Solve the Mexican Workbench Mystery

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Mark Firley at The Furniture Record (one of my favorite blogs), sent me these photos of a workbench he encountered in his travels. He was on;y able to snap these photos before the antiques dealer shooed him away.

My first (and fifth) reaction:  A Narwhal and some ship’s tackle had a baby. And it didn’t live….

So if you look at the top of the bench, you can see there is probably a vise nut bolted to the underside of the workbench’s top.

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The bolts might be (OK, almost certainly are) a later addition to the bench. Judging from the wear and tear on the thing (and the dealer’s guess at the age), that hardware is new.

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But then everything goes sideways when we consider the vise. The vise screw itself looks handmade – not manufactured – and could very well be from the same era as the bench itself. The big thing sticking in the air is definitely… sticking in the air.

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To my eye it resembles a leg vise chop after a vicious dog attack. And then there’s the second vise nut in front of that. It’s bolted in places (perhaps a repair?).

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I wonder if the vise screw is in backwards and its hub is under the bench. And we just have, for some odd reason, two vise nuts. That’s my best guess.

— Christopher Schwarz

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12 Responses to Solve the Mexican Workbench Mystery

  1. tomdengler says:

    That is……interesting…… To say the least. My first reaction, that bench was found in some shed in parts and reassembled by someone who had no idea what they were doing. We’ve all seen moulding planes in antique stores with wedges in backwards! The bench screw is interesting…. Looks more like a rope twist spindle and needlessly long.

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    >

  2. jdcook72 says:

    Upon first seeing the pictures and before reading your comments, my initial thought was that the screw was in backwards as well; I thought the piece sticking up in the air was a sample workpiece though. Leg vice makes more sense obviously after reading and close examination of the photos. Given the length of the screw and the width of the bench, could it be that the piece in front of the chop belong on the back side of the bench, screw turned around with a hub to act on the chop as you said and the screw grabs into it? The hole in the face of the small piece may match up to one in the back edge of the table with a dowel to align it to the correct location.

  3. No stretchers! More Stent Panel goodness!

  4. Eric R says:

    I can’t say…I lost consciousness after looking at the bottom of the third picture…$2,950.00…
    I am in the wrooong business…..

  5. momist says:

    To me, that screw looks much more like a ‘Barley Twist’ table leg, perhaps pressed into service when the old screw failed?

  6. toolnut says:

    My guess is it is a leg vise and the antiques dealer received the piece unassembled and this is how it went back together. I’ve seen quite a few things at antique shops that didn’t get put back together properly.

  7. lathey says:

    Much of what is sold as “antique” is either a marriage of unassociated pieces of detritus or outright fakes. This piece is a mash-up of both of those. I would be leery of anyone who can’t tell a table leg from screw.

    The shiny finish and lack of any wear really adds to the overall feeling of fakery. The good news is that the fuel value of the wood is undiminished.

  8. Hmmm…well…as someone that is in and out of old barns, and historic homes for restoration work…and…Touching “old wood” all the time like this, my “gut” feels like some others…This is a…”Frankensteined” item of old wood…some wood to be made to look old…and is most likely “100% faux” in the realm of actually ever being a working bench…but that is just looking at it from photos…

  9. Derek Long says:

    I think the statuary with the bloodied up knees is a self-portrait of the craftsman after jamming his knees in that contraption in a hard day’s work.

    I can’t imagine this is anything but a cobbled together piece of something that someone found in a barn.

  10. kaisaerpren says:

    Hi, this looks to me a typical antique dealer’s Chimera. A situation where someone had parts of more than one bench but not a whole bench so they jammed them together so they could try to sell…. something. it’s usually done with broken furniture. it can be amusing. it may constitute fraud. caveat emptor
    be well
    K

  11. narford84 says:

    When looking for old joinery tool descriptions years ago, I found alot of tools that were from sunken English ships. Seems the tools and techniques almost always came from somewhere else and not the end destination mine do. The boat tackle comment isn’t far from the answer.

  12. I assume everything I see in an antique shop is either a fake, or a heavily altered older piece,many then look for clues that prove otherwise. This sure doesn’t scream 18thC, and it certainly doesn’t have an historically important qualities that would make it worth more than it would command as a purely decorative piece.

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