After the death of Nancy Cogger of Londonderry Brasses, Horton Brasses acquired the company’s stock and is selling many existing pieces at 50 percent off.
Orion Henderson estimated there are more than 23,000 pieces of Londonderry hardware now for sale on the Horton site.
If this is all the information you need, get your credit card out and load up. Here’s the link.
I swooped in and bought about 50 pieces of campaign hardware for future commissions and a follow-up to “Campaign Furniture.” I was shocked at how much money I saved. Here’s the link to the campaign hardware section.
Londonderry is fantastic stuff, made using a lost wax casting process to copy original pieces. The good news is that the hardware looks bang-on original. The bad news is that it usually requires more finessing to install than modern hardware that is completely consistent in every single way.
Orion says that Horton will continue to carry some of the Londonderry pieces and bring them in as a special order. But you’ll never see these prices again.
If you aren’t familiar with Horton, it’s time to fix that situation. I’ve been a happy customer since 1997.
A few weekends ago, I traveled up the Mendocino Coast in Northern California to see The Krenov School’s midwinter show in Fort Bragg, Calif. I suppose I’ve been vocal enough about my status as an alumnus of the school (when it was the College of the Redwoods), so I’ll just say that I like to get back when I can, visit the wonderful people of the area and check out the work in the show. The midwinter show, not the year-end show, has become the alumni event that brings dozens and dozens of us alumni back to the school.
One person I look forward to seeing when I visit is David Welter. David retired in 2016 from his long-time role as shop steward and jack of all trades at the school. David worked alongside James Krenov for 20 years, and he stayed on another decade and a half past the old master’s retirement from the school. David has shepherded and photographed every student piece that’s passed through the school, and he is a font of knowledge on the craft and community.
When Krenov retired from woodworking and his shop in April of 2009, he called David over to clean the place out. By this time, “Old Jim” (as he took to signing in his later years) had almost completely lost his eyesight and had retired from cabinetmaking to make his signature handplanes (which was as much a way to keep busy in the shop as it was a business venture, it seems). When David cleaned out the shop, he brought home a few of Krenov’s machines, hand tools and his workbench.
David just finished building his own small workshop this past year behind his house, a beautiful small shop split into a machine and bench room, with a small guest apartment. The machine room has all of the features of a good Krenovian shop – a nice band saw or two, a boring machine and stacks of wood too good to pass by. But in the relatively spare bench room, only two features catch the eye. One, David’s collection of egg-beater drills hangs above eye-level and is a joy to behold. The other, resting comfortably below eye-level on the same wall, is “Old Jim’s” bench, now fittingly David’s – and it is a joy to peer over, under and around.
The bench itself was built in the 1950s by Målilla Hyvelbänkar, a small family-run company that still makes traditional Swedish workbenches in Målilla, Sweden (a a town roughly halfway between Stockholm and Mälmo). Three brothers (pictured above) started the factory, and it was Yngve Karlsson who built Krenov’s bench just after the World War II.
The bench will be familiar to those who have seen other Scandinavian benches from the 20th century – a large wooden tail vise and accompanying square dog holes, a shoulder vise and a shallow tool tray, with a beech benchtop. This style of bench has a particularly novel stance, with a much wider set of trestles on the shoulder vise end, to accommodate the vise’s protrusion. The tail vise is a classic construction, with the large wooden thread tucked into the dovetailed end cap, plus a guide rail that keeps the vise from sagging and racking.
The shoulder vise, however, is a bit peculiar. The sliding chop, which runs in an odd channel, has been beaten up significantly. Krenov preferred this style of vise for its capacity – without a thread in the middle of the vise’s depth, it could hold much larger parts (all the way down to the floor), such as full carcases or long drawers. Ejler Hjorth-Westh owns a much later bench from the same company, made by Leif. On his, there’s a more standard vise, ordered in a batch of benches by another CR alumnus, Link Van Cleave, who encouraged the maker to pursue a more standard vise layout to sell more benches in the States.
