To make a workbench

Over the last year my interest in workbenches was sparked. Maybe because I discovered some great blogs like Richard Maguire’s “English Woodworker“, “Lost Art Press” by Christopher Schwarz, “The st.Thomas Guild” and the works of Paul Sellers. All are greatly inspiring. But also when Darin Molnar  started in his Roubo project something statted to itch…

WorkbenchAt lutherie school in Belgium we had benches like these. Essentially large tables, with a top of beech and two sets of metal legs. The advantage for the school was that they can be adjusted in height and accommodate students of different posture. Because they don’t have a built-in vice, we worked with small Record furniture makers models that you could clamp to the top. We never heard of bench dogs or tail vices, everything was clamped down with glue clamps. At events the benches doubled as bar, exhibition space and even stage…

WorkbenchBecause benches like these cost around €300,- which I didn’t have, I decided to postpone acquiring one. Until than a thick slap of multiplex, bolted at one side to the wall would serve me just as well. One leg on the other end and there it was.

When I moved to the new shop there was room for more workbenches.   I made another set of slab-to-wall benches. At first this seemed to work quite well, but as I moved on I found myself only working on my old bench. Because the walls in the new shop are different (chipboard plates over framing) the slabs tended to be moving. Nice as tables, but a bit too wobbly to really work on, so they tend to clutter up with junk.

An old trailer…

RommelmarktUp to a couple of years ago my father and I volunteered at the local flea market. It was organized by members of the protestant and catholic church for charity. RommelmarktAfter a few years we got and old trailer to use in the organisation, until then we always borrowed them from others. It was old and small, but we used it extensively. Even later when we got two new, larger trailers we continued to use it.

RommelmarktA few years ago the activities stopped, because the local government made it impossible. RommelmarktA local phenomenon ceased to exist. After the last market it also became apparent that the little old trailer was completely worn out. The floor became dangerously thin and had several holes, the springs were fatigued and the electronics were almost as old as Edison himself. The decision was made to cut it up and bring it away for scrap metal.

The carts were used intensive-

The carts were used intensive-

ad extensively... (Another trailer)

and extensively… (Another trailer)

Feeling a bit melancholic we started to disassemble the trailer. After all the cart had always been a trusty old tool and it bought back a lot of good memories. If it could talk it could tell of all things we came across on the road. From houses filled with rubble and diamonds in the rough, sad stories of divorces and death, weird antiques, thousands of books, bicycles, records, large heavy oak chests, cheap furniture that fell apart as soon as we took a corner. But also of a great group of friends, of all ages and walks of life, who worked together to make that flea market a success. Unfortunately some of them have passed away since.

It occurred to me that the sides of the were made of tropical hardwood. People around me know that I have a hard time with letting good materials go to waste, especially when they are from endangered natural sources. So I decided to keep the planks (and some metal parts) to make them into something useful later on….

To make a workbench…

Soon the idea arose to use the boards for a small workbench. But what model to make?

Workbench bookOften I have to let a project simmer for a while. Put it to the background and come back to it later. For christmas I got Christopher Schwarz book “Workbenches” (I really like his books) in which he describes how to make two workbenches: the French style one and an “English” model.

I really like the French model, based on the design given by André J. Roubo in his multi volume “L’Art du Menuisier” published between 1769 and 1774.

Roubo 1

imageThere are a couple of advantages to this model: For one it is HEAVY, and I mean really heavy. Built stout from a thick slab of wood with legs that seem to be shaped after those of an elephant. It is overbuilt, probably strong enough to do an autopsy on that same elephant.

But also a couple of disadvantages: It is HEAVY… You need a lot of wood to make it and it is not very easy to move. Great when you’re planing, but a downside when you like to rearrange the workshop from time to time…

Roubo

Also the 1″ thickness of the boards wouldn’t be very suitable to make a Roubo bench.

Fortunately Schwarz also describes another bench in his book. The English style bench is of a much simpler fashion. Made of humble planks, often in softwoods. It looks like something a carpenter or furniture maker makes quickly from some left over scraps.

It would be perfect for the boards I had in storage. But what really drew me over was the video series by Paul Sellers.

I have some different demands for my benches. Other than furniture makers, luthiers rarely work in long or very thick boards. A bench of 100 to 120 cm is long enough. Also I need a different height, 37″ (94 cm) instead of the usual 34″ for normal benches. This seems high, but it’s still an inch lower than Paul Sellers uses…

Pine and an old trailer...When I went up the attic of the workshop to look for some parts, I found another set of pine, that would be perfect to make a small, low workbench. It used to be a dining table at a friends house, and I had gotten it to make Duckies, but it is enough to have a lifetime supply of little pine ducks. The low bench would be ideal to put a pattermakers or gunstock vise on.

A patternmakers vise is still on my wish list, but they are quite out of my reach financially. So I’m also playing with the idea to make my own… (More on that later)

Whack!Making your own workbench is something I can prescribe to every woodworker. In craft schools students often made some of their own tools as an exercise. For shriners a workbench, toolbox and sometimes a couple of hand planes. This served two purposes: it was a good exercise and the apprentice had his first basic tools when he set out on his own. My grandfather kept the soldering irons he made in school his whole life.

Low pine bench

These benches are made fast and nothing fancy. They’re tools not fine furniture. I often see beautifully crafted workbenches, that are too precious to use…

Planks

I sanded finish of the top of the little bench with a beltsander. It will be oiled. The varnish was too slippery to be useful.

The boards of the trailer were also sanded with a rough belt, to remove the outside dirt and smooth them lightly. But I don’t mind that they keep the holes and dents they inherited from their previous life. Sort of a train-wreck finish…

Highboy

The top of this workbench will have 3 cm gaps between te planks. You can put a clamp through to secure something.

Stay tuned for part 2…

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