Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Planemaker's Bench, Tail Vise News

Infill plane maker Ron Brese has been spending his evenings these past couple months working on a new Shaker-style woodworking bench. Before Ron began making planes for a living he was a full-time custom furniture maker, working mostly in American period styles.

Ron is one of those craftsmen you read about who builds incredible furniture with a modicum of tools. His previous bench was a slab of plywood on a basic cabinet, outfitted with a couple small iron vises. Nothing special. When I visited him and saw the half-dozen or so f-style clamps, none no longer than 12", I asked where the rest were. He said, "that's all of them". A few iron pipe clamps rounded out the selection, but that was it.

As I was fitting a certain part on Ron's bench during that visit I asked to use Ron's shoulder plane. He didn't have one, and said he never found the need. Another time I asked him about how he assembles frame and panel doors, and specifically how he planes the rails and stiles flush after assembly. Yet again I was amazed at the answer.

"I fit the joints and assemble them so there is basically zero leveling to do after assembly. It takes longer, but in the end it speeds things up since it doesn't leave much to do afterwards."

His work speaks for itself. The layout of every piece of furniture (9 out of 10 built by him) in his house (which he built from the ground up) was thought out and planned before he started framing the walls. This kind of forethought and planning contributes a great deal to the excellent results Ron gets when he builds a plane.

Being a full-time plane maker has understandably had an impact on Ron's shop. His previous bench has been serving double duty for too long according to Ron. So late last year he decided to draw up some plans for a new, Shaker-style bench featuring Benchcrafted vises. Last week I visited Ron (and pitched in a bit) as he finished up his new bench. Ron may not need a fancy bench, or even a well-outfitted one to accomplish excellence, but as any woodworker knows, finishing a new bench is always an exciting moment. Ron tells me that he's looking forward to putting his new bench through its paces as he works on some long-overdue personal furniture projects (we all have them, right?!)

In the coming week I'll be postings some more pictures and info on Ron's completed Shaker bench.

Tail Vise news.

Several customers have inquired about installing the Benchcrafted Tail Vise in tops less than 4" thick throughout. While visiting Ron Brese I snapped some pics of the underside of Ron's bench. This shows the simplicity with which the tail vise can be installed in this situation. It's a quick and easy process and eliminates a lot of the routing required for a solid, thick benchtop. More details about this will be available soon.

A few customers have also noticed that our ordering page is missing the "add to cart" buttons. As stated at the top of the page, we are indeed taking a break. But unfortunately we're not sipping cocktails from a hammock on a beach in the Caribbean (don't we wish!). We're actually taking some time to streamline and update some of our processes. The end result we hope will mean quicker lead times, and a better vise. If some of the ideas we've implemented this past couple weeks come to fruition the Benchcrafted Tail Vise will have greater capacity, a more robust structure (as hard as that is to imagine!), a simpler design, be much easier to install, more ergonomic, and will leave more of your bench top intact, in effect strengthening the bench top. Stay tuned for more updates. We are also on-target for stated lead times, a bit ahead of schedule in fact. So for those expecting vises, our little "development vacation" will not affect your order.


Monday morning post script:


I just read the blog regarding the changes to the wagon vise. Will 1 3/4" still be the optimal width for the dog shuttle? I'm about to build the dog hole section of the bench so I was wondering about the width. Will there be any other changes that would effect the overall bench design?
Sorry for all the questions; I'm sure you've been bombarded with emails! I just can't wait to get my bench finished!



We have received a few emails like this over this past weekend. To address Jeff's first question, all the capacities and specs of the vise will stay virtually the same. The dog strip will remain at 1-3/4" width (although you can go narrower with the current version and new version).

The sliding nut assembly will be a bit more compact and thus allow the vise to open about another inch. This means you can keep the same top overhang and gain an inch between jaws, or shorten your overhang by an inch and not loose any capacity.

I want to be clear that the proposed new version of the vise will function identically to the current version. Mostly the difference will be in the installation. It will be a bit less work since the cavity will have a square cross-section and won't be as deep. More of your bench's top will stay intact, and that's a good thing.

We're pretty excited about the improved version, but at this point its still in its prototype stage. It will most likely be some time before its ready for production, if it passes our performance tests. If you're looking to get a Tail Vise within our current lead times, you should place your order now. We can't guarantee a release date for the new version at this time.


  1. That is an absolutely stunning bench Ron, though I'm surprised it's not made of cocobolo or rosewood! ;-)

    Although not suited to my work methods, I've always been a big fan of the Shaker benches. The one you've built seems insanely engineered...crisp corners, masterful cabinets, perfect proportions...just like your planes. I'm betting you can't squeeze a single atom of air into the joinery holding that beast together.

    May this new nucleus to your workshop serve you well for many years to come.

    Best Regards,


  2. I can only imagine how much fun that was helping Ron put his bench together. Nice job.

    George Walker

  3. George,

    The most fun was watching a master furniture maker at work. Seeing how others work in context really opens your mind to new ideas and techniques. Ron needs to do some teaching or writing about processing boards to high tolerances with hand planes. It's amazing what he can do with one.

  4. I'm really enjoying this bench, especially as I am using it to finish up the last details required to call this project done. Today I was cutting the dovetails for the drawer that is obviously missing in the photo. The working hold capability of the Benchcrafted vises make working at this bench a real pleasure. Of course having the time with Jameel in the shop and my home was also a real pleasure. A lot of people can say they have Benchcrafted vises in their bench but not many can say that Jameel was there to install them. (grin)


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