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.

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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47 Responses to Knockdown Nicholson: Video & Principles

  1. My being fat, ugly, and unloved has nothing to do with the amout of the Lost Art Press catalog I own….but maybe I’ll place an order for a hat….just to be sure.

  2. gburbank says:

    ohhh, you forgot the inevitable “How much does it weigh? And will it take three men and a small boy to move it?” questions, as well as the one about fitting it in a hatchback…

  3. mrogen says:

    Hi Chris,

    This is great stuff that makes it fairly simple for most people to build, (even me) as well as affordable to begin woodworking. With all the requirements for what a good workbench needs to
    have taken care of! this will only help more people realize that woodworking is easily within their grasp. All this and easily knocks down to get ready for the road too!

    Viceroy? That’s the brand that I started smoking with. Later I had only Pall Malls or Kools as an option. That’s not really true but I heard about places like that where this is true but never experienced it for myself. Really.

  4. trainman0978 says:

    What I wouldn’t give to have seen this about five years ago when I bought my Hoffman @ hammer bench from highland for seven hundred bucks…. This is twice the weight and about a third if the cost.

  5. Ham Salad says:

    Okay, I’ll ask. What’s the purpose of the metal strap to the left of the plane stop hole? Friction or something else?

    I like the design. Looks like Menards is gonna get some of my money this weekend..

    • Good question. That is a mending plate that I added – perhaps unnecessarily.

      Because of the position of the planing stop – it’s really close to the end of the benchtop – I was concerned that the top would split there after a lot of the up-and-down.

      • Ham Salad says:

        I had thought that’s what you had in mind. With the motion of planing against the stop I was wondering how much that square hole would get garfed out.,

        Thanks Chris!

  6. mnspringer says:

    It worked! I’ve been meaning to download Mike’s video. I’ve even managed to access it!
    Thanks again Mr. Schwarz for another fine design and great music too boot! Artist please. (:

  7. momist says:

    Instead of the ratchet, I think I’d use the brace, it’s quicker to spin. Or maybe a ring spanner to loosen/tighten, and then a cordless drill to spin?
    Lovely bench!

  8. A 3/8″ drive speedhandle will make that task much easier.

  9. ewingda says:

    Cmon- we both know that the post was a day late because you were snuggling your mahogany find with a beer in hand.

    I dig the bench. It may make a nice assembly bench adjacent to the roubo. I hope this hrobut yet simple bench helps to pull more people into the craft. Good stuff!!

  10. ewingda says:

    Reblogged this on Ewing Custom Creations and commented:
    This is a fantastic way for someone to get into woodworking with a solid bench that is cheap and easy to make.

    Check out Lost Art Press for more info and the Naked Woodworker videos that detail the process.

  11. churchclown says:

    This is a wonderful idea and execution. It would be convenient to take to woodworking or craft shows and incorporate into the display.

  12. bsrlee says:

    OK, what were the 2 pieces of wood for that you pounded out of somewhere under the bench through what looks like a holdfast hole with a length of dowel? There doesn’t look to be any useful place for them to go. And good idea for the holdfast storage in the leg unit.

  13. kv41 says:

    Hi, Chris. I love your new bench. It’s just what I need for my small workroom. Will purchase the plans when you have them available.

  14. richardmertens says:

    Great design–hefty, cheap, elegant and easy to build. Could we shorten it to 5 feet and mount a vise where the crochet is, plus one on the far end? (This would be a bench for kids to use. Some of their work will be carving, and they apparently need vises for that.)

    • I use a portable workbench with a crochet. I spent this afternoon cutting a lot of half lap joints. The crochet is not ideal. I’d fit the leg vice.
      If I could work out how to get a face vice on my bench I would.
      You might also consider a Veritas inset vice. I have one on mine with a rown of dog holes. It’s an excellent, lightweight and robust combination.

  15. Jennie nere
    This bench touches the cockles of my heart. My bench is a bit heavier but the same idea.
    First: Top is 2 x 4s face glued pine from Home Center. It Is not slippery. Together the face glued 2 x 4 bys damp out larger moisture responses of wider stock. The thickness of the top easily receives holdfasts and the metal bench hook (planing stop) a nd whatever else you use.
    Make your planing stop from a square wooden shaft topped with a piece of toothy critter saw steel.
    You can make different styles for different tasks. The price? Fergedaboutit. There is none.
    Second: A buddy contractor had some 6 x 6 paralam left over. Heavy. I sealed it againf the omnipresent formaldehyde. If you don’t need the weight double up 2 x 6s.
    Third:The Moxon double bench screw is of held in place by a pair holdfast availavlle for $35! It can be moved anywhere about the bench top and hanging over its perimeter.
    Fourth: Forget yellow pine. It is too slippery! I do use as an aprostill n on the front edge to receive taperel metal alignment pins to support wood held in the crochet.
    Fifth: The cost and construction are right. The only bummer is I have never found an American wood threader that holds up. The available German aluminum threader is a deam but costly. Not knowing better I bought one 40 years ago and it is flawless to day. American toolmakers have not responded to my gentle pleas.

    Jennie Alexander

  16. Jeff Faulk says:

    You can bodge a leg vise together very cheaply from a chunk of 2×8 (or even 2×12 if you love you some wide vises) and a pipe clamp without much trouble at all. There’s some adjusting back and forth certainly, but once you have the travel of the pipe clamp’s screw dialed in you really don’t have to shift it much at all. I’ve found it a reasonable alternative to a traditional screw vise if one doesn’t have the money.

