Last night I reached into the fridge while looking for a beer and found a Stone IPA. I used to love this beer, but I haven’t had one in years. Why? I always seem to chase something new. Weirder. More IBUs. Odd yeast. Whatever.
I poured the Stone beer into a glass, took a sip and became 30 years old again. What an amazing beer. Why have I eschewed this well-made staple in favor of temperamental exotics?
It’s human nature, I guess. We are easily excited by things that are new and novel in comparison to things that are familiar and tried. Not just for beer. But for workbenches and vises as well.
This fact was driven home during the last couple years as I built the workbenches and workholding devices for “Ingenious Mechanicks.” As I put these “obsolete” designs to work, I was pleasantly surprised by how robust, straightforward and easy they were to use. If you have a modicum of hand-eye coordination, you’ll find that these benches and appliances work like old friends.
They have some advantages to modern vises. Their simplicity is at the top of the list.
We have 10 workbenches in our shop in Covington, Ky. The earliest is from 79 A.D. and the latest is from about 1970. And the more modern the bench, the more maintenance it requires. Modern screw-driven vises can suffer from all manner of odd problems. The more parts a thing has, the more things that can go wrong.
Oh, and metal parts that move have special requirements. Rust is a problem. Beyond that, metal parts are typically fit so closely that almost anything can gum up the works, including pitch, sawdust and shavings.
For the first 1,500 years of the so-called “common era,” woodworkers used benches that were simple. They were mostly wood with very few metal bits. Instead of relying on brute mechanical force to hold the work steady, these benches relied on clever geometry, wedges and pegs.
As I folded these ideas into my work, they became second nature. And as I finished up work on “Ingenious Mechanicks” in 2017, I thought to myself: “This book is utterly stupid. All these things are obvious and not worth discussing.”
Good thing I have customers and friends. As I explained to them how these dirt-simple appliances functioned, I saw their surprise. It was the same surprise I felt when I first encountered the doe’s foot, the palm or the belly.
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To be sure, “Ingenious Mechanicks” is an incomplete work. Suzanne Ellison and I scoured every museum, painting and old book we could find to offer a new look at ancient benches. But what is missing is the complete and unabridged instruction manual for these benches.
I built a lot of furniture using these benches and appliances, but there is still much work to be done. Every time I sit down on these benches and get to work, my head is filled with new ideas about how these benches work. I crammed as many of these ideas into “Ingenious Mechanicks” as I could, but there is lots of work to be done.
If you pick up this book and put its ideas to use, you will be part of a group of experimental archaeologists who are exploring the past – the largest undiscovered country on earth. Woodworking (and workbenches) didn’t begin in the 17th century. That’s just when the written record begins.
Need a taste of this book before you commit? I don’t blame you. Here you go:
You don’t have to register for anything. Just click the link and you’ll have a pdf of some of the pages from the book.
— Christopher Schwarz
23 thoughts on “A Free Preview of ‘Ingenious Mechanicks’”
Wow! That’s a lot of book for free. And lots of information. I feel so guilty that I’ll have to buy the book.
Wow, the whole book. That’s generous
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That is one yet another book that I will enjoy for years. I can’t wait to put it in my bookshelf I keep designing a Lost art book case and it keeps getting bigger. But to clarify that this is just the expanded version of Roman workbenches?
All of the content from “Roman Workbenches” is indeed contained in “Ingenious Mechanicks.” I will say that the content has been greatly expanded and rewritten to have a consistent tone with the new material.
Anyone know where I can get some cherubim to work in my shop? They look extremely useful.
Celestial labor exploiter! How dare you!! Suck it up and pay elves and gnomes a fairy wage.
Sorry, couldn’t resist. 😉
I already have gnomes. They won’t do any work they just hide my tools.
I have been making a lot of bowls and spoons in the green woodworking mode of late. I don’t have a bowl horse and was wondering what you thought of using the Roman styles with that set up featuring Will shaving the rung? I thought it might be helpful with shaping the outside of bowls.
Are you talking about using the head and the belly? I think having a large block in the belly could make that work. Cool idea for bowls.
