Getting back to real woodworking

PICT0030 9It’s surprising how many woodworkers were interested in the small bench I was using at the show, yet in other ways it’s not. What I am using is a smaller version of the traditional joiner’s workbench we made in the workbench build on YouTube, not something particularly fancy but a very real working workbench. Add into that equation the fact that the once new and innovative quick-release vises from Britain stood the test of time to become the accepted and traditional vice and your third hand becomes complete, whole and utterly supportive of everything you as a working artisan needs to successfully work wood. What’s amazing to most people who watched me demonstrate its efficacy is the fact that though only five feet long, two feet deep and just over three feet high, and the fact that I was edge jointing, dovetailing and mortise and tenoning, the bench stayed put, rock solid and never baulked at what I expected it to do. DSC_0704_1The big question was the lack of a tail vise. and dogs along the top of the benchtop. The second was how do you support long lengths of wood when edge jointing with a hand plane. People think that you need the ends of a six-foot length supporting if edge jointing, which simply is not and never was true. The single vise, quick release takes care of everything. Combine that with a clamp in the vise as I have shown now for months if not years, and you have all the dogging system you ever need.

The other thing is the prevailing insistence on using a hard, dense-grained wood for the bench construction. Softwoods have long been the preferred choice of carpenters throughout Europe and indeed North America too. I think that the expectancy of pine or spruce to last is the problem and I think that some pines are indeed too soft for the task. European redwood is a hard pine with consistent hardness. It is not Eastern white pine. Some softwoods are harder than others and others have higher levels of interlocking grain and many knots, something I like for a bench. Some knotted and wiry grained woods are better for a bench build than straight-grained knot-free stock. I see a phenomenon in todays woodworking world that has become somewhat pervasive and that is to be ever admired or worse still looking for acceptance because of your bench. Hound’s tooth angled tail vises, three months of bench build, mass-on-mass weighty wood and then of course the competitive nature to be the bestest most recognized. All you wanted at the start was to create a third-hand-support for your work and your tools.DSC_0008 I met a man who declared he was a perfectionist and that when he built his bench he would be using this and that wood. He said he was waiting for the right wood and had been waiting for four years. He was waiting to accumulate the best tools money could but too. He named the planes and the saws and the chisels hew would be using when the great day came. He couldn’t afford to buy them all because of costs, but soon, one day, he would have his dream tools and his dream bench and his dream “wall-hung” tool cabinet crammed with bevel-up bench planes of every type and he would one day have his dream purpose-built workshop. What he couldn’t accept was that he could buy all he needed to work wood for the cost of his dream plane and his dream saw. WHat he didn’t realize was that he could be out in the workshop filing saw teeth and even if they were not perfectly formed that saw would most likely cut just fine. What he didn’t realize was that prissy saws with prissy teeth and curly-wood handles would still need sharpening in a few weeks time and that he, because of his perfections, unachievable goals, unrealistic intentions would most likely never achieve his real and original goal to become a real woodworker.

Of course I couldn’t reach him. I suggested he get an old Disston from the secondhand tool dealers at the show and practice sharpening them. Guys were coming up to me with tools each day of the show. #4 planes, 4 1/2s and 5s too. Tools they bought online or in the back of a pickup truck outside. I saw at least half a dozen D whatevers and a couple of D8s. Nice saws for $20-30. Marking gauges and mortise chisels, chisels of every type. The guys where bright-eyed with their finds and I doubt that they would leave their finds for more than an hour before they were out by the wood stove in their sheds fettling their finds.


  1. I like this post. The quote about prissy saws with prissy teeth is a classic. I have half a dozen D8s that I bought for $3 apiece that have bad teeth but are otherwise fine. I am going to jump in but I doubt the result will be prissy!

    Experts are part of the problem. I regularly read on forums that inconsistency of a degree or two matters a lot. I cannot even imagine being able to hold a file within a degree or two as you move down a 26″ toothline. For fun, I took out a protractor and moved my file one degree. Then I laughed.

  2. Paul,
    my bench made to your plans, cost me 60 euros. perhaps the wood is slightly soft, but the money saving over making it in beech or other fancy woods is enormous. As for the plan, I learnt a lot, it was a major project, and if I make another, I will do some things differently.
    about saw sharpening, you said recently you had a secret to share with us. I bought a Sanserson 16 tpi for 15£, thats a lot of teeth, so I am reluctant to sharpen it the wrong way8

    1. If you go to our online broadcast you will find a video we did on saw sharpening that has not been filmed anywhere in the world before. It’s radical and it works and anyone can do it.

  3. Paul, I am so glad that I found you about a year ago on the Internet. You have opened my eyes in many ways. As a side note, my new workbench (your design) is near completion and I already love it. Can’t wait to start working on it. As a member of your online masterclass I learn a lot. Of course my skills are nowhere near your skills, but it’s getting better each day.

    1. You will grow in your skills and the joy is more in the journey and not just in arriving.

  4. I’m getting so tired of all these shows only being on the east coast. When will you come to the west coast?

    1. I would love to come there too. We have even talked about this, it’s a question of time, but we haven’t given up. We need a venue and support to do it, but it is possible.

  5. Paul, I’ll be showing four of these benches at the New England Home Show Feb 21-24. I made mine 4′ long so they would fit in my van. I made the last one using your wedge assembly method, since the first 3 fit fine fully assembled, but there wasn’t quite room for the last one (picture me spending an hour moving them in and out through the side and rear doors in different orientations trying to pack them in!). Fortunately I realized the need for the break down method before final assembly. They’re 3 different heights to accommodate different users, only varying by a couple inches.

  6. I finished my bench a week ago: I learnt so much building it. The bench is forgiving of my mistakes: gappy laminating, out of square frames, poorly fitting joints, torn housings, OSB shelves and so many other things. It works, I can chop heavy mortices on the very ends of this rock-solid bench. My old 189B/2 Woden vice is smooth as butter and holds like a champ. I still worry about damage to the bench, then I remind myself that the bench matters because of what I can produce using it. It isn’t fancy furniture but one day I hope to produce my masterpiece on it.


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