Sometimes the best innovations are so simple it’s a wonder that they aren’t everywhere. This week, Mike Siemsen of Chisago City, Minn., sent me an e-mail about his new workbench that opened my head like a can opener.
Siemsen, who runs Mike Siemsen’s School of Woodworking, recently completed building a very close copy of Peter Nicholson’s workbench featured in the early 19th-century classic: “The Mechanic’s Companion, Or, The Elements and Practice of Carpentry,” which you can download for free from Google.
Siemsen developed the workbench with the input of period woodworker Dean Jansa. (Remember this marking gauge he built for Popular Woodworking? Let’s all encourage Dean to write more.) The bench developed by Siemsen and Jansa looks a lot like Nicholson’s , with one small upgrade that is amazingly useful.
The bench has a small gap between its two top boards. Look through the gap and you can see the transverse bearers that support the top. This gap allows you to do some really cool things with your planes and saws. By dropping a batten into the gap and onto the transverse bearers you can plane across the grain of a board (called traversing). Wedge the board against the planing stop plus a batten in the gap and you can work diagonally. You also can use the batten as a bench hook for sawing. And you can use the gap to store tools.
Is there precedence for this? Yes. George Ellis’s Planing Board (which I describe here) uses wedges in the same manner. And a Nicholson-style workbench shown in Audel’s “Carpenters Guide” shows a bench with a loose top. You could easily see how the gap could have been exploited…¦.
In any case, it works. Check it out here and on his blog.
– Christopher Schwarz
Here you can see how you can use a batten in the gap to work across the grain.
Here the batten is used with the planing stop to work in a more diagonal fashion.
Here it’s a bench hook for sawing.
And here the gap is used for tool storage. Next week we’ll show how it makes julienne fries.
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