The time has come to build a new workbench for the shop. This of course means the time came to build a new bench a couple years ago, but now the situation is dire so there’s no choice but to go ahead and build the thing. The bench I have now-which has served honorably-was one of those made to order jobs that arrives in a flat packed box and within fifteen minutes of assembly you’ve got yourself a very mediocre workbench.
The idea at the time was that I’d get started with the mail order bench while my business grew and savings piled up, then when I finally had some spare time I’d purchase the lumber and vises and knock one out. In the meantime I amassed volumes of literature on all manner of workbenches; the French Roubo, the English Nicholson, Moravian benches, Japanese benches (which aren’t really benches at all but sawhorses spanned by a heavy plank), ancient Roman ones. I scoured blogs, Pinterest boards, woodworking magazines. I did enough research to build 1000 benches! Practically an expert. Though here I am eight years later still toiling away at the mail order job that’s a couple inches too short.
The thing does have sentimental value; I’ve built countless pieces on it, shipped it to New York when I moved there, drove it back out in my ‘89 Toyota Van Wagon when I returned to CA. It’s a wonder the thing’s still around. However I won’t miss it. The top’s too thin and has warped beyond what I care to plane flat. The vises rack and their jaws twist out of parallel with the top. I’m not going to chop it up for firewood though, it’ll stick around and serve some more menial purpose in the shop; an enduring monument to procrastination.
One of the reasons it’s taken me so long to get around to building a bench is that, once you decide what you’re going to make, you’re making that design and not any of the countless other amazing benches you’ve seen or read about. The same dilemma that accompanies any decision I suppose; a classic case of FOMO. But alas, I think I've finally settled on a design that I’m content to make in lieu of all the others. For years I assumed I would make a massive French Roubo bench based on the 18th century writings and drawings of Andre Roubo. A well built variety of this type is a beautiful thing, especially when made from white oak.
Then one day I came across an English ‘Nicholson’ bench on a blog. It was beautiful; a simple, but brilliant design that relies more on engineering principles for its strength than sheer mass. Wide aprons span the front and notch into the legs making the bench solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. And the best part, it requires almost half the lumber of the French Roubo, hence half the cost. The one that had initially caught my eye was simply made from construction grade pine-much cheaper than oak-and it looked great. A couple of vintage Record 52 ½ quick release vises ordered from England, and all that’s left is to make a run to the lumber yard for some beech wood.
Then to build the thing of course, which I’ll detail in coming posts-hopefully soon.