Jig Journal: Bench Hook

 

Advance on two fronts. When you mark your cut line on the face of your work, wrap it around the board’s edge as well. Then saw by advancing on two lines whenever you can. This greatly improves accuracy.

Advance on two fronts. When you mark your cut line on the face of your work, wrap it around the board’s edge as well. Then saw by advancing on two lines whenever you can. This greatly improves accuracy.

Get hooked. Bench hooks make your handsawing safer and more accurate. After working with one for a couple weeks, you will wonder how you ever got by without it.

Owning a backsaw without owning a bench hook is like riding a bicycle without handlebars. This simple hand-tool appliance (three sticks of wood) uses the force of the tool and gravity to hold your work as you saw. And it helps guide your tool so your cuts are right on the line.

It also allows you to make cuts with ease that are terrifying (or should be terrifying) on a power saw. A bench hook also can serve as a shooting board for trimming the face grain and end grain of small pieces of work with the help of a handplane. Plus, building one takes minutes, not hours.

Now I wish I could tell you that I’ve cooked up a new design of bench hook that trumps traditional designs. I haven’t. In fact, I think that’s an unlikely thing to accomplish.

The only “improvement” that we moderns can offer is to make it with power equipment, which improves the long-term reliability of the bench hook. Here’s what I mean:

Shoot ends. Flip your bench hook over to use it as a small shooting board. A heavy plane with a sharp iron makes this easy. A block plane with a dull iron makes it almost impossible.

Shoot ends. Flip your bench hook over to use it as a small shooting board. A heavy plane with a sharp iron makes this easy. A block plane with a dull iron makes it almost impossible.

All bench hooks have three parts: The bed, which is the flat part where you put the work; the fence, which is what you push the work against; and the hook, which lips over the front edge of your benchtop.

Early bench hooks were made from one piece of wood. The bed, fence and hook were all sawn from a single piece of thick stock. Later bench hooks were made from three pieces of wood, but the grain of the fence and the hook were at 90° to that of the bed, so your bench hook could self-destruct (thank you seasonal expansion and contraction) before the appliance got completely chewed up by your saw.

With the help of accurate, modern table saws, it’s easy to make bench hooks so that the grain direction in all three pieces is aligned. And that’s exactly what you should do. (Or even make it out of plywood.)

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