Chris Schwarz's Blog

Interesting Workbench at the Ta’ Kola Windmill

Finding a French-style workbench with a twin-screw vise is somewhat uncommon. And so what furniture maker Nick Webb stumbled upon on the Mediterranean island of Gozo is even more unusual.

The bench is in the carpenter’s shop of the Ta’ Kola Windmill, an 18th-century structure on the island. The bones of the bench are fairly typical for an Old World workbench. But the face vise is the real show stealer. It is, in essence, a leg vise that has been rotated 90°. The vise’s parallel guide is a piece of iron or steel that is strapped to the benchtop and pierces the chop of the face vise.

With a vise like this, the pin goes on the outside of the chop to make the chop pivot and grab your work. That’s because the parallel guide is fixed to the benchtop and front leg instead of the chop. It is simply backward from the arrangement of a traditional leg vise.

Other interesting details of the bench:

1. It clearly had a wooden planing stop common on old benches, though I can’t see if it’s still in its hole and if it has an iron bench hook in it or not.

2. The top is made up of two pieces of timber and it looks like there is some piece of iron strapping across the seam. I wonder if this is a later addition to the benchtop or is original.

3. The bench’s base is secured with bolts. This is feature typical of 19th-century benches and later, though I wouldn’t use this detail to definitively date the bench.

4. The cabinet on the right side of the bench is something I see fairly often on these old workbenches, both in Europe and in French Canadian workbenches. If you don’t have an end vise that would interfere with the cabinet, it’s a generally swell idea.

The small decorative details on this bench are nice – not overwhelming. I like the full bead on the end of the metal parallel guide. The vise’s chop has a nice cove on one end. And the front left leg has an hourglass shape – at least that’s what I think I’m seeing.

Thanks to Nick for photographing this bench and sharing it with with us.

— Christopher Schwarz

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13 thoughts on “Interesting Workbench at the Ta’ Kola Windmill

  1. brianwmartin

    The work is clamped to the left of the guide, I believe. Given where the screw is, a tremendous mechanical advantage is achieved much more than a traditional leg vise. What was the bench used for?

    Brian

    1. Nick Webb

      The workshop is a combined wood shop and smithy. The miller maintained (and possibly built at least parts of) the mill himself. He also acted and blacksmith to the village, shoeing horses amongst other things. I suspect thaat the bench was used for everything.

      1. brianwmartin

        Hi Nick,

        That vise and its’ ability to really clamp things down then makes sense. I suspect a lot of pounding of materials locked in that vise occurred.

        A rough, tough, functional and beautiful bench, totally suited to its needs.

        Could you email me the pictures. I’d love to look at them more closely. I am building a bench right now and am procrastinating on vises.

        Thanks, and all the best
        Brian
        brianmartin@primus.ca

      2. brianwmartin

        Nick,

        Thanks for the photos. Clearly from the length of the guide, this vise was meant to clamp some large objects, hence the need for the additional leverage afforded by the distance from the screw to the guide.

        Brian

    2. Nick Webb

      Brian,

      I don’t think the vice can be used that way. To do so would require the screw to be used in the outward direction to apply pressure and I don’t think it is attached to the chop in the right way to do this.

  2. Niels

    Interesting bench/vise. It’s so cool to see the infinite variations configuration of common bench appliances. It would make me nervous to have all that exposed iron near so close to the business end of sharp tools. I wonder what the function of the iron strap that comes up over the benchtop (a repair?).

  3. sablebadger

    Still plenty of clamping room, even with the cabinet.

    That face vise is pretty wacky though, but I’ll bet it works well enough. I could just see my self clipping my side with the chunk of iron hanging out in the air like that.

    Badger

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