I recently finished off my never-ending project — building a proper workbench. I snapped some photos figuring it will never look this pristine again. Time to press the bench into service…
Things started off great, but I wanted to set my jack plane to take a heavy cut and see how just how aggressive I could get before the bench started to move. I’m 6′-1.5″ tall and 240lbs, so if I really get going I’ve moved many a sizable bench over the years. At 7′ long and made of solid maple the bench has a good amount of mass. The problem I have is a very smooth concrete floor which provides little traction for wood.
With a concrete slab I won’t be bolting the bench to the floor so I needed an alternative. I ran through several alternatives in my head but couldn’t come up with a good solution that didn’t jack up the bench. As I sat on my sawbench looking around the shop I recalled a blog post by Chris Schwarz from earlier in the year wherein he put some sandpaper on a shim and have very good results. (You can see Chris’ post here). Sandpaper didn’t get much traction on the concrete floor, but it triggered a different thought. Years ago Rockler marketed a ‘routing mat’ which was effectively an expensive roll of rubber drawer liner. The cheap Yankee in me promptly went out and bought a roll of drawer liner for a couple of dollars and he has served me well for a decade or so now. I went to my router station, grabbed the mat and cut out four squares roughly the size of the foot pads on my bench. I put them under the bench and repeated my experiment…
To my surprise it worked great. The weight of the bench compressed the pad so much the bench height is negligibly higher off the ground. I was able to aggressively plane some hard maple scraps left over from the bench and it was solid and stationary. I’m sure someone who really wanted to move it enough could find a way, but the increase in traction was impressive. If you’re also living with a concrete floor in the shop you’ll want to give this a try — it’s about the best $1 bench upgrade you can make.
P.S. I’ll make some posts about building the bench, but right now I have a some competing priorities taking my much of my time. We have a baby on the way in August, I need to build a crib, and I’m teaching for much of the rest of the summer. I’ll be posting as I get some free time here and there but it may be in spurts.
P.P.S. In digging up the the blog post above from Chris I learned that I am not the first to do this sort of thing with various forms of rubber padding — nonetheless the simplicity and the results were still worth sharing.
Woodworking is a lifelong journey of discovery and rediscovery. Along the way you’ll meet a lot of great folks and interesting characters who are surprisingly willing to share advice and help you out. The craft has been passed down this way for millenia.
Everything Old is New Again
Modern woodworking media seems to go in cycles much like clothing styles or car designs. Right now it’s popular to study the early works of Moxon, Roubo and Nicholson etc., or prove you have the best router or table saw trick. Others are interested in espousing the mix of old and new tools and techniques which is not a new concept. Manual training programs like those at NBSS have been doing it for over 125 years and the Shakers before them etc.
I want to buck the current trend and take a trip back to the 20th century. When I got started in traditional woodworking one of the first teachers I had was Tage Frid via the ‘Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking’ 3 volume set with its iconic white covers. I haven’t seen these books or Tage’s work come up much lately and thought it would be helpful to blow the dust off those books hopefully re-kindle some interest as I think they are a great resource.
Tage (Pronounced ‘Tay’) taught me and countless other woodworkers the basics via his books and teaching. He grew up in Denmark and apprenticed as a cabinetmaker. His time as a journeyman took him to various other shops including the Royal Danish Cabinetmakers. In 1948, at the age of 33, the American Craft Council persuaded him to immigrate to New York and teach woodworking. Tage lead the woodworking program at the School for American Craftsman in Alfred NY which was later moved to the Rochester Institute for Technology. From 1962-1985 Tage was a professor of Woodworking and Furniture Design at RISD helping to propel that program to national prominence.
Also notable was Tage’s involvement with Fine Woodworking where he worked as an editor from it’s inception in 1975, through 171 issues until his passing in 2004. Described as having a sharp tongue and an ‘impish’ smile you can get a small taste it it through his writing and interviews which often have some memorable nuggets.
He could cut a dovetail while joking and flirting with the ladies. He referred to nails in furniture as ‘Swedish dowels.’ When critiquing a piece of work, which was nerve-wracking for students, the blow was slightly blunted by his sarcastic humor. Hank Gilpin recounts some memorable zingers:
“Oh, good curve. Too bad it’s the wrong one” “Nice dovetails. What’d you use — a chainsaw?” “Beautiful legs Henry. What were you thinking about — an elephant?”
