And I want one bad. A new workbench is something I am beginning to think about a lot.
In my 2013 in Review post, I laid out my woodworking schedule for 2014 and no where on this schedule is there time for a new workbench. My only hope is that something changes during the year which will create time for building one, or at least start the process.
But, I can dream about a super cool bench. In my mind, I still drool over what I consider to be the coolest bench ever – the Chris Schwarz Roubo – not the French Oak Roubo, but his previous bench made mostly of rustic cherry and southern yellow pine.
And what’s not to like: big, beefy timbers abound and I like the color contrast in the lumber he sourced. But, it seems the Roubo workbench is everywhere these days and I am not into being yet another woodworker who builds a Roubo. But I do want a bench based on a historic design.
Before I get too far into this blog post, let me remind you what my current workbench looks like. Take a look at this post at my old blog. The Josh Finn workbench is something I see more as an assembly table. It is extremely flexible, great for glue-ups and can be easily moved – I intend to keep it and use it for that purpose. But this is a decidedly modern workbench.
Tom Iovino recently completed a Nicholson style bench and I have read the chapter devoted to the Nicholson bench (also known as an English style bench) in Chris Schwarz’s book “Workbenches” – this certainly is a historic design. It seems that the splayed legs are rare. In both of Chris’ workbench books I saw just one old illustration showing moderately splayed legs. Most all of the old drawings of this bench show straight legs and none of them show the big leg vise.
In Chris’ “The Workbench Design Book”, there is a link to a variety of workbench SketchUp models including his version of the Nicholson bench shown above. Having these SketchUp models is very interesting to study. In the illustration above; I took Chris’ SketchUp model and added a southern yellow pine wood texture so as to dress it up a little.
This design has me thinking. The Nicholson has significant mass and weight, is easier to build than a Roubo – no complex leg to bench top joinery. The top is much easier to build than a Roubo which is typically either big, hard to find slabs of wood, or created from a bazillion face laminated boards. The Chris Schwarz Nicholson has an easy to build end vise and the materials typically are simple and economical – many current versions of this bench are made using home center pine. There are some nice exceptions seen via a Google image search…
- Erik Mortensen’s Awesome English Workbench – Chris Schwarz writes at Popular Woodworking.com about this stunning partner’s workbench, massive in size and full of tasteful styling elements. Are there two leg vises on this bench?
- The English Tradition – a fantastic example of the English workbench by Richard at the English Woodworker. Note the very handsome wood and English style front vise.
- Bob Easton’s English Workbench – Another big bench; 12 feet in length, it too has the angled leg vise along with an end vise.
- Billy’s Little Bench – big honkin’ Roubo-like legs, aprons with un-clipped corners which lend a look of even more mass and note the big vises.
- Anthony Hay’s Cabinetmaker – this blog post features a woodworking plan of sorts for a Nicholson bench, but what I like the most is the photo which shows two such workbenches in the corner of their workshop – two of them!
Tom Iovino stated in a recent MWA podcast how rock solid his bench is which is extremely important for hand plane work. My bench will be significantly smaller, so mass is important.
Some concerns with the Nicholson workbench: it’s a big bench which means I would have to significantly scale down the design and change the splayed legs in favor of straight ones. The large front and rear aprons mean I would no longer be able to clamp work to the bench top using a F-style or C clamps. I suppose if I used a couple of holdfasts in conjunction with the numerous holes scattered about the workbench, I would seldom need such clamps. One more thing – the large aprons effectively eliminate the possibility of adding a storage cabinet below the bench top, and I need all the storage space I can get.
Right now, the Nicholson design is one of three styles of workbenches I am considering. I am working on a SketchUp model of the second design and will write about it soon. But, I have now publicly made it known that I plan to build another workbench. Over the coming weeks and maybe months, I’ll work on the design. This is a project that I’ll baby step. There is no tellin’ when I’ll actually find time to build it.