One of the first addictions a woodworker sometimes falls prey to, is that of the workbench. At least in my case this is true.
Sure, I also have a profound addiction to tools, both powered by hand, and also powered by electrons. A truly deep seeded addiction, I assure you.
However, ever since I discovered the joy of working wood, I have continued to have this affinity for building workbenches.
Describing workbenches in the plural is hard to swallow for some. After all, one should only have to build one or two, maybe three at most, in a lifetime. Build them to last. Build them to stand the test of time. The cost of lumber, the time invested in building it alone, should be the limiting factor.
Yet, it is an addiction. I proudly pronounce now, that I am QUITE sure I will build at least two for this new shop(and the proposed addition to it later).
All this fails to mention the delightfully agonizing process of deciding on a style. Traditional European/Scandinavian/German? The most recent rediscovery of the Roubo bench?
The masochistic delight in deciding on the particulars of size and scale. Taller for every day use? Shorter for hand work? 6′ long? 7′ long? 8′ long? Longer?
The endless hand wringing over what wood to use. Traditional European Beech? Rock Maple? Ash? White Oak?
Or do I use Southern Yellow Pine or Douglas Fir?
I know of at least three books that have been written on these very subjects. It is a wonderfully absorbing subject. I absolutely love it!
Once upon a time, when I was just starting out, I “had” to build a bench for myself as I had just dropped close to ten thousand dollars on fine European woodworking equipment. It was obvious I needed a bench, but being cash poor, I had no means to purchase the wood needed for what I wanted to build.
Enter good fortune(aka dumb luck).
One of the MANY things my parents left behind when they moved out of the family home(purchased by my first wife and me) was a very well built, laminated maple dining table top. 7′ long, nearly 2 inches thick and wide enough for me to rip roughly 4″ off each side to finish out at about 28″ or so wide. I also ended up laminating those two, long pieces of “fall” to the underside of the bench to serve as both a face for the vises, as well as to simulate a proper 4″ thick top. Aesthetics do help with the whole experience of woodworking.
I then built a proper trestle base for this top. Replete with hand chopped mortises and lovingly hand cut tenons. Ultimately this bench ended up being simply lovely. A good strong full width end vice, and a wonderful face vise completed the build. I loved this Euro/Scandi/Acorn style bench.
I loved it not just because I had built it, but also because it was breathing new life into something that had been with my family for years, and had survived the trek from Cleveland to Colorado.
So, now that I am rebuilding my wood shop, I find myself in the joyous place of getting to build another bench for myself.
All of the weeping and gnashing of teeth has returned. I am again torn by all the options available. A wondrous place to be indeed.
As it is right now, I am leaning to a very similar reproduction of that original bench. That is my starting place, though the sirens call of other styles is very loud indeed.
As I progress, since there is little rush, I find myself mulling the Acorn style (which was the closest style to what I had built originally) and the Roubo style as the current frontrunners. Though, I must confess that a true, traditional Scandinavian bench tugs at me for consideration.
Traditional European bench.
Understanding that so much has already been written about workbenches in general, I think I may take these three bench types and work through my personal decision making machinations here in this blog…..lucky you!
I will try to limit it to these three archetypes, but no promises. There are always other chooses to agonize over out there. Don’t think for one minute that I am immune to their guile.
More to come.