Tips for a newbie who needs to flatten a bench top?

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  • #11344
    nwertman
    Participant

    I’m just putting the finishing touches on my wagon vice before I attach my bench top.

    My bench top is really in pretty terrible shape.  I got in over my head with some really squirrelly pine and I decided to power through with not enough experience or capacity to glue up something this large.  The top should last a few years (I’m actually pretty proud of the base).

    Would anyone have any recommendations for planing a bench top flat after a pretty bad glue up?  How bad you ask?  Take your worst glue up and make it about 15% worse…  I’ll post pictures once it is ‘officially’ attached to the base.

    Here is the plan I currently have (note, there are knots and wonky grain in play here, so even the best I can do would still be imperfect at best):

    • Take a smoothing plane to bring down the high pieces down to the same height as the surrounding boards.  This should prevent tear out and help preserve my edge.  I’m just looking for something with no sharp ridges.  (The ridges are primarily between the glue ups of the 4-6” wide sections and the worst I can find is ~1/8”)
    • Take my 5 1/2 Jack across the grain of the table end to end until I get to the point where every inch of the top has been touched with this plane (probably drawing some scribbles on the top to make sure I hit it all).  Then maybe at a diagonal for a pass or two at a finer setting.
    • Use winding sticks/straight edges to ‘fine tune’ the top so it is flat.
    • Use the 5 1/2 again ‘with’ the grain as a jointer to remove marks and smooth the bench top

    Questions:

    • Does this approach seem to make sense to those who are more experienced than I am?
    • I only have a #4 and a #5 1/2.  How much camber should I put in the #5 1/2 blade so that I can use it to roughly shape the bench top as well as as a final jointer?
    • How flat does a bench top really need to be?  I’ve been arguing myself in circles about this for several days now.  I’d love to know what your tolerances are.  This isn’t going to be a piece of furniture, but I want to be able to produce good quality work on it.

    Any suggestions you guys can make would be appreciated.  I’ve certainly enjoyed the build and I look forward to using the bench.  I can’t tell you how many lessons I learned the hard way and how many lessons Paul has prevented me from having to learn the hard way.

     

    Nathan Wertman (Grand Junction, CO, USA, 81507)

    “But ‘it will do’ is a very bad maxim, especially for a person learning a business; the right principle is to ask oneself, ‘is it as good as it can be made?’ or, at least, ‘is it as good as I can make it?’” - The Joiner and Cabinet Maker

    #11355
    Scott
    Participant

    Easiest thing to do is to flatten the top on a really wide jointer. 😉

    This post from Robert Rozaieski sums it up the hand plane process pretty well.

    I only flattened my bench once, so I am no expert. Ignoring my shortcoming, I would try to borrow a longer plane like a No. 7 or No.8. Longer the better. With a shorter plane, you will probably have to diligently mark out the high spots with a pencil and a trustworthy straightedge. Winding sticks (shopmade, or even a pair of 3′ x 1″ x 1/8″ aluminum angle like mine from the box store) are essential to detect twist.

    Sharpening the iron when needed and using paraffin or oil on the sole will make things go much easier.

    Also, here is a short article by Jeff Miller.

     

    -Scott Los Angeles

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