Finished bench
Refurbished bench top with a new lease of life
I couldn't avoid it any longer: my workbench needed help. It had been looking the worse for wear for a while and something needed to be done. I have to admit that I hadn't been taking as much care of it as I should have, so its decline had accelerated in recent months. It was time to take remedial action.
Old bench top
Before refurbishment: needing a little TLC

Quick refurb

This type of bench is designed to be fairly straightforward to refurbish, and so less than a day's work can bring it back close to its new condition. The top is laminated from 19mm plywood, while the main work surface and the tool-well are clad with 'sacrificial' top layers of 6mm plywood. The front and end edges are finished with hardwood lipping. When it gets a bit too battered, bruised and stained, replacing these components brings the top back to an as-new state.

The stand is a simple pine framework with halving joints connected by coach bolts, so it can be dismantled if I ever need to move it. The end frames are braced with diagonal steel bars, giving excellent rigidity. There are two full-depth shelves to keep tools close to hand; planes and sharpening kit are conveniently stored on the upper shelf, and heavier and less frequently used items are on the one below.

beech plugs
1. Beech plugs give a firm fixing for the edge lippings

open vice
2. The vices are rebated into the top before fitting the lippings

Firmly-fixed lippings

The edge lipping is fi xed in position with coach bolts, recessed into counterbored holes. Since screwing into the edge of plywood doesn't give a very sound fixing, I glued turned beech plugs into 20mm holes drilled in the end grain of the laminated top, photo 1. This still involves end-grain screwing, but the beech gives a pretty solid fixture, and anyway there isn't much stress on these lippings.

The front and right-hand end lippings also form the stationary jaws for the two vices. To allow this, the stationary vice jaws need to be rebated into the front edges of the top, photo 2. The bench dog holes in the top are 19mm diameter and take either Black & Decker or Axminster dogs.

Ready-made templates

I didn't need to do any measuring for this refurbishment, since I could use the old parts as templates for drilling the holes for the coach bolts and bench-dogs, photos 3-5. I left the lipping slightly wider than the finished dimensions so that once they were screwed in place they could be planed flush with the top. The 6mm ply top is simply pinned in place, photo 6, and the pins set below the surface with a nail set.
drilling a hole using a forstner bit using a cordless drill
3. Using the old lippings as templates for drilling the new bolt holes
4. Counterboring the holes for the heads of the coach bolt
5. Again, the old top can be used as a template for the bench dog holes
finished top with dog holes
6. The pinned 6mm ply top can be easily replaced in the future

under the bench
7. Bolting bracing beams under the top prevents it sagging

Stiffening the top

In its earlier life I noticed the top sagging a bit in the middle, so I added 90mm x 40mm softwood bracing beams bolted through the benchtop to the underside of the working area, photo 7. Since I put them in, the top has stayed totally fl at. All the bolts through the top (for mounting the vices and the bracing beams) are recessed into counterbored holes which are each plugged with a hardwood cap so that they don't 'telegraph' through the thinner ply facing. The plugs aren't glued in place, so the bolts can still be accessed if necessary.

Now, after just one day of attention, the bench is ready for another decade of woodworking service.

 
finishing the top
8. A couple of coats of an oil/varnish mixture gives adequate protection

Finishing off

Applying a finish is not strictly necessary, but it does create a barrier from glue spills and splashes. I opted to wipe on two coats of oil varnish mixture, which is fast and easy to apply. Repeating this every six months or so keeps the surfaces protected and looking good.