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Ian Kirby Woodworking Design: Essential Woodworking Workbench and Vises
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Woodworking shop workbench The key component to any woodworker's shop is the workbench, which should be designed and built (or bought) for maximum functionality.

Every historic woodcraft has one thing in common: a bench. However, each skill had a bench that was peculiar to the work done on it. The cooper, patternmaker, coach builder wheelwright, et al. could not operate without one.

If you are not an accomplished woodworker and decide to design and build a bench, you get stuck in a sort of chicken and egg situation. For that reason, I’ll describe my bench which has evolved to work best for a furniture maker using solid wood and hand tools. You may be a furniture maker who believes that everything starts with a green button — this bench works well for you also. As yet, we haven’t seen a bench design specific to the machining of MDF and veneer.

The Bench

No matter how you push, pull or pound on it, the structure is solid. This gives you the confidence that you can measure and work to fine limits, that you can clamp to it and extend its stability and that it will carry any load.

The top is flat in length and in width, and it is out of winding. Flat to a degree that can be achieved with an 07-plane set so fine that the “shavings” are like goose down. This means you can plane stock against the bench stop more effectively than any other way — the workpiece isn’t distorted by being clamped in a vise or held between dogs as with an end vise. The simple holding device demands that you hold and push the plane in the most effective and efficient way. It also allows for instant “pick up” to check the work with square or straightedge.

Chopping a mortise joint on a workbench Having a bench in the shop gives you a flat, sturdy surface to clamp down workpieces, make precision cuts and chop mortises

Clamping up assemblies or butt joints on the bench is a good way to avoid twist in the finished piece. The pounding associated with chopping a mortise is done over the legs at the end away from the vise — every ounce of force goes into the work.

Parallel vise attached to the side of a workbench Your bench should include room or attachments for clamping or holding projects, a parallel vise saves time in glue-ups and can provide an extra hand in the shop.

When sawing a joint, whether it is a variation of a tenon or a dovetail, the workpiece is held in the vise. In order to cut the joint accurately, the work must be held vertical. Its face should be at right angles to the bench top. The cheeks of the vise are aligned to make this so. They also toe in: that is, they come together parallel, but meet at the top edge first. So the vise, as tightened, deflects to effect a positive grip.

posted on April 1, 2010 by Ian Kirby
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