Workbench Personality No. 5: Frank Sinatra

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I call this type of workbench builder the “Frank Sinatra” because they always do it “My Way.” In other words, a Frank Sinatra workbench is entirely disconnected from tradition and – at times – human reason.

Is this bad? Shouldn’t workbenches be a “I’m OK and You’re OK” kinda thing? If it works for you it’s right, right?

While I don’t seek to poo on anyone’s parade, there are certain guidelines for building things that are related to the human form and the work. If someone came to you and said: I’ve just rethought the idea of the chair – I’ve made the seat 24” deep so there’s more room to relax! Isn’t that great? More, more, more!

Me: Doesn’t that cut off the circulation of blood to the legs?

Designer: Hey, it works for me.

The following descriptions of my encounters with the Frank Sinatras are not an effort to quash innovation in workbench design. Instead, this is a look at what happens if you build a bench without knowing how benches are used.

How it Begins
To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Frank Sinatra in person. Instead, they are the people who read my blog entries and then send me photos of their workbenches with a note that says something like:

“Saw your Rubio bench. Thought I’d show you what a REAL bench looks like. I designed this one myself – an ORIGINAL design. Want to do a story on my bench? It’s awesome.”

The first Frank Sinatra I encountered had made a U-shaped bench that was 12’ wide and 16’ long (yes, 12 feet x 16 feet). It was comprised entirely of kitchen cabinets that were bolted together and then covered in 4×8 sheets of plywood. Imagine a giant “U” covered in plywood. And there were vises every 3’ or so.

Me: Do you run a school? Is this for your employees? Or are you Catholic like my wife and have a lot of kids?

Frank Sinatra: Nope. It’s just me. But it’s the best damn bench I’ve ever seen. Better than your Robo bench for sure.

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Your Bench is for Pansies
Like many bench builders of the last 2,000 years, I like a bench to have some mass. You can work with a lightweight bench – we’ve all had to do it – but mass makes things easier.

Some people, however, take mass to a ridiculous level. One day I received an email from Frank Sinatra with photos of a bench “that makes your benches look like church picnic tables.”

I opened the attached photos. It was a French-style bench that was made entirely out of 2x12s. The top was all 2x12s that were face-glued (the top was 11” thick). The legs? 2x12s that finished out at 11” x 11”. (Elephants would be jealous.) The stretchers? 2x12s.

In all honesty, it looked like a cartoon sketch of a bench. But I wanted to be diplomatic. After reading the stats provided by the Frank Sinatra (it weighs 575 lbs.!), I asked a simple question.

Me: Bench looks beefy. How do the holdfasts work?

Frank Sinatra: Don’t know. Haven’t used the bench yet. Just finished it last weekend.

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Suckier Workholding
It’s a simple note via email: You don’t need vises. No one needs vises. Take a look!

The bench in the photos is a 4x4x8 box made of plywood. Every foot or so is a vacuum port. They are on the benchtop. On the end of the box. On the front face. The bench is powered by two large compressors, which, through a venturi nozzle, provide the vacuum power.

Now there is no need for vises. Place your work on the vacuum port and it is immobilized. Cutting dovetails? No problem! The work is held immediately upright, ready for sawing! Planing? Put it on the benchtop and the vacuum ports hold it fast. No planing stops. No tail vises. No nothing.

I ask a question: How does it hold rough stock? Stuff that is fresh off the sawmill?

To this day, I still haven’t heard a reply.

Torsion or Tension?
Many times the Frank Sinatras come at me with their torsion box designs – “The T-Box Rules!”

So instead of a simple slab of wood, the T-box designer wants to make a benchtop from thin skins of plywood that cover a baffle system of thin components. This is a great way to make a lightweight tabletop that has a lot of visual presence. But a workbench top?

Me: How will you get holdfasts to hold in a torsion box?

Frank Sinatra: Those areas will be solid wood, surrounded by air.

Me. What about the dog holes?

Frank Sinatra: Same answer. Solid wood in the areas for the dogs.

Me: Don’t you want some mass? This benchtop weighs only 17 lbs.

Frank Sinatra: I’m going to fill all the cavities between the baffles with sand.

It’s Not a Bench. It’s the World
A common Frank Sinatra affliction is to add endless functionality to the bench. A table saw is integrated into the benchtop. A planer is in the base. There is tool storage galore. A fridge. A router table. And Bluetooth.

But does it work? Outside of your mind? Outside of a piece of paper?

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com

Next up: Workbench Personality No. 6: The Undecider

Posted in Workbenches | 28 Comments

Saturday: A Book-release Party & an Open Storefront

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This Saturday, Dec. 9, will be the last day the Lost Art Press storefront will be open for 2017 (our next open day will be Jan. 13, 2018). So if you need holiday gifts or something with a personal signature, this is the best and last day to get them.

That same evening, Dec. 9, we’re throwing a book release party for Mary May, author of “Carving the Acanthus Leaf” and George Walker, one of the authors of “From Truths to Tools.” Both authors will give brief presentations, and then they’ll be happy to answer your questions and sign books. Lost Art Press will supply drinks and light snacks. The free event is 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and is just about filled up. We still have a few places left – you can register here.

If you haven’t been to the storefront in a while, there is a lot of progress to see. The Horse Garage is nearing completion, and we’re setting up the Covington Mechanical Library in the back room for reading and research.

We’ll also have lots of blemished books and tools for sale at 50 percent of retail (cash only). We also have the “Big Bag of Free T-shirts” for you to dive into. Recently I culled my collection of woodworking T-shirts (from all over the world). Come and get as many as you like to wear or to cut them up for rags.