And the classic: “Congratulations, you’ve just figured out the most complicated way to hold a board 30 inches off the floor.” [*]
The goal was not to put anyone down, it was to help each student stay humble and push him or herself to reach new heights in a fatherly kind of way. I had a similar experience during my own training and find myself rehashing some Frid one liners and Rich Friberg-isms in my own shop and classroom. Thankfully the flavor of sarcasm I learned from Rich is a little less harsh, but still fun.
When asked about teaching repetitive topics Frid had the following to say:
Don’t you get bored demonstrating the same old dovetail? “Maybe you left too early. I always demonstrate difficult joints and techniques depending on what the audience wants. The dovetail is just the overture. What I like about teaching is that I learn something new every day. A student asks me, ‘Why can’t I do it this way?’ and I think, ‘Why not?’ Then we figure it out.” — Tage Frid (excepted from an old interview in Fine Woodworking you can read here.)
Levity aside, Frid’s teachings focused on teaching solid joinery — form should follow function, wood has a beautify of its own that should be enhanced and not hidden and instilling an innate sense if proportion via a keen eye for detail.
“The best tool is the eye. Train the eye. The eye guides your hands to achieve the form. If the eye says ‘It’s right’, it is right” — Tage Frid [*]
With a solid grounding in the basics and exposure to a wide range of tools and techniques students are able to take on whatever challenge a project or shop can throw at them. During his lengthy career as a teacher, writer, editor and studio craftsman Frid helped teach several generations of woodworkers. You can see his work live on through his students and their students.
Working in the Danish-modern style a lot of Frid’s pieces had a distinctive look compared to many of his American contemporaries. They were generally lighter looking with delicate lines and curves that celebrated the grain. The designs are especially interesting when you view them in the context of the time they were produced — the 1940s-1980s. Many of them were years ahead of what we think of as the the mainstream designs of the time .
For me, one of his most iconic pieces is the now famous 3 legged stool. If you read his 3rd book you’ll learn about how he came up with the design while watching a horse show and sitting on a fence. It was an interesting case study as he explains some of the revisions he went through to hone the design. These stools have been on my mental to-do list for about a decade now and I hope to eventually build some for myself.
When he first arrived in the US in the 1940s there were no good places to get a solid workbench. As a result Frid had to design and build a bench for himself and for his classrooms. Based on a traditional continental design with a shoulder vise and a tail vise the bench below was well suited for a cabinet maker. Over the years many a student, both in person and via his writing, would build and use one of these benches or a similar variant. In some upcoming posts you’ll see me build a scaled up version for my own shop.
What’s with the book report on Tage Frid?
Tage Frid’s work has shaped several aspects of my woodworking, design and teaching and I had a laundry list of odds and ends I wanted to share with you here. I also have been working to finish off my Tage Frid inspired bench and wanted to set the stage for it. And lastly because once I saw it, I could not un-see it — my Dad (who was my first woodworking instructor) is a bit of a doppelganger for Tage Frid. (Check out the picture below and compare it to the first picture of Tage Frid in this post) They both have very similar body shapes, taste in glasses, hairline and half smiles. I can’t talk too much because I look a lot like my Dad, I’m just the taller model at 6′-2″, so I suspect there will be a similar picture of me someday in the shop.
If you are interested to learn more about Tage Frid please check out the links below, it’s worth the time.
Other Tage Frid Resources:
From Fine Woodworking Issue #1
Tage’s thoughts on the history of the chair, designers and craftsmen, good designs and joints of today will becomes classical furniture of the future
Time to get back out into the shop — it’s cold outside.
P.S. I never got to meet Tage Frid in person, he passed away while I was living out in Seattle but I would have loved to meet him. If anyone knew him personally I’d be curious to know a few things I haven’t been able to find online:
What happened to his shop, bench and tools? Are they in a museum somewhere? Did they go to his grandson?
Anyone have a picture of him in the classroom near the iconic benches he used to build?
What do you do when you need a very long bolt? Most hardware stores only stock bolts up to about 10″ or 12″ in the sizes most woodworkers use — 1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″ and 1/2″ diameter.
Time to break out the bolt stretcher?
Assuming you don’t have such a mythical machine you can make your own longer bolts.
