The Traditionalist sends me an email. He wants to find a source for his slab workbench top. It needs to be 6” thick, 20” wide and 9’ long. One piece of oak. And rived. Definitely rived. Rived is best. He’s talked to a tree service in his town about riving a tree for him, but they just shook their chainsaws at him.
Hmm, I reply. Have you tried visiting RivedBigSlabs.com? I apologize for my joke. OK, let’s try again: If you want a riven benchtop, you will have to do the work yourself.
He’s considered that, he writes. The problem is that the wedges they sell at his hardware store are either plastic or cast iron. Surely there is an online source for wrought-iron wedges. Wrought iron has grain, like a tree, and is much more suited to cleaving without deforming or breaking.
Also, could I suggest a class for making traditional forged axes in the American pattern? Nothing too late in the game – definitely an axe pattern before 1860. Best before 1830, when the great design malaise of Classicism crept into the work of the craftsman.
The Traditionalist sends me a message on Facebook. I don’t use Facebook. A week later he sends me another email. He’d like to buy a large frame saw for ripping his bench legs, but he can’t find anything suitable. Yes, yes, he knows there are people who sell kits for building a saw. He owns those already. But the blade isn’t right. The blade’s teeth have fleam.
Fleam, he explains, doesn’t show up in the historical record until sometime in the mid-19th century, well after the Golden Age of furniture making. If their saws didn’t have fleam, then surely they knew something we didn’t. Fleam must be an unnecessary modern contrivance.
My short reply: Dude, you definitely want fleam, especially in wettish hardwoods.
A week later, The Traditionalist replies: he’s removed the fleam and is having problems. The saw sticks. Do I think they filed sloped gullets between the teeth back then? Perhaps these larger gullets will carry away the waste? Also, he’d like to make some mutton tallow to lubricate the blade but doesn’t know what cut of lamb he should ask for at the butcher to make the tallow. Should it have a lot of fat? Cartilage? Do I have any cites to share on this matter?
The Traditionalist asks me a question during one of his SnapChat stories. One of my teenage daughters sees it and shows it to me on her phone. I decide to wait for his email.
The Traditionalist takes a workbench-building class. On the first day I explain how we’re going to build all the workbench components as a group – one team will work on tops, a second on leg joints, a third on the undercarriage and vises.
During a coffee break on the first morning, The Traditionalist asks if there’s any way he could build his bench during the class without power tools. He explains: Using these machines tends to rob the work of its soul. Everything is too exact. Too perfect. It has lost all its humanity. He wants to stand at a workbench that reflects his own values on craft. It should be beautifully imperfect.
I think about his request. OK, I say. You can build your bench by hand in the afternoons and evenings, and I’ll help you. But in the morning I need you to do your part on the machines so the class doesn’t fall behind. He gladly agrees. I assign him to the Altendorf sliding table saw to crosscut the components to length.
At lunch that day, The Traditionalist sits next to me.
How much, he asks, is an Altendorf?
— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com
Next up: Workbench Personality No. 3: The Cheapskate