I have kids. 3 of them. All girls. They all enjoy spending time in the shop with me and as they’ve grown, their interest in using tools and building things has taken off. I would occasionally set them up on my bench with some tools, but everything is too big for them and watching them plane wood while sitting on top of the bench and the board they’re trying to plane was just sad. So for a year or so I started thinking about what kind of bench to make them, but I couldn’t figure out what type of vise to get. Ideally it would be a seriously functional vise, but move smoothly and easily enough for a 4 year old to use. I didn’t make much progress until Handworks 2017 when Benchcrafted did a kid bench giveaway using their scaled-down vise hardware as a front vise (the hardware is normally used in their portable HiVise product). Seeing that vise was the missing link for me, so I bought the HiVise kit and started designing my kids’ bench when Handworks was over.
In the end, my design was based around the bench from Charles Hayward’s The Woodworker Vol. 4, the same design Benchcrafted used for their giveaway bench. By that I mean it’s a bench with a tool tray and lower shelf, front vise but no tail vise, and a front apron with dog-holes for supporting wood (as opposed to a sliding deadman). There’s a variety of ways to incorporate these features into a bench ranging from fast and simple to more complicated and time consuming… I’m making this for my kids and want it to be something that expresses how much they mean to me, so naturally I opted for the complicated and time consuming route. That’s not to say the extra effort is just for show, there’s a lot of logic driving most of the decisions I made so without further adieu, let’s get into it.
I designed my bench to ideally fit a ~7-8 year old and uses almost exclusively 8/4 lumber. It’s smaller than the bench made by BenchCrafted, but I think it’s a good compromise for my kids. It’s not so tall that a 4-5 year old couldn’t use it, but not so short to prevent a 10-11 year old. After that, I plan on either shimming the bench up a few inches or transition my kids over to my full-sized bench. If you’re interested in making this bench, the plans are available here for free.
I knew from the beginning that my kids’ bench would have a painted base. Our WMT travel bench (which is also my daily user) has a black base painted with milk paint and I love it. It’s also what my kids are used to, so they just expected their bench to have a painted base. Given the painted finish, I didn’t use a more expensive wood (like Maple) nor an open-grain wood (like Oak). My preferred lumber of choice for this kind of situation in Poplar. It’s readily available, inexpensive, cuts well with machines or hand tools, and looks great when painted. So with the wood selected, I got it milled square and to size so the joinery could begin. The base is assembled with drawbored mortise and tenons. I typically make the mortise first, hogging out most of the waste on the drill press and then cleaning it up with chisels. The tenons were roughed out on the band saw with the fit being tuned via a router plane until it fit the mortise perfectly.
The joints in the back of the base were a little tricky because they aren’t square, but angled. For these, it was faster to just do everything by hand. I laid out the angles and locations, cut to my lines with hand saws, and again tuned the fit with a router plane.
With all the joinery cut, the prep for drawboring can begin. If you aren’t familiar with drawboring, it’s basically just sending a wooden peg through a hole that’s drilled through the mortise walls and tenon to pin the joint together. The one trick is you don’t just drill a straight hole. First, drill the hole through the mortise, then insert the tenon and mark the hole’s center location to the tenon and remove it. Now, shift that center location toward the shoulder by a small amount (~1/16″), the exact amount can vary based on wood species and the size of the joint. Reinsert the tenon and you’ll see the hole from the mortise is offset from the hole in the tenon. Now when you pound your wooden peg through the offset holes, it tries to pull the tenon deeper into the mortise. This pulls the joint extremely tight at the shoulders and locks the peg in place, even with no glue everything would stay locked in place. Now go ahead and add glue to the mortise and tenon, assemble the joint, and pound the pegs through. Note, the pegs should be tapered at their ends so they can snake their way through the holes and if you have drawbore pins (aka, just a tapered rod) you can twist that into both ends of the hole before inserting the peg which also helps ease the path of the peg through the offset holes.
After the base is assembled, there’s a few final details before it can get painted. First, there’s a few cuts at the top of the front legs that the bench top apron will sit in and an extra block gets glued to the left leg that’s necessary for mounting the vise hardware, but I feel that’s best left until the bench top is finished. Then use the top itself to locate those cuts, otherwise you’re asking for issues. You can cut the feet flat at this point and if you haven’t done it already (which I hadn’t) you can drill the holes through the top stretchers for the bolts to pass through which will attach the top to the base. Finally, add all your chamfers or whatever edge detailing you like and you can move onto the top which is what I’ll cover next time.