Leveling The Top Of My Workbench

To start off I would like to say that it is my firm belief that nothing is perfectly flat, straight or in tune. Everything on earth seems to always be a little bit off. This includes myself from what I have been told.

That being said, hand-planing the thin stock used for dulcimer tops, backs, sides and fretboards requires a flat bench.

I bought this bench several years ago for a very reasonable price. It is made of some type of tropical hardwood and the top was made by gluing up small pieces, often with finger-joints. It has a descent quick-release vise and a usable but less than desirable tail vise

The core of the top is about 1″ thick with a thicker skirt around the edges. I have leveled it before and I know that being laminated from many small pieces makes following any sense of grain direction just about impossible. Luckily it is a bench, not fine furniture. A little tear-out will not be a problem.

First comes the hard part; clearing all the crap stuff off the bench!

The #7 plane resting on the bench will be doing the brunt of the work. All the planes on this project have back bevels to achieve a 55 degree cutting angle. This leaves a clean and smooth surface but requires more effort to push the plane.

My #8 was the first tool of choice. I recently flattened the sole  but after putting a thicker blade it in is has become untrue. Another adventure for another day.

Bench before planing with the #7 that will do most of the work

Next came taking off the vise. This was very easy.

Taking off the quick-release vise

There are no action shots of me planing with the #7 plane. You aren’t missing anything other than watching a sweaty middle-aged guy get a good physical workout. Most of the planing was done cross-grain at varying angles.

I used a #5 plane for a while to clean things up a bit and then switched to a #4 to take down the odd high spot and remove most of the marks left by the previous planes. Again, it is a bench and is already pretty dinged up so I was not going for a furniture quality finish.

Cleaning up the worst of the plane marks from the #7 with a #4

The area near the tail vise was significantly lower than the rest of the bench. I did not want to take off too much wood from the top so I chose to scribe a line showing where the low area was. This was not absolutely necessary but there are those fuzzy days when a reminder of where not to go and what not to do can come in handy!

I usually put a piece of wood between the dog in the tail vise and the stock I’m working on so this will not be a problem in practice. The stock will still be over a flat part of the bench.

A mark scribed to show the low part of the bench by the tail vise

After that came a coat of oil, some sore muscles and a feeling of satisfaction.

A fresh coat of oil and time for a break

Well, my bench will be out of commission for a good part of the day while the oil dries.  Now what do I do?

Maybe I’ll go for a walk.


I wonder as I wander

2 thoughts on “Leveling The Top Of My Workbench

  1. It kind of does! Next time around I might just replace the top with something more substantial. Makes me wonder where all those butcher-block tables from the 1970’s ended up!

Comments are closed.