Nearly all of the workbenches I’ve built have been in other people’s shops – those that belonged to a school, a friend or an employer. So I’ve always worked with the tools they had. Or I worked under some artificial pretense – building a bench with only hand tools or a certain budget or a time limit.
In fact, I’ve never built an entire workbench in my own dang shop on my own terms.
That fact occurred to me as I was driving home some legs with a sledgehammer. Yes, a sledge. That’s what I prefer to use to drive workbench joints. But when outside of my shop I rarely have one (I usually leave it in my other sledgy pants), and so I make do with mallets, gravity or (no lie) cinder blocks.
What else is different in my shop? The through-mortises in the benchtop. I have cut these every way imaginable, from all-chisel, all-ibuprofen, all-the-time to a Mafell chainsaw mortiser.
In my shop, I take a three-stage approach that works well for me. I bore out most of the waste with an auger. Then I bust up the waste with an electric jigsaw. Using the jigsaw, I kerf all the walls down to my knife lines. The kerfs serve as a guide for my chisel. When the kerfs are chiseled away from the inside of the mortise, the wall is plumb or undercut. Period. End of story.
Today I cut all the mortises for my French oak workbench using this method. Within two hours I was driving the legs in with a sledge. The legs were going to go in on the first test-fit. No lie. Then I thought better of it. After all, getting the legs out of the mortises is much harder.
Our latest book, “By Hand & Eye,” is sometimes difficult to describe. It’s not simple step-by-step guidance to designing better furniture. It is, for lack of a better metaphor, a can opener designed to pry open a part of your brain that has been dormant for too long.
Remember the first time you got a fantastic edge? The first time you planed a perfect surface? Cut a perfect dovetail? That’s the idea. It takes some work, but the results are important to your advancement as a woodworker.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Here are two new reviews of the book. (Reminder: We do not solicit reviews from anyone, friend or foe. These copies were fully paid for.)
The first review is from James Watriss, a professional woodworker and graduate of North Bennett Street. Here’s a taste:
“This is a book about learning to see, and about learning to think. And it’s written for people who want to learn to see, and to think for themselves. It’s not a spoon-feeding of theory and techniques, it’s a guide to finding thought-provoking projects that will lead you to an understanding that you won’t get by flipping through (and ignoring) the latest issue of any given woodworking rag. I’m in the second round of drawing the Doric column. And it’s already sent me back to my library at the shop to dig out The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director to look up the other columns.”
The second review is from the blog Baroque Pearls written by WN “Vels” Lucas. Lucas specializes in researching and building pre-17th century furniture.
“I’ve been noodling with whole-number proportioning for some time, and dividers and basic geometry have been part of my “toolbox” for quite a while. This book has excited several interesting projects to continue along that path – I can only imagine the impact it may have on those wholly uninitiated to the concepts… I imagine those things will be grand. If you think you might someday want to go to the next level with woodworking, or just enjoy geeking about design, this book is a must.”
“By Hand & Eye” is available from our select retailers and directly through our store here.
— Christopher Schwarz
Two notes on other future editions of this book:
1. The digital version will be up for sale in our store this week. Because of the extreme graphic nature of the book (no, it’s not gory), the file will be a pdf instead of an ePub.
2. The leather edition should have been done by now. But it’s not. And it’s my fault. The bindery could not get the leather we wanted and called me while I was in Germany to ask me to look at some other swatches. I forgot to do that. I am fixing that problem today.
Yup. With my massive French oak Roubo workbench squatting unfinished on sawbenches, I’m prepping stock for a second workbench I’m building on Monday and Tuesday for a DVD for Popular Woodworking Magazine.
The “high concept” for this bench is it’s “Pretty Woman” meets “Starship Troopers.” Wait, wrong blog. No, it’s figuring out how to build the maximum bench in the minimum time using easy-to-find materials.
This is a bench design that has been brewing in the back of my head for some time. I hear from a lot of fellow woodworkers that they would love to build a traditional workbench but don’t have a month of Sundays to do it.
So here are the design characteristics of this bench. It…
• weighs more than 300 pounds.
• has an 8’-long top made from clear European beech that is 3” thick.
• has a massive French-style undercarriage where the legs are flush to the outside of the benchtop.
• uses a single quick-release vise to handle most workholding chores (a second vise is optional).
• Knocks down for moving with a ratchet.
• costs less than any commercial bench that is worth buying
• takes only two days of shop time to build
• requires only a few simple machines and tools.
The trick to the bench is using beech kitchen countertops to make the benchtop. For this bench, I had to go deep into enemy territory. No, not Sawmill Creek. Worse. Ikea.
You don’t have to go to Ikea to make the benchtop – I have a second benchtop I made from a mahogany kitchen countertop I got from an architectural salvage place for $30. But I wanted to show the process with stuff that can be purchased easily.
Using the Ikea countertop, six 8’-long 4x4s from Home Depot and a bag of bolts from the local hardware store, the basic bench (without a vise) costs about $440 in materials.
The other thing I like about this bench is it requires a minimal toolkit to build. We’ll be building this with a benchtop table saw, a cordless drill and a few hand tools. Oh, and you won’t need any clamps. Really.
• The deluxe edition is supposed to go on press at the end of August. We were hoping for an earlier press date, but we didn’t get our wish. Then the book has to go to the bindery. And get its slipcase. We are now shooting for an early September delivery.
• Thanks to an error in our store, we mistakenly thought we were sold out of the deluxe edition. We have not quite sold out. We have about 50 copies allocated to the store. After those sell out, we are going to wait until we have all of the copies in hand. We will fulfill all the outstanding orders. Then we will count how many are left and sell those.
• If you have paid your $100 deposit but haven’t paid the balance, please contact John Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org to complete your order. We cannot ship your book until we have the full amount.
• Wesley Tanner is now laying out the trade edition of the book. We hope to have this in time for Woodworking in America.
• We are trying to plan a book-release party for Woodworking in America. If you bought a book, you will be invited.