Saturday, July 26, 2014

Looking Back and Forward

Six years ago this month I finished my first "Roubo-style" bench. It contained the very first Benchcrafted vise. I chronicled that build on my now-retired luthiery blog.

As I look back on the past six years and ahead, I'm reminded of why we started making vises. As with many woodworkers, I get inspired to build from many directions. But it's using the tools themselves that provides the most meaningful feedback. In short, the best research I can do for Benchcrafted is to spend as much time in front of my bench as possible, using the vises, and breaking habits so I can further refine and develop our tools. Benchcrafted has always been, and will always be about the core traditions of the craft of woodwork. The more I do this, the more I find myself returning to traditional ideas and methods, regardless of my perception of speed or efficiency. Why? There is a "groundedness" in tradition. A safe harbor. A place where we can return to when we press the reset button of unnecessary advancement and improvement. With current advances in CNC machining and the wide availability of off-the-shelf precision components designed for precise movements in the industrial arena, and tempted as we are to borrow from these arenas, we inevitably steer back to rudimentary ideas, paring our designs down to the simplest, purest forms of antiquity with the fewest moving parts. This principle reveals again and again that the old ways in general are best, especially when working with a material that has been around longer than civilized man. Wood has not changed, and it could be argued that man, in all his technological and scientific advancements has lost the aspect of purity and simplicity which allowed the ancient Egyptians to erect structures that modern man still can't quite explain.

I always have, and always will consider myself a woodworker first. Making vises is a product of that work. And it should be. I never want to make vises strictly as a money-making venture. It must always be driven by the craft. So I spend as much time in the shop as possible. Everything we sell is used nearly every single day in my personal shop. I wouldn't have it any other way.

My 8-year old Roubo bench has undergone a few retrofits over the years, but its still my main bench. It's now outfitted with the latest version of the Glide leg vise, and our Tail Vise. I've also increased the size of the dog holes to 1", to accommodate our larger hand-forged holdfasts. Other than that, its the same as the day I finished it. A massive wooden clamp that does what it needs to quickly and without fuss. There is nothing more irritating than fussing with vises when building furniture. Ironic as it may seem, it's my goal that our vises become transparent in use. I don't want our vises to be enjoyed. I want them to become such a seamless part of your workflow that your mind is not occupied with their function at all, but that it become more of an extension of your body. You don't consciously have to think about breathing.

So what's in store for the next few years? We do have some new products brewing, and hope those make it to production. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I've got a flame birch side table about half done that I'm itching to work on.


  1. Hi Jameel, being a user first is the best way to refine a design and make it really useful (and desirable!) for other wood workers and this certainly shows in your vices. Have you ever considered turning your skills to refining the Scandinavian dog leg vice? It's a great vice to work with but there are certainly areas to it's operation which could be sweeter. All the best, David.

    1. We've not ventured down that road yet, although we've been asked plenty. If you can convince me of an added benefit of the shoulder vise over a leg vise and Moxon appliance, I'm all ears.


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