We think of loose tenons as a modern joint, but it is far from it. Early Greek and Roman boats were made with loose tenons that were pegged to keep the hulls together.
I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that Richard Maguire also used this same technology to glue up his benchtops (read all about that here). I’ll be honest, I’ve always relied on glue alone (when I didn’t have a monumental one-piece slab top).
But my view changed a couple years ago when we got a bad batch of epoxy and several benchtops delaminated. If I ever have to glue up a slab benchtop again, I’m adding loose tenons.
Interestingly, Maguire doesn’t drawbore the loose tenons in his tops. He states: “a draw bored peg here would have been much weaker than this straight through approach.” I do believe I will be experimenting with this joint – both drawbored and not – to see for myself.=
Maguire wasn’t the first to come up with the idea of loose tenons in a benchtop (though I heard it from him first). Recently I got to inspect an early 20th-century French workbench from La Forge Royale that used the technology.
This commercial workbench was surprisingly rough in manufacture. Joints were deliberately overcut throughout to make the bench easy to assemble. The “breadboard” ends were merely nailed or screwed on. No tongue. I could go on and on. It’s still a great workbench (and still standing after 100 years), so I’m not knocking it. But I was surprised.
Despite the rough construction, the builders took the extra time to add loose tenons in the benchtop’s joint. That fact says a lot to me as to how important a detail they thought it was.
So it’s worth a thought for your next workbench.
— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com