§ 2. The Bench. Pl. 12. Fig. 12.

Plate 12, Figure 12

Plate 12, Figure 12

Consists of a platform A B C D called the top, supported upon four legs, E, F, G, H. Near to the further or fore end A B is an upright rectangular prismatic pin a, made to slide stiffly in a mortise through the top. This pin is called the bench hook, which ought to be so tight as to be moved up or down only by a blow of a hammer or mallet. The use of the bench hook is to keep the stuff steady, while the joiner, in the act of planing, presses it forward against the bench hook.

a, the "bench hook"

a, the “bench hook”

D I a vertical board fixed to the legs, on the side of the bench next to the workman, and made flush with the legs: this is called the side board.

D I, the side board

D I, the side board

At the farther end of the side board, and opposite to it, and to the bench hook, is a rectangular prismatic piece of wood b b (Editor’s note: this is likely an error as the plate is labeled d d), of which its two broad surfaces are parallel to the vertical face of the side board: this is made moveable in a horizontal straight surface, by a screw passing through an interior screw fixed to the inside of the side board, and is called the screw check (Editor’s note: sic. “Check” is correct). The screw and screw check are together called the bench screw; and for the sake of perspicuity, we shall denominate the two adjacent vertical surfaces of the screw check, and of the side board, the checks of the bench screw.

d d, the screw check

d d, the screw check

The use of the bench screw is to fasten boards between the checks, in order to plane their edges; but as it only holds up one end of a board, the leg H of the bench and the side board are pierced with holes, so as to admit of a pin for holding up the other end, at various heights, as occasion may require. The screw check has also a horizontal piece mortised and fixed fast to it, and made to slide through the side board, for preventing it turning round, and is therefore called the guide.

H, the leg pierced with holes

H, the leg pierced with holes

Benches are of various heights, to accommodate the height of the workman, but the medium is about two feet eight inches. They are ten or twelve feet in length, and about two feet six inches in width. Sometimes the top boards upon the farther side are made only about ten feet long, and that next the workman twelve feet, projecting two feet at the hinder part. In order to keep the bench and work from tottering, the legs, not less than three inches and a half square, should be well braced, particularly the two legs on the working side. The top board next to the workman may be from one and a half to two inches thick: the thicker, the better for the work; the boards to the farther side may be about an inch, or an inch and a quarter thick. If the workman stands on the working side of the bench, and looks across the bench, then the end on his right hand is called the hind end, and that on his left hand the fore end. The bench hook is sometimes covered with an iron plate, the front edge of which is formed into sharp teeth for sticking fast into the end of the wood to be planed, in order to prevent it from slipping; or, instead of a plate, nails are driven obliquely through the edge, and filed into wedge-formed points. Each pair of end legs are generally coupled together by two rails dovetailed into the legs. Between each pair of coupled legs, the length of the bench is generally divided into three or four equal parts, and transverse bearers fixed at the divisions to the side boards, the upper sides being flush with those of the side boards, for the purpose of supporting the top firmly, and keeping it from bending. The screw is placed behind the two fore legs, the bench hook immediately before the bearers of the fore legs, and the guide at some distance before the bench hook. For the convenience of putting things out of the way, the rails at the ends are covered with boards; and for farther accommodation, there is in some benches a cavity, formed by boarding the under edges of the side boards before the hind legs, and closing the ends vertically, so that this cavity is contained between the top and the boarding under the side boards; the way to it is by an aperture made by sliding a part of the top board towards the hind end: this deposit is called a locker.

— Peter Nicholson, “The Mechanic’s Companion; or, the elements of and practice of carpentry, joinery, bricklaying, masonry, slating, plastering, painting, smithing and turning…” (1811). The image is from my 1845 edition, published by John Locken, Philadelphia. The entire book can be downloaded and read for free on Google Books via this link.


About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in Historical Images, The Naked Woodworker DVD, Workbenches. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to § 2. The Bench. Pl. 12. Fig. 12.

  1. Don’t quite see what’s going on here…”Sometimes the top boards upon the farther side are made only about ten feet long, and that next the workman twelve feet, projecting two feet at the hinder part.” I feel like there’s wisdom there, but it’s evading me.

    • LostArtPress says:

      I think this is an interesting detail, but one that is rare in the wild (in my experience).

      Basically, the bench is 2′ longer at the front than the back. And the 2′ of extra length is on the right end of the bench as shown (reverse that orientation for lefty benches).

      Though Nicholson doesn’t discuss the uses of the overhang, I know what I would use it for: Sleeving assembled casework and drawers over the overhang to plane their joinery and surfaces down.

      Other interpretations are welcome, but that’s how I see it.


      • Thanks, I think that’s the obvious answer. These are benches for furniture making a messing about in drawers is such a pain unless you can do this.

    • Mike Siemsen says:

      While I am with Chris on this it could be as simple as saving up to 2 feet of lumber! I find if I read the old texts and blindly do what they say I usually learn something useful in the end.

      • toolnut says:

        Saving wood might also explain the difference in thickness of the front and back boards.

  2. jmuhaw says:


    Is there a Sketch-Up of this bench somewhere? Thanks

  3. Sean Hughto says:

    Does the planing stop have to be at a leg or something? Cause I wouldn’t put it in a place where my hip would always be running into the vise handle/screw if I could help it.

    • Mike Siemsen says:

      When I build the bench I put the planing stop behind the leg. It is best supported there.The vise screw can be removed if its in your way but you might find that it reallyisn’t a problem as your arms are far enough ahead of your hips when you plane.

  4. I cannot see in the drawing, if there is a back board like others of this style. Complementing (d-d)?

  5. Never mind….

Comments are closed.