No, not mathematics. Tools. Tools which I’ve used for years but never thought about. The vernier scale is incredibly clever. Courtesy of The Museum of Our Industrial Heritage, Greenfield Massachusetts.
Youtube channel: Chris Clawson
I ordered the ash for this workbench nearly five years ago and squared up enough of it to make a top. Then a series of curveballs beginning with the illness and passing of my father kept me away from woodworking until last summer. I resumed taking Sunday classes at Cerritos College and had to relearn just about every power tool skill through the class’s Shaker End Table project. I wanted to finish the bench – a hybrid of designs from Chris Schwarz’s book and Benchcrafted’s plans. It started life as a split-top with plans for leg and end vises and wound up as a solid top, leg vise only, using any and all means to make the parts fit. It finally came together last week enough to call it done. Scientists and engineers should continuously remind themselves what it actually takes to go from lines on a page to hardware on the dock.
The woodworking program at Cerritos College is a treasure. The facility is packed with high quality, well-maintained jointers, table saws, planers, sanders, bandsaws, and routers with copious dust collection. Each of these has the accessories from push sticks and sleds to full in- and outfeed tables. Power tools are not as easy as they look and it helps to be able to focus on building the technique to surface lumber well enough to get to joinery. Which, by the way, is even trickier than it looks in the videos. The school also provides for the hand-tool enthusiasts with a large collection from Stanley to Lie-Nielsen and Veritas. If that weren’t enough, there are assembly tables, a finishing shed, sharpening stations, and clamps, clamps, clamps. There can be no such thing as too many clamps. I won’t get into the CAD/CAM tools for the students in the degree program but suffice it to say that there are many of them and they are impressive.
Ultimately, the teaching and camaraderie trumps everything. I’ve been taking classes through the Community Education program which permits hobbyists access without impacting those studying for a formal certificate. The instructors are first-rate and support everyone from the absolute novice to the veteran with whatever help may be required. This bench was frankly well beyond my abilities and I ignored the staff’s recommendations to build back up to it through a couple of intermediate projects. But, having gotten it going, it had to get done. Schlepping large boards, larger assemblies, and making huge joinery is not a one-man job and I had tremendous help from teachers and fellow students alike. In the end, it took about thirty Sundays to recover from an almost endless series of mistakes, get it together, and get it home. Now, the task is to step back and re-learn for the first time how to use hand tools. My garage can’t accommodate all the powered hardware nor would the neighbors be pleased if I tried!
My sincere thanks go to the gents below for their guidance and help and below them is a selection of snaps of the bench, itself.
From left to right: Instructors Adrian Miranda, Tony Gutierrez, and Robert Thornbury and students Mike Matsunaga and James Farrell
Roubo-inspired workbench. 88″ long x 26″ wide x 33″ high. Ash supplied by Horizon Wood Products of Pennsylvania
The online resources for wannabe woodworkers are so good and so vast, it is possible to get lost in them and never actually cut any wood. On one side there is the Vulcan brilliance of Matthias Wandel whose ingenious machines make even more ingenious products. On the other, there is Paul Sellers, an Englishman whose patient explanations of hand tools and their uses are no less mesmerizing.
Sellers’s videos are unusually long and detailed with some projects spanning multiple videos. The videos are in turn an extension of a school he runs in the Merrie Olde after having lived, worked, and taught in the U.S. for many years. He takes little for granted, shows the intermediate steps, tweaks tool and wood to bring out subtle knowledge and pitfalls, and works through the inevitable glitches as and when they happen. No strategic edits for him. With fifty years in the craft, he knows how to keep things moving. As many commenters have noted, he is to woodworking as Bob Ross was to painting – no mistakes, only happy accidents, and a voice that lowers blood pressure better than medication.
Some playlists from the master:
The Internet has been kind to the woodworking craft. The Wood Whisperer and other sites offer excellent instruction and active communities of the like-minded.
The woodgears.ca site is ostensibly about working with wood. There are a range of projects for those looking for something to make with tutorials and plans also available. But, much more than that, it is a glimpse into the incredibly sharp mind of Matthias Wandel the site’s sole contributor.
Looking through his many excellent videos, we see that Wandel has been working with machinery since his youth. He has an uncanny ability to assimilate information and become “at one” with it. In parallel, he comes up with nice problems that he wants to solve often for no obvious purpose than they interest him. He then puts the two together, creates tools as he needs them, films his inventions, and makes smartly edited videos available. Many sites claim to update on a schedule, Wandel delivers all of this weekly. The obvious question is how does such a young man have such time available? The best guess is that he applied these innate abilities early in life, got himself well set up, and now does what he likes.
Here are some links to get started on this addictive site and its associated Youtube channel. These are random selections. There isn’t a weak offering in the bunch.