Every week this semester I have written about a project I built that has marked a milestone in my development as a woodworker. The stool that I wrote about last week was built primarily over Christmas break, so it was my last major completed project. Going forward, I am going to write about important pieces I plan to build in the future. Of all the ideas I have, building myself a solid workbench is the most important and appealing to me. It may not be something I get around to for many years, but it will almost certainly do the most to further my development as a woodworker.
Although I am very grateful for a suitable space in which to work at home, it is far from ideal. My shop is centered in what we call “the workroom” at home. It’s a space in the basement that has always housed the furnace, handyman materials, and odds and ends. Below the pegboard of tools is a bench built into the wall about 2.5 feet deep with a top made of old dimensional lumber. It was never meant to be used for woodworking, but rather a spot for the homeowner to make the occasional repair. I’ve always done the best I can with the space. I built my lighthouses there years ago. In more recent years I do most of the layout, handwork, assembly, and finishing of my projects there. I’ve reorganized the pegboard over the bench to neatly hold far more important tools. And I’ve built jigs, such as the Moxon vise I talked about in an earlier post, and a bench hook for hand planing pieces of wood, which are critical to my work and make the bench less of an obstacle. Its major shortcomings are in flatness and space. A work space should be flat and smooth in order for woodworking to turn out well. Flatness is important for assembling pieces straight and square, and for ensuring that pieces of wood are actually flat and don’t just seem to be because they contact the surface fully. A smooth surface prevents carefully shaped surfaces from being damaged as they move around. Second, space: I can’t take a long piece of wood into the space to work on it without getting very creative to figure out a way to hold it. This may seem like a good thing, but more often than not the solution risks damage to the piece, the tool, or me.
I’m very excited to build myself a bench that won’t have these shortcomings. I don’t know what it will look like, but I do know it will have a solid, thick, hardwood top, be built on a timber base that I can easily tear down, and have clamping mechanisms built into it to help me hold my work. I want it to be simple, just like most everything I build, so every feature I build in will have a purpose. Building a bench on which to work every day is one of the dream projects for a craftsman, and although it may take me years to find the money, the time, and the space to do so, I am excited by the prospect and enjoy dreaming up the perfect design in the meantime.