Editor’s Note: In seven days Nancy R. Hiller will read a selection from her fantastic book “Making Things Work” at our Covington, Ky., storefront. After that, there will be the usual post-reading activities: bashing a pinata shaped like a biscuit joiner, playing a game with blindfolds and sinking nails into a tree stump.
Did I mention there will be free drinks?
We still have a few spots left in the free event before the local fire department will get grumpy. If you are interested, sign up here. And feel free to bring a date or a spouse (but not both).
This week, I will feature some of my favorite passages from “Making Things Work,” which is hands-down the funniest, gut-punchingest book I’ve read in years.
In this scene, Nancy is writing a list of her business’s expenses on a series of napkins to explain to a wine-and-cheese poser that her business is legit.
“And yes, my shop is behind my house. But I no longer live in the house. I had to move out during the recession, which absolutely gutted my business. During the worst year, my gross sales (i.e. including materials) were $17,000. I slashed the overhead and everything else to the bone. I relied on my credit card to pay lots of bills, a debt that took the following two years to pay off. I’m incredibly lucky that my boyfriend at the time – now my husband – invited me to move in with him; at least that way I no longer had to pay for all of my living expenses on one decimated income.
“That year from hell, I obviously could not even pay myself minimum wage after covering the overheads. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just go out and get a couple of jobs – you know, bagging groceries, cleaning toilets at the office supply store…. Believe me, I thought about it.”
Researcher Suzanne Ellison recently turned up this unusual Spanish split-top workbench that resides in the Museo Ángel Orensanz y Artes del Serrablo. It’s remarkable to find an early split-top bench (which were quite unusual until recently, thanks to Mike Siemsen and Benchcrafted). But the configuration of the benchtop is enough to make you your scratch your head a bit.
Each top is 18 x 14 cm (7” wide x 5-1/2” thick) and are separated by a gap that is 8-1/4” wide. The two tops are joined with two crossbars that are through-tenoned into the tops. The four legs are tenoned into the tops and there is an unusual leg vise (four handles!) that drives a chop that is 58 x 20 cm (22-3/4 x 7-7/8” wide).
The bench overall is 70 cm x 230 cm x 57 cm (27-1/2” high x 90-1/2” long x 22-1/2” deep). The museum obtained the bench in the early 1980s but does not list an approximate age of the bench.
My first reaction to this bench was that perhaps it was for another trade or a specialized purpose, though the museum lists it as a carpenter’s bench. But the more I thought about the bench, the more I think it was used for carpentry or furniture.
The bench is a standard size for a woodworking bench. The vise is clearly set up for woodworking, despite the unusual handles on the screw. There appears to be a holdfast in the rear top. And there are holdfast holes in the front right leg, suggesting the bench was used for edge jointing.
The square block sitting on the top of the bench is a bit of a mystery. It could be a mallet in dog hole, some jig or something else.
If I were forced to speculate, my guess is this was a bench used for woodworking where the owner didn’t deal with stock that was both thin and wide. Of course, the gap between the two tops could have been filled in by a chunk of timber at some point or a tool tray or any number of other things.