Intro: Beginning Woodworking: Making a Bench Bull - a Basic Miniature Multipurpose Workbench
So, I wanted to get into woodworking. Few problems - I don't have access to a workshop and live in a small house with my wife and kid. A bigger place or a dedicated workspace would be nice but it's not gonna happen anytime soon! Also, power tools are out because of the noise and dust issue. So, starting from scratch with no tools or work space...
First step, get some basic hand tools - a plane, chisels, saw, some clamps. Done. Next step, a workbench!
I love looking at the amazing workbenches people have made and posted on the various forums and it can definitely be done on a budget. Unfortunately, even if I could build one, I don't have anywhere to put a full size bench. Instead, I found a great option for people with limited space - the baby portable workbench designed by Yoav Liberman. I'd love to make one of these, but there's a chicken/egg problem - It requires skills I don't possess yet! I needed to start with something even simpler...
Enter the "Bench Bull", also originally designed by Yoav Liberman. This is a very simple woodworking jig which clamps to the top of a table or worktop and gives a rock solid (if petite) work surface.
Step 1: Tools, Materials and Construction
I took a look at some of the designs out there and came up with a version I could build using off the shelf dimensional lumber from my local builder's providers and hand tools only. My final design is in the pdf file along with detailed measurements.
What you will need:
Marking tools - gauge, square and pencil
Plane (I used a Stanley no 4)
Clamps or weights
19mm drill bit to bore out the dog holes
Wood - 2 meters of 150mm x 75mm unsmoothed wood. Try and get a bit without too many knotholes etc
You can of course use power tools for any or all of this but if you can do that you probably don't need to make one of these in the first place!
I went with 150mm x 75mm rough dimensional pine as the best available size off the shelf while also being very cheap to buy (I got enough for two complete benchbulls and a bit left over). This gave me a decent sized work surface with space for seven dogholes along the top.
First step was to cut the pieces - six altogether: 2 x 600mm 3 x 100mm 1 x 400mm There's lots of good advice out there on how to make straight and square cuts with handtools so I won't repeat it here. I made my cuts to give me the best possible visible surfaces - avoid knotholes etc. The only really critical surface is the side of one of the 600mm lengths that will form the worktop - that should get the best surface. I made the worst side the underside of the bottom 600mm length as it will be flat on the ground and not seem most of the time.
Flattening and smoothing
After cutting Second step was to flatten and smooth the pieces off. I could have done this before cutting them but cutting releases stresses in the wood and exposes the ends which can cause it to shift and twist. Even if I had flattened them, there was a good chance I would have had to do them again after cutting. As it was, they cupped a bit from drying but fortunately didn't acquire any twist. Enter the No4 handplane. Cupped timber looks like a letter U with a hump down the middle on one side and raised sides on the other. To flatten it I started on the "hump" side and planed the surface flat by taking down the middle. Once that was done, I flipped it over onto the other side and took down the edges flush with the centre and parallel with the other side. With the plane sharpened and finely set, I also smoothed off all the surfaces while being careful to keep everything flat and level.
I could have waited until it was all glued together before drilling the dog holes but I wanted to do it before assembly in case I messed up and had to redo the top piece! If you have access to a drill press and forstner bit this will take you about 30 seconds. I don't, so I used an old brace, a 19mm boring bit and a homemade jig to keep it at 90° to the worktop surface. Measurements were made based on the design and marked on with a steel ruler and pencil
Step 2: Glue Up and Finishing Touches
After that, it was just a case of gluing it together. I used clamps, and really took my time, doing it over four evenings and letting the glue dry overnight to make sure I kept the edges straight and parallel to each other.
Last optional touches were gluing a strip of rubber grip material to the bottom to help stop it sliding when clamped to a smooth surface. I also installed a countersunk brass screw to act as a stop when planing thin pieces of wood. I then gave it a quick coat of wax to finish off.
Step 3: Using the Benchbull
And that's it! I upgraded my clamps from the quick release type to some budget F clamps to hold it securely to the table and splashed out on a set of Veritas dogs and a wonderpup on the basis that I'll be able to reuse them on my full sized bench one day!
So far I have used my bench bull for planing, dovetailing, surface holding and chopping mortices (the latter when I have the house to myself of course, it's still pretty noisy!). My first project with it was buiding a proper toolbox based on a Paul Sellers design to keep all my tools together instead of scattered around the room. The making of that will probably be my next instructable. I also have plans to upgrade my bull with a homemade budget version of the benchcrafted moxon vise, just waiting for the lead screws in the post.
Hope this has been of use to someone out there and good luck with all your works!