Yesterday we started looking at the construction of the base of my bench. Today we're going to take a look at what I did for the top.
The top is constructed from a sheet of voidless 3/4" birch plywood. My bench top is 24 inches wide and overhangs the legs and stringers by 2 or 3 inches on each side. I cut the sheet to a 5' length and then ripped the sheet to 24 inches wide. I then took the remaining 5' long piece, now less than 24" wide and ripped it in 2 equal pieces I then laminated these sections to the bottom of the 24" wide piece even with the long edges and the ends while forming a gap in the middle. This gives the top a 1.5" thickness for bench dogs and the like. The bench top is then screwed to the inside stringers with 1/4" lag bolts recessed into the top. The top is positioned flush with the ends of the long stringers on the right side.
I chose the birch ply for several reasons. One, it was easy to make a flat top this wide. Also I felt the alternating grain direction of the plys would provide stability and resist bench dogs and hooks well. It was pretty inexpensive. All in all the above hold true and I really have no complaints about this as a top surface to my bench.
Vise and dog holes:
So here's a look at my bench top and end vise. As you can see I've put the dog holes in the vise jaw on the same center line as the vise screw and a twin row of screw holes up the bench. I like this arrangement for the way I work. One thing I wish is that the dog holes were closer to the edge of the bench on the front side. If I were rebuilding this bench I'd make the top narrower and have the edges of the bench even with the top outside stringers. I've been contemplating modifying my bench in this way for a while. I'd suggest you make it this way from the start.
I decided to make the vises for my bench for a couple of reasons. One, vises are expensive. Two I liked the vintage appeal of wood screw vises. These are made out of hard maple with maple screws. There aren't any garters so you have to pull the jaw back by hand. I cut the screws on to the dowels and secured the dowels into the handle section with a cross pin dowel. The handles are fixed. I think this is the only thing I would change about my design. I'd like the convenience of sliding handles but they aren't very long so you can usually turn them enough to get them out of the way of the bench top. Since these pictures were taken I've added some leather on the face of the moving jaw to improve the grip. The wood screws provide more than enough holding power.
I would say to do whatever you like with the vises. With creativity you should be able to adapt a variety of vises to this bench whether they are manufactured or homemade.
Another quick note, for the first year or two I've had to tighten up the carriage bolts with seasonal changes. They seem to be good now.
So there you have it, a bench you can build with easy to obtain material, is solid and heavy enough to resist planing forces, is easy to disassemble if necessary, and takes little time to construct. It holds my work, the dog holes work well with either bench dogs or the Gramercy Tools bench hooks. I'll probably build another bench at some point but this one has been working for me for the past few years and I expect it to go quite a few more.
Go build a bench and get working. :-)