Workbench Review: A Classic Joiner’s Bench
As always I’m very grateful to anyone who makes the time to comment on my postings here, and I do my best to respond in a helpful manner. On the back of my last write up on the wooden try squares, Shawn was kind enough to ask a question about my workbench and in particular the vise – so I’ve put together a quick workbench review. There is a bit of a write up here, but just to highlight the benefits they are as follows: No bending down to adjust pins; low cost (especially if you make use of an off-the-shelf vise screw); more-than-acceptable performance. In addition, mine’s a looker, too, thanks to Richard Maguire’s wooden vise screw. Now it’s not perfect, and some folks may have noticed in the videos how the vise can rack (I think I made it worse by making it a touch too big). Along with the vise screw there was some leather enclosed. With this applied to the face of the chop, it grips very nicely indeed.
Being asked about the bench made me reflect on a few other things. One of the primary catalysts for my renewed interest in traditional-style woodworking was thanks to a chance encounter. In late 2012, I saw an episode of “The Woodwrights Shop” where Christopher Schwarz discussed his English tool chest. Within a few days I had discovered how vibrant the woodworking scene was and how the Internet has enabled people to exchange ideas like never before. That Christmas I asked for book vouchers and bought a copy of “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use.” It was the first time I had read about workbenches in such detail. In most trade manuals, the benches have page or two at the most – and often just a paragraph.
I quickly came to the conclusion that I’d want to make a classic Joiner’s Bench. I also knew I’d enjoy building it with limited tools of a pair of sawhorses; it almost felt like being on the jobsite. I posted the process on the WoodTalk Forum, hosted by The Wood Whisperer Marc Spagnuolo. It was great fun to build and it was enjoyable (and helpful) to have feedback along the way.
The trump cards with this design are the ability to use standard ready-milled stock from what I might call “B&Q” and what you might call “The Home Center.” It’s a bench that is in no way pretentious, and begs to be used without undue concern for knock here and there. I did not apply any finish – apart from spilling a bit of orange paint down one side; I like the “lived-in” look. I have no fear of nailing things to the benchtop if required, and I enjoy having that freedom. The simple planing stop is a boon, too.
I took the opportunity to put together a short video on my bench and discuss a few further points. I assumed interest in a bench build video would be pretty low, but I was startled (and pleased) by the responses. It still seems the workbench is a potent symbol and passion for woodworkers. I had more comments encouraging a build than I had imagined, so I’ll try to get something underway during December. I’ll most likely limit it to two or three videos maximum. The joy of the version I made is it’s simplicity, allowing a woodworker a solid platform on which to make things. For another take on this classic design there is an excellent version in the current issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine although I’m not sure it stands up to the “Gentleman’s Area” rule…..