NOTE: This post is the start of new content on the blog.
I needed a good workbench for my shop for a long time. My existing bench is what we call a Frankenbench. It’s been pieced together over time with leftover wood from other projects. It is the wrong size for me and limits what I can do. Making a workbench is a big project and takes a long time. Some take a year or more. I need a bench so the time has come.
The first step is to find some wood. I searched all the usual places for months without any luck. Then one day in late April an ad popped up in Facebook. Someone was selling old barn beams from a very old Wisconsin barn. The ad said they were good for fireplace mantles. I thought they might be a good choice for the top. I contacted the seller and went to see them.
My reaction was probably very obvious to the seller the moment I saw them. There was a lot of wood and it looked to be in good shape. There was more than I expected and maybe enough for the whole bench. I told him I would take it all. He was surprised and taken aback a bit. Cash changed hands and he helped get them into the car. He even threw in a few extras at no charge. I was excited.
A few days later I had a chance to start working on them. I set up my heavy duty saw horses outside on a nice day. I put a promising beam on them and pushed it up to the firewood rack.
I got my 110-year-old Stanley No. 5 out and switched to the scrub iron. That’s the iron on the right. It’s for quickly removing lots of wood.
At this point I was still assuming the wood was pine. It was not a great choice for a bench but the beams were a good size. They were a full 6" by 6" and about 6 feet long. It’s hard to find wood that big that is not very wet. These beams are very old and are as dry as they will ever be.
I got to work scrubbing the beams. That’s what we call removing the rough surface.
As the old surface of the wood started disappearing the real nature of the wood was revealed. This wasn’t pine. It was old-growth Douglas-Fir. The trees this wood came from were probably standing when the European settlers arrived. The grain was straight and clear. It had very tight growth rings. Now I was beyond excited.
Once I had one beam scrubbed I used a plane to flatten the beam. This showed the true quality of this wood. This photo shows just how tight the grain is. Some sections have over 60 rings-per-inch. That kind of wood does not exist at this point in history. Modern Douglas-Fir is grown for construction and is pushed to grow as fast as possible. That results in wood that has more like 4 or 5 rings-per-inch. That’s quite different from this old-growth incredible wood.
The wood for my new bench has turned out to be a fantastic find. It has a history and quality that can’t be found in modern woods. This is epic and I am excited and humbled. I have enough wood for the bench but there isn’t any extra. I have to get things right the first time, there are no second chances.
I’m determined to treat this wood with great respect and make something special.