Start with some threaded rod and appropriately sized nuts…
File off any paint and machine/mill marks from the end of the threaded rod.
TIP:Place a nut a 1/2 in or so down onto the threaded rod before filing. Once you finish your filing you can remove the nut, and in the process will clean out the top threads which may have been deformed by the filing. Use should also use this technique when cutting threaded rod or bolts.
Why do I need such a long bolt?
In this case, I am building a workbench with a shoulder vise — this bolt helps make sure the massive vise screw does not blow out the wood joinery.
From Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking Volume 3 he suggest brazing a nut onto the end of a threaded rod, so I figured I’d give that a shot…
Time to break out the Mapp + Oxygen cutting/welding/brazing torch and some brazing rod which works much like solder. (Make sure you work in a well ventilated space and take all necessary safety precautions). Clean the mating surfaces and apply flux, then braze the nut to the threaded rod.
Once it cools down you can file off any excess and use this newly made bolt. I’m no expert on welding, but the amount of hardware, time, and cleanup seemed excessive. Even with some filing, wire brush work and then some polishing I was not happy with the result — this end of the bolt would be visible in the finished bench. The coloring was off and now the nut looked a little off.
Is there another way?
I thought back to my days working on my Mustang and old F-150 and a remembered good old Locktite Red Threadlocker 271.
This little tube packs a heck of a grip. You apply some threadlocker on the threads and inside of the nut, put them together and let it cure for 24 hours. You would need to exceed 500 degrees F and 245 ft/lbs of torque in order to break the bond — so in other words, plenty of strength for my use.
Once cured I cut the bolt to length, filed off the hacksaw marks and cleaned up the leading threads using the tip above.
Now I have a nice custom sized bolt ready to go. If the need arises I hope you’ll give these techniques a try. If you do, let me know in the comments.
This summer I had the chance to take a week long road trip and travel around to a lot of historic sites in Virginia and North Carolina. One of my favorite stops along the way was my visit to Old Salem Museums and Gardens in Winston-Salem NC.
I first learned about Old Salem while having dinner with Thomas Jefferson at Colonial Williamsburg. (No joke).
I also heard good things about it from Glen Huey’s book ‘Furniture in the Southern Style’ which draws upon some pieces from MESDA (The Museum of Southern Decorative Arts)
During our visit, my wife and I had a great time exploring the historic area and visiting the many shops and buildings.
As always, the most exciting part for me was visiting with all the craftspeople who work in the various historic trades.
In the Single Brother’s House there were a series of workshops housing various trades that were vital to the community.
I felt right at home in the Joiner’s shop and if my wife would have let me I would have spent my day at the workbench talking to people….
The workshop had a great assortment of jigs, fixtures, tools and unusual benches. Look at the great wedged tenons on the bench above. (Also check out the floating shoulder vise and skirt board with dog holes on the bench further up. Looks like they did not see as much use, but an interesting idea)
The single brother’s house was where young men of a certain age could learn the craft and ply their trade before they got married and moved on to their own homes. In the shoemaker’s shop we had a great chat with a shoemaker who was making a leather bucket which was one of the many other wares a shoemaker would make for the town.
In the potter’s workshop you could see on display a wide variety of earthenware dishes, cups, and other ceramic objects. Most interesting to me were the ceramic tile shingles which you can see in the restored village.
Other trades on display were the gunsmith, apothecary, tailor, tinsmith and gardeners.
If you’d like to learn more about the craftsmen and women who work in the historic trades at Old Salem you can read more here.
If you are ever in the Winston-Salem area I highly recommend visiting Old Salem and checking out the workshops.
Recently we’ve talked a bit about the Sloyd Tool Cabinet and it’s contents — but with all these tools on hand and a book full of models to build, where do you actually build them?
I’d like to introduce you to a slightly more famous cousin to the Sloyd Tool Cabinet — the ‘Larsson Improved Adjustable Workbench’ or more commonly known as a‘Sloyd Bench’.
This workbench was designed by Gustaf Larsson the principal of the Boston Sloyd School in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and manufactured by Chandler and Barber to Larsson’s specifications. The bench was the result of Larsson’s experiences at Naas, at the Boston Sloyd School and at the North Bennet Street Industrial School. It draws upon design elements found in traditional continental European benches but was scaled to the needs of a classroom setting and had to accommodate both children and adults.