Krenov made a number of simple modifications to the bench (and made them when it was relatively new, judging by the cover shot from the 1986 Prentice Hall edition of “The Impractical Cabinetmaker” which shows the bench back in Sweden with all of the modifications). He added two plywood shelves above and below the bench’s rails, inside of which he stored small pieces of lumber. He also added a simple rasp and file rack to the front of the rail.
On the back of the benchtop, he attached a number of blocks for holding his work light and several small foam knife blocks, into which he often stuck his carving knives. Under the bench is another simple modification – a side-hung drawer. The drawer is tucked under the top a bit, making it hard to reach – but this positioning keeps it away from the bench dogs, which might otherwise be difficult to pop up into service.
The bench is laden with marks from more than a half-century. At the tail vise, a particular angle was sawn so often (roughly 22º) that its kerfs are deeply marked into the top. The small knife blocks bear hundreds of small knife points, which show the variety and small size of the knives Krenov made and used (no slöjd knives here, despite his long residence in Sweden).
Krenov worked for several decades with this bench in his home in Bromma (a suburb of Stockholm), Sweden, and when he moved west to establish the school in Fort Bragg in 1981, he brought it with him. It lived in his corner of the bench room at the school for another two decades, eventually moving to the back room where he escaped from students. Finally, when he left the school in 2002, it followed him home to the shop where David picked it up in 2009.
Visiting this bench, the school and visiting with David and the rest of the teachers always brings about a particular flavor of nostalgia – it isn’t just a yearning for the old, but rather, a desire to get back to work having remembered the monastic time I spent at the school and the philosophy of its founding teacher. There is a quiet energy, not an excitement or enthusiasm, that always comes to me after a visit to Fort Bragg. Maybe, more than anything, it’s just a desire to be at the bench, working with a slow inertia toward fine work.
Pépère watched me with a strange expression. He ran his fingers through my hair, and he said, in the softest voice :
— That’s the story…
— But I woke up just afterward! Tell me, nobody ever tried to make a new handle for the hammer?
— Ah, you know little rabbit, I don’t think so. That DAMMED HAMMER has always skulked around in the tool chest of some member of our family. But understand, really, that it is the men who decide how tools are to be used. And always remember, that drunkenness and anger never give birth to good things
— But you, Pépère, how did you know what happened to Abel?
— When I was a little boy, I asked Pépé Clothaire why this hammer’s handle had never been replaced.
— And you, did you also ask Pépé Clothaire how he knew the story?
— Pépé Clothaire told me that the elves in his shop taught him the story. So the hammer stayed in Pépé Clothaire’s tool chest, and after he died, nobody used his tools, except for the American carpenter’s big saw. It was your mother’s brother who used these tools.
— It wasn’t Uncle Gaspard, he has all modern tools in his joinery shop. What was his name , my uncle you never want to talk about?
— Étienne… He was our first boy. We had three children, Gaspard and your mother were his brother and sister. He had a tragic accident. He was a carpenter, and fell from the top of a church while rebuilding the roof beams . He braced his foot on the ANGEL’S HEAD in the chest. The piece broke out from under him, an angel that didn’t do his job . Since the accident, his chest has never been opened. Tools sleep and die if nobody uses them. You have woken them up a little.
Pépère told me that story without looking at me
Tomorrow it is back to school. I am going to see my friends again, but I will not see Pépère as much. I have to hurry. I need to finish my BOAT before vacation ends.
— You are well on the way to becoming a boatbuilder!
— No, Pépère, later, I want to be a joiner, like you, and I will work with your tools!
— Rabbit, I am really happy to hear you tell me that. If you want to become a joiner, I will show you how to use the tools little by little. But you also have to learn to work with the MACHINES like those in your Uncle Gaspard’s shop. You will not work alone, like us, and not in the same way.
In the meantime, tomorrow, there is school, and that is also very important to become a good woodworker.
Coming up with a title for “Ingenious Mechanicks: Early Workbenches & Workholding” was a challenge. This new book started as an expansion of “Roman Workbenches,” a small letterpress edition we published last year. But the more research that Suzanne Ellison and I did, the more we realized that the “Roman” part wasn’t quite right.
