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.