Bench Building: The Epic Journey of Acer saccharum
Like many woodworkers over the last year, I am participating in what is probably one of the largest, most concentrated workbench building efforts in modern history. Chris Schwarz, Popular Woodworking, Jameel Abraham at Benchcrafted, and Marc Spagnuolo, among others, have been the catalyst for this frenzy. To that end, I have to imagine that there has been an increased demand on 8/4 maple and massive douglass fir beams.
My friend Jeff Miller is no stranger to building workbenches. In fact, he’s designed a mini-workbench that goes on top of your existing workbench. This “Benchtop Bench” is a bit of a functional paradox, but is incredibly useful when you need to elevate your work. It inspired me to build the benchtop bench for my Benchcrafted Moxon vise. After speaking with Jeff the other day, we came to the realization that there are a variety of ways to approach a big (or small) bench build. Money, resources, materials, shop space, tools, and even looming publication deadlines drive how we approach building a workbench.
My bench build actually started in September 2008, when Hurricane Ike made it’s way through Cincinnati. It’s 75 MPH wind gusts knocked down a maple tree out in Batavia, OH that had been standing for well over 100 years. The tree sat on the ground for a month until I hooked up with a local sawyer and his Woodmizer portable sawmill. For $200 (and a case of beer for my neighbor), I became the proud owner of a 12′ long Rock Maple log that was around 25″ in diameter. I had it cut into 2.25″ thick slabs, built a drying rack and set it out to dry for the next 2 1/2 years on the side of my house.
For most of that time, I had no idea what to do with the nearly 300 bd/ft of lumber slowly drying out back. That was until the Split Top Roubo plans came out from Benchcrafted, then I knew that pile of wood on the side of my house was going to step-up my workbench surface. Because this was my first experience air drying lumber, I experienced some splitting and warping/twisting. This made it next to impossible for me to level the wood on my small 6″ Rigid Joiner. That’s when I cashed in a few favors with my buddy Frank David at Midwest Woodworking. His industrial shop and insanely large equipment easily made it through the maple and prepared it for the massive laminations that followed.
Jeff Miller will also be sharing some of his thoughts and experiences in bench building over the coming weeks on his blog, including some stark contrasts to how we had our tops leveled. Stay tuned for some interesting back and forth from our two blogs.