If you’re in the market for a massive, heavy laminated slab of Southern yellow pine for a workbench top, and can be in Wellman, Iowa, on October 15 for pickup, this news is for you.
The Abraham brothers (the brain trust behind Benchcrafted) have unearthed another cache of Roubo-worthy wood, this time in the form 1960s laminated beams. This stuff is 5-1/4″ thick, 22″ wide and 38′ long – but Jameel and Father John will cut them into 7′-8′ lengths (or whatever else you might want), and load them into your vehicle. Plus they’ll fill you up with bratwurst and offer rides in their vintage Porsches. They’ll also have some Benchcrafted vises on hand for sale.
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.
Some people were left confused by the correction to “The Anarchist’s Workbench” I posted yesterday. And I don’t blame you – the ideas of right and wrong, correct and incorrect were being juggled furiously in the entry.
So let’s start over.
Construction lumber is usually sold in a wetter state than furniture wood. I’ve bought about four metric tons of it in my time, and it seems to come in about 14 percent to 18 percent moisture content on average. That means that as the wood dries to your shop’s equilibrium moisture content, the board is going to move a bit on you.
When wood loses moisture, the bark side of the board (the outside of the tree) tends to cup. The heart side of the board (the inside of the tree) tends to bow out. See my drawing above.
If you need to laminate the construction lumber face to face – such as gluing up four layers to make a big workbench leg – you should use the above fact to your advantage.
I glue up my legs so the heart side of one board faces the bark side of its neighbor. That way as the boards dry, they will all move in unison and keep the joints closed. Like this:
If you flip one of the boards, so the heart side faces the heart side of its neighbor, the edges of the lamination tend to open up as the boards dry. Like this:
If you glue the bark side to the bark side of its neighbor, the interior of the lamination tends to open up.
I’ve seen this happen. I’ve never seen the joint fall apart because of it, but it ain’t pretty to look at.
I hope you will forgive me for yesterday’s confusion. In the coming days I’ll correct the free pdf.
On page 228 of “The Anarchist’s Workbench,” I printed the wrong photo. In the wrong photo (shown above), the boards in the left leg are oriented correctly to accommodate cupping and bowing of the wood. However, the caption says the boards are oriented incorrectly.
Here is how the photo should look (it’s corrected with the help of Photoshop).
The error occurred because my head sometimes experiences what I call “vapor lock.” (Though I am sure there’s a real term for this problem.) When I took this photo in 2020, I realized that I had the boards oriented wrong. So I flipped the top board and retook the photo.
Then I reminded myself all day to delete the wrong photo. Delete the wrong photo. Delete the wrong photo.
At the end of the day, I deleted the other photo. My head was convinced right was wrong and wrong was right. And my hallucination lasted through the editing process.
Every year, your spouse and friends ask us which books they should buy for you during the holidays. And if they aren’t sure which book you want, they ask us: “Well, which books are your best-sellers?”
Until today, I had only a gut feeling about it, but I’d never really looked at the statistics. After some ciphering, I came up with a list that had a few surprises.
10. Doormaking and Window Making by Anonymous. This was a shock. This small book is a reprint of two historical texts brought to our attention by joiner Richard Arnold. It found an audience among people who restore old buildings.
9. Campaign Furniture by Christopher Schwarz. This book is one of the few in print on this style of furniture, which my grandparents collected for many years. I’ve been told by readers that it is a nice text on classical casework.
8. Kitchen Think by Nancy Hiller. I was a little surprised by this one because it was released in the summer of 2020. It’s a fantastic book, as is everything Nancy writes. If you are interested in how to design (and build) a kitchen that is in context for your house, this is the book.
7. By Hand & Eye by Jim Tolpin and George Walker. This one is no surprise. Ever since this book was released, it has continually found new audiences who are interested in designing good-looking furniture using whole-number ratios.
6. The Anarchist’s Workbench by Christopher Schwarz. On the one hand, I am not surprised to see this book on the list. It is, after all, about workbenches (the birdhouses of the intermediate woodworker clan). But on the other hand, the book is free as a pdf. Free.
5. The Woodworker’s Pocket Book edited by Charles Hayward. I love this little book. I knew it would be a home run among woodworkers, and I was (for once) correct.
4. With the Grain by Christian Becksvoort. This book is immensely popular because it is incredibly practical and avoids the heavy science stuff, but it still tells you exactly what you need to know to use solid wood in furniture effectively.
3. The Essential Woodworker by Robert Wearing. This book is a classic and should be on the shelves of every woodworker who is curious about hand-tool woodworking. We fought hard to bring it back into print, and readers have been thrilled as well.
2. The Anarchist’s Design Book by Christopher Schwarz. I am so happy to see this book on this list. This book took so many years to write and get just right. I feel like it’s the right combination of practical construction advice and a screed about poorly made and overly ornate furniture.
1. The Anarchist’s Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz. This book helped us get this company on its feet and the capital to publish the works of other authors. Even after 10 years, this book still sells and sells – thanks to word of mouth.
On a last note, please remember that we are a small publisher (we recently graduated to “small publisher,” up from “microscopic publisher”). So none of these books would make a blip on the screens of a corporate publisher. And our annual revenue could easily be found between the couch cushions of the CEO of Penguin/Random House.
Maybe someday we’ll hit the Medium Time – with a book on birdhouses.