Weekend Workbench

We recently had to redesign and repurpose a trestle table. In the squabble, we ended up with the old top.  A 3″ thick x32″ wide x80″ long solid white oak behemoth.  It took two full grown Mexicans to load it into my truck, but I had it earmarked for a workbench top.  “Well worth their effort” I thought.

I had some left over lumber from other projects – earmarked for the base.  Four 4″ x 4″ posts- hardwood (maple & mahogany), and some carriers – 1 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ (maple and yellow pine).

So I’ve got the materials set aside- ready to go.  What I didn’t have was enormous amounts of time.  I’m sure I’m not alone on this point – the plan wasn’t for one of those intricately designed workbenches with the dovetailed bench vises- we simply didn’t have the time.  Even though we needed to keep the design simple, we wanted a bench that would last.  We weren’t going to air nail a few 2 x 4’s together. . . .

The answer was joinery.  Simple joinery – that will work without throwing the bank at it.

The rails and posts would be lapped with a narrow notch to accept the rails. (see next photo)IMG_0896

add the side rails attached with lags


then add the front and back rails to complete the frame


the next step was to notch  a center and bottom shelf around the posts, glued and fastened.

Add a down and dirty paint job from our left over paint stash.  Fasten on the top-


You end up with a sturdy, solid workbench that will stand the test of generations. Built in a day!

Until next week – take yet another five!

The traveler

Most people travel to their work place and/or for their work.  Same goes for most of us in the trades.  We travel to our work, we travel for our work.  What sets us apart from the daily to and from work sedan driver is that we truck our work to and from work.

We get ourselves to the job site, we get our tools, as well any materials or product (such as a set of stairs) to the job site.  We manage to do this in any terrain, and any weather.  You know the any terrain part – the houses that are built on top of the tallest mountain with a nearly impossible driveway to navigate.  Even in dry summertime weather they’re tough, forget it when the snow comes.

The weather aspect again became apparent this week.  We had scheduled a pick up of materials from a job site on Tuesday.  This would work well because I could build a quick stringer template and test fit right on -site!  The weather called for a couple of inches of snow.  We could have put off the date – but the on site fork-lift was being returned Wednesday – so we went forward with the schedule.  What’s a couple inches of snow?  Childs play!

The morning went great – we got out of the shop ahead of schedule.  The sky was blue, temperature in the mid 20’s.  Weatherman – wrong again!  We got to the site, they had the materials out and ready, within the hour we were loaded tarp’d and strapped.  It took a little longer to test fit the stringer templates, but shortly after lunch we were back on the road.  The sun was now buried behind low clouds, but no sign of precipitation – clear sailing. A three hour trip and we’d be at the shop.  On our way home my wife, who was an accomplice for the trip, suggested a lunch stop.

“Well, how about McDonalds’?”  It’s reasonable, and we can get in and out, I thought.

“NO!”  was the only reply.

I didn’t take her response lightly, when you’re on the road time and expense must take top priority!  I had to put my foot down on this one!

So as we were about half way through our meal at the nearest diner, we overhead a couple mention a snow storm hitting a town up north.

Hmmmmhh?  “That’s where we’re headed!!” we looked at each other, eyes widened.

We finished our meal quickly to get back on the road.  It wasn’t far up the road and the weather turned.  The winds came along with the snow.  Both the traffic and the snow were light at first.  A minor annoyance at this point.  As we hit the interstate the snow got heavier, wetter and slippery.

We kept moving at a reasonable speed – around 45 mph.  A car here and there had spun out into the median or guardrail.  I couldn’t help wondering if they bothered to slow down as the inclement weather had hit- the roads didn’t seem that bad.

As we got off the interstate we knew the challenge lay ahead.  Two separate mountain peaks to traverse. We barely started our ascent over the first mountain and I could feel the wheels spinning.  I reached down and shifted into four wheel drive.  The roads were slippery for only an inch or two of snow.

“You didn’t have it in four wheel on the highway?!?”

“Didn’t need it”

The change in altitude became quickly apparent.  The slight dusting of salt used   was rendered useless in the gusting wind and lower temperatures at the higher altitude.  The absolute absence of any road crew didn’t help matters.  The road hits it’s steepest climb at the last peak.  Tantalizing you with potential success until the very last ascent. We were still going, but hit enough of an icy spot that the back gave to the right, like losing your footing on an icy sidewalk.  I steered into it bringing it back, until the front broke to the right.  Like most county roads, there was little shoulder – with a drop off to get to that. The truck veered sharp right, I braced for being sucked off into the ditch by way of the shoulder.  As my wife said “God reached down and tapped the truck back into the road”

We eased up and over the top.  I’m not sure if the driver behind me, who planted themselves under the bumper of my trailer, knew how thankful to be.  We crawled down the other side in low gear.  We passed an armored van that was spinning but going nowhere, up the other lane, as well a white sedan that was preceded by a revolving figure eight set of tires tracks from the other lane into the ditch on our side.  Nothing gets your attention like vehicles off the road.

As we made it to the bottom we prophesied our good fortune and looked forward to the next peak.  Bear spring is never as bad as Colchester mountain!

