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How to restore an old woodworking bench

JBergey's picture

God blessed me today; I was on the way home from my 6 year old's karate class and saw a tools only yard sale and around here seeing this is a rarety!

After digging through the deceased father's 40+ years of collectible glory (and some junk too) I was about to leave with a few old bucks bros. chisels in hand but the son said "have you checked out the garage yet?" So I walked in and wasn't immediately impressed but towards the back an old filth covered woodworking bench stood up against the wall waiting for me to draw near and ask about its availability. I quickly asked if he'd let it go for say...$20 BUCKS!?! and the son couldn't say yes quick man's junk...

So now I don't have to make my own which is great because the thought of that was very intimidating... but now I have to figure out how to restore it back to strength and good functionality. I figured I'd just start sanding but I don't know what to seal/finish it with after that...does anyone have any recommendations for the restoration process from start to finish or any step in between?

For reference; this is a classic woodworking bench with shoulder and tail vices and bench dog holes along its longest side and a tool tray on the opposite side. The top came off the base easy and seemed to be attached with only a vertical dowel on each end.

I want to make this bench sturdy/secure and look good too. I plan on using it for both woodcarving and other woodworking tasks such as handplaning, handsawing, and other general work.

 Any direction and help is much appreciated.

SteveSchoene's picture

Use hand planes to smooth and (post #157596, reply #1 of 6)

Use hand planes to smooth and level the top.  That's the only surface that really needs to be clean, other than the working parts of the vises. I would probably remove the vises to get them rust free and lubricated.   You can wash the rest of the bench with TSP, andif there is oily dirt with mineral spirits. 

If you must finish the bench, I'd use a oil/varnish mix.  Film finishes aren't really a good idea on work bench surfaces.  . 

Test your finish on scrap, FIRST, or risk having to scrap your finish.

DonStephan's picture

Using dowels to align the top (post #157596, reply #2 of 6)

Using dowels to align the top with the base is common - nothing wrong with that.  Is the base strong and wiggle free?  If so, does it need any restoration.  If it was pieces screwed or nailed together, you might consider making a base with mortise and tenon joints to last.  Just my two cents.

BruceS's picture

cleaning'er up (post #157596, reply #3 of 6)

I would be prone to use a card scraper rather than one of my planes  on the initial cleaning.   Who knows what kind of nasties may be imbeded in that surface.  Then plane if needeed.

Work Safe,  Count to 10 when your done for the day !!

Bruce S. 


cherryjohn's picture

old bench (post #157596, reply #4 of 6)

Are the vises wood or metal?  Without a picture its hard to advise which way to go on this bench.  A very old bench is something to cherish as they are very rare.  Usually the workers beat them up and built another .  Ones made before the civil war are extremely rare.  If you have one of those be very carefull how you restore it and use it.  I own a couple very old benches the oldest built around 1790.  I use them but Im very carefull with them.  The finish I used on my oldest bench after sanding the top was was Waterlox.  It makes the bench look great , protects the top and makes the bench easy to refinish if I ever decide to do that.  I look at my old benches every day and appreciate them for their rarity.

Wicked Decent Woodworks

(oldest woodworking shop in NH)

Rochester NH

" If the women dont find you handsome, they should, at least, find you handy........"

bvette1's picture

hI I just picked up an old (post #157596, reply #5 of 6)

hI I just picked up an old workbench i think from the can you tell its age?  i am in the process of sanding it down

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bvette1's picture

pix (post #157596, reply #6 of 6)


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