Jameel Abraham: Benchcrafted Tools

This Iowa-born toolmaker, woodworker and luthier strives for perfection.

By Steve Shanesy
Pages 46-52

Family has clearly played an important role in the development of Iowa-born woodworker and toolmaker Jameel Abraham. In 2006, Jameel, along with his brother, Father John Abraham (an Orthodox priest), and their father founded Benchcrafted – makers of a handful of high-quality, primarily workbench-related products including leg and tail vises and a Moxon-style benchtop vise.

But family influences run much deeper than the relatively recent origins of Benchcrafted. Jameel traces his woodworking interests to both of his grandfathers, who he describes as “serious hobbyists.” He fondly remembers spending time in the shop with both, and watching many an episode of Norm Abram’s “The New Yankee Workshop” and Roy Underhill’s “The Woodwright’s Shop” with his maternal grandfather. Who knows – this may partially account for Jameel’s mastery of both hand and power tools.

There is also a strong tradition of operating a family business. His father started a beeswax candle making business that Fr. John continues to oversee while also helping out with the Benchcrafted business. And until Benchcrafted began to consume all his time, Jameel worked in that business, too. Family influences and obligations aside, the accomplishments of this 38-year-old craftsman are keenly driven by a native sense of engineering and a self-imposed drive for excellence.

Early Woodworking Start
A few years after high school, in the mid-1990s, Jameel began taking woodworking seriously, spending more time in his modestly equipped shop. As his interest deepened he often visited the library to study period furniture. In those early days, he worked with a contractor-style table saw and jointed his lumber with a Stanley No. 7 because, he said, he couldn’t afford a powered jointer. Thus he discovered the wonders of sharpening – a revelation from which he never looked back.

His father took note of his son’s growing woodworking interest and introduced Jameel to a local cabinetmaker friend who had studied with James Krenov and who was also strongly influenced by Japanese woodworking. This was Jameel’s introduction to fine woodworking, including hand-cut dovetails. Prior to that, “I was only learning from my own mistakes,” Jameel said.

While working full time in the family candle business, Jameel continued to develop his woodworking skills and became interested in luthiery. And in his mid-20s, he began making a Middle Eastern stringed instrument called an oud, which is related to the European lute (see “Woodworking on the Edge” page 48). He also unknowingly sowed the seeds for the Benchcrafted business when for his own use he developed a magentized tool holder to organize and protect edge tools and plane blades.

You may know it by its commercial name: the “Mag-Blok.” Mag-Bloks are narrow lengths of wood embedded with powerful rare earth magnets; they can be hung on a wall or cabinet, and the all-wood surface protects sharp edges from damage – a major improvement over other commercially made tool- and kitchen-knife holders made from magnets and steel.

 

Web site: Check out the Benchcrafted site and blog. You’ll also find a link there to Jameel Abraham’s extensive blog about the oud.
Article: Go online to read our review of Benchcrafted’s Glide Leg Vise.
Video: See the oud being played and discover the beautiful sound of this ancient instrument.
Video: See a clip of the new Benchcrafted Crisscross vise mechanism in action.
To Buy: Popular Woodworking Magazine April 2011 (#189) with Jameel’s article ”Precision Inlay, Simple Tools.”
In Our Store: Find books and videos by Christopher Schwarz on bench design and construction.

From the November 2012 issue #200
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