My next book, “Ingenious Mechanicks: Early Workbenches & Workholding,” is about one-third designed. As with all my books, it is wrestling with me like an alligator in a vat of Crisco.
Suzanne “The Saucy Indexer” Ellison has turned up a number of new images of old workbenches recently that have reinforced and nuanced some of my findings and conclusions about early workbenches.
The image at the top of this blog entry is not one of them.
Suzanne plowed through about 8,000 images (a conservative estimate) for this book. And some of the images were dead ends, red herrings or MacGuffins.
In the image above (sorry about the low quality), we have a bench that is off the charts in the odd-o-meter. It is from Corsica, sometime between 1742-1772, and was painted by Giacomo Grandi, who was born in Milan but lived on Corsica.
Here’s what is strange:
It is a low workbench with the screw-driven vise perhaps in the end of the bench. Or the benchtop is square. Either way, that’s unusual.
The screw vise has only one screw and one vise nut.
The vise’s chop is weird. It is longer than the bench is wide.
The chop is being used in a manner that simply doesn’t work (I tried it on one of our lows benches). This arrangement offers little holding power.
So instead of saying: “Hey look we found a bench that makes you rethink end vises,” we are instead saying: “Hey I think this bench is the result of the painter trying to create a workbench to assist his composition.”
As I am typing this, Suzanne and I are trying to figure out if we’ve found a tilted workbench from Corsica that is similar to Japanese planing beam. Or if it’s a victim of forced perspective. Or something else.
At times such as this, I can see how a book could fail to be published. There is no end to the research, the new findings or the greasy alligators.
Late in 2015, Joshua Farnsworth(Wood and Shop) and I traveled to Hancock Shaker Village to film the openings of a couple videos. While there, I measured and photographed the two projects in detail with the intention of reproducing them as accurately as possible.
While I was holed up in the brick dwelling that day measuring and taking pictures of the projects, Josh wandered around the village taking pictures and video.
When we got back to the hotel that night we looked over the pictures we had taken. Josh’s stuff was great. He has a good eye, and Hancock is a beautiful place. My pictures, on the other hand, looked pretty lame in comparison. The photos were of the insides and undersides of the two projects. Mostly, tool marks of all kinds, intersections of joints, writing, mistakes (yes, the Shakers screwed up, too) nails, screws and layout lines. Most people would not even know what the pictures were of. I was trying to photograph how the pieces were made.
As time goes on, I find these ugly photos provide more and more information on a project than I realized. Whenever I look back over these pictures I always see things I did not notice when measuring the actual artifact.
Today as I was reviewing the ugly pictures I had taken on my last trip to Hancock of a chest of drawers that I am preparing to build, a little tidbit of information showed up.
I said all that to say this: If documenting a piece of furniture, take the time to measure accurately and take good overall photos of the piece. Most of all, take lots of high-resolution photos of the insides and undersides of the piece. When it comes time to build, you will find yourself referencing the ugly photos more than anything else.