While my personal tools stay in my tool chest, we keep the communal ones hanging on the wall behind my bench for students or visiting instructors to use without guilt or asking.
Our “tool wall” is made up of three panels of cherry that cover three bookcases. For most of the year, our shop looks like the photo above. But when we open the shop to the public, we remove the tool walls to reveal our selection of books behind.
It’s a little awkward, but the books are protected from dust, and our workshop doesn’t look like a bookstore.
Several internet readers have asked us about the tools on the wall. Some of them look non-standard or odd. So we shot this short video that goes over the tools on the left side of the wall (the video was shot and edited by our intern, Harper Haynes). We’ll do videos on the other two panels shortly.
We are slowly removing the evidence that our storefront was once a purple-and-glitter womb of wacky architecture. One of the things we have been working on are the HVAC registers and returns.
Today Megan installed a new cold-air return that she had made by Thane Lorbach, a local laser shop. The original grille was beat up and had been painted many colors. The new grille shows off 121 dividers, each inside a circle.
The grille is made from plywood, which Megan spray painted and then hung. I know most visitors won’t see it immediately, but I think it’s a huge upgrade.
At our upcoming open house – 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, March 26 – you’re invited to help us build a workbench – or simply watch us work and ask questions.
We’ve been working with the Cincinnati Museum Center for a new permanent exhibit, Made in Cincinnati, that will include in the “made by hand section” an educational display about the very important 19th-century Cincinnati craftsman (and ahead-of-his-time ersatz epidemiologist) Henry Boyd. On exhibit will be one of his “swelled railed bedsteads” and a re-creation of his shop space, which is where this Nicholson-style workbench will end up.
We have been working on a book on Boyd for the last couple years – more on this exciting topic in the next week or so.
Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to find extant pictures or drawings of Boyd’s shop – but given the prevalence in his lifetime (1802-1886) of this sturdy and inexpensive bench style, it’s a logical inference that his bench was similar to the one featured in “Mechanic’s Companion.”
Join us in this build, and help us and the Museum Center celebrate the legacy of craft in our city and to share Boyd’s amazing story.
Made by Hand is scheduled to open July 1 at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Some elements will change over time, says Stacey Kutish, senior director of exhibition development, but she expects Boyd’s bed and shop exhibit to remain on display.
Running an active workshop and publishing company in an inner city has its challenges, especially when it comes to moving stuff from Point Lumberyard to Point Workbench to Point Truck Terminal. Every week Megan and I move stuff – 500 woobies, 500 board feet of cherry, 500 lump hammers – to keep the business going.
I have a pickup truck for this, and it works great. But recently I found something more appealing.
While teaching at the Florida School of Woodwork last month, Kate Swann loaned me her Mitsubishi Minicab, a Japanese Kei-class truck. Those of you who have followed me for a while might remember that I used to fix up Volkswagen Karmann Ghias. I adore simple, well-made machines. But I sold my last Ghia because I couldn’t bear to expose these gorgeous cars to the Midwest winters (we’ve never had the luxury of a garage).
After about two days of driving Kate’s Minicab, I fell in love. The trucks are insanely simple: stick shift, three-cylinder engine, less than 50 horsepower, 45-55 mpg and right-hand drive. All that appealed to my affection for old cars. But what really sold me was the truck’s bed in the back. It is perfectly suited for what we do. The bed is only 25” off the ground and measures 53” x 76”. And all three walls fold down so you can load from any side (or even use it as a flatbed). Plus lots of tie-downs.
The trucks are not designed for interstate use (many states prohibit them on interstates), and the most comfortable top speed is about 45 mpg. I see this as a huge bonus.
One of the things I loved about my Ghias was taking trips without using the interstates. I used to drive to Charleston, S.C., to see my dad in a Ghia. Getting off the interstate is my favorite way to travel. You see the country in a new way. You see far more Main Streets, interesting architecture and beautiful vistas (and you can pull over without being flattened).
Yes, it takes a lot longer, but it is far more satisfying. (Insert obvious hand-tool comparison here.)
So I bought a Minicab from a dealer in Tennessee that imports them. It’s a 1996 model with 4WD and has less than 17,000 miles on it (these were utility trucks in Japan that were frequently driven around a factory or warehouse lot; the import papers and history of the truck show that the odometer has not been rolled over). And it was a bargain: $6,500.
