Knockdown Nicholson: Video & Principles

I’ve built and worked on many Nicholson-style workbenches. And I’ve built and worked on many knockdown workbenches. This workbench is an effort to harness the advantages of those two forms and eliminate (or minimize) their disadvantages.

As I mentioned before, this bench is inspired by the get-it-done Nicholson bench shown in “The Naked Woodworker” DVD by Mike Siemsen. Also, planemaker and chairmaker Caleb James make a bench similar to Mike’s that uses barrel nuts to knock down. And wait until you see the vise Caleb made for it. It’s powered by holdfasts. Details to come.

There are myriad ways to build a knockdown bench. Here is what I was after with this design:

  1. You need only one tool to assemble and disassemble it (a 9/16” ratchet). You can install the hardware with one hand – no reaching inside the bench to hold a nut or other hardware.
  2. No faffing. I wanted to be able to assemble or disassemble the bench in about five minutes. Less time messing around means more time woodworking.
  3. Flat. I wanted to keep the disassembled components as flat as possible so they could be easily transported.
  4. Cheap. I spent $130 on the raw materials for the completed bench. (In truth I spent $250 purchasing bits of hardware to experiment with that did not end up on the bench.)
  5. Solid. One of the disadvantages of some Nicholson benches is the top feels springy or bouncy when you work on it. While you can add blocking to the underside to add thickness, I have found a method I prefer: Skip the “bearers” or “ribs” that go below a traditional Nicholson top and simply double up the thickness so the top is 3” thick in all the critical areas.

I could write an entire blog entry on why I prefer this method, but I really haven’t had enough coffee to go to that dark place in my mind that deals with the modulus of elasticity.

Some inevitable questions about this bench, and some answers.

  1. How does this bench compare to every other bench you’ve built? Is it your favorite?

As long as a bench makes it easy to work on the faces, edges and ends of a piece of work then that bench is a friend. I enjoy and – have no problems – working on a bench without screw-feed vises. You might have a different preference.

  1. Why no vises?

To keep the cost down. Someday I might add a leg vise. Maybe not.

  1. Will the plans be available?

Eventually, sure. I have to tune up my SketchUp drawing to make it presentable. Then I’ll post it in the 3D warehouse and put a link on this blog. First, I have some books to finish editing.

  1. I don’t have yellow pine in my area, what other woods will work?

Almost any construction lumber will do. Go to a home center or lumber yard and buy the stuff they use for joists in residential construction.

  1. Aren’t you just trying to sell product with this post?

Indeed. If you don’t purchase everything in our store right now, then you are a depraved human being. Fat, ugly and unloved. And by the way, this bench build was sponsored by Union Carbide and Brown & Williamson. You don’t need vises – you just need a Viceroy cigarette!

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Apologies for not getting this video up yesterday. I shot it, but it took hours to process the video and post it to Vimeo so it could be shown in HD.

Posted in Workbenches | 43 Comments

Shelved Until Tomorrow


Finally dragged in about 8 p.m. this evening. The choice: shoot a video of how the bench knocks apart or complete the shelf.

The photo above is the answer.

After I spend all the money I’ve made this year on wood (at Midwest Woodworking) tomorrow morning, I’ll shoot a video. Promise.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Naked Woodworker DVD, Workbenches | 9 Comments

The Last Hardware Swap (I Hope)


With the finish drying on my knockdown Nicholson workbench, I began working on a removable shelf to go below the bench. (Forgive me. I am so stuck in the 18th century when it comes to wanting a shelf below my bench.)


Then our postal carrier made an unscheduled stop at our front door. In his hands was a box filled with hardware bits I had resolved to try at the recommendations of readers.

Most of the bits were no better than the steel tee-nuts I had installed on the bench. But one of the bags in the box was heavy. Real heavy. This bag of 14 malleable iron mounting plates (McMaster-Carr 11445T1) was impressive. The plates were sand-cast, thick and heavy.

So I put aside the planks for the shelf and began removing all the tee-nuts to install the iron mounting plates.

I could be wrong, but I think I’m now done.


I tried to destroy the threads of one of these mounting plates and I failed. The wood between the plate and the bolt’s washer just popped and crushed instead. I’m sure I could ruin the mounting plate, but the bolt and wood would also be ruined in the process.

So I installed all the mounting plates and reassembled the bench. I was going to shoot a video of the assembly process, but that will have to be tomorrow. I’ve got 63 pending e-mails to deal with tonight.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Naked Woodworker DVD, Workbenches | 33 Comments

‘I Don’t See that Going Anywhere’


Roger and his partner Dan Richfield.

If you frequent Lie-Nielsen Toolworks events you may have run into Roger Benton. He is one of the show crew that demonstrates Lie-Nielsen tools and lifts large crates of tools at the end of the show. When we travel to do shows we get to catch up with people like Roger whom we haven’t seen since the last show. It’s sort of a Carney thing. One of the many things Roger does to make ends meet is roam the borough’s of New York City harvesting lumber from trees. As you can imagine, dealing with large tress is like dealing with large animals. The “fun” is in direct proportion to size. Roger has lots of stories, like the one involving his uncle getting an injured hand permanently mended into a half closed position so he could work the clutch on his Harley.  Sadly this story doesn’t involve uncles and Harleys….

