Though I am done writing books on workbenches (scout’s honor), I am always on the lookout for interesting historical examples and clever features that I can use in the future.
This week I spotted one that was particularly interesting. I’m calling it the “Baby Deadman,” which is the most horrible name I have ever given anything in this world (including the time I tried to name a cat “Kilgore Trout”).
The bench shown above is featured in “The Cabinetmaker’s Art in Ontario: Circa 1850-1900” by Lilly A. Koltun, published in 1979 by the National Museums of Canada. Researcher Suzanne Ellison recently dug it up using her superpowers. Download the pdf here.
The paper is a biography and shop inventory of Francis Jones of Middlesex County, who made furniture (and dealt in farm implements and undertaking) during the second half of the 19th century.
The section on the workbench notes that its top is 21-1/2” x 78” and the bench is 34-1/2” high. Unusually, the bench has a tail vise, but it doesn’t appear to have a series of dog holes on the top. It does have a metal planing stop (barely visible) which is mentioned in the inventory. And a nice holdfast.
I was struck by the two sliding board jacks (sometimes called a “deadman”). The large one is typical. But the small one on top is unusual and ingenious. Here’s why: I built my first board jack in about 2001, and it’s great for holding large panels and residential doors on edge. But most of my work doesn’t need the full capacity of the jack. Mostly, I just want a movable peg that will help support boards as I edge-joint them.
This bench gives you both.
In fact, I might consider adding only the smaller Baby Board Jack (now THAT’s a better name) to one of our existing benches to fool around with it.
— Christopher Schwarz
19 thoughts on “The ‘Baby Deadman’ (Gotta Get a New Name for That)”
So, what can you accomplish with this that cannot be accomplished with the “traditional” design? It might be easier to move just the small one instead of a large one, it would allow you to quickly move between two different setups, but I’m wondering if this is something that looks really cool on paper but will just cause more issues in the long run.
If he is, in fact, an undertaker then the bench name “Baby Deadman” would appear to be appropriate.
Or, just go all Alice Cooper, and call it a “dead baby”. 🙂
Curious why you’d want multiple dog holes in the baby. Is that fine adjustment really significantly useful? Or was this just a matter of the builder experimenting until they found one they liked?
Also interested in rationale for the two arcs of dog holes at top and bottom, if you’ve got any guesses. Or the dog holes (?) in the vice’s face board.
There are also at least two holes that are near the top of the bench that have a flat side. There may be a third near the tail vise but it’s hard to be sure by the picture. I wonder what those are for?
When I look at the tail vice, it looks like the moving part of the tail vice is not on the top of the bench but is the narrow stick on the face of the bench that looks like it has flat sided holes. Could the “baby bench jack” be there to help hold up that stick? It would be very interesting to see someone use all the work holding features on this bench. Does the bench still exist somewhere?
I see a glue line all along the top of the bench, maybe 1 inch from the top, that coincides with the flats in the dog holes. I’m guessing this was part of a repair, where the front upper edge of the bench top was rabbeted away and replaced with a fresh strip of wood. The rabbet was a bit too deep, and went into the dog holes.
Maybe the top was replaced and those holes were not redrilled?
Oh my, you should be banned from naming cats.
I built my bench based on the plans you provided for the “Le Roubo” in your book “Workbenches from design & theory to…). I modified it slightly and added a top shelf, just low enough so not to interfere with holdfasts, and put a “baby board jack” there. I use it all the time, because it’s small it moves easily. I’m not trying to advertise anything I have done here on your blog, but if you are interested, there is a picture of my bench on my website on the “Workshop” page https://www.pascaltestefurniture.com/workshop.html#/
Or you could go Incredibles and name it Baby Jack Jack. Its kind of like a sliding apron. I guess maybe the guy was plaining lots of 1x3s or something? Or maybe it doubled as some crazy bending machine? Put pegs in both jacks and center divider and use the peg in the center divider as a fulcrum?
Q: What’s worse than 100 baby deadmen built into a workbench? A: A live one, wedged under the shortest leg.
Nice idea, the baby board jack is!
I also notice, although the top doesn’t have dog holes, the front edge of the top and the two front stringer boards do have dog holes, all over them. I wonder about the other edges of the top, etc. Guess one can’t ever have enough holes for dogs!
Thanks for a great post!
Really enjoyed reading the history PDF, great attachment. Will look forwards to your analysis of good and bad points of the baby deadman, as we all know, Chris can’t escape a workbench rabbit hole.
That is the most beat to s%^$t workbench I’ve seen that didn’t come out of a well. There must not have been much cramping large or heavy pieces or the holes would have merged.
Admittedly, Kilgore Trout would be somewhat ponderous when calling a cat. The
obvious abbreviated version would be Kill which might frighten the neighbors when you page the beast. So, maybe not such a good idea, though I applaud the attempt to honor Mr. Trout.
That’s a brilliant find by Suzanne. Hers is a particular kind of genius.
The “National Museum of Man”? Does Canada have a National Museum of Chimps?
Shorten the baby board jack to BBJ.
My daughter named a pet hamster Hamilton Fish. Vonnegut would have appreciated it.
I like the baby deadman, but it seems like a retrofit to make it function more like an English workbench.
On another note, going way back to the Hotlzapffel Workbench, I was just rereading the critique in The Workbench Book Design Book and remembered the fix I made for the twin screw vise problems mentioned in that book.
I shaved 1/8″ off the front of the support blocks for the vise. now they can’t stick out and interfere with work-holding.
I placed a slightly tapered (front to back) support strip between the bench-top bottom and the screws for the vise, no more vertical racking. Pine is good for this. I just nailed them in place.
Theodore Sturgeon (Ted) might be more obtuse for the cat.
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