Build the Holtzapffel Workbench Class Part 1: Sticks

Kelly Mehler and I both live in Kentucky, but his Kentucky is far different than mine. Tonight I packed up my truck in Ft. Mitchell , a suburb of Cincinnati , and made the 100-mile trek from the city to the Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking in Berea, Ky.

Where I live, you can judge how close you are to the city’s center by how many Starbucks there are at each highway exit. As the city fell away tonight, their numbers diminished until I was confronted with soldiering on while sucking on an Excedrin or taking a chance on the coffee at Chester Fried Chicken.

By the time I reached Kelly’s school it was twilight. I unloaded my gear without incident, and as I write this blog entry the loudest noise is the crickets. And the brightest light is a toss-up between my laptop’s screen and the moon.

Tomorrow morning I start teaching a six-day class in building the Holtzapffel-style workbench I constructed last year for Woodworking Magazine. It’s a great workbench and is the one I have in my shop at home. But building eight workbenches in a week has turned out to be a logistical struggle for Kelly, who has been prepping stock for the class for too many days now.

You see, when Kelly and I decided to offer this class we really wanted to give the students a shot at actually completing the bench. Many people I’ve talked to who have taken bench-building classes have remarked that they only were able to work on the bench’s top.

So Kelly has been milling maple and gluing up blanks for legs and vise chops for days and days. When we start work tomorrow morning, we’ll have some chit-chat at first, but we’ll be gluing up the tops before lunch if all goes as planned.

The wood is waiting for them in four enormous piles on the ground floor of the shop. Each student’s top is dry-clamped and stacked on a cart. By the stairs is a large mound of leg blanks. Next to that mound is the stretchers and the vise chops. And over by the mortiser is a small army of wooden vise screws and all the other little bits of wood that will make the bench come together.

It’s going to be a week of physical exercise, but I expect the pace to be relaxed. It’s always that way when I teach at this school, and it is probably the result of the pastoral location and Kelly’s unflappable Zen-like vibe.

And the coffee helps, too.

Speaking of coffee, as I tooled through the rolling Bluegrass hills this evening I did spy one curious development on the landscape. At the Richmond exit , one exit away from Berea , they have a brand new Starbucks by the highway.

You could see it as sign of progress, or as something else.
 
- Christopher Schwarz

Read “Build the Holtzapffel Workbench Part 2: Glue”

4 thoughts on “Build the Holtzapffel Workbench Class Part 1: Sticks

  1. John Walker

    I faced the problem of having to join two, 12" wide pieces for my top. So, once I had the pieces in the right places and before I glued anything at all, I chose the two lengths that would provide the joint between the 12" wide sections. It was easier to work the jointing surfaces this way and using a piece of scrap inside the cramps I protected edges to be jointed.

    Then I glued up the two halves and thicknesed them separately. I cut biscuit slots on the marked edges and glued them using biscuits for surface alignment. The joint is good, the surface virtually plane and needing just a little truing.
    Just a thought.

  2. Chuck Beck

    It seems you can always tell how desperately fatigued a person has become by the frequency with with they refer to their vises. When I was building my french bench in June I talked about coffee, wood, and sleep. From the picture I can see you will have your fill of wood. That poor planer..

  3. Greg Jones

    Chris,

    I’ve never tried it (I’m a boring Maxwell House guy myself), but the coffee at Ground Effects coffeehouse on Chestnut Street gets rave reviews. Might be worth checking it out if you get the chance. Supposedly there is a Starbucks in the planning stage for Berea, to be located out by I-75, but that’s a year or two off. Enjoy your stay in Berea-I’m looking forward to seeing all the Pop Woodworking gang here in November.

    Greg Jones
    Berea, KY USA

  4. Michael Rogen

    Chris,
    A very descriptive scenario that you have layed out for all of us who wont be in Berea with you and Kelly this week. Haing been to Kelly’s several times I can almost close my eyes and smell the maple…

    Have a great week,

    Michael

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