The workbench is one of the most important tools in the workshop, particularly if you do a lot of work with hand tools. A stable and flat reference surface is required for planing and assembly operations. I have two workbenches in the shop, one a smaller Sjoberg workbench which I mainly use for carving and inlay work, and for some assembly operations. My primary workbench is a large Diefenbach “Ultimate American” workbench. It is on this bench, situated in front of two windows, that I do most of my work. Like any tool, a workbench requires care and periodic maintenance. Most of the time this means running a hand scraper over the surface to remove any glue drips and to keep the surface smooth so that it doesn’t impart any marks to a piece of wood being worked on the bench. For quite a while after getting the bench I didn’t want to get any marks on it and treated it more like a piece of furniture – but it is a tool, and tools get used.
Now, as I prepare to do some pretty serious planing on the bench as part of the Townsend Document Chest(s) project, I want to be sure the bench is in good shape, with a flat and true surface. A quick check with a good straight edge and some winding sticks showed me that it was due for some more serious maintenance than just scraping the surface. There were a couple of dips in the surface that needed to be addressed, and this would be accomplished by resurfacing with a hand plane.
A number 7 plane, followed up with some clean up with a number 4 smooth plane put the bench in good order after a couple of hours. This first picture shows the surface as I started planing…the darker areas are the unplaned surface and represent the “low areas”. When the plane is taking a light shaving from the entire surface, and a test with winding sticks shows there to be no twist, we will be good to go.
This is work that requires a bit of patience, checking for wind frequently and marking the surface with a pencil to gauge progress. as you can see from this picture, the majority of the workbench top was planed down to achieve a true and flat surface. Perhaps only 1/64″ at most, but the resulting surface is flat and true. You can still see one small area in the photo that was not planed, but this is only off by a cople of thousand’s of an inch and the top is certainly flat enough to proceed. In this picture, you can see the use of the winding sticks to check for twist. These sticks, made from qurtersawn oak, are jointed perfectly flat and parallel. The far stick in the picture has a dark stripe painted on the top edge. By placing the two sticks on the surface and standing back and sighting over the two top edges, and “wind” or twist in the surface is readily apparent.
Now a couple of light coats of mineral oil will be applied and rubbed out and we are once again ready for work.