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How to Rehab a Traditional Workbench

comments (6) March 29th, 2012 in blogs

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You cant do good work on a worn-out bench, so flatten the top, tighten the base, and adjust the vises - CLICK TO ENLARGE

You can't do good work on a worn-out bench, so flatten the top, tighten the base, and adjust the vises

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by Richard L. Humphreville
excerpted from Workbenches

Even after 30 years as a cabinetmaker, I still vividly remember the painstaking effort it took to build my first professional workbench. The finished bench was a thing of beauty, and at first I was reluctant to use it, showing it off to anyone who walked into my shop. When I did start using it, the inevitable first ding made me cringe.

But damage to a workbench is impossible to avoid. After years of hard use as a platform for sawing, planing, chiseling, hammering, pounding, gluing, and finishing, any bench, no matter how elegant, will need some careful restoration.

I've revived a number of war-scarred and battle-weary benches over the years. Bench designs differ, but all benefit from a flat top, rigid base, and well-tuned vises. I'll show you how to bring back any kind of bench to the perfect working condition that befits the most important tool in your shop.

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Skip the gym, and handplance instead
Use a card scraper or cabinet scraper to remove any glue, paint, or other gunk that's built up on the top surface and edges. After the top is clean, use a pair of winding sticks to check for twist in the benchtop, marking any high spots that will need to be removed (see Fundamentals: Use Winding Sticks to Ensure Flat Stock, FWW #177). Then use a 4-ft. ruler or straightedge to see where the top has lost its flatness. Drag the ruler's edge lengthwise, across the width, and diagonally over the entire top, highlighting all the high spots with a pencil.

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Smooth the Bumps. Use a scraper to remove any dried glue or finish from the benchtop

workbench rehab
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Twist detective. A pair of winding sticks allows you to see if the benchtop is twisted

workbench rehab
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Flag the high spots. Move the edge of a 4-ft. ruler across the benchtop and use a pencil to mark the high areas.

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posted in: blogs, how to, WorkBench, tune up

Comments (6)

Eaton474 Eaton474 writes: @Marty, those are Stanley chisels (likely an older set). I found a set of the new Stanley FatMax chisels on sale quite cheap. Needing a set of "beater bench chisels", I picked them up, and have been very impressed with them. While no match for something like Lie-Nielsen, they're a very good set for the money. They take an edge quite nicely, and it holds up well too. They'll never get quite as sharp as a good O-1 chisel, as the steel isn't as finely grained, but they'll still shave hair off if well honed.

My good chisels are old Witherby chisels I picked up on Ebay and some James Swan's I've been picking up at local shops when I can find them. I'd recommend either brand, as they're forged from excellent steel and can be had for much less than L-N, especially if you're patient and don't mind a bit of hunting.
Posted: 2:33 pm on September 22nd

gjensen62 gjensen62 writes: almartin Thanks for the info. Some times I need a kick to the head. Thanks
Posted: 9:54 pm on April 24th

almartin almartin writes: Jensen, "dog" is a widely used engineering term that refers to a device that prevents motion (via clamping or blocking) or allows motion by coupling. The "dog" part is because it bites and holds on.
Posted: 4:14 pm on April 23rd

gjensen62 gjensen62 writes: On the subject of benches, dose any one know where the term bench Dog came from. Just asking Thanks
Posted: 7:39 pm on April 19th

tomsb tomsb writes: Marty, looks like they may be the Lee Valley bench chisels (with plastic handles). They get dinged in reviews because they are too thick (or not beveled enough) for fine dovetail work. But they hold an edge well. I have gotten good use from mine even though I now have some finer chisels to detail work. Still use the LV chisels for much of my bench work.

I did not go back to the photo to verify, but at least you can check out the LV set(s).
Posted: 3:56 pm on April 17th

Marty_Backe Marty_Backe writes: I happen to be in the need for some replacement utility chisels, and I like the look of the ones shown in the picture regarding the Dutchman. I couldn't read the maker from the picture.

What brand are those, and to you like them (they hold an edge)?


Posted: 9:28 pm on April 13th

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