During the last 20 years, I’ve experimented with a lot of alternative (or odd) materials to build workbenches. Most worked fine. I think the raw materials are less important than their dimensions and the bench’s design.
Megan Fitzpatrick and I encountered laminated veneer lumber (in the video I erroneously call it LVL) used as a worksurface at a noodle restaurant near the Popular Woodworking offices. Of course, I’d seen LVL before in commercial construction. But the person who made these tables had cut slices of the stuff, rotated them 90° and glued them together. Basically, they had created a surface composed entirely of the edges of plywood.
So I helped Megan build a workbench using the stuff. It was featured on the cover of the November 2009 issue.
The benchtop has held up great during the last 11 years. It’s still as flat as the day we finished it. And it takes a beating, despite the fact that it’s only 2-1/2” thick. I wish we had time to rebuild the base. The video discusses the other modifications we’ve made to it over the years.
Some of the items shown in the video (these are not affiliate links)
Kara Gebhart-Uhl, Christopher Schwarz and I have selected a few of our favorites from “Honest Labour: The Charles H. Hayward Years” – some have already been posted; there are some still to come. Chris wrote about the project that “these columns during the Hayward years are like nothing we’ve ever read in a woodworking magazine. They are filled with poetry, historical characters and observations on nature. And yet they all speak to our work at the bench, providing us a place and a reason to exist in modern society.”
Our hope is that the columns – selected by Kara from among Hayward’s 30 years of “Chips from the Chisel” editor’s notes – will not only entertain you with the storied editor’s deep insight and stellar writing, but make you think about woodworking, your own shop practices and why we are driven to make. When Australian toolmaker Chris Vesper (vespertools.com) read “A Kind of Order” it prompted him to write a few responses – read the first, “Everything in its Place,” here; another is below.
Time Saved is Time Gained
One thing I’ve observed from many years of visiting all types of workshops all over the world: Everyone does it a bit different. There is no right or wrong; it’s what works for you with as little judgement as one can muster. But I have found that certain things can increase shop efficiency and personal enjoyment quite remarkably. Like stepping back once a year for a really good clean up and a think outside the box to re-organise things. Buying or making new storage for your tools (not some latest plastic storage gadget that promises to upend your life with happiness, but genuinely practical ideas like robust drawers, shelving, cupboards, racks etc.). Maybe move the workbench or a couple of machines to suit you better. Chances are if you’ve been thinking for 12 months that you really should move that material rack but haven’t, you probably should have moved it 18 months ago.
One extreme of a workspace is a floor you could eat off during work hours and barely a tool out of place – because everything has a place, and all is organised just so. The other is what appears as mess and utter chaos to the casual observer (hopefully not on the level of compulsive hoarding – that’s not healthy for anyone). But the keeper of said chaos will likely know exactly where everything is, able to reach into the darkness of a dusty corner shelf or bottom drawer and procure quickly any requested item, no matter how obscure. Many people who operate at both extremes (and everything in between) are perfectly capable of producing beautiful work in a reasonable time frame. Some work in an eternal mess; some simply cannot do this. The manners of the brain are an interesting thing.
I prefer the cleaner and more organised end of the shop spectrum – especially working as a one-man business in a very poly-technic workshop (woodworking and metal working, along with a few other tricks like laser marking in house, metrology and some hobby welding, restoring an antique machine). Forget pride or satisfaction – I genuinely find much efficiency is gained from knowing EXACTLY where a certain tool or device is, and being able to lay hands on it immediately – no rummaging through the sedimentary geological layering that sometimes happens.
I ponder my early struggle to separate the precision metal working stuff from the ravages of woodworking dust. Apart from the obvious of using better extraction than in my early toolmaking days, I’ve now overcome this problem completely by simply putting things away and keeping the things that are not like the other separated. This is relevant no matter your shop size. Small shops need to keep ahead on organising lest conditions degrade to the point where one could have difficulty getting in the door due to the goat track having suffered an overnight avalanche (not to mention fire risks and other more serious safety matters). In larger shops it’s also critical as one does not want to waste time walking to the other side of a shop only to realise the item required is somewhere else.
One method I’ve found to be immensely convenient is to have many smallish rubbish bins (trash cans, y’all) placed strategically and unobtrusively around the workshop, sometimes grouped around a specific work area. Nothing fancy. Old paint buckets or similar receptacles mean I am never more than one step – or at best an easy lob – away from a bin. I’ve found it best to have several per area, including one at either end of my benches. So with two benches in my work area and a table in between them, that means I have four bins there alone to cover two benches. Works a treat.
It saves so much time and eliminates double handling when cleaning up your own mess, even in a small workshop.
This ethos was hatched one day whilst I was absorbed in a job and needed to chuck something in the bin. I had to walk several steps to chuck it, walk back and make a second trip (and I likely dropped something along the way).
Think on how many steps you walk to throw out a rag, or the packaging of something you just opened. Consider if you can turf it with little care or precision into a bucket probably less than one meter (about one yard, y’all) away from your body, then not give it a thought until you empty all the smaller bins into your main bin (which I do perhaps once a month). Sure that part takes a little time, but is a small investment in your own time compared to what you’ve already gained.