Getting “Benched”.

In my previous post, I decided to use this blog to hash out some of the questions needing answers, and issues needing decisions, in my quest to build a fine bench for my new shop.

The three benches I decided to ponder over are the usual suspects, as it turns out, that most woodworkers turn to as their “go-to’s” for bench building.
There are good reasons for this. All three are time honored. All three share similar lumber requirements. All three are fairly easy to fabricate.

Their differences are based in the type of woodworking a woodwright chooses to do. For example, The Roubo bench, has enjoyed a resurgence among woodworkers who primarily use hand tools to do their wood dimensioning, and joinery. The bench has a monstrously thick top, often way over 4 inches thick, 5 inches to 7 inches being fairly normal,  which makes for a VERY stable body of mass that is perfect for the racking forces that hand planing and hand sawing place on a bench. Not to mention that the legs are rock solid with their equally heavy dimensions. A stout bench to say the least. Vises built to hold long and short boards for various operations. The front vise, often referred to as a “Leg Vise”. Is wonderful for holding long boards for jointing edges, or also for vertically holding tall boards for dovetailing. The vise on the other end of the bench, usually referred to as a “Wagon Vise”, is used in concert with a row or rows of bench “dog” holes in the top, to pinch boards flat on the top of the bench for smoothing. A very robust bench, and also one that has deep historical value best experienced by reading author Christopher Schwarz’s description of it in either of his workbench books.

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The traditional European bench has some allure for me. It calls out to me sometimes. The comparative lightness of it juxtaposed against the image of the  weight of the Roubo, feels less brutal, less imposing. perhaps a little more “fine”.
This bench normally features a top in the 3 to 5 inch thick range. Often times they can be found with an apron that wraps around the top, which is actually much thinner in the middle, and only appears to be very thick due to the apron. This saves in lumber costs, but at the expense of heft, which is actually a very, very good thing for someone cutting joints on the bench.
The front, “L” shaped vise, called a shoulder vise, is wonderful for holding those taller boards for dovetailing or other joint cutting. Much like the Roubo’s leg vise. My problem with this is, that it requires a third leg to be added to the trestle, that juts out awkwardly in a small shop space. I love this design, but it is really much better suited to a shop that allows full, 360 degree access to the bench. I am positive I would be bruised in my “quality places” trying to live with this type of bench in such a small shop as I have planned. The second vise, on the right hand side, functions much like the Roubo’s Wagon vise. It is called an “END VISE” and works with a line of holes (like the Roubo) to pinch boards flat on the bench top for planing and other hand work. This vise, too, has issues traditionally. Over time, it has a habit of sagging, and becoming somewhat high maintenance.  Not to mention that when opened, it would intrude too much into an already tight space in my proposed shop space.

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Bench with “SHOULDER VISE” at the left hand position.

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Bench with “END VISE” in the right hand position.

This leaves me with a hybrid type bench, which I think is best for the combined machine work, and hand work that I tend to do. I like both the thick top I have  planned in my mind’s eye, as well as a scaled up rendition of the traditional trestle frame that holds it up. Add to that a couple of rows of bench dog, and hold fast holes in the top, a high quality face vise as shown in the picture below, and a full width end vise just like the one pictured on the acorn bench below, and I think that that would best fit the operations I generally find myself engaging in.

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The bench pictured above, is equipped with the more traditional “End Vise”. I may consider this type of vise, since learning that Lie Nielsen has improved on this original design, and that it is both “sag proof”, as well as less intrusive in it’s dimension. (it is also hellishly expensive) Otherwise, I think that a vise like the one pictured below, is more suitable to my needs.

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So, there you have it. A short little treatise on the three benches that float in and out of favor in my mind several times a day. The desire is always the same. BUILD THE BENCH!!! But the dance partner is continuously changing. I think that as the time approaches to actually begin acquiring and working the wood , I will have settled on a design. Odds are it will be the hybrid, if for no other reason, than because it meets all my needs, and is very close to what I had built the first time around. It is comfortable.

Still, I really do have to admit that both the traditional European bench, and strangely, the Roubo, both continue to make committing to a design very, very difficult.

THIS….this is the fun part prior to cutting wood and building it. I LOVE the research and the mental gymnastics I go through planning, and imagining the pro’s and con’s of each design. Ultimately having built all three over and over in my head. Using them, mentally, after construction, trying to intuit which will best fit my style of work AND give me the aesthetic pleasure that is so very crucial to me. What a lovely place to be mentally.

Enjoy the pictures. I have finally figured out how to post them here. Talk about a time sink, searching out all the possibilities online. Lots of woodworking workbench “porn” out there……so fun.

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3 thoughts on “Getting “Benched”.

  1. tom

    “planned” = to have thought through an action to accomplish an end.
    “planed” = to employer a planer to tailor a dimension or shave a surface, like on a piece of wood.

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    Reply

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