At high school reunions there’s always the guy you don’t recognize because he’s gained 200 pounds and is nursing a spectacular goiter. This workbench is like that.
Eagle-eyed reader Andrew Midkiff sent in these photos of a workbench he spotted in a water-powered grist mill at the West Point of the Eno City Park in Durham, N.C.
The top is a huge slab. But what confused me at first was that the legs are attached to the top using giant, round through-tenons. Midkiff found no sign of an end vise, but says there are square dog holes just cut into the face of the slab. The dogs are completed by a board nailed to the front.
The underside is completely rough. Midkiff wrote: “It looks like it was chopped out by a rabid beaver on meth.” (Note that this is unlikely; methamphetamine was not developed until 1893 and beaver culture didn’t embrace the drug until after the species was named as endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.)
When I first saw these photos, my gut said the slab was old but the legs were newer just because the legs were lighter in color. Also, the round tenons seemed weird at first. After a few minutes, however, I realized that though this looked like a French bench without stretchers, it actually has a lot of Roman bench bones.
Roman workbenches (which were common even into the 15th century) consisted of a big slab top with the legs tenoned into it using round tenons. Usually there were no stretchers below. (In this way, workbenches and Windsor chairs enjoy a common ancestor.)
In any case, the square leg and round tenon really threw me at first.
Bottom line: I want this slab. And I want to flatten it. To steal it, however, I’ll probably have to sneak past the drug-addled beavers.
– Christopher Schwarz
A Bench Geek’s Delight: More Links
– First, let’s get the commercial stuff out of the way. We just got advance copies of my new DVD “Build an 18th-century Workbench” where I build the Roubo on the cover of the August 2010 issue. If you’ve ever wanted to know how to cut big joints by hand, this is the ticket. It ships real soon. If you buy it through this link, they give me beer money. No lie.
– Want to see the coolest leg vise ever? It’s creepy. It’s in a factory where they made … wait for it … legs. This 1916 photo shows an awesome leg vise (the bottom middle of the photo) that has a huge handwheel and a St. Peter’s Cross. Want. Just want.