Workbenches that are powered by wedges, friction and stops have been fascinating to me since I first started looking into Roman workbenches. My interest and research into these benches eventually became “Ingenious Mechanicks.”
And now an old Norwegian Sloid (Sloyd/Slojd) manual has shed some new light (for me, at least) on these wedge-based benches – thanks to some drawings and text.
Eivind Reed of Breim, Norway, sent along these drawings plus a translation he made from the first Norwegian textbooks on school Sloid, “Sløidlære for skole og hjem” (Craftsmanship for School and Home), which were written by H.K. Kjennerud and Karl Løvdal. Here is the translation:
No. 244. Wedgebench. Pine in the benchtop, birch in the front vise, the board at the front end, planing stop and wedges. The bench can be made larger or smaller according to the intended use. By the drawings you see that the planing stop will sit slightly within the edge of the front board. The fit in the mortise must be so tight that it stays without slipping down. To avoid having to remove the planing stop when using the birdsmouth, we make two recesses for the teeth, so that it can be flush with the benchtop.
The bench can be put on a box, kitchen counter or similar. It will of course not measure up to a regular workbench, but when you get used to it, it does good service. To plane the face of a board, put it on the benchtop, thrust it into the planing stop so that the teeth sink in and it rests toward the front board. The teeth stop the board from moving backward when withdrawing the plane. To plane the edge of a board, we put it in the front vise [a crochet]. If it will not stand securely, we use the wedge. If the board is narrower than the thickness of the benchtop, we drive down the planing stop and put the piece in the birdsmouth. To shoot the ends of the board, we wedge it in the front vise, back vise or we use the front board as a shooting board. To rip boards, we use the front or rear vise as we see fit. To crosscut, we lay the piece on the bench as usual. To avoid losing the wedges, and to keep them always at hand, we hang them by string on eye hooks on a fitting place on the bench.
No. 245. Wedgebench to attach to the wall. See No. 139. The bench is attached with hinges and can be put up when not in use.
There are some clever aspects to both of these benches that are not covered by the text.
Both benches are on the small size, like the Milkman’s Workbench. The sizes are in metric. (My mind defaulted to American customary units when I first looked at the drawings. I saw a benchtop that was 6” x 20” x 80”. Dumb American.) The second wedgebench (No. 245) is longer, but that’s mostly to make room so your handplanes don’t poke you a new window in your wall.
One of the bits of cleverness are the rotating toggles below the benchtop that allow you to hold work on edge. I’ve seen sliding bars, but not toggles. These are much simpler to make and install.
The best stuff is the wedges. The opening in the benchtop has one straight side and one angled side. The angled side is 6° off vertical. The wedges shown below the notch both have faces that are angled at 6°. One wedge for small work; one for larger. The angles on the vise and the wedges keep the clamping pressure square to the workpiece.
In investigating early benches, all the notches that I recall encountering had square-sided notches (the dovetailed notches in the Saalburg bench are one exception). Clamping work in those proved less-than-spectacular until I tried using softwood wedges with almost no slope on them. The softwood compressed when struck and then held the work like crazy. These angled notches are another excellent solution to the problem.
The crochet is called out in the text, and it’s nice that this one also comes with a complementary wedge. Both the crochet opening and the wedge are at about 11.3°.
Also interesting is the “front board” – basically a full-time wide planing stop. It’s only about 3/8” thick (9mm). Combining that with the toothed planing stop is pretty clever.
When I first looked at figure No. 244, I assumed the holes in the benchtop were for holdfasts. That is, of course, silly for many reasons. It’s likely because of the way they are drawn that they are the way you fasten the benchtop to a table or box.
If I make another Roman bench, I will definitely incorporate the angled notches and wedges into the design. Thanks so much to Eivind for the image and the translation.
— Christopher Schwarz
19 thoughts on “The Norwegian ‘Wedgebench’ Workbench”
Or ‘sløyd’ if you’re Norwegian and not Swedish.
In Swedish, it is indeed “slöjd”.
In this context, the “ö” and the “ø” are basically just two different ways of writing the digraph “oe” (it gets a bit more complicated if you go into the details), and should not be confused with the diaeresis use of an “o” with a trema.
The “ø” (probably) arose out of “o” and “e” written together, “œ”, while the “ö” originally came from writing a smaller “e” above the “o”.
