Make your own bench
First of all make your own bench with confidence. I will help you through every stage and in a few days, no more than say four, you will have your new workbench ready to use. It will last you a lifetime and you will grow to just love it. I can make this bench in one day once I have my tops and laminated legs glued up and dried.
Who can you learn from?
Several people have asked me about recommending a bench to use that will cater to their needs. In the midst of mass information we must rely on people with active knowledge from a working background to pass on their skills and knowledge. Hopefully that information will be unbiased and free, easily assimilated into the new-genre woodworker and put an end to a pluralist confusion surrounding working workbenches driven and steered by gurus of woodworking who often pass on plans and information from lofty views and create a mystery in the offing. I see more and more that we live in a confused age even though we have such a mass of information. Dissecting and finding the truth is very difficult because we create unnecessary obstacles, conditions and complexities that make building workbenches an overwhelming task when a simple workbench can be completed in a few short days for under $100. Add a quick release, all-cast metal vise that will last for a century for somewhere around the same cost and you are in business. I address this article to new woodworkers, but my friends with more experience and skill can use it to help others get on the right track.
A bench-making course for you
The next few days is a course for you to follow and use and it’s free. It is an ideal workbench no one would be ashamed of using and owning and it has worked for me for 48 years. I have used this exact workbench everyday for that time. Over the years I have made many a dozen of these and so has Joseph who made them to sell when he was 13 years old until he was 20.
What you will learn
This workshop is a training workshop. You will learn how to laminate worktops, form mortise and tenon joints, create wedged housing dadoes and much more. You will understand the need to remove twist, cup and bow from your stock: Warpage must go. Truing up the benchtop laminates and legs will become a favourite and I will even include sharpening your Stanley #4 to do all of your donkey work first. No thick irons, no sales pitch on heavyweight planes, no retrofits and no nonsense woodworking. Watch this space!!
Hardwood in the red corner, softwood in the blue!!!
Firstly let me say that softwoods are not wimp woods at all. Spruce for instance per weight/strength ratio beats all other woods hands down. Myths I must bust is that the best so-called European workbenches (that term was to sell workbenches to Americans in the same way they created English muffins that are nothing like English muffins) came from Europe and are made mainly from hardwood. That softwood is unsuitable and should never be used is also a myth. That woodworkers throughout Europe including Britain used mostly hardwoods such as ash and oak is another myth and hardwood does not mean better wood than softwood and hardwood does not mean that the wood is hard though it can be and often is. Look how we are progressing already!! Hardwood is twice the price of softwood at least and it’s a waste of good wood to use hardwood when softwood is as good or better. That means half the cost at least.
Accepting the lesser species
In the US and Europe, pine is regarded generally as a cheap, low-grade soft-grained trash wood ideally hidden beneath sheetrock, painted or stained to some type of pseudo hardwood colour. Let me tell you about a few of my favourite woods—pine, fir and spruce. Within this range there are well over 120 different types of pine alone. Pine is a wood used to create a massive range of vernacular working tables throughout the Northern Hemisphere to help tradesmen and women in their work. From loom frames to scullery tables and saw horses to the woodworking bench, pine knows no equal in my view and the view of thousands upon millions of workmen and women through many centuries. In no way should it be relegated to the lowest class of workbench and in no way will you ever be disappointed should you make your first and last workbench from this mere wood.
Wood works best
Wooden benches have never been replaced by any other material with any measure of success. MDF, pressed fibre boards of different types and even plywood have never come close and so I want to present a real wood for real woodworkers of any level.
Try first of all to think differently of pine and spruce. Put them together as one wood hybridised, both in reality and in your mind.
Now think of the two as a unique species—strong, resilient, elastic, absorbing. When I go to the wood suppliers I can pretty much tell my species, but many such woods are indeed hybridised and, as crossed species, less identifiably distinctive. That’s how I look at pines and other softwood species. Workbenches made from pine are strong, resilient, elastic and absorbing. Throughout Scandinavia, mainland Europe and Britain, almost all woodworking benches were made and used by craftsmen for their own use and were never made for sale. As a woodworker I could never buy a workbench no matter how well it was made, how good it was or how little time I had. European softwoods were the wood of choice even when most if not all European countries had access to hardwoods. Pine or spruce, hemlock or Douglas fir, I have used them all with equal measure. You need have no fear that pine will not hold up to the wear and tear of everyday work no matter the weight or the demands you place on it, so let’s get down to the lumberyard and choose our wood.