Benched

February 6, 2013 — 3 Comments

I’d love to tell you that I have built two workbenches. I cannot. I can tell you, however, that I’ve completed two workbenches.

I’d love to tell you that during Chris Schwarz’s Bench Class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking I spent a week sawing and milling and gluing and joining large douglas fir timbers into a Roubo bench. I did not. I wasn’t even there. Chris did the sawing, the milling, the gluing, and the joining. My bench is assembled from his “teaching” bench–the bench he built along with the class. All I did was buy the lumber and drive down to Indianapolis last April and pick up the pieces of the bench. And take Chris out for a big steak. Or two. Maybe three–I don’t remember. And four sides. Really. Then lend a helping hand when Chris and Megan came over a few weeks later to assemble the pieces into what would eventually be my workbench.

So as a reasonably smart person, you may be saying to yourself, “Self, Narayan picked up the pieces of that bench last April. And had master-level help putting the thing together. And it still took him ten months to finish his damn bench?”

And I will respond, “Yes. Yes it did.” Then mutter, perhaps under my breath (but likely not), “Asshole”. I have an extremely demanding day job. I travel a lot. I have two small kids who I love spending time with. So all-things-woodshop, blog, and otherwise have largely taken a two-year hiatus. And I can’t really feel bad about that. Priorities are priorities.

But going into the holidays at the end of last year, I made a personal decision to spend a few minutes every day in the shop when I’m in town. Doesn’t matter if it’s 10 minutes or a few hours. Making stuff with my hands makes me feel human, and that’s a priority for me too. So I made a huge push over the holidays to get the shop in order and I’m happy to say it’s really coming together. I managed, with a few focused hours spread over many nights and weekends, to build a torsion-box router extension table for my tablesaw:

Tablesaw Router Extension

To reconfigue my existing bench into an adjustable-height joinery/assembly bench with a Benchcrafted Moxon Vise (the cabinet obviously needs a new faceframe):

Joinery Bench

And last weekend I put the finishing coat on the big Roubo workbench:

Roubo Workbench

Though I inherited the Roubo’s main pieces (obviously a huge headstart), finishing the bench was no small task. The vises have pretty straightforward but demanding installs. I made mistakes. And if you have both a bad back and a torn rotator cuff, you have to pace yourself when flattening a workbench with a handplane. I worked on these things in small increments but made a point of working on it every day, even if it was only prepping stuff for the next day.

I took lots of pictures during these builds (I leave a camera down in the shop now) and am writing up the builds in painful detail, warts and all. But the reason I pour time into making my shop as nice as it can be is because on any given day I might only have five minutes in there, and I don’t want to to spend it moving stuff around. I want to spend those five minutes moving me five minutes closer to finishing the next thing.

This weekend I had a little over an hour of shop time with Ray, and in that time (and with these just-completed shop projects) he and I made a box for some of his toys (which we will eventually turn into a mini-playset of sorts). It was a simple job–baltic birch plywood, dominoed sides, edges rounded with a router bit, surfaces planed or sanded then shellaced. But he learned how to mark out measurements with a tape, how to move the tablesaw fence to those measurements, and how to use a holdfast to secure stuff to the bench. He learned that shellac comes from bugs, what a saddle square is used for, and that a Domino is a floating tenon. And I like to think that I moved him a little over an hour closer to being someone who knows that he can make the stuff he wants exactly as he wants it.

Marking it out

Except for that Death Star. Going to need a bigger shop for that.

3 responses to Benched

  1. Well Narayan, you’re a whole lot closer to any shop time than I’ve managed over the last two years. So far I’ve spent maybe 3 hours tops in there trying to reform some kind of basic skills. Not having much success.

    I like that high bench!

    Good for you!

  2. I love the look of your well organized shop. I, unfortunately, am somewhat challenged when it comes to keeping my shop neat and well organized. One would think that since I am retired, I have plenty of time to keep things organized. Well, I’m getting there. I’m glad to see that you are teaching your boy woodworking skills. I have two grandchildren, an eleven year old grandson and a granddaughter who just turned nine. I like to have them both in the shop to teach them some skills and keep them interested in woodworking. I built a doll house for my granddaughter’s birthday, and she helped to paint all the rooms before final assembly. As I said, I love the look of your shop, and hopefully I can get mine to be as well organized as yours.

  3. Mary Kathryn Vernon February 11, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Thanks, Narayan, for your post about your shop. I like that you set aside a few minutes a day to spend in your shop. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who does that–even if it’s only to practice hand planing or sawing. Nice photos. I also love your house photos in other posts.

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