— John Hoffman

‘I Don’t See that Going Anywhere.’

“Nah, that’s probably fine,” I said.

Kyle had just brought up the possibility of adding another ratchet strap to the load of mulberry slabs that were causing the truck’s bumper to hang so close to the ground.

“There’s another strap behind the seat,” he offered, hopefully.

I made a show of vigorously attempting to rock the stack of slabs side to side, demonstrating the absolute soundness of the load. Then I confidently dropped the clincher: “I don’t see that going anywhere.”

Kyle managed to emote the phrase “It’s your funeral” without actually speaking as he went for the rest of the gear.

The preceding batch of hours had been spent doing the work of many men so we were pretty shot. The mulberry tree was massive, the biggest I’ve seen, and working quarters were tight. The tiny Brooklyn backyard this beast lived in was barely 25 feet square with tall brick buildings on three sides. Chainsaws are loud, and I’ll tell you that you haven’t really heard a ported Husqvarna 395xp sing until you’ve run it wide open for a few hours within such tight concrete confines. Running this saw in that space is to your sterocilia as Mt. Saint Helens’ explosion was to the surrounding fir forest: utter devastation. I love that saw, I have feelings for that saw that would scare people, but I have to admit that on this occasion I’d had quite enough of it, thanks much. The mulberry cut really well when we found the rare stretch of metal-free wood, but stretches of metal-free wood would prove to be in short supply that day. We hit an even dozen nails on the first cut. Ten mangled chains later we had ringing ears and nine slabs to show for it, the slabs around 2-3/4” thick, 10 feet long and 20″-34” wide.

Mulberry nails

The slabs were gorgeous and heavy, and had to go through a “small alley,” then up a short flight of stairs and into the truck. The homeowner had warned us about the “small alley,” and we thought we were prepared. We were not, for at some point in the past someone had seen fit to erect a small storage shed in the alley. This looked to have been around 800 years ago. The dilapidated shed was crumbing into the building on one side and left a gap around 20″ wide on the other. So the “small alley” was further condensed into a dirty gap one could squeeze through if one wanted to abrade oneself against a filthy brick-and-stucco building on one side while contracting tetanus from the jagged tin ruin on the other. We each gave it a dry run before committing to the feat with slabs in hand. This was when we confirmed that the small alley doubled as a urinal for the homeless.

Mulberry slabs

A few scrapes and bruises later and we had all the slabs in the truck with no signs of lockjaw.

That’s when Kyle tried to be reasonable, I uttered what is now a fun phrase for my friends to throw back at me and we hopped in the truck and drove off.

We made it about six blocks.

Kyle said, while looking through the rear window, “Um, dude….”

Before he could finish, the truck bed bounced up sharply as if suddenly relieved of its burden. That was because the truck bed had been suddenly relieved of its burden. The slabs, splayed across Kingston Avenue, quickly grew smaller in the rear-view mirror. I could hear tires screeching as the cars behind us slammed on their brakes. It was like in a spy movie where you press a button on the steering wheel to deploy the road block. “They’ll never catch us now!”

Kyle: “We lost the….”

Me: “Yes, I see.”

While the street kids from the bodega on the corner laughed and made insensitive remarks, we loaded the truck a second time. We  blocked the street for about 15 minutes, 20 at the most, the car horn crescendo drawing heads from upper-story windows. I smiled and waved cheerfully. Kyle, bless him, quietly fetched two extra ratchet straps from behind the seat.

We were on our way again in short order. Back at the shop the story was told, embellishments were made. Laughter was had at my expense. “Let the troops have a laugh,” I’ve heard. It’s good for morale.

“I don’t see that going anywhere” is now one of my standard catch phrases for exceedingly precarious situations, and it gets used with scary frequency.

 — Roger Benton

For more information on Roger, his furniture and wood business see





Posted in Personal Favorites

French Oak Roubo Project in 2015


The Brothers Abraham have announced – finally – the second French Oak Roubo project Nov. 8-14, 2015, in Georgia. Check out the announcement here.

If you missed out on the one last year and you want an awesome French bench, don’t miss this one. Eventually all our backs will give out.

The event will be in the same place with the same assistants (me, included) and the same incredible machinery. Registration opens Sept. 2, 2014.

— Christopher Schwarz


Posted in Workbenches | 6 Comments

Reminder: Midwest Wood Sale this Weekend


Come to Cincinnati this weekend to scarf up the wood that is left at Midwest Woodworking at a significant discount – 25 percent off the already-low prices for solid wood and 40 percent off veneer.

Midwest is located at 4019 Montgomery Road in Cincinnati, and the sale will go from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Bring cash or check – no plastic.

I’ll be there to scrounge up some pine, mahogany and sapele for some future commissions. If there are enough people who are interested, we might organize an expedition to the nearby Madtree Brewing taproom, which is less than three miles away and has good beer and brings in some good food.

If you see me there, let me know if you’re in or not for Madtree.

See you there!

— Christopher Schwarz


Posted in Personal Favorites | 10 Comments

The History of Wood, Part 16


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