Received my pdf copy for my birthday. Can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying the book. I’ve got a few ideas of how to incorporate different features for greenwood bowls and other unique shapes. Thank you for putting this book together.
Why must you make me regret putting a vice on the bench I just built?! I mean, yeah it’s a reproduction of a Dutch bench that my ancestors used, but still… Guess I better build another bench… Again…
Everyone loves Log.
Ah, you reminded me of another classic comedy ode to a common object; the Goodies String commercial. If you are American then you may not know of the Goodies. They were an absurdist English comedy group in the 1970s. They used to play their show in Australia at about 5 pm every day – every 1970s school kid ran home to watch them. They’re show was made by the BBC – so no advertisements, so they made their own. This following ode to string was one of the “ads”. It’s only about 15 seconds long, but is on a loop in this video:
I am about to start on my “Home Center Herculaneum”. I want to face laminate two 2x12s for the top. I suppose any glue would work, but any thoughts on what would work best? Hide, PVA, epoxy, heck even subfloor adhesive is an option.
With no bench currently, I am going to use 5 gal buckets for legs while I build the tops, add a head & belly to form the legs (25yr old 2x4s save from a home remodel) and then make it free standing.
What a beautiful book – superb production values and so carefully and thoughtfully written and edited.
Yes, I think some people seek the new for the sheer novelty of it, but some of us are adventurers always seeking knowledge and enlightenment. Your little beer tale is a timely reminder that in seeking the new we should not forget to collect and treasure the best that we find.
This book is glorious. I patiently wait for my paper copy.
I had preconceived ideas concerning this book. Not negative ideas, but ideas of highly skeptical nature. I must say that the execution and the scholarly preparation of this book is a progressive departure from earlier approaches. While the earlier approaches were just fine and I have no complaints, but this one -feels- different. I genuinely appreciate a company that is trying (and has succeeded in my opinion ). So a tip of the ol’ timey newsboy cap to you folks at LAP. There’s a maturity and a level of competence that merits a new workbench book. Just when I was getting ready to roll my eyes, I was proven extra extra wrong. Check it out, you’ll enjoy it.
-one last thing… what are the dovetail notches for?! “the dovetail notches on the long edge were the biggest mystery…” am I missing something? or are they merely additional stops for across the grain planing? either way… the book is one of artistic and academic merit.
…oops, I left out a few words… “I genuinely appreciate a company that is trying to push the boundaries of what has worked, for the simple idea of challenging one’s own possibilities…”
I always enjoy your work. Reading the comment on the Heracleum work bench, I don’t think the artist made a mistake on the saw design, maybe a mistake in depicting it’s use. It looks all the world like a frame saw for resawing wood. Blackburn tools makes a hardware ser and Shannon Rodgers uses his all the time. Just a thought.
I have one of those frame saws as well and am quite familiar with them (it’s difficult to edit Roubo and not be).
We considered it was a resaw frame saw (or a Bouncing Betty), but we couldn’t find any Roman examples. They might have had them. But either way, the saw is drawn in a way that its utility would be quite limited.
I have wondered why the notch in a doe’s foot or palm all have straight sides. What if they curved inward like two tangent ellipses? The doe’s foot would then effectively work at different angles and even on corners that are not 90 degrees. And, planning a board on edge using a palm would be more effective because the end of the board would jam more tightly into the notch.
I don’t know the answer. Give it a try and let us know. Next time I make a few doe’s feet, I’ll try it as well.
I cut a V made by two tangent circles at one end, a doe’s foot at the other end. My V held 90 degree corners at various angles, 45 degrees was the best due to the symmetry. The doe’s foot did a better job. The long side held better than the short side. I found this same effect with my V at angles other than 45 degrees. My V only contacts the work at two points while the doe’s foot contacts along the entire length. For work other than a 90 degree corner the doe’s foot does not contact along the length. For less than 90 degrees just put the point in the corner and both ends hold well. For greater than 90 degrees both contact at just two points and hold equally well. I find that when failure occurs the batten does not slide but rotates. Your sandpaper idea probably helps with this. If I were you, I would just continue to use the doe’s foot. For me, since I have it, I may use the V end of my stick on occasion. Hopefully, I did not take up too much of your time on this rabbit hole.
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