I see a lot of workbenches. Lots of them are gorgeous. Many of them are tough. Few benches are both.
Last weekend at Woodworking in America in Pasadena, Calif., I got to use a massive Nicholson-style workbench made by Erik Mortensen, an instructor at Cerritos College. For the most part, the bench is made from the tightest-grain Douglas fir I’ve ever seen. Erik said the material was supposed to be used for some stairs he was going to build for a customer, but the customer backed out. So he built the bench.
It’s a “partner’s bench” – it has two leg vises that use wooden screws with a very clever parallel guide. Instead of a traditional parallel guide with a movable pin, Mortensen’s vises use a second wooden screw at the floor that you spin with your foot.
This isn’t new, but one detail he added is something I’ve never seen: He made the cogged plate that you spin out of brass. It’s beautiful and makes the whole mechanism more elegant. Old ones I’ve seen have a big wooden cogged plate, which has to be recessed into the leg or the chop. Erik’s did not.
There were no end vises on the bench, but he did have plenty of holdfast holes and two pop-up planing stops. Also notable: The entire bench broke down into pieces once you knocked out some wedges.
The most incredible aspect of the bench, however, was the detailing. Virtually every surface, corner, edge or end was embellished with a traditional curve, chamfer or moulding detail. Take a look at the photos below and you’ll see what I mean.
So kudos to Erik for building a world-class bench. Not only did it make it easy for me to do my demonstrations at Woodworking in America, it also was very easy on the eyes.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. If you want to see my Nicholson-style workbench, it’s in “Workbenches: From Design and Theory to Construction and Use.”