My Workbench—The A to B Series

Built completely on the concrete driveway of my home. A right of passage? Go climb that mountain!

I’m never too sure when it comes to talking about my work where making is replaced by teaching—every time I make I end up thinking about whether what I take for granted in my everyday work has additional value to those relying on keyboard dexterity synchronised with head knowledge. My world of designing, making and teaching usually leads to a sort of seamless crossover these days. Whereas I saw my ways of working wood as more ordinary working, I also thought that everyone working with wood did it the same way, but then I saw that that wasn’t really the case. People had mostly strayed away from it. Whereas I grew up cutting the head off a nail to become a perfectly-sized drill bit, the circle of men and women around me were mainly using air-nailers. My method wasn’t common or at all necessary in today’s woodworking any more. Or was it? It was when I saw that air-nailers had become common that I reintroduced the nail-cum-drill-bit  to our post-modern world. My using it to make a picture frame series meant that people saw a different power woodworking. My now older-world woodworking began to change the face of woodworking over a number of decades and in the most positive of powerful ways. People felt safer, more in control yet without losing practical control values. It was non-invasive and so very all inclusive too. Add in the fact that it was also highly affordable for just about anyone, we found ourselves pushing new boundaries and forging ahead to combine the best of the past with the present and new. Because of this I pushed into it and the numbers have just kept growing.

Yup! A little awkward but definitely doable!

Filming my first workbench making in my back garden/yard for YouTube was a very exciting and enjoyable start to videos for me. It was even more than exciting, it was the first step to a new journey and a wider outreach. It was there we continued filming when the school next door rang its outside bell for the end of playtime. The seagulls squawked and screeched overhead as they plummeted from the sky at the sight of food scraps in the same playground. Our viewers loved it. And whereas of course that workbench was scaleable too, it also took on a mass that was somewhat intimidating to most because of its size.

In the last 18 months I’ve made three workbenches but two of them I made entirely outside my home garage, so that I could totally feel what you would go through with limited resources and constrained accommodation. A concrete driveway, rainy days, cold, high winds and so on extended the time it took, but I wanted the authentic photography without my staging anything. I also wanted an example or two to show what the outcome was. So, anyway, I say all of that because setting up trestles in my driveway seems so very far away from the fully equipped workshops and machine shops I have known all the way through my 50 years plus of woodworking. It’s at this point that I might say even if you have got the machine shop and high grade equipment, there is something about, well,  shall we say ‘roughing it a bit’ that makes the experience truly experiential, adventuresome, if you will. You see that’s what I want for you. Behind my garage doors stood my bandsaw, tablesaw, planer and jointer and chop-saw. Oh, and my mortise machine too. I didn’t use them to mill my components on as I made either of the benches nor the current series workbench. Why? Isn’t that a bit ridiculous? Aren’t you taking it a bit too far, Paul? Well, when I first arrived stateside in 1987 I asked my landlord if I could make a workbench on the den floor of the house we were renting. Sure you can!  Go ahead! My two eldest boys  were right there with me, little though they were. They helped me spin and twist the lumber around as I chopped mortises and cut tenons on the den floor. Had I had machines they could not have been on the job there with me. A cotton drop sheet kept the shavings and sawdust from entering the carpet fibres and after a few days my new, made-in-the-USA workbench was ready for action.

The workbench becomes the magnet for others to share experiences around. This was when I a seminar in Oxford and signed my new book Essential Woodworking Hand Tools for everyone.

In my view, there was something about the machine-free environment that made the work the adventure it became and I have repeated it with many projects and other people through the years.John Winter, my former apprentice made his workbench on another concrete driveway in North Wales, with his dad helping him too.

Remember the project above? Here we made the plane to make the cove mould and used the project as the vehicle to teach plane making and then cove making too. Imagine this whole project being made without machines. I’m not talking about the dimensioned sizing of the wood but ploughing grooves and rabbeting the rebates. Making moulds, raised panels, cutting dovetails and a dozen mortiser and tenons and much more too. It was an adventure that trained everyone in the fullest art of carcass building, door and drawer making and so on. It was purely a vehicle I used as a cabinet making course for developing hand skills that then became experiential knowledge.

Anyway, I just watched episode two of the new series for building my workbench. The series is aired first on our woodworkingmasterclasses.com site and then YouTube two weeks later, so seeing it take off on YouTube on Friday helped me to see the impact it would have for woodworkers everywhere. Naturally I recommend anyone who wants to build their very first workbench to make this one. Without a workbench, hand tool woodworking becomes almost impossible. Once you build this one, it’s for a lifetime of use.

10 comments on “My Workbench—The A to B Series

  1. Thanks for what you do! You inspire me. I plan to build a bench over Christmas using your methods. I am going to stick to the “seagull bench” specifications however.

    Hoping for a Christmas video this year! Toys or something!?

      • The first workbench video Paul made was filmed outside and in the background audio you could clearly hear seagulls squaking (amongst other fun sounds). Paul mentioned the background sounds in the post so I referred to it that way in my comment. That workbench was a larger one than the one he is currently filming.

  2. Thanks Paul. Between you and one other person, I went into handtools just as I got started. I had fully planned to buy all the electrically powered tools. When I saw what you did it clicked.

    As for working on your driveway when you could do it more comfordably, it makes sense to me in as much as from time to time, many of us like to go camping.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. Do people not know that trick with cutting the head of a nail off? I’m 15 and I’ve known that for as long as I can remember, taught to me by my Dad of course.

  4. Paul, i followed your original youtube bench build and am very proud to now have it completed in my garage. All i need now is some decent light! Thank you for your inspiration and guidance.

    Watching your latest series on bench building, it is evident how important a solid platform is to work from and the importance of holding your work; this can only be achieved with a good bench. At times we can see even you have difficulties working without a solid platform.

    Until i had build my bench, i was constantly frustrated with trying to build using a workmate and trestles. I have now really learnt the importance of stability and is something i take seriously before each task.

    Thanks again

    Andy

  5. I watch your videos and I marvel at how I feel afterwards. I am relaxed and energized at the same time. And I am learning all the time. I have my first Stanley #4 and am shopping for a 7 or 8. I am slowly improving my chisels and am not quite so afraid of sharpening. And a bench is in the works. Your calm and straightforward approach is really responsible for this and I thank you for every enjoyable moment!

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