Easter Weekend has come and gone - I'm in my "happy place". It is starting to get chilly here in the Overberg, so I know that in the next couple of weeks I will get the workshop stove going most mornings, bask in its crackling warmth and incinerate the large and embarrassing pile of mistakes that I have been accumulating since last winter!
At my workbench, I am friends with nine young Maple trees, a couple of metres away in the garden, and I marvel each day at how they change colour from bright green to golds, russets and deep reds as they lose their leaves and we head towards the winter solstice.
Enough lyrical waxing..... I have always looked at other woodworkers' workshops with a mix of interest and fascination, learning new and clever ways of doing things, great ideas, wonderful problem solving and garnering a few "definitely don't do that" notes along the way.
There can never be a "one size fits all" approach when putting your workshop together, and most definitely "He who dies with the most tools, wins", is a pointless yardstick with which to measure quality, creativity, talent and expertise.
So....Into the workshop.
Having created separate spaces for machine work and bench work, I find that I enjoy woodwork so much more. The "Bench Room" is the space where I draw, design, cut and plane, sharpen and actually join bits of wood together.
My bench room is not only where I do my hand tool work, it is also a wonderful space where woodworking friends and I chat every day, enjoy good coffee, solve the world's problems and constantly learn from each other. I enjoy the much cleaner environment compared to the machine room, with only plane shavings and hand cut joint waste to contend with, which unfortunately still manage to zero in on my coffee mug with deadly accuracy. (Note to self-Burmese Teak tastes really bad in strong black coffee!)
The bench room is separated into a number of small, yet reasonably efficient areas:
I built the bench about 25 years ago, swearing that this one would be the last! It was made from reclaimed Boekenhout (Cape Beech), African Padauk, Hard Maple, Jackalberry and Dahoma. Based on a conglomeration of ideas and designs from Fine Woodworking Magazine, and Scott Landis' "The Workbench Book", I built what I thought would be an efficient, attractive and sensible bench. I still do. Building this bench tested all of my meagre skills over and over, with compound dovetail joints, three wooden bench screws, drawbored mortise & tenons and it's general construction.
The bench is placed so that I can access it from all sides (I am vertically challenged, so the arms are short!). Two Veritas Bench Pups, two Veritas Wonder Pups, one Veritas Adjustable Holdfast, a pair of Gramercy Holdfasts, a ramped shooting board and a few bench hooks complete the setup.
Since finishing this bench late last century, (I've always wanted to say that!) I have built a number of cabinetmaking & carving benches for friends, assisted others in building their own and built a reproduction 18th century Dutch workbench as a working museum exhibit. I am currently helping a very good friend to build his first serious joinery workbench..... my wife reckons I must have a "thing" for workbenches!
Hand Tool Till:
Directly behind the business side of, and at the same height as the workbench is a counter with shelves below. Above the counter is the hand tool till.
The Hand Tool Till contains:
- Narex Cranked Neck Paring Chisels (set of 4)
- Narex Paring Chisels (set of 5)
- Narex Dovetail Chisels (set of 3)
- Narex Carbide Burnisher
- Lie-Nielsen Planemaker's Floats (set of 4)
- Flexcut Small Cabinetmaker's Drawknife
- Narex Mortise Chisels (set of 6)
- Narex Matched Left/Right Skew Chisels (set of 8)
- Narex Corner Chisel
- Narex Rasps (set of 4)
- Veritas Chairmaker's Concave Spokeshave
- Veritas Flat Spokeshave
- Veritas Convex Spokeshave
- Luban Flat Spokeshave
- Quilted Maple Low Angle Spokeshave (made from Veritas blade kit)
- Flat Head Cabinetmaker's Screwdrivers (set of 4)
- Drawboring Pins (set of 3)
- Woodpeckers Mini Scraper
- Japanese Small Handheld Anvil
- Narex Standard Awl
- Narex Birdcage Awl
- Vintage Yankee Screwdriver
- Blue Spruce Mallet
- Glen Drake #2 Brass Mallet
- Veritas Journeyman's Mallet
- Beech Carver's Mallet
- Wild Olive Carver's Mallet
- Lie-Nielsen Plane Screwdriver
- Bill Harris Cabinet Scraper Holder
- BillHarris 1:5 Dovetail Marker
- Bill Harris 1:7 Dovetail Marker
- Incra 300mm Flat Ruler
- Incra 300mm Bend Ruler
- Incra 300mm "T" Ruler
- Incra 300mm Centre Ruler
- Incra 150mm "T" Ruler
- Incra Protractor
- Incra 6" Imperial "T" Square
- Vintage Small Marples Sliding Bevel Gauge
- Vintage Large Marples Sliding Bevel Gauge
- Vintage Imperial Folding Ruler
- Vintage Metric Folding Ruler
- Woodpeckers Metric/imperial Saddle Square
- Zona 3" Flat Square
- Shinwa Protractor Square
- Digital Protractor
- iGaging 4" Double Square
- Lie-Nielsen Pocket Ruler
- Veritas Beading Tool Set
- Double Bevel Marking Knife
- Kakuri Japanese Marking Knife
- Veritas Standard Wheel Marking Gauge
- Veritas Micro-adjustable Wheel Marking Gauge
Each tool fits into it's own slot (I hate having to repair a tool because it got damaged by connecting with another tool and I can also instantly see if a tool is not in it's proper place!) in a given tray that hangs on a cleat strip. This way, if I need to take the tool set to another location (for onsite work or teaching purposes), it is a simple matter of grabbing whichever trays are required.
