It’s harder than we sometimes think to see when something is missing. I have listened to Dr. Matthew Sleeth tell the story about how when he was a new resident he was learning to read x-rays with a group of other residents and the chief of radiology started asking questions about one particular x-ray. At first they struggled, and then they started getting the hang of it, learning to uncover even subtle details like whether a person was right or left handed, what kind of work they probably did, etc.
After about an hour with this one x-ray they thought they had finally gotten the hang of interpreting the image before them when their instructor told them that although several highly qualified people had read this x-ray as normal, he believed this woman had cancer.
The clue was something that wasn’t there. Namely her left clavicle. It had been eaten away. They had stared at this x-ray for all that time and had all missed what was (or wasn’t) right in front of them.
Point is, it’s hard to see what isn’t there.
In coming to terms with my current work bench and its limitations, I’ve had to ask myself about what this bench is and isn’t. I’ve had to consider what is missing and what is lacking in order to rest upon a bench that will solve those concerns. It might be argued that every bench is a compromise in some way, but I prefer to think that every bench is probably right for someone and some work. The question then becomes which bench is right for me and the way I work? What am I missing?
The one thing that is missing is weight. My bench struggles to stay in one place when it’s being used.
Another thing that’s missing is work-holding capacity. Yes I have a face vise. Yes, it does a decent job with holding stock so I can plane sides and joint panels. Yes it has even served for re-sawing, cutting tenons and dovetails and many of the other sundry tasks I put it through. But what about working on the faces of boards?
Because my current bench is 1/2″ thick plywood I sometimes struggle to hold boards flat to the bench, even with a planing stop. I’ve found myself rigging up all sorts of ways to do the work that could easily be accomplished by a hold-fast. Plus my vise is too either too high or two low. It’s too high to really use my planes to their full advantage and too low for dovetails and tenons. I intend to incorporate a bench top, twin screw vise into my work routine with the KDN, in order to raise the work up and save my back some bending.
Seeing what’s not there can also teach some positive lessons. There’s no tool tray on the back of my bench at the moment and that has helped me decide that there won’t be one on the next one I build either. I know that with the way I work a tool tray would be a boneyard of debris and clutter and a constant battle for me to keep clean. I like a flat “level” surface that I can brush off at the end of the day. It encourages me to clean my tools and put them where they belong. It also encourages me to be thoughtful about preparing for and considering the work I am doing. An exercise in mindfulness.
I also know that I don’t want storage under the bench. At least not a cabinet. There are enough places for junk to accumulate. One simple shelf seems like it would accomplish most of what I need.
Again, this is just me. If you want to go buy yourself a Sjobergs have at it. If you want to go full Frank Klausz who could blame you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year about workbenches it is that there is no norm when it comes to this holy altar of our craft.
These things aren’t made to worship, they’re made to work. Or at least they ought to be.
Seriously, what else am I missing?