    Just a thought, and I may have to pursue one of these. I’m currently rocking a strange abomination inspired by Roy Underhill’s folding bench, which has some Nicholson genes in it…

    • Jeff,

      We’ve been trying to get in touch with you via e-mail about a transcription of “The Naked Woodworker” that is progressing. Have you received the e-mails?

      • Jeff Faulk says:

        Hello Chris,

        My Facebook doesn’t connect to the email I normally use so I don’t check that very often. I’ll drop you a line and we can talk from there. Looking forward to hearing from you!

  17. Kevin says:

    Do you have to worry about the top being face-glued (compared to ripped laminated 2x8s) or do the bolts help with that?

    • Not sure what the question is, I’m afraid. Thickness doesn’t ensure flatness.

      • Kevin says:

        Your comment actually answered it… I always worked under the assumption that laminating southern yellow pine would help keep it stable, but, unless I’m making plywood that isn’t really how it works. I think I have been making bench building hard on myself, thanks for the reply.

  18. rondennis303 says:

    I like it!

  19. Jennie here
    Forgot. Why not follow Moxon’s illegible diagram and run a wooden screw through the crochet?
    Jennie Alexander

    • Jennie,

      I have done that with a couple of benches. It certainly works and helps simplify workholding. It also gets in the way more than a traditional leg vise. I ran my hip into it (and some soft parts) many times.

  20. alanws says:

    If you want the crochet to be removable, why not do a full Siemsen?

  21. jbakerrower says:

    I found and bought an old metal bench stop. Now I know that I need to cut a big hole in my bench, laminate a big post, trim it to be a tight fit for a ‘planning stop’, then drill a perfectly sized hole in its top and drive in the metal stop without splitting it… but for some reason I’m scared to start… Any hints on order of precedence / techniques? I can’t find anything on the web about creating one.

    • steveschafer says:


      The hardest part is cutting the hole in the bench top, so do that first, and size the wooden stop to fit. If the metal stop has a tapered round shank, just drill the hole a bit undersized and drive it in (where “a bit” will depend on the wood you use). If the shank of the metal stop is square in cross section, you might want to cut the mortise for it before you do your lamination, since you’ll have access to what will eventually be inside the hole.

      • jbakerrower says:

        Oops. Missed the mortise before laminating. And the shank is rectangular… hand forged. I may try drilling overlapping holes. If I split it, well, I’ll do it right next time. I may be several layers of skill below what you assume. How do I ‘make it fit’? I’m considering cutting a tenon on one end for size. If I cut it too small, well cut off the tenon and try again. Once it fits, then do the same on the other end and finally plane off in between the two tenons. Or is that just too complicated?

      • jbakerrower says:

        The hole was easy… drill with squares, saw, then chop with a chisel resting against a square 2x. Three sides are square. Fourth side I was feeling cocky and under cut it about 1/8″.

      • steveschafer says:

        Re: making it fit; this is how I would approach it:

        1) Saw the blank slightly oversize (about 1/16″ or so in both dimensions–basically, as close to the final size as your sawing skill level allows while ensuring that it isn’t undersize).

        2) Start planing the faces, heavily at first, then with lighter cuts as you get close to the size of the hole. Keep an eye on the cross section, and try to approach the final size evenly from both directions. Also, try to make the blank ever so slightly tapered, so that one end fits into the hole before the other does. (The taper should be so slight as to be something that you feel rather than see.)

        3) A soon as you reach the point where one end goes in about 1/2″ and then stops, take very fine partial cuts with the plane to gradually straighten out the taper, checking the fit frequently. Use the technique given in Chris’s blog post that I linked above to figure out where the tight spots are.

      • Jennie here again!
        Sorry but this exchage of comments is very helpful. Forget metal bench hooks (plane stops). No trouble make your mortise in the bench first and then make a wooden body to fit. If needed, you can add a strap iron in and out on one side of the body. Then bolt a heavy saw steel flat dovetailed shaped toothy plate at a slight angle to th top. of the wooden body. Bore a hole in the middle of the plate and bolt it down to the body into an inset nut. The cost. $ooooo.oo. See pg.18 of Alexander and Follansbee , Make a Joint Stool from a Tree, Lost Art Press (2012). Maybe Chris could put up the picture to show how ridiculously simple and effective it is. You may want to chisel a slight gain below the teeth so they can be sunk beneath the bench top surface. The teeth are dangerous. One sweeping removal of shavings-one sweeping removal of skin. Yuk!
        Jennie Alexander

      • jbakerrower says:

        Steve and Jennie, thanks for your time and advice
        e. I’ll try it this long weekend. It will probably take me a day to cautiously do what you could do without hesitation in ten minutes.

      • jbakerrower says:

        Success! But first… liquid hide glue lamination failed from pounding it in and out. Took the opportunity to cut a mortis for the metal stop, then re-laminated w yellow glue. Hours of fine shavings, ’cause I’m a chicken, but it now slides in and out -barely. Took Jennie’s advise to sink teeth below bench top when not in use. Pictures on Google+

  22. anthonytibs says:

    I found some very clear 2x12x16 SYP at the home center to build this bench, but it feels like it’s “wet”. It’s not pressure treated kind of wet, but it’s not as dry as you can sometimes find smaller 2x’s. So, I was wondering if I should give this wood a chance or if I should keep looking.


    • Anthony,

      I have found that some home center SYP can be as wet as 18 percent MC. If you cut it to length and sticker it in your shop, it will finish drying out fairly fast – usually a week or two.

  23. Paul Siegel says:

    Any word on the sketchup file? I’m buying lumber next weekend and would love to have some more details. to look at.

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