Sunday, May 8, 2016

Personal Work, Oh No! Not Another Bench Build! and Why Everyone Needs a Beater Bench

Vise hardware from BenchCrafted, Exciting!

The worst mistake an independent tool maker will make is to get so involved in work for customers that he defers work on his own personal projects. The reason most of us went into our businesses is because we enjoyed woodworking. Next thing you know you are so engrossed in completing customer orders that you no longer get to enjoy woodworking for yourself. I'm trying to achieve a better balance of these factors in my life as of late.

 I've had what I call a "beater bench" in my shop since the first Woodworking in America at Berea College. I quickly fashioned a knock down, easy to transport bench for that event. The major requirement was the parts fit in the back of Bob Zajicek's Jeep Cherokee.

Then I decided to build the Shaker Bench that had been on my mind for quite a long time. You can see it in the pic below with a really wide pine board resting on the dead man and held in the leg vise.

After my Shaker bench was complete, the easy to transport bench became my "beater bench". Everyone needs a beater bench. The one that you don't think twice about performing task you would never consider doing on your good woodworking bench. I periodically need to cut pieces of psa back abrasive that fit precisely on different pieces of small brass sanding platens. I stick the platens to the psa side of the abrasive and trim in precisely with an exact knife. If I cut thru into the beater bench no big deal. Hey, it's a beater bench.

My beater bench has a BenchCrafted Wagon vise installed and this makes it enormously useful for all sorts of task. But alas, it sits right across from my Shaker bench and the beater bench..........well, it looks like a beater bench and it's one of the first things people see when they enter my shop.

I have no intentions of getting rid of my beater bench but I'd rather it not hold such a prominent place in my shop. I have an idea where it will be re-located but first I have to make a replacement bench.

So how did this start. Well "once upon a time" I was standing in my kitchen looking at our kitchen work island. It occurs to me that the island is just a workbench without vises and that turned legs would be incredibly unique on a workbench..........and the design wheels started turning.

The next thing that occurred to my bench designing mind was, like my Shaker bench, I wanted to design a bench that one person could build themselves. No massive glue ups that created large heavy panels that would require two people to handle safely. Smaller components would be assembled to accumulate into a massive bench structure that could subsequently be un-assembled for transport if need be.

Yes the legs I chose for my bench are massive. They need to be. It's a bench after all and I need the size to house the mortise for the leg vise criss cross device.

Another design consideration was "ease of build". I could design and build complex joinery into this bench configuration but once again, like the Shaker Bench, I want people to look at this bench and say to themselves, "this is nice looking, functional and I think I can build it." This is a design challenge for me that's intended to make the bench less challenging to build for others.

For instance I could design and build into this bench a massive dovetail joint where the end rail for the wagon vise meets the front edge of the bench top. Subsequently many would look at this bench and think, "I don't have the skill set to do that", which would put them off building a similar bench. 

Once again the design challenge here is to design a joint doable for the masses that is just as functional and easier to accomplish. I'm not trying to dumb down the bench design but to make it a more accessible design for the majority of woodworkers.

For this reason I've decided to build a Nicholson style bench. As of late most Nicholson bench designs have tended to be made as temporary, utility devices. Typically made from cheap home center materials, devoid of vises, mass and in general just a bench to get by until you have time to build the massive Roubo bench you've aspired to make at a later date, or a bench to facilitate making your ultimate bench.

My plan is to design and build a Nicholson style bench that is plenty massive, has some of the best work holding vises available, made from premium hardwood materials and will be a bench that one would be happy to use for the rest of their woodworking life.

Stay tuned, this could get interesting,


"A man's ego can be a cruel teacher"
                                                            Ted Lolley