Chris Schwarz's Blog

More Information on the American Cabinetmaker's Bench

I got some more information on the nice early American workbench I wrote about on Tuesday (click here to read that article) from Lee Richmond, who runs The Best Things web site.
In addition to selling quality new woodworking tools, Richmond
specializes in vintage tools as well, especially infills. And he’s an
expert appraiser on PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow.”

And he’s quite
familiar with this workbench, which is now owned by Deborah Chalsty.
Here’s what Richmond writes about this bench, which makes me want to fly
out to Chalsty’s house with a tape measure in hand:

The
workbench that Deborah has was found in this area in the 1970s, by a
long since deceased picker named Murphy Clifton. He sold it to Hampton
Williams, who then sold it to Deborah.

The bench appears to
the casual observer to be solid Cuban mahogany, but if you look closely, the
mahogany is about a 1/4″-thick veneer over a solid core, a detail that
would have added significantly to the labor of making the bench, and to
the cost of materials. I don’t know what wood was used for the core. The
size and design of the bench, and the use of cabinet-grade mahogany,
lead me to believe that it is a true cabinetmaker’s workbench. It is the
only bench that I am aware of that can realistically be called an
American cabinetmaker’s bench. Most of the other signed benches, like
the E. W. Carpenter benches, are really a bit too later and are more
likely joiner’s benches. This bench has dovetailed drawers underneath,
constructed by someone who understood case furniture, and is longer than
typical mid-19th century benches that you seen. The closest thing that
comes to my mind is the grand Shaker workbenches that are still in a
couple of the Shaker museums.

One of the vise screws on
Deborah’s bench is a later replacement, but the original screw, in the
end vise, is signed by a Baltimore turner, who also signed
cabinetmaker’s clamps. According to Richard Hayes’s book on Baltimore
tool makers, J. Thomas started in 1824 and only worked for a relatively
short time.

In short, I think that this is an historically
significant bench because I believe that it originated in an American
cabinetmaking center, and was in fact originally owned by a
cabinetmaker. I would be excited to see another bench that could support
such a claim.

Bottom line: If anyone sees any other early
benches in this form, please send photos my way. It would be interesting
to see if this style of workbench with a pedestal and cabinet could be
called a common American form of workbench.

— Christopher Schwarz

2 thoughts on “More Information on the American Cabinetmaker's Bench

  1. David Chidester

    Do it Chris! It would be awesome for you to come out here to California. I know you’ve built a bunch of benches already, but I think this particular one warrants being reproduced. And of course the process should be documented and recounted in an article, with pictures and measurements, so the rest of us could make one if we’d like.

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