And yesterday, Megan and I took it for a long spin to Fairfield, Ohio, to drop off a crate at the trucking terminal. It took 45 minutes (instead of 30), but we saw neighborhoods we’d never been in before – even though we’ve both lived here for decades.
Yes, there will be some misery. No AC, for example. But I drove Ghias for years in the South and managed fine (as did our ancestors).
Lucy and the kids have christened the Minicab the “CATBUS,” after the character in the movie, “My Neighbor Totoro.” While they have pushed me to paint the thing like the catbus character, we’re going with more conservative bling: our skep logo on the doors and six happy bees on different places on the truck.
So now you have one more reason to visit the storefront – to visit Catbus. We’ll have her in front of the store at our next open day, March 26.
We have just received delivery of a new Benchcrafted Classic Bench in our shop, which replaces Megan Fitzpatrick’s LVL bench in the center of our bench room. Megan and I have been in long-running discussions about building her a new workbench sometime during 2022. But recently we decided to buy (actually, trade) for the Benchcrafted bench. Here’s why.
I’ve built a lot of workbenches since 2000, written five books about workbenches and have been hailed/derided for popularizing the 18th-century French bench for woodworkers who like to use hand tools. And when Megan first approached me about replacing her bench, I said I was happy to help build her a new one based on plans in “The Anarchist’s Workbench” (the book is free to download).
But after looking ahead at our schedule for 2022, my brain began to do the math. I can build a bench in about 40 hours of work. The hardware would be about $400. The wood would be about $500. On the other hand, the Benchcrafted Classic is $2,900. After about 5 seconds of ciphering (and carrying the gazinta), the decision to order the Benchcrafted was obvious.
First, the bench completely fulfills my dictum for a good workbench: That you can work on the faces, edges and ends of boards with ease. The Benchcrafted Classic comes with a Crucible holdfast and a planing stop (they added our planing stop by request), and the holdfast pattern is the same pattern that’s on my workbench.
The bench’s form is based on the 18th-century plan. The joints are drawbored. The raw material is hard maple. And the bench weighs plenty for handwork – 300 lbs. The craftsmanship is excellent – as good as any workbench I’ve made. The joints are tight. The vise runs smooth. And the top is flat.
The bench even comes unfinished – a real blessing. Today Megan added a boiled linseed oil finish to the bench, which suits the way we work. A straight oil finish adds a little protection and color, without adding any slipperiness that comes from a wax or varnish.
If you have been reading my books on workbenches, then you know that this Benchcrafted bench pushes all of my buttons. Benchcrafted got it exactly right with no compromises. And they made it for less than I could, at my hourly rate.
So about the payment. I was perfectly happy to pay cash for this bench. But Jameel and FJ said they were interested in trading the bench for one of my stick chairs and a Dutch tool chest made by Megan. So everyone is happy.
Megan has a new workbench with a leg vise that works perfectly. Her LVL workbench is going to live in her basement as “an expansive horizontal storage facility.”* And I’m sure it will be used as a workbench. It’s still a good bench – it has just been eaten up and beaten up by all the workholding experiments I’ve inflicted upon it.
And I have 40 more hours this year that I can use to work on other projects – chairs, refurbishing the bar in our storefront, books and new tools for Crucible.
Now I just need to figure out what to do with our Ulmia workbench, my least favorite bench in the shop. And then the workshop will be complete (cue the laugh track).
— Christopher Schwarz
*Megan here. I do still love my LVL bench, and the top remains dead flat after 11-plus years of hard use – an excellent result from our material experiment. But we also built the base out of LVL, and that was less successful. The stuff is made to compress a bit (to handle earthquakes and the like), and compress it did from the force of the leg vise against the top; the top got pushed back from the front of the leg over time – and despite many efforts to fix it, nothing worked for long.
Now, I have a scabbed-on piece of plywood at the top of the leg to bring that front edge flush…but I know it will move again.
It’s not that big a deal to me; I’m used to it and have myriad workarounds – but I don’t like it when students have a less-than-perfect experience with our equipment, hence my desire to build a new bench. But I am delighted to not build one. I have plenty to be going on with, too, and the Benchcrafted Classic is darn close to what I would have built anyway – basically a larger, heavier version of the petite white pine Roubo in my basement shop (which features an OG Benchcrafted Glide vise).
So now I’ll have two good benches in my basement shop – one little, one big. Oh – and one crappy built-in “bench” – I use the term loosely – that was left by a previous owner. It is indeed a horizontal storage facility. The two actual benches, however, will get used for woodworking. In my free time.