Satisfaction from the Simplest of Tools

Last summer, we moved to Virginia. Along with packing and loading the personal effects of a family of four, I also had a barn full of woodworking stuff that needed to travel. If you’ve ever moved the entire contents of your shop, your back probably remembers the kind of “heavy lifting” that goes along with it. I might just as well have dismantled, boxed and transported a Sherman tank.

Thankfully, the shop traveled some 400 miles without calamity, and I lost very little skin moving it from Point A to Point B. But one item did take a bit of a beating: my workbench. Continue reading

The Sad State of Workbenches (Part 2): What’s Wrong Nowadays

Modern benches generally have spindle vises with two metal guide spindles and a metal screw between them. They are usually less than 2” below the benchtop. To grip anything more than this distance, it has to be to one side of a spindle, usually the right side. The front jaw of the vise cocks when tightened, ruining the corner of the work and giving a indeterminate hold. This is not progress.

poor hold of modern spindle vise

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The Sad State of Workbenches (Part 1): What Used to Be Right

Serious woodworking started at least in Egyptian times: it is amongst the oldest of crafts. By the 18th century, the workbench was pretty well thought-out, but came to absolute perfection after 1850. The second half of the 20th Century has seen a gradual decline of the workbench. I place the blame for this on well-meaning engineers who may be bright young graduates of prestigious schools, but sadly deficient in any real understanding of woodworking. These meddlers have tweaked workbench design in the name of “streamlining” manufacture,” adding “usability” to the product or simply satisfying the latest marketing research.

Euro Bench with Emmert type vise added

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Workbench You Can Build in an Afternoon

If you're looking for a quick project this Memorial Day weekend, or any other for that matter, here's a low-cost bench option for you.

A couple weeks ago, I reported on my trusty old, cosmetically challenged workbench. The goal, really, was to support those of you out there who are more concerned with utility in your shop fixtures than high style. In other words, you build sturdy workaday shop fixtures so you can get on with more important projects. And, that’s okay in my book; I do it, too.

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Out with the Old? Thankfully, Not Yet.

Ten years ago, our family moved from the Minnesota to central Ohio. We had young kids, I was transitioning from a 9 to 5 publishing job to full-time freelancing and let’s just say, the budget was really strapped. I needed a workbench for cheap. I also didn’t have a lot of time to build it. So, I tabled those dreams of a fancy bench and drove to Lowe’s to buy my bench supplies. That amounted to a pile of 2x4s, two sheets of 3/4-in. MDF and a piece of subflooring. Oh, and some casters. I didn’t even have a clear plan for what the final bench would be, just a bigtime need.

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Stained Glass Workbench & Storage Cabinet

Reader Bill Roberts sent in this workbench and storage cabinet for working with stained glass.  The vertical slots for glass storage, drawers for tool storage, and lots of workspace would be welcome in any stained glass enthusiast’s workspace.

Do you have a project you’d like to share?  Click here to send it in!

Matt Becker
Internet Production Coordinator

Stained Glass Cabinet

Stained Glass Cabinet - Open

Workbench Storage Cabinet

Reader Bill Roberts sent in some photos of this great workbench and storage cabinet.

This is a workbench and storage cabinet I made for my brother. It was made out of pieces of lumber left over from a cabinet shop that went out of business. It has red oak and maple doors & drawer fronts,the top is out of a luann interior door. I cut the panels off and sandwiched them over cork sheets. The case, dividers, and drawers are made out of plywood.

- Bill Roberts

We’re always looking for more projects submissions, so click here to send them in!

Matt Becker
Content Coordinator

Workbench & Storage Cabinet 1

Workbench & Storage Cabinet 2

Ah, Those Tools We Love

Normally, I’m not one for chain emails. I generally delete them about as fast as they hit my inbox. But recently one of our readers forwarded the following email about tools that just caught my attention. It sure gave me a good laugh, because, well, truth is pretty funny sometimes. See if you agree:

BAND SAW: A large stationary power saw primarily used to cut good wood into smaller pieces that more easily fit into the trash can after you cut on the inside of the line instead of the outside.

DRILL PRESS: A tall machine useful for suddenly snatching flat metal bar stock out of your hands so that it smacks you in the chest and flings your beverage across the room, denting the freshly-painted project that you had carefully set in the corner where nothing could get to it.

WIRE WHEEL: Cleans paint off of bolts and then throws them somewhere under the workbench with the speed of light. Also removes fingerprints and hard-earned calluses from fingers in about the time it takes you to say, “Oh, crap!”

CIRCULAR SAW: A portable cutting tool used to make studs too short.

PLIERS: Used to round off bolt heads. Sometimes used in the creation of blood-blisters.

BELT SANDER: An electric sanding tool commonly used to convert minor touch-ups into major refinishing jobs.

HACKSAW: One of a family of cutting tools built on the Ouija board principle… It transforms human energy into a crooked, unpredictable motion, and the more you attempt to influence its course, the more dismal your future becomes.

LOCKING PLIERS: Generally used after regular pliers to completely round off bolt heads. If nothing else is available, they can also be used to transfer intense welding heat to the palm of your hand.

TABLE SAW: A large stationary power tool that can launch wood projectiles for testing wall integrity.

HYDRAULIC FLOOR JACK: Used for lowering an automobile to the ground after you have installed your new brake shoes, trapping the jack handle firmly under the bumper.

PHILLIPS SCREWDRIVER: Normally used to stab the vacuum seals under lids; can also be used, as the name implies, to strip out Phillips screw heads.

STRAIGHT SCREWDRIVER: A tool for opening paint cans. Sometimes used to convert common slotted screws into non-removable screws and butchering your palms.

PRY BAR: A tool used to crumple the metal surrounding that clip or bracket you needed to remove in order to replace a 50 cent part.

HAMMER: Originally employed as a weapon of war, the hammer nowadays is used as a kind of divining rod to locate the most expensive parts adjacent to the object we are trying to hit.

UTILITY KNIFE: Used to open and slice through the contents of cardboard cartons delivered to your front door; works particularly well on contents such as seats, vinyl records, liquids in plastic bottles, collector magazines, refund checks, and rubber or plastic parts. Especially useful for slicing work clothes, but only while in use. Also cuts fingers.

There you have it—life with tools. We sure can’t live without them … and sometimes not even with them!

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Field Editor

April Issue Uncovered

Despite the snowy prospects here in Minnesota, it’s time to think spring. To that end, we’re happy to announce that the April print issue of Woodworker’s Journal is headed to your mailbox and should be arriving shortly. With any luck, it will bring us all warmer weather and longer days! Here’s a quick look at some of the great new content you’ll find inside:

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Still Skidding

Who knew there were so many uses for pallets? You do, and the comments prove it.

Who knew there were so many uses for pallets? You do, and the comments prove it.

What a nice response we’ve had from you folks to our recent blog post about turning skids into usable lumber (“Skid Row”). Looks like we tapped into a good topic here. Keep your comments and suggestions coming in, please!

I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus lately from the blog to get a big tool review ready for the January print issue of the magazine. And, aside from a lot of heavy lifting to hit that deadline, it’s added a third floor to my growing tower of skids outside the shop. Looks like it’s time to start cutting some of them up and figuring out what to build…

In that regard, I thought it might be fun to tally up all the many ways you have commented that you use skid lumber. Hopefully you’ll give the rest of us some good ideas for turning pallets into projects:

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