Chris Schwarz's Blog

Let the Government Help You Improve Your Bench

Securing large pieces of work to the front face of your workbench is always a challenge. A face vise can hold one corner of large work, but the other end is free to swing about. This can be unacceptable when sawing dovetails, cutting hinge mortises on the edge of a door or simply planing (or sanding) the edge on a long board.

Traditional benches have a sliding board jack (like the one on the Roubo-style bench we built), and other benches have a wide apron pierced with lots of holes. In both cases a wooden peg goes into the holes to support the work from below. This peg helps, but it doesn’t hold the work tight against the bench. An F-style clamp is the usual solution , clamp the work to the jack or the apron.

In 1915, Stanley patented a bench bracket that combines the support of a wooden peg with the holding power of an F-style clamp. It was manufactured as the Stanley No. 203 (also the number used for a Stanley block plane, by the way). And this item turns up pretty regularly at flea markets and on eBay. I bought a couple of them recently to try them out on the Roubo bench jack to see if they were indeed useful.

The Stanley No. 203 works best in a 1″-diameter hole in an apron or bench jack that is 7/8″ thick. Use thicker stock and the No. 203 won’t grab. Use thinner and the bracket will not create a square ledge for your work. That was my first problem with the No. 203, my material ended up being a little under 7/8″, so the clamp head came in at an angle to my boards. As a result, sometimes, the head would dent the work on one edge.


The promising hole in the bracket….

While staring at the bracket, I noticed a small hole at the bottom of the device. It looked like there could be some sleeve of metal inside it. Could this small hole be used in some way to square the bracket in its hole? With no answers coming to mind, I decided to ask the U.S. Government. Patented devices have nice drawings and sometimes instruction-like information on file at the U.S. Patent Office. However, the interface to search there isn’t the friendliest.

However, there’s help. The Directory of American Tool and Machinery Patents (DATAMP for short) makes looking up patented old tools easy. The DATAMP is run by volunteers from the OldWWMachines and OldTools mailing lists. You can search patents very easily here. Type the patent date (usually cast into the tool) into the search engine. If you know the patent number, that will work, too. There are other ways to search the 30,000 patents in the Advanced Search function.

I typed in the patent date (03-16-1915) and I immediately had beautiful drawings of the No. 203, plus drawings of a similar bracket that may not have been made commercially, and two pages of details on how the bracket works. The small hole at the bottom of the bracket is for a nail, according to the application, “to steady the lower end of the clamp…¦.” Hmmm, that’s not my problem. So I made a little shim and am going to epoxy that to the bracket tonight. That should fix it. And the material in the hole that I thought could be a sleeve? Just junk.

Christopher Schwarz