claims – it takes an imposing, unfamiliar topic and makes sense of it. This book is for the first-time spray finisher, as it starts with the basics and progresses through the stages. Don’t let the unknown stand in your way if you’re interested in learning about spraying. Pick up this book and get spraying.
Of course, I, on the other hand, with my Ikea oak countertop, probable went overboard in the other direction. Since I needed to trim the countertop to width,I figured I'd take off a couple of 1/2" strips to use for edging the MDF. I clamped the countertop to my bench base, and used the long cutting guide. I'd asked around for advice on cutting this large a piece of oak, and was told to try a Freud Diablo 40-tooth blade in my circular saw. I found one at my local home center, at a reasonable price, and it worked very well.
For an entertaining read (and proof that woodworkers lead interesting lives), treat yourself to Nancy Hiller’s Making Things Work: Tales from a Cabinetmaker’s Life, and George Frank’s Adventures in Wood Finishing. These two biographical books are beautifully written and offer similarly lively accounts of the adventures that come from making a living as a woodworker. As you spend time with Nancy and George, we think you’ll enjoy the stories that come with the sawdust
One quality about this bench that is definitely lacking is space – both tabletop and storage. The Olympia Tools does provide an adequate shelf, but it does not come with any drawers, nor does it offer the option of adding them later. The table top is the smallest we saw at 50” long and 2’ wide, though the width is actually better than most of the other table we reviewed. Still, a significant chunk of that width is occupied by a trough. This trough is designed to hold smaller workpieces to keep them from falling or getting knocked over, but it removes about 6” of width from the tabletop.