Thoughts Provoked by a Sloyd Workbench Advertisement

A bit of personal history –

I never touched a tool in high school.  When I was there, kids were openly placed in two “tracks;” either Academic or General education.  I know I wasn’t the sharpest student and I generally disliked almost everything about being in school but I was placed among the Academics.  In lieu of shop classes (woodworking, metal shop, electricity, etc.) I learned a lot from a former engineer-cum-teacher who taught Drafting and Engineering Drawing.  This was the closest thing to shop class a kid on the Academic track could do.  Why? I have no idea.  We learned about house design, making scale plans, estimating materials, and other useful things.

Engineer drawing.

Fortunately, my grandfather was a handy guy who grew up on a farm and spent his early years in the building trade so I learned the basics of using a square, compass, saws, planes, and the like from him.  Also, being left as a somewhat feral child, I was able to use and abuse the family tools and learned many valuable lessons the slow and often frustrating way.  When I was sixteen, I began working part-time for a construction company as a laborer with the thought I might make that my profession.  I learned a lot, both good and bad, by observation and exposure, and continued to work as a carpenter in various capacities through graduate school a decade later.

Elementary school Sloyd.

Where am I going with this ramble? 

It was a long and meandering road for me with many side excursions and dead-ends, and although I feel grateful for all the lessons and training I received along the way, I sometimes lament the loss of craftsmanship and the values of creativity in schools.  In short, education isn’t an either/or proposition; that you are either on track for academic pursuits or you will be in the labor force.  I have met many geniuses with little formal education and many fine academics who excel in the manual arts.

Teach your children well.  Real life skills are too important to be left to others.

Saw Bench Update

A little more done on the saw bench this weekend.  It is clearly going to serve as my go-to portable workstation.  I have several jigs in mind to add as regular features but, for now, I’ve started by making a brand new bench hook.

The bench's small size will allow it to pack easily into the truck, even holding items in the tills.

The bench’s small size will allow it to pack easily into the truck, even holding items in the tills.

I brought it out into the driveway this afternoon to get a few photographs before it’s all scuffed up and broken in.

The holdfasts are stored out of the way by drilling a couple holes in the legs.  I placed them down low enough that I can rotate them up to hold a board should the need ever arise.

The holdfasts are stored out-of-the-way by drilling a couple of holes in the legs. I placed them  low enough that I can rotate them up to hold a board should the need ever arise.

I know this cannot replace a proper bench but I am very pleased right now.  This will serve many functions, not the least of which is for bow and arrow making and as a leather work bench.

The holdfasts in place, holding nothing in particular.

The holdfasts in place, holding nothing in particular.

 

This, in conjunction with the shave horse and folding x-leg table (below), will need to serve as my portable workshop for the foreseeable future I’m afraid.

 

DSC_0251 (2)

Connection from leg assembly to the top.

DSC_0249

As for connecting the top, I used lag bolts with fender washers to provide a secure connection that could also be easily removed when the top is worn out.

This, in conjunction with the shave horse and folding x-leg table (below), will need to serve as my portable workshop for the foreseeable future I’m afraid.

The little table has many miles on it now and doesn't look this pretty at all.  I'm actually in the midst of refinishing it and will post pictures sometime soon.

The little table has many miles on it now and doesn’t look this pretty at all. I’m actually in the midst of refinishing it and will post pictures sometime soon.

Bench hook on the bench.

Bench hook on the bench.

This bench hook is oak, glued with Titebond 2, and pegged with Osage orange dowels for added strength.  The dowels aren’t visible in the fence as they are half-blind and stop just short of the surface.  A bench hook, shooting board, mitre box, and other small jigs make great use of scrap that might otherwise end up in the wood stove.

A final luxury to finish up this project; I’ve ordered a couple brass bench dogs (pups) and a bench (planing) stop from Lee Valley.

Weekend Sawbench

A Saw horse or a full-size workbench, for Hobbits?

Baumeister_-_Holzschnitt_von_Jost_Amman_-_1536.svgLiving where I do, without a proper workshop, I have moved to a more portable setup.  Along with this, I have pared down by letting go a number of cumbersome tools.  However, a flat, solid surface is sorely missed.

shaving-horse

A less messy version of my current shop.

I find myself working on the seat of the shave-horse or on top of saw horses quite a bit with my small table-saw serving as a layout table (when the project is small enough).  And yes, I do miss the full-size table saw for ripping long boards.

75-Amb-2-317-21-r.tif

Here’s a recent photo of me in my make-shift workshop.

A little over a year ago I began scheming for a small, pre-industrial-style setup.  Something an itinerant carpenter or bodger would be likely to use.  It needed to be easy to move and store but provide a solid clamping and layout surface.  I wanted it at the same height as my shave-horse so that they will work in concert for large projects.  So, when my friend Mick gave me a thick, rough-sawn maple board last summer, I decided it was to become the top of a new saw bench.

First, before the mail comes flooding in;

there is no perfect formula for a saw bench!  For thoughts about height, look here: “A Proper Saw Horse.”

There are some wrong and right things to do, but all in all, there are as many combinations as there are woodworkers.  Much depends on what you make and how you work.  I am 6’1″ and after much changing and experimentation, I use 22″ tall benches for hand work.

“Off-side” of the saw bench under construction.

 

For what it’s worth, here is the bench I came up with last weekend.  It maybe grew a little too much, trying to more than a saw horse, but still not a Roubo.

roubogermanbench

Roubo’s bench.

Materials: All of the materials for this project, other than lag bolts and a few stainless steel screws, came from the scrap pile; all recycled lumber except the top which came from Mick.  Legs and bracing are constructed from oak while the till bottom is dimensional pine from an old shelf.  The legs are splayed at 12 degrees in both dimensions.  Dog holes for stops and holdfasts will be added soon.  The little vise was a last minute addition as it’s never a bad thing to have too many ways to hold things.  This increased the project price to just over $20 US.

DSC_0001

A work in progress, but coming together.

Had I considered the vise sooner I probably would have positioned the legs to place it closer to the left end but this will due.  The little hardware till on the top will hold those wily drill bits and pesky chisels looking for an escape as well as corralling screws, pencils, and marking knife.  More work will be done, and I’m considering a second till near the bottom of the legs to store the shooting board and bench hook as well as a safe place to set a saw while working outdoors.

Comments and criticisms are certainly welcome and more information about this project will be forthcoming in the near future.