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I like reading about workbench patents as much as I like movies about gladiators (which is a lot).

So here’s how to prove your bench geekiness, and it won’t cost a penny (except for the bandwidth). Jeff Burks has compiled almost 2,000 pages of United States patent papers and drawings related to workbenches and workholding between 1845 and 1960. The patents are arranged chonologically in a .pdf file, which has some basic bookmarks and is somewhat searchable using Acrobat’s “find” feature.

This is an amazing treasure trove of just about every amazing, ingenious and idiotic workbench patent you could imagine. There must be 30 different patents relating to the parallel guide of a leg vise alone. And the number of patents for pop-up bench dogs is frankly a bit bewildering.

And here’s the best part. You can download the entire 112mb file for free. All Burks asks is that if you find any patents that relate to workholding or workbenches for woodworking (not metalworking) that you drop him a line. His e-mail is embedded in the .pdf file.

I’ve spent a few weeks reading this document and it has sparked a lot of ideas for things I could try in the shop myself. Check it out. You’ll be impressed.

– Christopher Schwarz

Still More Workbench Resources

– The Directory of American Tool and Machinery Patents. This is another treasure trove of patent information on all sorts of tools.

– Google has a dang-good patent site that is highly searchable.

– I have a new DVD on building an 18th-century workbench. It’s old school. We shot it during several months of work. Watch my beard and hair grow and shrink. Amazing. Check it out in our store.

Product Recommendations

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Showing 3 comments
  • Jeff Burks

    Thank you for helping me share this project.

    I would not have put as much emphasis on the "Free" part of the blog post, as that seems to invite snarky comments from your wonderful fanbase 🙂

    It should be relatively clear that this document is entirely made up of US government documents that have been freely available to any person with an Internet connection (since October 2000). What may not be obvious is the simple fact that the files of interest are not always so easy to find. There are after all, more than 8 million documents on the uspto servers (probably like 100 million pages!). There are already some nice websites that cover a bit of the same information, such as DATAMP, but this document is intended to be different.

    The file size is rather large for a pdf document. I am sorry if some people have trouble viewing it on older computers, but I must warn you that it is only going to get bigger. I have been updating the file approx. once per week for the last 3 months and sharing it with a handful of like minded individuals. I had to cut out the post 1960 documents due to the sheer volume it entailed. New patents tend to be verbose and unwieldy.

    These files exist across hundreds of different patent classifications in the uspto system. There is no simple way to find them other than to look through vast quantities of documents in potential areas of interest. This is part of what the patent attorneys get paid to do, and what I do for "fun". If it were so simple as typing "workbench" into Google Patents, then I would not have bothered. It is my belief that most of the patents in this document have not been seen by the woodworking community to any great degree.

    I should also point out that this document is still in it’s infancy. There are over 100k pages of documents in the cross hairs of my field of search. They will yield a substantial amount of new information that will be included as the document matures. It is also my intent to add commentary notes and web links to the document as time allows, especially if people contribute information. Such things as articles and advertisements for known products from period publications.

    The idea is to create a single document research tool for a given subject. I am concurrently working on a dozen other topics (planes, saws, etc) that will some day (if I live long enough) be made available as well. The purpose of this project is to shed some light on interesting primary documents relevant to woodworking and carpentry that may very well change the way we think about the history of our craft. It is my way of giving something back to the community, who have already shared so much with me: Like this blog for example, which continues to educate and entertain without asking me for a dime.

  • Anon

    Check out page 1892 – "Sawhorse Workbench" from 1953. Looks like one of Chris’s sawbenches after a brush with Dr. Frankenstein.

  • Anon

    Ha! 2000 pages of absolutely free, public domain content! That should silence the critics!

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