In either case, the sounds that these letters represent are not miles removed from the pronunciation in English of the letter “u” in “church”.
Not to be confused with the wedgie bench i was forced to sit on in Jr High.
Could the holes in the top be intended for use with pegs aka dogs to act as stops
If you put the bench on a kitchen top that planing stop would not work either, so holdfasts would work in those holes when the planing stop does. I like the idea of using such a small bench over a wooden box that’d catch dust and shavings!.
What is the black square in the crochet, fig. 244 next to the letter m?
Thanks to the translator, and to you for posting it! The milkman’s bench is enticing, but this one is much quicker to manufacture.
Using the front board as a shooting board would be more freehanded than with a dedicated shooting board I assume.
The black area is showing the grain direction of the crochet. What i am wondering about is the lower section on the long bench is this a tool tray space?
The black square simply shows the cross-section of the crochet piece. The 45˚ hatching is found throughout the books to show cross-sections of pieces. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatching#Representation_of_materials
There appears to be a tool tray or bin at one end of the larger bench. Or does it have some other use?
Many variations of this can be seen on Russian websites. An image search for “Верстачная доска” will find them.
It means “workbench board”.
Strangely, in the scandinavian digital museums, kileboenk returns nothing.. (digitalmuseum.se and digitalmuseum.no)
I tried various iterations to no avail.. Kile alone returns plane wedges, benk alone a bunch of benches..Can a norvegian or swedish speaker give it a try?
“…until I tried using softwood wedges with almost no slope on them.”
I second that – very useful & versatile things.
I still remember being introduced to them almost 30 years ago (wait ! what ? 30 ? where did… ?) when I worked as a carpenter (Norwegian : ‘tømrer’ – “timber-man” / house-builder) during the summer holidays from furniture-making school. I worked for ‘Dangerous’ Frank Skjøldt who was of the old school (and younger brother of the wonderful luthier Harold Skjøldt – http://norskegitarer.no/?page_id=2400 – who’s Old-Boys-workshop I had the good fortune to frequent). One day when we were replacing and adjusting / leveling the old floor beams of a fire damaged down-town shop he asked me to rip som wedges on the portable contractor’s table saw. I hesitated, not knowing how to go about this task. “Let me show you” he said and found a suitable off-cut of 2 x 8 about 4 feet long. Then he presented the plank’s end grain to the saw blade and made a rip-cut about 7-8″ long, and at a slight angle (compared to the edge) before retracting the plank and making another cut, this time parallell to the edge. I was still sceptical and thought it looked dangerous, being done by eye & free hand. He must have sensed my reluctance because he looked at me with his bright blue eyes and solemnly said “Thomas, I would never ask you to do something that was dangerous.” There wasn’t much I could say to that so I took heart, grabbed the plank and carefully! continued cutting wedges into the end of it until the breadth of it was used up. Then I turned it around and did the same to the other end. Then I cut the wedges free on the chop saw. I still keep a bucket of wedges for when something needs some ‘persuasion’
Wedges are very versatile incrementally adjustable force applicators & distance blocks 🙂
I saw similar style of wedged workbench some time ago in a 1932 booklet by G Christiernin: ” Hur man ritar och bygger sin båt” (How to design and build a boat).
Very ingenious design. I particularly like the wall mounted version. Out of the way when you don’t need it, and quick to set-up when your main bench is occupied by something not easy to move out of the way. I like the toggles, very smart. The wedge system reminds me of the door holding jig used to hold a door on edge on the floor when cutting the hinge mortises. So simple yet so much holding power.
I have converted your drawing to Sketchup, and did approximate dimensional changes to inches. Christopher and Meghan: Would you like a copy to distribute?
But I could not figure out what the small rectangular parts are next to the crochet. What are they? I will make that change to the drawing.
An angle of 11.25 degrees is 1/16 of a circle. I found that at least one Viking age chest (Hedeby Harbour) uses that angle for the end boards. Just lay out an arc at least a half of a circle, set off 90 degrees, halve and halve again gives you 45, 22.5 and finally 11.25 degrees. No need for an accurate square, just a compass, straight edge and scribe/marker. Make it on a piece of board, hang it on a nail, when it gets broken its fire wood, make another.
Comments are closed.