The workbench – a 10 year oddessy of indecision

I have spent many years either collecting tools (to use one day), or working on my house. The latter involves the use of some wood-working tools, but not as many as I would obviously like. Now my house-renovations have moved to the final stages – trim, a coffered ceiling, and more built-in shelving, and eventually some custom furniture. Ideally making small-house furniture custom furniture is how I’d like to spend my early retirement. Stuff like a bookcase built into the base of stairs… but more on small house stuff later (yeah, I could fill up another blog I imagine). One of the projects on the back-burner for *far* too long has been a workbench for the workshop. My workshop is small, and in the basement. The only piece of machinery that is in it is the drill press. Planer, jointer, table-saw all relegated to backyard use (although the jointer will be set-up in the shed now that my under-porch storage is built).

Not having enough space to do uber-large projects, I opted to buy a maple bench-top from Lee Valley *years* ago. It’s a 24″×60″×2¾”, 110lb maple slab. So the plan is to build a Roubo-style workbench. So why has it taken me so long? Work on the house, life – and in-decision. About the time I started thinking about the bench, Christopher Schwarz published his first book on benches: Workbenches: From Design And Theory To Construction And Use. Then his next book The Workbench Design Book came out. Once I had a design figured, there was one other factor – hardware. Around that time the wooden screws from Lake Erie Toolworks appeared, as did new products from Benchcrafted. I had settled on a leg-vise with a more traditional woodworking vise on the right end of the bench – here I already have a vintage Record No.52. It was the leg vise that was confounding me. Should I buy a glide vise with a cast-iron handwheel, or a more traditional wooden screw, or something with a linear bearing (like the VX20 from Hovarter Custom Vise)? Should I build a parallel guide, buy a criss-cross, or one of the other mechanisms like the chain vise? Too many decisions to make. Partially I have been holding off because Lee Valley started carrying the Benchcrafted products, but it takes a number of months to update the product line, and shipping these heavy products from the US to Canada does not appeal to me.


Benchcrafted crisscross

I have rough cut the legs and stretchers out of ash, but have waited to begin the mortising work until the decision is made. In January I finally decided. First I picked the benchcrafted criss-cross retro to work as the parallel mechanism. Then on the day after I enquired about the availability of the Benchcrafted “Classic” leg vise, it “magically” appeared on the Lee Valley website. So now the bench will have a Benchcrafted classic vise/criss-cross combination for the leg vise, which will be made out of a huge piece of spalted Maple I picked up from Exotic Woods in Burlington (as will the sliding deadman). Now that I have a drill-press the mortises will be easier to cut, and I can run the legs and stretchers through the jointer and planer. I chose the crisscross and classic leg vise combination partially because they are designed to go together. The vise has a 1″ diameter double-lead acme thread, which runs extremely smoothly. The vise also has a nice black Parkerized finish. In an ideal world it would be great to build a 6-8 foot long bench, with a 4″ thick top. The reality is though that a 5’×2′ bench is plenty large en0ugh for a tiny workshop in a semi-detached.


Benchcrafted classic leg vise

An uber hold fast from Denmark


This is a hold-fast from a wheel-wrights workshop, circa 1869 (Open Air Museum, Denmark). The massive hold-fast has a square top, and looks to be constructed by folding over the iron bar to create an acute fold which is pinched together.