Chris Schwarz's Blog

French Workbench Class – Day 6

It is unwise to rush when installing vises on a workbench. So I stopped whipping the maggots students during the last two days of the class and encouraged them to work at their own pace. Some slowed down, but some stayed at the fevered pitch established in the first four days of the class.

In the end, I think everyone got at least one vise installed. Several students got everything done but the final cleanup. And I demonstrated how to do the final flattening with a jointer plane. (I hope one student will be sending us a cool photo of a method that has never been shown before.)

Then everyone loaded up their benches, packed up their tools and headed out. The class wrapped up at 4:30 p.m. I was home at 6:15, and my wife, Lucy, had bought me a growler of Existential ale (which is why I didn’t post this last night – you should not drink and edit video) and Dewey’s pizza.

I am a lucky man.

I’d like to take this opportunity to address some of the comments that have appeared on the earlier posts this week.

Gloves: I have no strong opinion on wearing gloves while machining rough timbers. Kelly Mehler does it, and he’s Mr. Safety. I think the right gloves – very tight-fitting ones – could be OK and do help your grip and protect you from splinters. And if you always keep your hands 6” from a spinning cutterhead, you’re going to be OK. I’ve tried gloves, and I don’t think they deaden your sensitivity – that’s just bunk. You can feel all the vibrations just fine.

On using power tools to build a bench that’s suited for handwork: I choose the best tool for the job. We were starting with rough timbers, and if we had processed the stock by hand, we’d still be assembling workbenches down in Berea. I am unapologetic about my approach. I like machines for the grunt work and hand tools for the details.

On the choice of timber: A few people have given me grief about using No. 2 yellow pine for this project. Again, I offer no apologies. Yellow pine is a fantastic wood for benches. I’ve forgotten what the material fee was for the students, but it was laughably cheap. And yes, there are some knots, just like on the old benches. I think knots make the thing look bada#%.

Thanks to all the students in the class. It’s rare to have a class without one professional wiener. And thanks to Kelly Mehler and Ben at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking. Without their assistance with the machines, we probably wouldn’t have gotten the benches assembled by Wednesday.

— Christopher Schwarz, who is ready for a nap

Read the other stories in this series:
French Workbench – Monday
• French Workbench – Tuesday
• French Workbench – Wednesday
• French Workbench – Thursday
• French Workbench – Friday

10 thoughts on “French Workbench Class – Day 6

  1. AnthonyT

    Chris,
    How important is it to have clear pine for bench tops and legs? Up until this past week, it seemed like you always found perfect boards. Now however, it looks like knots and other defects are acceptable.

    Thanks,
    Anthony

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      Anthony,

      I have lots of knots in all my benches. You just have to know where to look. Like I mentioned before, old benches were not always made with the best wood. Some were. Some weren’t. Same goes with planes and other wooden tools. During the class, we were as selective as possible with the wood at hand. What looked best? What was most stable? How would it affect joinery?

      Almost any wood is acceptable for building a bench.

  2. Trent

    I have enjoyed seeing the daily progress, it has given me a shot of reality about how long it is going to take to make my own bench (that’s a good thing). I do have one question that has been plaguing me and that has to do with the pith. In your book you mention to avoid it due to the serious threat of checking. How did you address it with these benches? My bench will be of similar construction. Thanks. Trent

    1. Justin Tyson

      If you’ll notice the pictures, there are piths and checks aplenty in the timbers in these benches. Reminds me of something my 8th grade English teacher (who also happened to be my mother) said: ‘When you know the rules, you can follow them. When you understand the rules, you can break them.’ She was referring to grammar, and the irony that many of her favorite writers freely broke “the rules”, but I think it applies here nicely. If the check is not a structural defect, you can leave it be. If it is, you can stabilize it with epoxy.

  3. romanstankus

    Hi Chris,

    Would you mind sharing some more info on the pine you were using. What was the moisture content of the pieces at the surface and core? Did any of the pine used include the pith as is typical in larger size pine timbers – or were they cut for your use to exclude the pith? Nice project and very fun to watch your short videos!

    Roman

  4. Niels

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for the real-time play-by-play. I feel like a proper bench is going the first project (on the bench) after my impending shop move. It’s something I have been putting off for far too long, but seeing the speed of the builds is really encouraging. I sure as hell plan on prepping the timbers by machine (elsewhere) and using them whenever possible so I get back to the business of making the actual work asap.
    Cheers,
    Niels

  5. Jay Pettitt

    What I’d worry about, with gloves, is a stray, dangling thread getting round around one of those spinning things. Doesn’t bare thinking about.

    http://youtu.be/Jy2YhxXn7NY

    Great series of vids though, looks like a fantastic week. Folk spend too much time making things in solitary confinement – makes a chap grumpy.

  6. Al Navas

    Thanks for sharing the journey, Chris! I am not sure why people *feel* you must use only hand tools. But I like the unapologetic attitude a LOT!

    Al
    The blended approach to woodworking,
    with power tools and hand tools

COMMENT