Work Bench Surfacing
After a long winter of work shop projects and now coming to the end of a wet Spring here in Southern Ontario it's time to do a little 'spring cleaning' around the wood shop. I've been putting this off for far too long and before I start my next project, I promised myself to spend some time and fine tune the work space. My workbench being the heart of the wood shop I'll be starting there. I resurfaced it last year when we made the move from the East coast up here to Toronto but the heavy winter work schedule I just finished it's due to be flattened again.
These are the steps I take when resurfacing my work bench...it usually takes me no more than an hour or two, and last night, that included taking a break to go get an ice cream with my wife and kids.
Oiling the Vices
The first step I take is oiling my vices; I used some Norton sharpening oil I have and gave the threads a nice light coating. This small can is about 4 years old and there's still half left; I also use this product on my tools and any other oiling needs that come up around the shop. As they say: A little dab will do ya'.
Tighten and Adjust the Vices
Once the vises are oiled I'll make sure they're as level as I can get them to the bench top and tighten up all of the bolts. You'd be surprised at how these can back off over time. Small discrepancies from the vice jaws to the workbench top will be planed flush in a later step.
Checking the Top for Flat
With the vices oiled and tightened I'll go around the entire bench top with a reliable straight edge and note any cups or hollows; this is a steel straight edge from Lee Valley...a dependable edge for checking plane bottoms and the like.
A Second Opinion
After I checked the surface and noted any hollows or humps, my three year old daughter Piper gave things a quick inspection to make sure Daddy is keeping things on track. Nelson, my four year old son is just out of view...he was pre-occupied with launching some of his little cars down the basement stairs. Almost ice-cream time.
Lowering the Back Edge of the Tool Tray
Because this isn't the first time I've flattened my bench top, the work surface has become slightly lower than the back edge of the bench. If I were to go ahead and begin planing, the toe of my plane would be banging into this outside edge at every pass. To correct the problem I'll take a few full length shavings off of here to ensure this doesn't happen. Again, a straight edge to check and I'm good to go. A quick note on tool trays...when I do build another bench or if I ever purchase another, a tool tray won't be on the wish list. Although it gives somewhere to store tools while I work, I don't think I'd miss not having one. My shop is set up so my tool cabinet and side shelves are close enough to store everything I need.
I'm using my Veritas Jointing plane set for a pretty aggressive cut and will begin by planing directly across the grain on the bench top. Working my way down, overlapping each pass as I go. You can see how the center section of the bench has developed quite a cup; I figure this is mostly due to the move from the coast and then the winter and spring changes in humidity here. Being in the basement probably doesn't help alot but this is the reality of a home wood shop. I should mention that the iron in my jointing plane has a straight edge, not a cambered blade like my smoothing planes and block planes. This straight edge leaves some 'plane tracks' but at this stage I'm not too worried about them. They'll be removed when I go back over the top with my 5 1/2 which does have a cambered iron.
Second Pass and Check Again
After the first pass with the jointer I'll go back over the entire surface again taking a slightly angled cut. This system is a bit like using a scrub plane for flattening boards. I'll plane down on the diagonal and then repeat the process orienting the plane in the opposite direction. I'm careful around the vice jaws where they meet the bench top, focusing on keeping things as flat as I possibly can.
With the main surface clear I'll go back over the entire surface with my 5 1/2 bench plane. Again traveling across the grain, taking a much lighter shaving this time around. When all of the cups have been removed I'll plane along the grain over the entire length of the bench truing things up for a final finish. Another check with the straight edge and it's ready for finish. Before I proceeded with the finish it's time for ice cream.
With a belly full of ice cream and the kids getting ready for bed I'll do a quick finish and call this job done. I know most woodworkers use either an oil or oil blend for their bench tops but I actually like using paste wax for mine. My process is a light rub with the wax and once dry I'll rub down the entire surface with super fine steel wool. This probably removes most of the wax but gives the top a nice burnished feel. I've never had a problem with my bench being too slippery or difficulties while planing or work holding. 'Slick as a waxed snake on a marble floor' comes to mind. From here with the top complete I'll go around the perimeter with a block plane to clean up any torn edges or stray splinters patiently waiting on an unsuspecting finger. I'm just putting a very small bevel on things..careful not to put too much on the front edge where we want a nice sharp corner for planing. A quick process that's easy to do, my bench is ready for the next project.