The Joinery Bench: Has its Time Come?
If I’d lived in the the early 18th century, odds are I’d be rotting by now. Life expectancy in England in 1700 was about 37, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. By 1820 it was 41, which is how old I am today.
So it should come as no surprise that though I adore my 18th-century workbench, there are times that it is more suited for a younger man. If I dovetail an entire chest of drawers, I pay for it in the back department , I’m stiff for a week. Planing and tenoning are not so bad.
I can minimize my suffering by stretching my limbs before joining my sticks, and by using a wider stance when sawing. Placing your feet farther apart lowers your torso, so you don’t have to bend as much.
About seven or eight years ago I proposed on the WoodCentral forum a bench designed specifically for dovetailing. I even got so far as to draft it in CAD. But then I got distracted by that rotter Andre Roubo.
I’m not the first guy to think of this. Other people have built smaller benches that perch on your regular bench that are designed for dovetailing , check the archives at Fine Woodworking if you’re interested. Still others have built dedicated benches that are small and tall , Drew Langsner at Country Workshops has a “chairmaker’s bench” that fits this description and has a big twin-screw vise on the front.
Now Tim Williams, a professional cabinetmaker and instructor at the Asheville Woodworking School in Asheville, N.C., has gone all the way with his design.
After a serious case of the affliction he called dovetail igoritis (what hump?), Williams built the bench shown here. It’s 38″ tall, 34″ wide and 24″ deep, with a 6″-wide 4″-deep tool tray. In addition to a few dog holes, it also has a nifty slot for holding saws and chisels at the ready. The slot also doubles as a planing stop.
The legs are LVL in an offset “X” assembly, with an 8/4 stretcher that has a couple dog holes for storing holdfasts and such.
The top is 2-1/2″ thick with a 4″ apron in cherry and white ash. The main workholding is done with an all-wood twin-screw vise that has 15″ between the screws (his regular bench has 33″ between the screws). I have 24″ in my Holtzapffel. No, I’m not jealous.
If this bench were mine, I’d put it underneath a north-facing window and against a wall. And then I’d saw like a fully erect and evolved man, instead of the Neaderthal I become after a few days straight of dovetailing.
Excellent idea, Mr. Williams.
– Christopher Schwarz