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.