I don’t know if it’s my upbringing or some sort of deep-South formality that was transmitted to me via a Sonic cherry lime-aid, but I always wear a collard shirt when I work or travel.
Actually, it probably was my upbringing. Legend has it that my grandmother never wore a pair of pants a day in her life , only skirts.
So I was a little uncomfortable stripping down to a T-shirt today to demonstrate how to flatten a benchtop. But it was so flipping hot and humid on Kelly Mehler’s front lawn that I was willing to shave myself bald to get cool if need be.
Despite my discomfort, I was really pleased to be giving this demonstration on a Friday afternoon. All of the students have assembled their Holtzapffel-style workbenches and have fit their end vises. Tomorrow we just have to install the twin-screw vises , and we have most of that work done already.
So when the eight students roll out of here tomorrow, they’ll each have a functioning workbench , including one workbench that is already certifiably dead flat, thanks to the planing demonstration today.
What is cool about this class is that each of these benches is different. The Holtzapffel design is flexible enough to accommodate a wide variety of vises, from old ones salvaged from other benches, to a Lie-Nielsen face vise used in the end-vise position. All of these benches are slightly different heights and lengths and widths to meet the needs of its maker.
And all of them look fantastic. We had seven of them on the lawn today, all of them turtle-backed on sawhorses as the students merrily installed their end vises in a notch cut into the top with just a handful of chisel chops (thanks to the Makita circular saw jig I brought along).
Despite the large-scale joinery, the recalcitrant maple, the unusual fastening techniques (bolts and drawboring) all of the students turned out benches that will easily last hundreds of years.
In fact, we joked about this a little bit before lunch. As we were hammering home some drawbore pegs, I noted that those pegs would be tight for several generations. One of the students remarked that after he died his bench would probably end up in somebody’s high-end kitchen, or a plant stand in someone’s nursery or in an antique mall to hold a wide variety of ugly items for sale.
And that might be true, but if we build enough pieces of fantastic furniture on our benches, then someone will keep them safe for us. I guard a bench myself. My grandfather’s bench is where I spent my summers with him, building nice things for his house (bookshelves with split-bamboo turnings) and junky stuff for me (a ring made from a silver quarter, stands for my model ships).
Handmade benches are one of the most personal pieces of your work that you can pass down. They are not only an expression of what you think is quality workmanship, but their passing to another is the passing of an obligation. Will your progeny use it to show off their wisterias? Or their workmanship?
I wonder about these eight benches and what the next 100 years holds for them. Of course, I’m also still sweating on my keyboard hours after that planing demonstration, so I’m also wondering if I should take off my T-shirt and drink a beer (also a result of my deep-South upbringing).
Larry the Alaskan finds that his end vise actually fits its notch. Yee-haw.
Suzanne from Cincinnati tunes up her benchtop to accept her end vise. The Festool box is for a jigsaw we used to waste away some of the material to fit the vises.