Down the workbench rabbit hole

IMG_2901There is a rabbit hole down which most, if not all, woodworkers eventually disappear, regardless of what they make. And I now find myself teetering on the edge of this same rabbit hole. Let me explain.

My current workbench is a Sjoberg Duo (now marketed as the “Nordic Plus“). It has served me well over the four-and-a-bit years I’ve owned it, and it was definitely the right choice for me at the time. But I am now at the point where I’m butting up against the limitations of the bench, and it is time to re-assess what I need from a bench… and then build one myself.

Before I discuss the limitations of my current bench, and how I intend to address those shortcomings, let me go back to why I bought the Sjoberg in the first place. In 2012 I set up a new workshop – some significant health issues had kept me from any woodwork for 18 months or so, and I’d bounced round the country with work for a spell. So when I was finally in a position to get back in the workshop I had a very clear choice – my first project could be to build a bench, or I could buy one and get straight back to lutherie. I’d actually just finised reading the first edition of Chris Schwarz’s Workbench Book at the time, but made the decision to get back to lutherie and buy a bench. Part of my reasoning was that working on a commercially made bench would give me some practical insight into exactly what I needed from a bench, and what was superfluous. All in all, I think that was the right decision, and the four-plus years I’ve spent working on my Sjoberg have definitely been illuminating. Furthermore, the Sjoberg won’t be wasted once I’ve built a replacement bench, as it will replace the small sharpening station and assembly bench at the end of my workshop.

So now, the limitations of the Sjoberg. Firstly, mass. As in, the Sjoberg has very little of it. Which for most of the lighter lutherie work I do is not a problem. But for heavier work, for instance over-hand ripping of thick stock (like for my Moxon build) or taking a thick cut with a jack plane, then the bench twists and skitters across the workshop floor. The second and third limitation both relate to the bench top. The bench top is thin, which means that there is not much scope of flattening the bench – so after four years the bench top is not exactly what you’d call overly flat. Finally, the benchtop is only secured to the chasis by two carriage screws, which is not a particularly secure method. After four years of seasonal wood movement, the threads have stripped out of the bench top and I’ve had to patch in some maple blocks to keep the benchtop and the base together.

So what will the replacement bench look like? As it happens, I’ve been reading the second edition of Schwarz’s Workbench book at the moment. I’m decided on a Roubo style bench – the thick top and iconic rising dovetail joint represent that perfect combination of practicality and joinery-flair. The Roubo promises to address all of the limitations I’ve outlined above. But really this decision raises more questions and options. Do I want a slab top, or laminated? Will I have a tail vise or rely on planing stop and doe’s feet? If I have a tail vise, will the end cap be bolted on or will I go for some Frank Strazza style condor tails? I’m undecided on all of these points as yet, although I do know that a Benchcrafted Glide leg vise will fitted.

And here I am. Teetering on the edge of the workbench rabbit hole. And although I’m unlikely to be in a position to start work on the new bench until the very end of the year, I’m looking forward to getting stuck in and building the last bench I’ll ever need.

4 thoughts on “Down the workbench rabbit hole

    • Thanks Jim. I’m still very much at the outline design stage – I intend this bench to be the last I ever need, so don’t want to rush any of the critical design choices. That being said, I’m excited to see some of the ideas coalesce, and can’t wait to get building the bench. I really enjoyed following your bench build earlier this year, so I’m looking forward to experiencing a bench build for myself.

      For me, the two most potent symbols of our craft are the tool chest and the workbench. I’ve built one of those, and this feel like the right stage to build the other. If done right, both my Anarchist’s Tool Chest and Roubo bench should easily be around for the apprenctice’s grandchildren to use.

  1. Good luck with the rabbit hole! I’ve built both of the benches in that book, and if I had to choose one, it would be the Roubo. It’s easy to build, super stable, and a great open platform for just about anything. Start simple. I got the classic leg vise + crisscross and it’s wonderful. The end vice is less essential once you master battens and a doe’s foot.

    Best of luck!

    • Thanks Ben! I’m really looking forward to building the Roubo. Good to hear about your experiences with the vices and battens – I’ll be writing more about some of my design choices in the next instalment (going live this weekend).

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