A Cheap Bench - The Art and Craft of Cabinet-Making - Popular Woodworking Magazine

A Cheap Bench – The Art and Craft of Cabinet-Making

 In Shop Blog

Its been a year and a half since I moved into my new home in Cincinnati. Before the move, we lived in a parsonage (a church-owned home) while I served as a United Methodist Pastor in the west side of Cincinnati. There are many perks of living in the parsonage, like…no mortgage payment. But, there are some caveats. You have to run almost everything through the trustees for approval. Want to paint a wall, committee meeting. Want to get a new clothes dryer, committee meeting. I won’t say I had it hard, it just grinded against my can-do attitude at times.

So, now that I have a deed in my name, I have been free to make many wonderful changes to my home. One that took me about nine months to start was building out my home shop. I forever forfeited one of the garage bays to establish a dedicated shop. 250 sq feet that is all mine, with zero budget to build it out. After sneaking building materials into the cart every time I ran to Home Depot for other projects, I accumulated what I needed – well, and it helps my father loves helping out with this sort of project. (Thanks Dad!)

With the insulation, drywall, and lighting taken care of, I had to outfit the shop. I had left most of the cabinetry I had built in the parsonage garage for the next person, it was all customized to the space. So I was left with a blank slate. The first thing I was concerned about building was a workbench. Though my concern didn’t last long, I was able to procure a loaner bench from Popular Woodworking. It’s incredible, all hard maple and rock solid. But, had I not access to the Popular Woodworking inventory, I would have certainly made this bench from The Art and Craft of Cabinet-Making.The Art and Craft of Cabinet Making - A Cheap Bench

It’s not that I’ve become skeptical of dream-build benches, it’s just that I don’t have the financial latitude to swing one at this point in my life (did I mention I just had my second kid this year?) And I imagine there are plenty of woodworkers out there making do with the resources that they have available. That’s why a book like The Art and Craft of Cabinet Making is so important for new woodworkers. It illuminates the secrets of the trade that the tool industry doesn’t want you to know. That you can make a “cheap wooden bench” and build amazing furniture on it. Here are D. Denning’s words on the matter.

It has been a matter of consideration with me whether to include the bench among the things which should be described, but I am inclined to think a detailed description should be unnecessary. the professional cabinet-maker is seldom asked for an opinion on what kind he would like. He just takes them as he finds them, so that directions for making benches are not necessary for him, especially as by keeping his eyes open he will se more varieties than could possibly be descirbed here. The amateur would find bench-making very uninteresting work, little more indeed than heavy joinery being wanted; and, moreover, if he is competent to make it, would proably prefer to embody his own ideas in it. If he cannont make it he can either buy one ready or have it made for him by any carpenter. Bench and bench-making is almost inexhaustable subject, and one which would require a book itself to treat it fully. – (pp. 120-121)


Stack of books, The Art and Craft of Cabinet-MakingThe Art and Craft of Cabinet-Making
By David Denning

Our reprint of David Denning’s classic “The Art and Craft of Cabinet-Making” (first printed in 1891) is a must-have for every woodworking student – particularly those who appreciate not only pre-electric woodworking tools and techniques, but those who want a well-made tome that will last at least as long as the best mortise-and-tenon joint. This hardcover, cloth-bound and foil-stamped book features acid-free paper and a Smyth-sewn binding, and was printed in the U.S.A.

But it not only looks and feels great, it’s chock-full of must-read information, not the least of which is: Be a skeptic; not everything you read is true (including a few apocryphal things in this book, such as the tale of how mahogany was introduced to Great Britain, which recent scholarship has debunked). It’s a product of it’s time (and includes the period advertisements!) – and the hand-tool instruction is spot on.

Recent Posts
Showing 6 comments
  • CaEd

    I may be picking nits but the term “A Cheap Bench” may not be an accurate description.
    I would prefer “An Inexpensive Bench”.
    Yea, it is not the fanciest of benches and at first (and second) glances it may seem cheap but the real question is, “is it functional”.
    I would say, yes and that is the true test of any tool.

    • David Lyell
      David Lyell

      I typically find the word “cheap” unbecoming in nearly every circumstance. But I felt like I should use Denning’s words in this instance. Thanks for taking a moment to comment!

  • kwhp1507

    Wow some people are never happy and turn into trolling trolls, or picking up fat chicks on mopeds.

    • David Lyell
      David Lyell

      You had me excited for the support…then lost me to a weird image of mopeds. Thanks anyway! haha

  • marinosr

    That is a rinky-dink bench if I’ve ever seen one. It’s a shame that you would recommend such a bench to readers without ever building, using, or even seeing it. But then again, it seems this post is more of an ad for the book you’re hawking than an actually informative post.

    • David Lyell
      David Lyell

      Hey Marinosr, this content stands for itself. Denning’s suggestion is obviously valid. I’ve done enough woodworking on two sawhorses and a piece of plywood to know that this would be adequate for many woodworking activities. But I would like to thank you for the motivation to build one of these light benches and think through considerations one might have to take with them.

Leave a Comment

Start typing and press Enter to search