The system works well, except that if I were to remake it, I would angle the cleat board by another 6º or so, to enable slightly top-heavy tools to sit a bit more safely. The till trays are all made from Tulip Poplar, a stable and easy working creamy white softwood that joints and planes well, is inexpensive and readily available from Rare Woods. (I use it a lot as a secondary wood for drawers and internal frames). The tool till system works very well for me in the workshop, I prefer a fairly clear workbench (I use the countertop below the till to place tools that are in use), and it is quick and easy to select or replace a tool from either a sitting or standing position at the bench.
Regarding chisels, when one starts to lose it's edge, I either hone it immediately, or replace it upside down in it's slot, so when I get to the end of the work session, I then know exactly which blades need attention.
The are two cupboards above the hand tool till. They were both reclaimed from a kitchen undergoing renovation, built of Maple and have leaded glass doors. These cupboards also each have a small light which keeps the temperature and humidity within the cupboards constant and prevents rust. They both burn permanently.
The Left Cupboard contains the following:
- Veritas Miniature Router Plane (Fantastic for small hinge mortises)
- Veritas Large Router Plane with Fence
- Luban Bronze Low Angle Block Plane
- Veritas #80 Cabinet Scraper
- Clifton 3/8" Shoulder Plane
- Veritas Small Shoulder Plane
- Veritas Medium Shoulder Plane
- Veritas Large Shoulder Plane
- Lie-Nielsen #97 Bronze Large Chisel Plane
- Lie-Nielsen #98 Bronze Side Rebate Plane
- Lie-Nielsen #99 Bronze Side Rebate Plane
- Veritas Bronze Miniature Spokeshaves (set of three)
- Veritas #7 Adjustable Mouth Low Angle Jointer Plane
- Veritas #62 Adjustable Mouth Low Angle Jack Plane
- Veritas #4-1/2 Adjustable Mouth Standard Angle Smoothing Plane
- Veritas #164-1/2H Adjustable Mouth Low Angle Smoothing Plane
- Veritas Adjustable Mouth Skew Blade Low Angle Shooting Plane
The Right Cupboard contains the following:
- CMT Pin Type Moisture Meter
- 300mm Combination Squares x 2
- Sawsets x 2 (different setting ranges)
- 3" Engineer's Square
- 4" Engineer's Square
- 6" Engineer's Square
- 12" Engineer's Square
- Bill Harris Brass & Cocobolo Adjustable 8" Try Square
- Crown Large Mitre Square
- Vintage Marples 6" Try Square
- Vintage Marples 10" Try Square
- Vintage Marples 12" Try Square
- Zona Modelmaker's Backsaw
- Crown Flushcut Saw
- Nakaya Japanese Dovetail Saw
- Veneer Hammer (self made)
- Veneer Saw
- Vintage Marples 12" Bow Saw
- Knew Concepts 5" Fretsaw
- Pax 1776 Dovetail Rip Backsaw
- Crown Small Backsaw
- Lie-Nielsen Large 11 TPI Rip Backsaw
- Vintage Deep Throat Fretsaw
- Nicholson Saw Sharpening File Set
- File Card
- Narex Small Mallet
- Narex Large Mallet
- Lie-Nielsen Leather Wallet containing twelve various shaped Narex, Pax, Crown and Veritas Cabinet Scrapers. Thanks again for the wallet, Brian!
The workbench is situated centrally in the room between the till/ cupboard/ counter setup and the opposite wall, with the natural light coming in from my right (I am right handed). On the opposite wall are two more of the Maple kitchen cupboards filled with a Fine Woodworking Magazine Collection going back to the late 70's for easy reference.
Below these cupboards is another 600mm deep counter with shelves below, a kneehole area and a hand tool panel mounted to the wall.
