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Building a Big Leaf Maple Bench

Building a Maple Bench

If you remember, back in December of 2012, I built a custom maple trestle table for a client; they loved it so much that he and his wife decided they needed a matching bench. So, this week, on my bench, I will be making a custom maple bench. Luckily, we still had two small slabs left from the same tree so that the bench would match perfectly with the grain and color patterns.

The bench will have the same Arts and Crafts style through tenons wedged with walnut, and the structure of the legs will mimic the table structure; essentially, this will be a trestle bench.

Follow the link if you want me to build you a custom Maple Bench.

Gluing up warped and twisted wood

To build the bench top, I rough cut the wood slightly larger than the finished size to give me some room to square up the material and lay the faces down. The wood for this bench is a twisted, warped mess. I’m not sure if it was dried improperly or if the tree grew on a steep slope, causing a lot of stress in the wood. Regardless of how warped and twisted it is, I need to glue the two slabs together for the top of the bench.
However, they are way too twisted to run across the joiner and end up with a square to the face and a flat edge to glue together. Instead, I will use a technique to plane the edges parallel to each other using my router; this way, they will fit tight together regardless of being square because the router will cut a corresponding angle on the adjoining face. For right now, I just skip-planned them to take some of the rough mill marks off to make it easier to slide the router across the boards. After the glue sets, I will work on taking out the twist and plan it smoothly.

After I took the above picture, I decided I better put a few more clamps on it and clamp it down to my tabletop to try to flatten it out as much as I could.

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Removing the twist from the top

Now that the glue has dried for the top, I need to take the twist out of the boards. Simply running it through the surface planner will smooth the surface but won’t take the twist out. The surface planer will just follow the twist of the board as it pulls it through. I could hand plane out the high spots and then run it through the surface planer, but that is way too much exercise. Instead, I decided to make what I call a homemade CNC machine that is programmed to do one thing: machine the bench flat.

I sorted through the big box store pile of MDF trim until I found two perfectly flat boards, each side parallel to the other. I then shimmed the maple bench top so the twist was about the same on each end and hot glued it down to my workbench. I clamped the MDF straight edges to the sides and made a plywood sled to hold the router. My router is equipped with a 3/4 inch fluted plunge bit, set to the lowest depth of the twist. I slowly worked my way down the length of the bench, milling the high spots off boards and removing the twist, resulting in one side being perfectly flat. I then flipped it over and ran it through my surface planer until the other side was flat, resulting in a bench top that was flat, square, and parallel.

I have been asked why I didn’t flatten each board separately before I glued them together. With them being separate, I would have had to remove more wood to remove the twist. When I joined them together, I clamped them in such a way that the twists in each board canceled each other out to a certain extent, reducing the amount of material I would have had to remove to get them flat.

Cutting Mortises in the Legs and Finishing Up

I cut the mortises in the legs in 3 steps. 1st, I predrilled the mortises with a Forstner bit to remove the bulk of the material. I then set up my jig and a router equipped with a pattern cutting bit and cut out most of the mortise.

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Of course, the router bit is round, so it left a rounded corner. I cut the final shape of the mortise and cleaned it up by hand with my chisel.

Next, I will cut the tenons to fit.

Cutting Arts and Crafts Style Through Tenons

The through tenons on this bench are based on the Green and Green arts and crafts style furniture. The last time I did this style of tenons, I cut the pyramid shape after I assembled the legs. This created a lot of extra work, as I had to be extra careful not to damage the surrounding leg. This time, I am cutting the shape prior to assembling to save myself that grief.
I am still cutting the final shape by hand using a combination of my block plane, chisel, and file.

Always, always test fit before gluing up.

Leg glue up: once the glue dries, I will cut and sand flush the walnut wedges.

Waiting for the glue to dry is much like watching paint dry. It’s time to take the rest of the day off.

Finished Project

Finished the bench and delivered it to the customer. It matched perfectly with the table I built him last year.

Follow the link if you want me to build you a custom Maple Bench.

I’m the owner of Benham Design Concepts, a mixed media art studio where I design and build custom furniture and other works of art using wood, glass, stone, and various metals.
In this blog, I talk about the art I create, my journey, and the things I learn along the way.