The biggest challenge in building a workbench isn’t the design. It isn’t the joinery. And it isn’t even the physical labor.
It’s finding the right wood.
This May I’m teaching a class in building an 18th-century workbench at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking, in Berea, Ky. The bench design uses massive timbers, similar to what Megan Fitzpatrick and I built for her bench at home. The top is only four pieces of wood, and the cool joinery – the sliding dovetail and tenon a la Roubo – is cut before assembly.
To get the wood we needed, my first instinct was to ask a log home supplier. Megan scored her wood from Craigslist, which was leftover scraps from a log home. I lined up a supplier this summer, but they kind of flaked on us, perhaps because this is such a small order. You read that right – wood for about 10 benches (or so) is a small order compared to a house.
We tried two other suppliers and came up empty-handed. I was just about to start redesigning the bench to use 16/4 poplar, when Kelly had a bright idea.
“When I got off of the log home route it dawned on me to check with my local saw mill,” Kelly wrote in an e-mail. “It was Feldman Lumber that I used for my timbers in the shop. Duh!”
Feldman had exactly what we wanted: 6″ x 6″ x 8′ yellow pine timbers that are dry enough for bench building. Kelly just received the shipment and sent me these photos.
Now that we have the lumber in hand (thanks Kelly), the fun begins. We need to cut these to rough length for the legs and stretchers so they will dry out quickly between now and May.
And so we get to use a tool that is almost as exciting as using a propane torch: the chainsaw.
Be still my redneck heart.
— Christopher Schwarz
Other Workbench Resources:
• workbenchdesign.net is a great place to learn about benches and explore their forms.
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