Wednesday, November 25, 2009


First off, Happy Thanksgiving! We love this holiday for all the obvious reasons, and of course for the more meaningful ones, like showing appreciation for things and more importantly, people. But instead of writing a big mushy paragraph that you'll probably just skim over, I'll cut right to the chase. Thanks for supporting Benchcrafted and buying our products over the past year! We appreciate your patronage!


The new Benchcrafted Split-Top Roubo Bench plans are officially done! Draftsman and CAD wizard Louis Bois has done a phenomenal job. The plans are over 40 pages long! Lest you think we went overboard with the minutiae--(we do like overkill when it comes to benches)--here's what the plans will include:

- 15 pages of 8.5" x 11" measured drawings in printable pdf format with exploded views of the base and tops, as well as 3-d views of the vises and other parts. The measured drawings make it easy to see exactly how the bench is designed, but also how the Benchcrafted vises fit in.

- 25+ pages detailing the construction process, history of the design, construction notes and techniques, and pictures of the completed bench in maple.

- 3-d E-drawing of the complete bench with vises. This CAD drawing can be rotated and viewed from any angle. You can even make parts invisible or transparent to see exactly how the joinery works or the vises are installed. The e-drawings software you'll need to download to view the 3-d drawing is available for free from SolidWorks. A Sketchup version may be available at a later date.

- 20" x 30" large-format prints of the measured drawings, showing the details in larger format for easier viewing away from a computer. Printed on 20-lb. bond paper and shipped rolled (nobody liked creases!)

- Both Benchcrafted Glide Leg Vise and Tail Vise installation instructions will be included for convenience (they are also free to download from the website)

Originally we had planned to offer the plans in DVD form. Instead, we've decided to make the video portion of the plans completely free! We've started a YouTube channel and have already posted some content. These videos will be directly linked on the new bench plans page (look for this in a week or so), and we'll be adding new videos in the coming weeks.

If you're on our notification list, expect an email in a week or so announcing the availability of the plans.

Bench Builder's Package

We are also working on a bench builder's package which will include everything you need to build the Split-Top Roubo except wood, for a special price. The package will tentatively include:

- Benchcrafted Tail Vise
- Benchcrafted Glide Leg Vise
- Split-Top Roubo Plans
- Benchcrafted Barrel Nuts knockdown base hardware
- End cap hardware
- Two Gramercy holdfasts

Friday, November 13, 2009

Jim's Bench

This past summer I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Tolpin at the Woodworking In America Design Conference in St. Charles, Il.

Wait, let me back up a decade or so. I'm mostly a self-taught woodworker. Just after high-school, and a short stint at a local University (where I studied Russian, High-school algebra and Mortal Kombat--no, not the Asian martial art--the video game) I started getting seriously into woodworking, and with the help of the local public library, I started reading everything I could on the subject. My favorite's were by far the "Techniques" books by Taunton. Essentially back issues of Fine Woodworking arranged by subject and bound into a hardcover book. But it was Jim's approach to cabinetmaking that eventually led to me building two complete kitchens, one for for my own home, and another for my brother and his family. Jim's "Toolboxes" was on the bench when I built my first wall hung tool cabinet.

So when I met Jim it was a bit of a strange experience. Almost like meeting a celebrity (I met Jerry Lewis in a Las Vegas health club once, and that was not as much fun as meeting Jim) But as soon as I shook Jim's hand all the awkwardness went away. Jim's soft-spoken style and mellow demeanor appealed to me immediately, and we had a great conversation during a short lull in his busy schedule that weekend.

It turns out that the author of "Table Saw Magic" has taken a decidedly non-powered turn in his woodworking the past few years. As a co-founder of the Port Townsend School of Woodworking in Washington State, Jim teaches hand-tool centric woodworking, focusing on the joy and practicality of using hand tools for the home shop furniture maker. His approach makes a lot of sense, especially nowadays. I'm referring here to the blossoming of top-notch hand-tool manufacturers in the past decade or so. For the first time since well before World War II, fine hand tools are being manufactured once again and made available to the general public. This presents an excellent opportunity for woodworking enthusiasts to set up shops void of the majority of noisy, dusty, dangerous and expensive machines. Replacing them instead with hand tools produced with modern technology and processes that in most cases render them far superior to even the finest tools produced during the height of hand tool production of the past. Tools which give the traditional experience of woodworking and connect the woodworker with the material in a way which far surpasses the experience of simply running wood through a machine. Surface finish, joint quality and the overall aesthetic produced by hand tools can surpass those produced by a machine. I would challenge anyone to disagree that a few passes of a razor-sharp hand plane, accompanied with that satisfying sound and shimmering, slick surface is a far better experience than donning the dust mask and ear-muffs and firing up the vacuum and random-orbit sander.

In fact, Jim told me at WIA that he's sold off most of his stationary machinery and portable power tools and set up a hand-tool centric shop instead. And this is where Benchcrafted came into the conversation. As Jim analyzed our Split-Top Roubo he came to the conclusion that this would be the bench for his home shop. So he and I developed a collaborative plan where Benchcrafted would supply the two finished tops complete with the Benchcrafted Tail Vise and he would build the base in Port Townsend, installing the Glide as he finished the base. As work progressed, I couldn't help but be reminded of the work on the International Space Station, where different elements were manufactured in various countries then assembled in space for the first time. Okay, we're talking some slightly looser tolerances here. It made sense though, especially since hard maple is quite expensive in the northwest (Jim wanted hard maple tops) and as such, Jim has easy access to massive Douglas Fir timbers, with which he is building the base. The base parts on Jim's bench are not laminated. They are all cut from solid timbers and will be joined with drawbored mortise and tenons. With the hard maple Glide chop and deadman contrasting with the warm glow of the fir, this is going to be a gorgeous bench. Not that we care about the looks of a bench, we're all about the function (yeah, right!)

Jim tells me he has some pretty exciting things planned for this bench and the shop it will reside in. I for one will be eagerly awaiting what develops from Jim's endeavors. Being one of the most successful woodworking authors, I don't think he's going to disappoint.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


In the process of sending our bench specs to Louis Bois, the draftsman preparing our bench plans, I made a quick drawing of the bench dog, specifying ash be used for the spring portion of the dog. I neglected to specify the species for the dog itself (not that it matters), so Louis took some liberty and chose a material for the dog on his own. I couldn't help but chuckle when I opened his email. Louis is a whiz with CAD software, and this quick image is basic stuff, but for a CAD dummy like me, I can't help but me impressed.