This panel is populated with the following:
- Estwing Claw Hammer
- Veritas Bronze Mallet
- Leather Faced Mallet
- Ball Pein Pattern Hammer
- Warrington Pattern Hammer
- Upholstery Hammer
- Japanese Hammer
- Carpenter's Hornbeam Mallet
- Carpenter's Beech Mallet
- Framer's Square
- Stair Gauge Set
- Woodpeckers Long Story Stick
- Woodpeckers 600mm Story Stick
- Veritas Stringing Tools & Accessories
- Veritas Router Plane Metric Blade Set
- Veritas Router Plane Stringing Attachment
- Estwing Hatchet
- Veritas MK2 Deluxe Honing Guide Set
- Narex Screwdriver Set
- Wooden Screwbox & Taps 1/2"
- Wooden Screwbox & Taps 3/4"
- Wooden Screwbox & Taps 1"
- Wooden Screwbox & Taps 1-1/2"
- Veritas Pro Tapered Reamer
- Veritas Tapered Tenon Cutter 3/8"
- Veritas Tapered Tenon Cutter 1/2"
- Veritas Tapered Tenon Cutter 5/8"
- 2 x sizes of Rotring Compass Sets
- 2 x pairs of Dividers
- French Curve Sets
- Veritas Variable Burnisher
- Dremel Tool
- Olfa Cutter
- Large Drawknife
- Facing Hatchet
- Spear's & Jackson Rip Saw
- Disston Panel Saw
- Brass Water Spray Can
- Small selection of Pfeil Carving Chisels
- Carver's Slipstones
- Vintage Small Miller's Falls Eggbeater Drill circa 1890's
- Vintage Mahogany and silver plated Trammel set circa 1907
- Maple Bench Hooks x 2
On the counter below this tool board are an A2 Olfa Cutting Mat and a slab of granite for flattening purposes. (This is a cut-out from a sink installation, you can get them for free from anyone who installs kitchens). Also, on this counter are my ancient Tormek 1200 Wet Sharpening Machine and the Suehiro and Shapton water stones and a DMT Extra Coarse Diamond Plate.
Empty 20L paint buckets serve as dustbins throughout the bench room workshop. Plenty of double 220V outlets along the walls at waist height and compressed air points hanging above the bench and assembly table make a big difference.
The rest of the bench room consists of the following:
This area also has a 600mm deep counter with cupboards (salvaged from a restaurant) and clamp racks lining one wall. The opposite wall contains cupboards (salvaged from the same restaurant), hot & cold running water with sink and my reference library.
Against the clamp rack wall within easy reach of the assembly table are shelves that contain glues, adhesives, linseed oil mixes, Danish oil, turpentine, thinners, denatured alchohol, shellacs, dyes, steel wool, glue pots, glue brushes, extra rulers, pumice, rottenstone, bar gauges, vacuum press pump, electric hot plate for large hide glue pots, baby bottle warmer for small hide glue work and the all important filter coffee machine! The bar fridge sits in a cupboard below the coffee machine - perfect.
The clamp rack line-up is as follows:
8 x Ehoma 600mm Parallel Jaw Clamps
16 x Ehoma 300mm Parallel Jaw Clamps
16 x Ehoma 160mm Parallel Jaw Clamps
8 x Duratec 600mm Parallel Jaw Clamps
4 x Duratec 450mm Single Hand Bar Clamps
6 x Duratec 300mm Single Hand Bar Clamps
4 x Panel Clamps
30 x Assorted Sizes of Spring Clamps
4 x Jorgensen 12" Wooden Handscrews
4 x Jorgensen 10" Wooden Handscrews
4 x Jorgensen 8" Wooden Handscrews
4 x Dubuque 8" Wooden Handscrews (built from kits)
8 x Dubuque 4" Wooden Handscrews (built from kits)
2 x Woodpeckers Mitre Clamps Sets
3 x Kreg Pocket Hole Clamps
1 x Ramped Shooting Board
Central to this area is the assembly table. It is a simple pine frame with a shelf underneath. I use a cheap hardboard honeycomb door for glueing up and assembly, placed on this frame. These doors are readily available from any hardware store, are flat and when the surface gets really bad, I flip it over and use the other side. Cheap, easy and eminently practical!
At the end of the bench room are my desk, phone and computer/printer setup. The little woodburning stove is situated between the joinery and assembly benches. The laminated flooring was reclaimed from my mum-in-law who was putting down wall to wall carpeting.
Back in the main bench area is a roll-around chest of drawers, which contains screws, brads, upholstery tacks and cabinetmaking hardware. When I am fitting hardware, I simply roll the cabinet out to the assembly table. Above the semi-permanent position of the roll-around drawer chest, is a wall mounted station for battery drills, driver, chargers and pneumatic pin nailer.
There is general flourescent lighting throughout the room, and a couple of "hotspot" halogen lights. I also use an old angle poise lamp for raking light and a an angle poise ring-light with a magnifier lense for close up detailed work.
With plenty of seating, my bench room is a pleasant place, a place where I can think, where I can be creative and where my projects take shape. With the library and computer on hand, I can find ideas, solve problems and at the desk, I can draw and write in a creative environment. (and listen to Fine Music Radio while I work).
The intention in sharing my bench room layout & equipment choices with you, is to hopefully help and guide you against making the very many expensive mistakes and bad equipment choices that I have made over some 40+ years of woodworking on a budget. It also comes from my own yearning over the years to see what other woodworkers use, how they lay things out, how they approach problems, what works for them and what doesn't.
This is an introspective and honest exercise.
There are always things that one would change and improve, given time and money, but for now, this room and it's tools work for me, really comfortably.
This is not an ideal hand tool workshop for everyone, it is not intended in the slightest to be even a good example, but I hope that the article will generate some conversation, comments and suggestions both positive & negative, as well the sharing of your own ideas and experiences.
Please comment on the blog post, ask questions, offer answers, your own tips & suggestions, come up with ideas for new posts and most of all have fun in your workshop.
PS. If you need coffee and wish to chat woodworking, please pop in, fellow woodworkers are always welcome!
Let's keep make shavings, not dust!