Behind the scenes

At the last Woodworking in America (in 2016?), I was joking with Vic Tesolin that when bloggers begin a post with the words “Sorry, I haven’t written in a while” what they really mean is “I’ve been swamped by life and this is the last post I’m ever going to write.” I hope that is not the case in this instance.

Well, the “swamped by life” part is true. That I admit. I have found myself swimming in opportunities and challenges that have given me some perspective. They have also kept me busier than I would like and most days, by the end of the day, the last thing on my mind has been thinking of something witty or insightful to say about woodworking. For the past few years, even when things got busy I could put on my “blog face” and type something halfway worth reading, but during the last few months I have been simply overwhelmed.

So, sorry I haven’t written in a while.

Mortise & Tenon Issue Four has kept me busy, but it’s good (go pre-order while you still can). I haven’t been asked to write for any other publications in a while, but honestly I would have had to say no anyway, because I’ve gone back to school for my Master of Library Science degree. Between life and work and school I’ve managed to carve out just enough time to build a new base for our dining table (more to come) and to schedule a few teaching opportunities.

I’ve blogged about the handplane class at the LAP storefront and I’m looking forward to that opportunity with great anticipation. I’ve also been planning a hand tool basics class with Stuart Kent at the North Carolina Furniture School. The goal with this class will be to cover some of the fundamentals of working with hand tools from breaking down stock to cutting dovetails. We want participants to learn the kind of things that are hard to learn on the internet (like body posture and tool grips), but seem second nature when you encounter them first-hand.

Anyway, in anticipation of the class, we need to outfit the school with a few “student” benches that are hand tool worthy, but can also be stored away until a formal bench room is established. These are not meant to be the “dream” benches that most hand tool woodworkers might build for themselves, but they do need to meet certain benchmarks (pun not fully intended, but accepted) before we can put them into service. In the next few posts, I want to share the research and development process of these benches with you as I work out the quirks. I am building this bench out of my off-cuts from the last two projects, but I estimate you could easily build this bench for $50 (+ whatever vise hardware you choose).

Hand tool benches need some weight, so, for me this bench was always a slab top. In order to achieve that on the cheap, I broke down some SYP offcuts (from a 2 x 10) into sections that were roughly 2 1/2″ wide and 4′ long (one 8′ 2×10 would be just about enough to build this slab). After that I ran my try plane over the faces and then laminated 5 of the boards, letting the glue set for an hour or so before laminating two more layers, leaving 3 1/2″ wide gaps in the next to last lamination which will act as mortises for the legs.

I used my jack plane to bring the top into line and then I took it over to Stuart to run through the planer. It finished out at 2 1/5″ thick, 10″ wide and 48″ long and it already has some weight to it, so I feel like we’re on the right track. The base is going to have some fun details and that should double the weight.

By the way, if you’re interested in the class, we’re looking to line it up somewhere around the second week of June (tentatively June 9-10) The class will cost $350 for two full days of instruction by Stuart and me (materials included). If you want to sign up, Contact Stuart at and tell him you read it here so he knows what the heck you’re talking about.


9 Comments Add yours

  1. The wait to find out what happened to the trestle base is intense. Related to the through mortise crack?


  2. andymckenzie617 says:

    I’m intrigued by the ~10″ wide benchtop. I know I don’t use all of the 24″ mine has (I’m planning on reducing the size for my next bench), but that seems very narrow. Is that as wide as they get?


    1. This one is narrow just by virtue of trying to make a bench that is both usable for small classes and small enough to be storable. My bench at home is roughly 20″ but I think I could easily get away with 18″

      Liked by 1 person

      1. andymckenzie617 says:

        Good to know. I’ve been figuring 18-20″, since it seems like everything past there is just full of scrap and tools I ought to put away anyway.

        I might think about an extension platform at the back (maybe a hinged 1×6), just to support the back end of whatever you’re working on. I also might be overthinking. I’ll be interested to see what the final product looks like, and how it works!


      2. Good idea. That might be a fun add-on if the concept is sound.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. andymckenzie617 says:

    I’d be concerned about making it more tippy, but that will depend on how the back legs work.


    1. Yep, we’re still in R&D.


  4. Paul Hawkinson says:

    So glad to hear your voice again. I know swamped. I am in it too. The bench project has me well intrigued.

    I have nearly completed a task specific bench this last week, so my thoughts are still fresh on design and application.


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