Chris Schwarz's Blog

Recovering (and Repairing) After Woodworking in America

I know the exact moment that Roy Underhill cracked my workbench open during Woodworking in America last weekend.

There was a disturbance in the Force. In other words, my phone went nuts with people texting me and mentioning the event on Twitter. Those first-hand reports were dire – and wrong. Roy had split the chop for the leg vise. The entire end of the workbench had split off. The sliding dovetail was ruined.

Here’s the truth: Roy was driving in a holdfast in an area of the benchtop that was weak. That corner of the benchtop was punky when it came into my hands. I had stabilized it with epoxy, but it still wasn’t a place that I would abuse. Of course, I neglected to tell Roy that vital piece of information.

So his mallet work knocked off the punky part.

I actually was glad this happened because it gave me a chance to reinforce that corner of the workbench – something I had intended to do since the day I finished it.

Even better: Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick had “repaired” the benchtop with a generous application of blue painter’s tape. She taped it up exactly where it needed to be, so the repair was easy; I didn’t even have to remove the tape to fix things.

Here’s what I did: I bought two 1/2″ x 5″ hex-head bolts – the same bolts I typically use for attaching crochets to workbenches. Plus, I bought some 1-3/8″-diameter washers. I first drilled a counterbore in the edge of the benchtop with a 1-1/2″ Forstner chucked into a brace.

Then I bored two deep pilot holes with my brace; this kind of work will cook an electric drill.

Finally, I used a ratchet set to drive the bolts into the bench. The result is that the bench is now stronger than it was last weekend before Roy’s fatal “Apocalypse Now”-like strike.

I was embarrassed that Roy’s demonstration was interrupted by the event. And I also was embarrassed that it became a topic of conversation at Woodworking in America – my credentials for building good benches have been sullied.

But the bench breakage wasn’t the only calamity of the weekend that I can talk about publicly. (Ask me sometime about my left knuckle. I’ve never seen my own bones before!)

I brought my tool chest to Woodworking in America to show it off at our booth and to discuss it during two classes. The chest has four metal casters that are screwed into the underside. I had used wood screws to attach the casters, which held just fine until the conference.

As I was pushing the chest onto the freight elevator, one of the wheels dropped into the gap between the elevator car and the building. And… wrench. It was ripped off. I cursed, but I pushed though and made it to the class on three casters.

Then on my way down from the classroom, I used the passenger elevator at the front of the convention center. One of the remaining casters dropped into that gap and was wrenched off.

So I balanced my hobbled chest on two wheels into my wife’s car and made the shameful trip home. Last night I fixed the casters by using beefy No. 10 x 1-1/2″ pan head wood screws.

If those don’t hold the casters firm during my next elevator ride then maybe I should take up golf.

— Christopher Schwarz

The workbench that Roy destroyed (hey, that rhymes!) is on the cover of “The Workbench Design Book.” It’s a great book that all of us wrote about benches and it includes plans for a wide variety of benches, as well as real-world critiques of those benches after they’d seen years of use. You can buy it in our store.

27 thoughts on “Recovering (and Repairing) After Woodworking in America

  1. Danny H.

    How embarrassing! Taking a positive look at this, your bench now has more character and history, increasing it’s sentimental and monetary value if you were ever to sell it or pass it down to posterity. You can’t lose here Chris! Love you work and enthusiasm.

  2. andrewr79

    Chris,

    Sometimes what seems at the time to be a failure of sorts can be the perfect opportunity to make progress. I’m sure you are already asking yourself “What was it that made this part week, and what can I do in design next time to avoid this issue”.

    Love the blue tape, but what happened to good old grey Duct tape?

    Andrew

    1. alegr

      Duct tape sucks. It leaves residue, and also stretches more than blue tape. And it creeps. This is why you never see an advice to use the duct tape when gluing.

  3. billlattpa

    I once ran my left index finger over the blade on small jointer table. It kind of opened the top of my finger like a flower that had just bloomed. I had the distinction of making the x-ray tech wince when he saw it. Luckily the good doctors fixed me and left me with a finger that is only 1/2″ shorter than it used to be and that doesn’t look funky(pretty good considering what it looked like) I even have a decent amount of feeling in it. Woodworking is fun sometimes…

  4. bko

    Chris, your first line is the best “hook” line I have ever seen written in a woodworking context. Should you ever decide that writing about woodworking (God forbid!) is not for you, I suggest you take up the Mikey Spillane moniker and pick up where he left off.

  5. Maurice

    Chris,
    Sorry for your setbacks. I’m one who never stops making mistakes – hopefully, I learn from them….though, not always. Anyway, I had the pleasure of spending Saturday, October 8th, with Roy in Pittsboro (his dovetail class). As he was getting his doughnuts situated before the start of things, I had to ask The Question: So, just HOW did you break a bench? Ever seen him blush before? he was hoping that the news had not traveled back to his little burg yet, but the internet is bad for that. Amazingly, I was the only one in the room who had heard of The Incident. He muttered something about dogs holes and weak joints, but the deed was done.

    Maurice Ungaro
    Cary, NC

  6. Lemonjello

    Have you noticed during concerts and big Convention shows that most all equipment is in “road cases” with 4-5″ rubber or poly casters, reinforced edges and corners, flush latches and carry handles? Load in/out of lighting and sound equipment takes a beating and so do the cases, It seems like overkill but is built specifically to take a beating and protect its contents. Might I suggest a road case/toolchest steampunk mod? Sounds fun to me and I will be designing/building one along those lines inspired by this.

  7. tsstahl

    I have the (autographed) book. I had a front row seat to the inadvertent execution. I have several pictures of the gory aftermath.

    I think I may have become a groupie. Is there a support group for that? :)

    On a slightly more serious note, that was the show highlight for me. (Gratuitous bragging starts here) The personal highlight was watching Mark Harrell build my 12″ open handle hybrid saw right in front of me and other show attendees. I would like to extend a very public thank you to Mark. Several components were not ‘right’ to Mark’s eye though they looked good under my ignorant gaze; he didn’t hesitate to trash those parts to get a product worthy of his name. I appreciate that.

      1. rwyoung

        Yeah, me too. Only I did it with a pair of electric offset hedge trimmers.

        “Hey, these trimmers are jammed! I’ll just clear that jam… Ouch! What? Oh, look at that….” Clunk (sound of body hitting floor while eyes roll up in head).

  8. Matt S

    Hey, shit happens! I was worried that something like this would happen in my chest build form your book (currently underway). So I bolted the wheels on with machine screws going all the way through battens that were then screwed to the underside of the chest. That way if the caster gets ripped off, the batten would just need to be replaced, but that probably won’t happen with them bolted all the way through. We will see though, weirder things have happened.

  9. tjhenrik

    Embarrassed? Mon oeil! That was one of the highlights of the day! Roy took it in stride, as he does. What a great story for the weekend especially when retold in French. The moment also provided me with some nice souvenir photos once Roy passed the separated chunk around. The real key here for me, and other beginners I suspect, is learning options for fixing problems like this that are sure to arise. It is all wood after all. So, thank you for the teaching moment.

  10. schenher

    Well, speaking as a percussionist who has moved hundreds of pieces of equipment on and off elevators. There is nothing that can be done but just stop and lift the casters over the gap. For us , we don’t break the casters off because ours are metal on metal , but, if they bend our instruments wobble.

    I haven’t seen my bones either. yet.

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