As always, we are happy to answer any of your woodworking questions during these events. Megan Fitzpatrick and Brendan Gaffney (from Popular Woodworking Magazine) will also be there to help out. Here’s a map to the storefront:

Hope to see you there.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Year of the Covington Mechanical Library

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This calendar year has been all about gutting, rebuilding and setting up the Horse Garage, which will store wood and a few machines that I use for processing stock. For 2018, the major project will be setting up a mechanical library in the area formerly known as the storeroom.

Today, Brendan Gaffney and I took the first step on this project by moving all of the book inventory, furniture parts and shelving to the basement below the shop.

I’ve been waiting months for the humidity level in the basement to reach a tolerable level for books and furniture parts. Earlier this year, we dug out the basement floor about 18”, installed French drains and a sump pump and concreted the place. At the time, the humidity levels down there matched the outdoors (or a little higher).

About two weeks ago, the humidity level in the basement began to match the humidity in my shop upstairs.

Tomorrow, I’ll start moving the bulk of my woodworking book collection to our library area. When I run out of shelf space, my plan is to build an entire floor-to-ceiling bank of bookshelves on the blank north wall of the building.

I hope that task will be easier than gutting a building and rebuilding the Horse Garage. But I’ve been wrong before.

The goal of the mechanical library is amorphous for now. There are plenty of excellent mechanical libraries out there (Winterthur and American College of the Building Arts are two wonderful ones that I have visited). But the mechanical societies of the 18th and 19th centuries had other functions that were social and educational. So I’m letting things fall into shape as the community of Covington and our storefront get on their feet.

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com

Posted in Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Workbench Personality No. 4: The Best of Everything

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The Best of Everything calls to ask if he can hire me to consult on his workbench build. And, if we get along personally, he would like to fly me to his shop so we can build the bench together.

Me: I have young children and a day job with little vacation. I can’t really do that, but I’ll be happy to help you (for free) like I do all our readers via email.

The Best of Everything decides to fly to Cincinnati, meet me for lunch, look over my workbenches and pick my brain about his design ideas.

Question No. 1, of course, is wood selection. His first choice: tiger maple from Irion Lumber Co. He shows me some photos from the website. I tell him it’s beautiful stuff, but that he might get a little nauseated staring at it all day. And it’s a bench. It’s going to get beat up and dirty. I recommend plain rock maple.

His second choice: purpleheart. My response: It’s dark and difficult to work – it’ll be hell on your tools. Plus, a light-colored workbench (such as rock maple) is much easier to work at in my experience. Setting your tools against the light background of a benchtop is much easier than against a dark wood.

Choice No. 3: Ipe.

Me: Really? Ipe? That’s not a wood. That’s a metal that once fondled some wood grain. And it’s dark. And it’s a pain in the butt to work – like purpleheart, but worse.

His final choice: Cuban mahogany – an old stash he’s located at a lumberyard. It’s the least objectionable of his other choices, so I say: OK, kinda?

Next up are the vises. He wants a vise for every corner of the bench: A Benchcrafted Glide on one corner, a Lie-Nielsen tail vise on one end, an Emmert patternmaker’s vise on one back corner and a Benchcrafted end vise on the final corner.

Me: May I ask why?

The Best of Everything: I can’t make up my mind about which vises are better, so I decided to get them all. I do have one question, however: Is there any brand that’s better than Benchcrafted that I should be considering instead? Something from Germany or Japan perhaps?

Me: No, there’s nothing better in my experience.

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The Best of Everything: I also want six rows of dog holes on 3” centers all along the length of the benchtop.

Me: May I ask why?

The Best of Everything: I’ll be able to hold anything then, no matter its size or shape.

Me: No one needs that many dog holes.

The Best of Everything: I think it will also reduce wood movement in the bench because all areas of the bench will be exposed to the atmosphere.

Me: Aren’t you worried that dust, tools, screws and the like will fall into these holes?

The Best of Everything: Not at all. Every hole will have its own dog.

The discussion turns to the cabinet he’s going to build below the bench. (“I don’t recommend those,” I say.) The drawers will have Blumotion slides, and all the tools will be French-fitted with custom-cut foam. Do I have any recommendations on foam?

“Kaizen Foam,” he says, “is so coarse.”

I look up Kaizen Foam on my phone to see what the hell it is. He starts talking about getting his Benchcrafted vises chrome-plated. Oh look, I find a cat video on my phone….

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com

Next up: Workbench Personality No. 5: Frank Sinatra

Posted in Uncategorized, Workbenches | 33 Comments

Woodwright’s School Classes for 2018!

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The 2018 class schedule is now live at The Woodwright’s School website. Roy Underhill has been diligently working on the new calendar of classes for the upcoming year and it is finally complete. Most of the regular classes are back with many new classes added as well. You can check it out here.

As most of you know, if there is a class you are interested in get signed up ASAP, they fill up quickly.

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— Will Myers

 

Posted in Woodworking Classes | 6 Comments

And the Other Stickers

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In addition to the “Fancy Lad Academy of Woodworking & Charcuterie” sticker, the next set of stickers will feature the “Mine!” image (above) by Suzanne Ellison. Suzanne created this image of a crow made of tools using bits from A.J. Roubo’s “l’Art du menuisier.” The original hangs in my office.

The third sticker will be the cover of Roy Underhill’s book “Calvin Cobb: Radio Woodworker!” by Jode Thompson.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Stickers, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

New Stickers are Coming

Fancy Lad Sticker

My daughter Maddy is sold out of stickers. But three new designs are being printed now. My favorite is the one shown above. If that sicker doesn’t make a bit of sense to you, read this blog entry at my other blog.

Maddy will start selling the stickers once they arrive.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Stickers, Uncategorized | 9 Comments