Would Shaker Craftsman Freegift Wells Approve? - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Would Shaker Craftsman Freegift Wells Approve?

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After joining the ranks as senior editor with Popular Woodworking magazine, I was informed that I needed to build a workbench. It seems the bench that was in the shop upon my arrival was taken to its original home, so that left me with a slab of old door bridged across two rolling carts.

Building a Shaker workbench immediately came to mind , Shaker due to the bank of drawers and cupboard storage below the solid-wood top. Of course, I didn’t need anything near the 12- or 13-foot workbenches from either the Hancock or Mt. Lebanon Shaker villages, but I like the look and feel of Shaker craftsmanship and those workbenches have always been something I wanted to build.

I’m not a huge workbench fanatic. I worked without a workbench for the first eight years of my woodworking career. My table saw outfeed table was where everything came together. Later, I brought in a couple inexpensive benches for a bit of teaching and discovered the concept of a workbench with vises. They’re nice to have.

Also, I’m a power-tool guy so the workbench isn’t the center of my woodworking. I need a bench that will hold my panels while I lay out and cut dovetails, provide a clamping area as I use the router, and provide a large flat surface to assemble pieces (if not just a vast landscape for storing or hiding the tools I’ve used throughout the day).

Knowing that my workbench would not face hard use everyday, I decided I would build a bench that would leave future generations questioning if the workbench was ever really used as a workbench , maybe it was viewed as a piece of furniture. I wanted to have fun but also have the results be useful and look good. I turned to my fondness for tiger maple (just the idea of using this hardwood for a workbench makes most woodworkers shake their collective head) and to achieve the Shaker feel, I decided paint was the answer so poplar provided the substrate.

I am in the process of building this workbench in the Popular Woodworking shop. I have the majority of the framing complete although there are a few details left. I have the beaded poplar panels set in the sides and across the back waiting for paint, after which a tiger maple moulding will hold the panels in position. And, the cupboard area needs to be completed; I guess designed and completed would be more apropos.

The drawers look good, right? They’re drawer fronts only. I have the balance of the drawer materials ready to go, so the only obstacle to completion is the dovetails and drawer bottoms. The tiger maple top is in process too. I decided to use a substantial amount of 4/4 material for the top (material that lacks a great amount of stripe).

The 30-something pieces will be a solid top by weeks’ end. It has to be because we need to shoot the opening photograph for the magazine article on Tuesday of next week. And I still have to install the hardware, paint the poplar and add apply the finish on the tiger maple. It’s good to know that my “just-in-time” inventory system is alive and well (I hope?). Check out the December issue to see if I make it.

, Glen D. Huey

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  • Alan

    I liked reading your article in the most recent mag on this bench, and was really glad that Chris could have possibly kicked off a trend of the folks at PWW, in building more benches. Who knows, maybe the slackers over at PWW will follow suite and the readers will see more benches. After all, every woodworker must have a bench to do any work, even if it’s a set of saw horses with a board over the top. Maybe we’ll see a Lang bench? After that poppy table, I think he’d be ready for an impressive bench.;-)

    I notice you used nails for the drawer frames though, and was just curious why? Is that in Shaker tradition, or do nails really hold better than screws? It’s hard to tell if those are square nails, or not, or how they would hold. Granted they’re not holding the main carcass of the bench together and only the drawer frames, but I would think they would well, shake around a lot…, maybe that is shaker style! gd&r

    Other than that one point, I like your bench, although the one problem with seeing more benches is finding more details one wants to incorporate into their own bench.;-)

    Thanks for doing the article!


  • Roscoe

    Kudos on a great piece! I’ve been thinking about an assembly table of a similar design, with ample storage for sanding and finishing supplies. I see no reason not to put the same level of effort into shop furnishings that you would a piece of furniture for home.

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