Saturday 21 September 2013

Cabinetmaker's Work Bench

My wife and I are just back from a six week vacation in Newfoundland Canada, catching up with family and friends, beautiful hikes and paddling my old cedar canvas canoe. A wild and beautiful place like Newfoundland was a great place to recharge our batteries.

Before the trip my last project was a Cabinetmaker’s Workbench. A friend of mine, who is new to woodworking has a small out building on his property that he wanted to use as a hand tool workshop. Since he approached me with this idea less than a year ago his enthusiasm has been impressive. He has all of my favourite woodworking books devoured and has already amassed a pretty nice hand tool collection. Of course he needed his first workbench. He wanted a relatively small bench that fit the blueprint of his workshop. We used Tasmanian Oak and kept the thickness to a minimum to lower the cost. The construction method is basic but solid. For hand planing a good tail vice is a must. The problem with most tail vices is that when you open them they stick out from the end of the bench. A wagon vice solves this problem however you have to live with a large opening in the bench top. For this bench we decided to try a tail vice made by H.N.T. Gordon& Co. Classic Plane Makers (

At first glance this tail vice seems very basic. Then when you take a closer look, you realise that this vice is the product of great thinking and expert design. Properly installing the vice takes a bit of work but here is how it goes. The vice needs to be recessed into the bench top so you first need to make an accurate routering jig.

The recess needs to be 42mm deep so I recommend at least 5 passes with a sharp router bit to achieve a clean and accurate recess.

Notice how the internal threads are completely sealed. This is what makes the vice so effective.

The next step is to make a jig to router the recess for a wooden cover plate. This jig looks the same as the first but is 10mm larger at the front and sides. The router is set at 7mm deep. I then refine with my shoulder plane.

Then you make the wooden cover plate. Mill the plate to 7.5 or 8mm thick, dress one edge, then run through the table saw so it is close to a tight fit. Then I dress the other edge with my 1” low-slung smoother until the fit is perfect.

Next, run the slot for the brass dog. Again I recommend several passes to get the router bit through.

Now plane the plate flush with the bench top.

A finely tuned hand plane is the tool for this job. The plate is flush, polished and the sealer coat of tung oil on the bench top is hardly disturbed. Here is the tail vice fully installed. Do not be tempted to glue the plate in place. Removable means repairable and you may need to clean things out every now and then.

The front vice is very basic. Lining with leather is a tip that I picked up from my friend Duncan Robertson from the School of Quiet Woodworking (

When fully installed, the vice works beautifully. It comes with a drawing and instructions. Sorry I was a little brief with some of the steps and some people may choose to approach this install differently. Here is a picture of the bench in its new home, with my friend Austin’s first project, a Christopher Schwarz inspired sawhorse.