Jennie Alexander’s Bench Hook

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Jennie Alexander requested that I show a photo of her bench hook (aka planing stop) that is made with a bit of saw steel. If you look close you can see the mortise she cut in front of the wooden pillar to prevent someone getting bit by the “toothy critter.”

Earlier this year I visited Jennie in Baltimore to interview her for an upcoming feature article I am writing about her life’s work – green woodworking and chairmaking. We also discussed some upcoming projects between her and Lost Art Press. More on that as it develops.

It is difficult to overstate Jennie’s influence on the craft. “Make a Chair from a Tree” – the first woodworking book published by The Taunton Press – changed the trajectory of many people’s lives, leading them into a lifetime of building things with their hands.

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The chair that is the subject of that book is something both ancient and thoroughly modern. It is mixed with equal parts traditional joinery and Jennie’s personal approach to the craft and design. And while I have built many chairs during the last 20 years and sat in hundreds more made by fellow woodworkers, Jennie’s chair is the most perfect and delightful one I have ever encountered.

It is lightweight, strong, incredible comfortable and beautiful to behold.

When you sit in her chair, only one thing flashes in your mind: I must make one of these.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in Make a Joint Stool from a Tree, Personal Favorites. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Jennie Alexander’s Bench Hook

  1. Roger Benton says:

    Once you are firmly entrenched in the green woodworking wormhole I’ll invite you to the RE-CO BKLYN yard to split some oak and make some stuff. 17th Century craft in the heart of the city!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Re-purposing a bit of an old saw plate into the metal bits of a bench hook?

    What a completely brilliant and simple idea. Consider it stolen.

    Like

    • theindigowoodworker says:

      Eh, it can’t be that brilliant, I managed to come up with the same concept a few years ago all on my own. It is simple though. I highly recommend it.

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  3. Can’t wait to read the interview and hear more about the upcoming LAP projects.

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  4. pfollansbee says:

    toothy-critter – see p. 18, Make a Joint Stool, etc. – Lost Art Press. I forget what year.
    The chair, as you say, launched many lives’ works…mine included.
    Alexander’s is a house of chairs.
    PF

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  5. ewingda says:

    This seems like a solid idea. Are there any down sides?

    You had mentioned in the past the tooth marks in the wood can be considered a negative. I cant think of anything that is more than cosmetic…mortise in the bench, toothy critter on planning stop, planning stop will not pass all the way thru the bench.

    Versus the ability to hold stock better. I do find parts will “bounce” around a bit when planning against the square ash stop.

    Thoughts?
    D

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  6. 4gallonbucket says:

    We’re going to need someone to measure the Toothy Critter’s rake and fleam angles. Sloped gullets might be over-thinking this a bit.

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  7. don2laughs says:

    That book inspired my current teacher at Palomar College, Russ Filbeck http://www.russfilbeck.net/, who is now a master chair maker and one of the VERY few who is teaching the craft. I feel so fortunate to be able to learn this skill….it IS an extremely captivating endeavor.
    As much as I have seen/heard about these ‘toothed’ planing stops….I just haven’t been able to endorse the concept of sharp teeth exposed on my bench….but I’m trying.

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    • gyegreene says:

      Hi! Depends on what you mean by “exposed”. In the above photo,Jennie has a recess in the benchtop, so you can lower the teeth when you’re not using the planing stop.

      Otherwise, though — I guess just be careful? (You probably have chisels, etc. **also** on the benchtop.) Maybe paint it orange…?

      –GG

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  8. error4 says:

    I’m curious about the workholding going on in the background there. Looks like a leg or spindle being held in some kind of notch being held by a furniture clamp being held by a holdfast? Whats that notch the spindle is in?

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    • 4gallonbucket says:

      I’m not certain, but it looks like a shop-built hand screw flat on the bench and it’s holding some sort of spindle clamp.

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      • theindigowoodworker says:

        To me it looks like it’s being used to hold a board upright on edge while using the stop.

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  9. I made a similar bench hook for my current bench based on Peter Follansbee’s pictures and description of Jennie Alexander’s on his blog and it works great.

    However, I did have to make some alterations. I wasn’t able to cut a neat mortise for the plate to sit into on the top of the stop so I went a different route and cut out a plate with a short (maybe 1/2-3/4″ long by 1″ wide) tang which I then sunk into a mortise in the endgrain of the wooden stop that I made by drilling a series of very fine holes and clearing the waste between them using a knife. Then I just bent the tang to the correction angle and drilled a hole for the bolt. The bolt now keeps the toothed plate from lifting off the stop and the tang prevents it from twisting or spinning. I also used a flattened piece of brass rather than saw steel as it was the only plate-like metal I had at the time.

    Besides that, I look forward to the article and the upcoming projects. Will the article be in Popular Woodworking?

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  10. abtuser says:

    Looking forward too…

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  11. rcjennings says:

    So, any links to her book ?

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  12. Jennie here
    The toothy critter rises 12 degress above the horizontal. I copied the metal bench hook I had.The thicker the saw plate the better. Viewed from above the saw plate is dovetail shaped pointing away from the toothy critters. .The plate is let into the top of the standard. Please make the gain in front if the standard so the entire bench hook can be lowered beneat the the bench surface.
    It is good to hear that others have “come up” with the same idea. Is there anything new under the Sun? I doubt it. I must learn that I am here to listen and to share and to stop crowing.

    The strange gixerdee in the chair picture is a double bench screw held down by two holdfasts. Two wooden vee blocks tightened in the double bench screw hold chair posts so I can bore their mortises horizontally. I got the idea from Brian Boogs years ago. When I finally got around to thanking him, he had completely forgoten about it and was off busy doing things another way.

    Jennie Alexander

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    • error4 says:

      I would love to see a photo of THAT setup! Are the vee blocks cut down to 1/2″ or so from the edge of the block to give them flex? I’m looking for a solution exactly like this

      Like

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