I came up with 10 alternative titles, including such losers as “A Workbench Atlas” (too broad), “Workbenches: The First 1,500 Years” (yawn) and “Slabs, Legs & Wedges” (what *are* you smoking, Schwarz?).
In the end, we settled on “Ingenious Mechanicks” because it hit the right note. Both Suzanne and I were continually floored by the simple workholding solutions used on these benches. We chose to use the antiquated spelling of “Mechanicks” as a tip of the hat to Joseph Moxon, who wrote the first English book on woodworking and used the old word in the title of his book, “Mechanick Exercises.”
So for those of you who are still scratching your head about this book – is it a book on fixing old cars? – here is a brief description of the contents. First: Some of you have asked if “Ingenious Mechanicks” contains all the content from “Roman Workbenches.” The answer is yes. Some of it has been rewritten a tad to match the tone of the remainder of “Ingenious Mechanicks.” But it’s all there.
Chapter 1: Why Early Workbenches? Even if you have a modern workbench with all the latest hardware, there is a lot to be learned from early workbenches. These benches can solve workholding tasks in surprisingly simple ways. And knowing these tricks can allow you to convert almost any surface (such as a picnic table) into a workbench.
Chapter 2: Workbenches Old & Modern A brief discussion of the three major phases of workbench design: simple low benches that used stops and holdfasts; “middle” benches that introduced benches with fixed screws and dogs; and modern benches with the full array of vises, dogs and sharks with lasers. Plus, there is a discussion of the ideal dimensions for both tall and low benches and – my favorite part – a poem about workbench building.
Chapter 3: The Pleasures & Problems with Paintings The core of our research into early benches was sifting through about 10,000 paintings from all over the world and 2,000 years of history to find ones that depicted workbenches in use. We discarded many outliers that ignored gravity and the three-dimensional universe and seized on the patterns we found. This chapter contains dozens of paintings – most of which have never been published before – that show early workbenches in use. And we discuss their surprising diversity of workholding solutions.
Chapter 4: Workbenches: Where, When & Why Suzanne wrote this interesting chapter, which seeks to explain the benches in the paintings through the lens of history. She shows how the benches we found line up with the Roman road system, the borders of the Roman Empire and the changes in the church’s attitude toward St. Joseph, the father of Jesus Christ.
Chapter 5: Early Workholding Devices In many ways, this long chapter is the heart of the book. Using the paintings, I built the jigs, fixtures and workholding devices we found and put them to use. While we show dozens of techniques, we include measured drawings for the two more complex devices: A shavehorse you can add to a low workbench and a French shaving setup called the “belly” that can be added to any workbench. Plus we investigate some paintings that we just couldn’t figure out.
Chapter 6: Herculaneum Workbench Plans and construction information for the eight-legged bench shown in the Herculaneum fresco (circa 79 A.D.). This bench (and the one from Pompeii) is the earliest image we know of that depicts a workbench in use.
Chapter 7: Saalburg Workbench The oldest surviving workbench (so far) is from a Roman fort in Saalburg, Germany. I visited the fort and was permitted to examine the bench and take measurements. This chapter details how to construct the bench (circa 187 A.D.). This is probably my favorite bench of the bunch (just because of the way it looks; they all function well).
Chapter 8: ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ to Your Dollars My favorite chapter. It’s about the extreme measures we took to dig up information on the first drawing of a “modern” workbench from a 1505 codex. It was so much work and involved people all over the world. The result: We got a recipe for stew and failed to translate the recipe for a love potion. Oh, and there was a kidnapping and a stabbing.
Chapter 9: Holy Roman Workbench Using the 1505 codex, I built a copy of the first “modern” workbench we know of – it’s a tall workbench with a twin-screw face vise and a fascinating (and highly effective) tail vise.
Chapter 10: ‘Experto Crede’ The final chapter is personal (feel free to skip it). Why is it important to continue to investigate these old benches? And what you can do to continue the research if you are as bonkers as I.
Most of you know I’m not an academic writer. While I love the research tools (and the resources) of the academic, I decline to write like one. This will upset those of you who are serious about your… everything. Apologies. Instead, my goal was to harness years of research and bench trials and funnel that into something that is fun to read, beautiful to look at and useful in your shop.