I have a confession. I love workbenches. My first project as a hobbyist was a workbench and ever since, I’ve been in love with all the things a good bench can do to help you be a better woodworker.
My first bench was Tom Caspar’s Build a Workbench in a Weekend that appeared in the October 1996 issue of the excellent, but long past Woodwork magazine (all issues are available on one DVD at ShopWoodworking.com). Tom later revised the bench a bit for in article in American Woodworker (also available at ShopWoodworking.com). It was an excellent bench and for me, it was a platform that inspired a passion for woodworking that turned into a career.
I learned from that bench and after a few years, I designed and built a new bench. Workbench 2.0, I call it. Classic Norther European style with a modern twist and a few Frank Klausz details. I’ve been using it daily ever since. By the way, Bench 1.0 is still alive and in daily use in a friends shop.
My passion for this essential tool never abated and I built a website in 1999 dedicated to helping woodworkers build their own benches, workbenchdesign.net. Though the website is in need of a make over, it’s pretty popular. The site has had over 3.3 million visitors to date.
Since that time, I’ve used the bench daily. Along the way, I’ve collected dozens of new ideas for a new workbench design with the idea of building a new one some day. Though Workbench 2.0 has been a trusty tool, there’s things that I’d change and just too many benefits to Roubo and Holtzapfel style benches and modern bench hardware. We can all thank Chris Schwarz for bringing these classics to our attention.
With a new bench in mind, 8 years ago I bought a massive Copper Beech tree from a local sawyer, aged it, slabbed it, and kiln dried it with the goal of using all that hardwood for new benches. That lovely stack of wood just stares at me in my shop but I still haven’t built that bench.
My career as a furniture maker grew and consumed available time leaving little left to work on projects for myself. Certainly, being a furniture maker is a good thing but it’s really time consuming. When you’re busy building work for other people, it seems that personal projects fall by the way side. I often think about that stack of beech asking for attention.
The BARN Bench
A recent project reignited my passion for benches, once again. It started innocently enough – I volunteered to design and build a new workbench for a local community organization. The Bainbridge Island Artisan Resource Network (BARN) is a Seattle-area group who’s focus is sharing tools, facilities and knowledge among local woodworkers, jewelers, metal crafters, fiber artists and more. They’re completing an amazing new community workshop and the enthusiastic woodworkers need workbenches. So, armed with a notebook full of ideas that I’ve been dying to try out, I created a new bench. The BARN bench.
Like all interesting design projects this one came loaded with a number interesting goals and limitations. The biggest challenges are budget, time and simplicity of design for group construction. As to the bench’s practical goals, I want to make a great hand tool workbench that also excels as a platform for modern power tool woodworking. Some new ideas for making benches work better ergonomically have been included. As a final detail, my goal is to make each of the 9 BARN benches unique.
I completed the prototype a few months ago and have continued to add additional improvements. It’s time to build these benches, so I thought I’d share the process with Popular Woodworking readers in real time. Over several upcoming Popular Woodworking blog posts, I’ll introduce you to the new design and take you though the process of building the BARN benches.