Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Shaker Bench First Look
This past couple weeks we've been building our prototype Shaker-style bench, based on the bench that we built with Ron Brese earlier this year. Ron's design was popular enough at several woodworking events this year that we've decided to draw up a set of plans based on his bench. That way, if you'd like to build a bench like Ron's, with Benchcrafted vises, the task will be made quicker and more enjoyable with our excellent plans.
We've scaled down Ron's bench from 8' to 7' to accommodate the typical small shop, and we think the proportions are such that this bench still has the "long" look of typical Shaker benches. Of course most folks think of the Hancock bench, with its bowling-alley-on-cabinet look. We wanted to capture some of that feel with this bench design. Tough to do with a bench that's about half as long as the Hancock bench.
There are a couple cool features about this design that I'd like to mention. The Glide hardware is completely enclosed within its own section of the cabinet base. This makes for a very clean look on the outside. No roller brackets are visible. And since the rear section of the leg vise, the "leg", is fastened to the cabinet from inside, there are no visible fasteners on it either. We think this meshes nicely with the Shaker aesthetic. Along those lines we're also fitting this bench with our prototype hand wheels. No chrome on these. Just the warm, understated look of the raw cast iron.
We built the cabinet using readily available home-center (USA-made, don't waste your money on the Chinese stuff) birch plywood and 5/4 poplar, which we milled down to 1". The cabinet is constructed using glued and screwed butt joints. You might wonder if this is strong enough for a bench. We think it is.
Once the numerous cabinet elements are glued and joined, the entire structure becomes one solid, rigid mass. Plus, the face frame is constructed with half-lap joints, and at 1" thick, this provides plenty of strength. The back of the cabinet is made from one piece of ply, instead of the lapped pine boards on Ron's bench. This adds a whole lot of rigidity to the base. We've also added some traditional cut nails to the mix for strength and a classic look. We recently acquired a Festool track saw and used it for cutting the plywood base parts of the cabinet. The joints coming off the saw are so smooth, straight, and clean that the glue joints we were getting looked like they came off a finely-tuned jointer plane. This no doubt adds to the strength of the joints. But if you'd like to build your cabinet with dadoes, tongue-and-groove, biscuits, dominoes, or some other method, we won't call the joinery police. As with our Split-Top Roubo plans, we encourage builders to adjust their bench to their needs. Which is another reason we don't include a cut list with the plans. By including the main dimensions of the parts, you are free to add length or width to suit your joinery methods and tools.
As we move closer to finalizing the plans, we'll make some comments about the differences between this bench and our Split-Top Roubo. While both benches offer excellent workholding, there are some differences that we'd like to point out. You also don't need to be an Olympic power-lifter to build the Shaker bench. It's a much more manageable build, and it also uses less material, and less-expensive material.
Unfortunately, we won't have the plans ready for the Woodworking In America Conference. But we will have this bench at our booth. The Brese Plane booth is right next to our's, and Ron will be bringing his bench as well. If you are in the Cincinnati area October 1-2, please stop by and see us. Admission is only $7 to the best woodworking tool (hand tools especially) show this year.