“Once more into the breech” … or … “How I came to love building workbenches”.

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One of my very favorite woodworking activities is researching and building workbenches. Now, I realize this is the sort of discussion forum argument fodder that has been discussed, written about, and pondered over, and over. It runs the risk of being both redundant and boring. However, The woodwright’s workbench is considered to be one of, if not THE, most important pieces of equipment in his/her shop.

My first bench, now sitting without love or even comprehension in my ex-wifes garage, was a maple topped, Douglas Fir-ed trestle, masterpiece of flying by the seat of my pants. An old 1 and 3/4′ thick maple laminated dining table left over by my parents, was cut and modified to produce a lovely bench top that served quite well. The bench was basically my take on the Frank Klausz bench, sans the traditional shoulder vise. A plain face vise and simple tail vise were all I had needed or wanted at the time.

Now that there is a new shop in the works, and some of the major machinery has been located and purchased, I turn my attention to the business of design and pre-planning of my main workbench.

Initially, I figured I would just duplicate and perhaps improve upon the original bench I built. In my mind’s eye, I envision an all maple constructed bench in the “Acorn Workbench” style. Two long rows of dog holes, and perhaps some that intersected at the left, for use with the face vise too. Mortise and tenon joinery, and even…gasp….perhaps a Danish oil or Linseed oil applied for both protection and conditioning, as well as to add a little panache.

But the woodworking gods took no pity on me, and the sticker shock of Rock Maple lumber forced me to at least explore other materials for my new benches construction. The thought of any material other than Beech or Maple for this bench, at one time would have been unthinkable. But in doing my normal internet searching for information on possible alternative materials, I happened upon the Roubo style bench espoused by Chris Schwarz.

Let’s be honest here. Workbenches, at their core, are nothing more than a means to secure work pieces for had work to be done to them….Well …..yes and no. Yes they are really just a tool, but for me, it also is an aesthetic part of my shop. Call it a security blanky, or fetish or what have you, but I want my workbench to be as satisfying to look at, as it is to work on.

So with that said, I find myself considering some other workbench designs, and materials. Now the selection of materials has grown from just Beech and Rock Maple, to  Beech, Rock Maple, White Oak, Southern Yellow Pine, CVG Douglas Fir, and Ash.

Design has settled on just a couple of possibilities though. I am currently leaning to the Acorn Workbench design. This was what I had before and I liked it. This time though, I am considering a tool till along the back of the bench a’la Frank Klausz’s well-known bench. I go back and forth on this, as many bench builders do. Ultimately, I suspect I will include one in this bench as I am quite sure I will “need” to build a second, smaller bench, for a combined table saw outfeed/assembly table. So that would free me up to build my main bench any way I wanted, knowing that I would also be able to build a completely different design for the second bench. Decisions, decisions.

As far as materials go, unless I can find Rock Maple here in Colorado for at or near the price of Douglas Fir or the like, I may end up building both benches out of BORG sourced lumber. There is something to be said for building a soon to be used and abused workbench out of cheaply obtained, widely available dimensional lumber. I feel it might just add the sort of worry free independence that expensive hardwood just can not deliver. if I dent or otherwise mar the top…so what, it only cost a fraction of what the maple would have run me. Whats that?…a knot in the base leg….hahaha…so what? it bothers me not at all…..WHEEEEEEE

I think if I am going to stick to the Acorn/Klausz style bench rather than the Roubo style bench, then some simple vises will also be in order. While I would dearly love some made by Benchcrafted, or Lie Nielsen, I simply can not justify the expense when a Veritas or Woodriver vice would serve just fine.

Although, I must admit that the notion of crafting a wood screw operated vise myself also has a great deal of appeal. I rather like the idea since I could point to my bench(s) and say without equivocation, that it/they were hand crafted entirely by me…..hmmmmm….seems I may have been premature in this blog post. It is quite clear I have a great deal of further web surfing to do before I begin musing on my future bench build.

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