We weaved trough the valley with ease, the snow seemed to let off, and the road crews had gotten ahead of us.  Salt melting the roads clear.  Again, as we went up, the conditions worsened. As the effect of the salt diminished, our successful ascent came into question.  There was just enough salt on the road to get us to the top.  Not with ease, but we got there.  As we went under the blinking yellow lights warning trucks of the long steep descent ahead, my wife questioned why the auto parts truck was turning around and parking on the side of the road,

“He made it to the top, why’s he stopping now!?”  As the truck had made it’s way up from where we were now headed.

Our answer lye around the first corner.  Two vehicles, crunched together, in our lane!  I tapped my brakes and immediately sped faster down the hill.  My heart went right to the bottom of my stomach.

“augt- ohh”

My wife grabbed on to the seat with her left hand and crash bar with the right, just in case.

I let off the brake and regained control, able to steer around the cars, get around the wreck and back into our lane before the plow truck,  Just before!

We eased through town and to the shop.  Made it, with the load in tact.  We sat for a moment to catch our breath.

“Drinks on me tonight, Hon!  I’ll unload in the morning.”

Might be time to find that sedan-driving day job!



The dowel



We’ve been working on an interesting project this week – double hung windows.  While not our mainstay be any means, every so often we get a contract to build some – no matter how hard I try to talk the customer out of them.  They match the old time single pane window, but can’t match the energy efficiency of today’s modern windows.  As a project they’re a nice change of pace.  The challenge is all in the set up.  We use coping and sticking blades, along with a slip mortise and tenon on the center rails.  The set up has to be very precise  – not too tight- not too loose.

This brings me to my point of discussion.  At the bottom and top rails, we don’t rely on the cope and stick cutters, we add two dowels.


These rails can sustain a fair amount of stress – the dowel is just the ticket.   Because we don’t have a set-up for a through mortise and tenon, we can use our existing doweling jig and get virtually the same strength.

We have gone back to using dowels for our cabinet face frames, after a very brief stint with face frame screws.  Do a test- one frame using dowels, one frame using screws.  There’s no contest as to which is far superior in strength.  Of course that would be the doweled frame.

If your working on a project that needs a little extra strength, consider the dowel.


Until next week – take five.




Happy New Year

Happy new Year! We enter into a new calendar year today.  Christmas already seems like a distant memory as we forge ever forward.  Each year, in the spirit of the wisemen, we carry on the tradition of gift giving.  For another year the shopping is over and gifts have been distributed.  It’s easy to get swept into the insanity that Christmas gift giving can bring.  Fortunately, by living on a tradesman’s income, we have been able to avoid that nasty habit of spending a lot of money at Christmas (or any other time of year for that matter) .  Still each year, I trek to the stores in search of the perfect gift for everyone on my list. One year I believed I had found the perfect gift, the universal gift of love, something the kids would never suspect.  Fire extinguisher’s for everyone!  The kids were less than excited that year,  but they still talk about it.

Christmas shopping is NOT my favorite thing to do. The crowds, the spending, the immense pressure to prove your worth by finding the perfect gift.  Yet I push forward, each year taking that necessary hour to shop.  This year was no exception

As I made my way through a number of stores, I couldn’t help but take notice of how flat the ‘shopping experience’ was.  OK, I get it, I’m not a big shopper – not big on any ‘shopping experience’.  Here’s the thing – on a daily basis we are barraged with marketing.  Take perfume as an example.  One commercial depicts a highly attractive woman being lifted effortlessly into the air on long, frilly satin sheets.  It seems all your dreams can come true with merely a spritz.  WOW!  I want me some of that!  Off I ventured, to the perfume store.

I stood at the store with a blank look, aimlessly staring.  There were only shelves, stashed with a finite number of dusty bottles.  Just sitting there, stagnant, motionless.  No frilly sheets, no hot babes on satin sheets, just a huge let down.

I persisted on my quest – spraying, smelling.  I even sprayed some of the mens cologne on.  Nothing.

Next up was a trip to the golf store, surely this would bring me pure joy and success.  The commercials and ads all depict people smashing huge drives, running with attractive women and smiling – profusely.  As I got to the store – none of the above, just racks and racks of motionless, emotionless golf clubs.  Other than the color and price tag, there was no discernible difference from one club to the next.  A huge pile of mass production and disappointment!

If the greatest marketing minds in the world can’t fulfill their promises of eternal happiness – what chance do I have as a custom woodworker? We don’t have marketing campaigns, we don’t have models draped across our latest staircase. The longer I’ve been in business the less sales pitch I use.  The more I think about it, how do we sell any jobs at all?  We talk about ideas, design, function and of course- price.  Our process is a lot of work, for both the customer and builder.  It takes time, patience, vigilance.  It is not a one stop shop of happiness.

Maybe in the end – it’s the end results that counts most.  When we work with a customer and get the look they wanted.  THE look, THAT look.  Truly custom, truly unique, for a lifetime.  When a customer sees the final project for the first time and it brings a tear to their eye, you know it was effort and hard work that has true value.


As I left the mall I looked over my back, waiting for the throngs of women to run out after me.  After a few minutes an elderly lady, helped through the doors by an elderly gentleman who I assumed the husband, ambled out.

At least the sample was free.

Till next week – take another five!  It’s a new year!