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Winter 2013-2014

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Master Cabinetmaker's Bench

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Master Cabinetmaker's Bench

A proven design that will last a lifetime.

By Alan Turner


I have many fine tools in my shop, but the most important one is my bench. It has a classic design, favored by cabinetmakers for generations.

I've spent a long time refining the details of this bench. I've built 15 of them over the years, simplifying and improving the design each time. At Philadelphia Furniture Workshop, where I teach, I've helped students build dozens more.

The materials are top-notch. I've used the best wood (3" thick hard maple), the best tail vise hardware (imported from Germany), and made the bench plenty big and very heavy (it's 7' long and weighs 250 lbs). The materials aren't cheap, but for a lifetime of service, they're worth every penny.

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1. Start with the base. The legs are joined to the feet with large, through mortises (see Fig. A, p. 41). Each foot is composed of two pieces, which will be glued together later on. Begin making the mortises by dadoing each half of the feet.

Click any image to view a larger version.


2. Angle a portion of each dado using the bandsaw. This creates a flared opening for the leg's tenon, which will be secured by wedges.


3. Glue together the two pieces of each foot. Insert a mock tenon, covered with clear cellophane packing tape, into the dadoes. Clamp small, taped blocks above and below the feet to align the pieces.


4. Cut tenons on the legs using a tenoning jig. Using the bandsaw, cut two slots in each tenon to receive the wedges.


5. Add stretchers across the top of the legs, then glue the feet to the legs. Drive wedges into the slots to flare the ends of the tenons. These joints will never come loose!


6. Bolt the base together. The bolts engage square nuts inside the rails.


7. The benchtop is made from 3" thick hard maple. Glue the top in two sections. Run each half of the top through the planer to even the glue joints.


8. Glue the top. Support it on straight, wooden bars. Clamp the ends to help align the two halves.


9. Rough-cut the ends of the top. Use a guided circular saw or a standard circular saw following the edge of a board. Cut from both sides.


10. To make the ends square and smooth, follow up with a router and straight bit. Use a board to guide the cut, which only goes halfway deep. Flip the top and finish the process with a long bottom-bearing bit.


11. Using a slotcutting bit with a long arbor, make a series of passes to cut a 3/4" slot in each end of the benchtop. Then make end caps to fit the slots. The end caps keep the top flat, and are attached with bolts.


12. Move on to mounting the tail vise, whose metal parts are available as a kit. The vise travels on a steel guide plate, which must be precisely located using a shop-made gauge block.


13. Glue together the top, ends and short dog block of the tail vise. Use a spacer between the ends to ensure that they're the correct distance apart.


14. Cut dadoes, angled at 2°, in the tail vise's dog block and top. Use a long wedge to create the angle. These dadoes will become holes for the bench dogs.


15. Fasten the mating part of the guide plate inside the tail vise, then mount the assembly on the bench.


16. Cut dog-hole dadoes in a long block, leaning the opposite way from the dadoes in the tail vise. Glue the block to the benchtop.


17. Complete the benchtop by gluing a face piece on top of the dog block. Glue a similar piece to the front of the tail-vise assembly.


18. Glue an additional piece below the top in order to mount the face vise. Plane the piece so it’s level with the edge of the bench.


19. Make the front of the face vise. Use a sled and shim to taper its inside surface. This 2° taper ensures that the vise will pinch at the top when it is fully tightened.


20. Install the front vise. You can use any kind of vise here–I’m using the Veritas Twin Screw. Its unique design minimizes the amount that the vise will rack from side to side.


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker June/July 2010, issue #148.

June/July 2010, issue #148

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