How do we know so much about this bench?
In some ways it is fairly well documented in old tool catalogs, like those of Chandler and Barber — the premier supplier of ‘Sloyd System’ benches, tools and supplies and in other advertising. In addition, a fair number of these benches still survive which is a testament to how well they were built and how many of them were produced. While the North Bennet Street Industrial School catered to training immigrants and younger students in its earliest days, the Boston Sloyd School focused on teaching the teachers of Sloyd. Teachers would come to the school, learn how to teach Sloyd to students and then go back to their municipalities to teach Sloyd to the local population. So with diplomas in hand these new teachers often wanted to order the same or very similar setups to what they learned on. This was the genesis of many manual training programs in the United States.
Above you can see one of the many ads Chandler and Barber took out in Sloyd related publications — in this case the ‘Sloyd Record’ which was the alumni newsletter of the Boston Sloyd School. Chandler and Barber seemed to be the most prolific dealer in this space, but just like today there was a lot of competition. You’ll see ads from Hammacher Schlemmer (they used to specialize mostly in tools and hardware back then), lumber dealers, publishers and other similar companies trying to get a piece of the apparently semi-lucrative Sloyd pie.
The competition got so fierce that some of the Chandler and Barber felt it was worth mentioning how others got burned trying to save a few dollars going with a competitor’s bench of inferior quality. Don’t be a part of that sorry lot…..
What made this bench so special?
Beyond being the brand name bench associated with Sloyd pioneer Gustaf Larsson the bench did have some novel features. If you look carefully in the picture above you can see a set of hinges on the cross member of the base (near where you see the word Pat.Aplc..). Why would anyone want hinges on their bench? Essentially you could take the top of the bench off, flip up or down those blocks, re-install the bench top and be able to accommodate both children and adults in the same workspace. Over the years several models of bench were associated with Larsson’s name, including the popular No. 5 model shown here, another larger model designed for 2 students to share a workspace, and even a clamp on vise which could be used for light work when attached to a sturdy table.
Beyond being a reasonably stout bench, it could be ordered with wood or metal vise screws, a few variants of removable tool rack (which made it easy for instructors to see if all the tools were put back in their proper place and in good condition), vise and dog hole configurations and similar tweaks.
During my time at NBSS over the years I’ve had the chance to work at some of these benches a few of which seemed to survive in the darker corners of the workshop department. At the time I didn’t realize the history of what I working on — I thought it was just another old workbench which had seen better days and was propped up to accommodate taller students. At this sort of old bench I first learned to layout and cut a proper dovetail and it was well suited for the task and you could fit a fair number of them in a modest sized classroom. The benches were commonly bolted down into the floor which made up for the lack of mass when compared to a full sized bench. As a joiner these days I am used to working from a much larger bench as I work on a bigger scale, but if you are tight on space or find a good deal on a used model, it would be a great place to start on your path to more enjoyable woodworking.
In your travels, if you see any of these benches, tool cabinets or Chandler and Barber catalogs from the early 1900s, I’d be interested to see or hear about your findings here on the blog or via email.
The Live Free or Die Tool Auction (and the sale out in the lot out back), also known as the ‘Nashua Tool Show’ is one of the few times a year I am happy to get up at 5am. I rarely if ever go into the actual auction; I spend all my time and money out in the parking lot tracking down odd and old tools on my list and all the things I didn’t know I needed until I found them and realized how I could not live without them. 😉 It’s a great event twice a year and well worth the trip if you are into old hand tools.
Below is a highlight reel from this weekend’s show and sale:
A stout, but short workbench.
An interesting tool tote/tray that holds the tools off the ground for easier access.
Neat antique fire extinguisher grenades by ‘Shur Stop’. I never saw a full technician’s case of them before along with several of the holders for them. If they were exposed to enough heat the hammer would spring like a mouse trap, smash the glass causing a violent chemical reaction that would remove oxygen from the area and hopefully put out the fire. We’ll often see these over old boilers or up in the attics of old homes.
Apparently you could also throw them at the base of a flame — giving them the nickname: ‘Fire Extinguisher Grenade’
If you are living in the 1890s and want to use a 2 man saw to fell a large tree and don’t have any friends willing to help, you should check out this ‘Folding Sawing Machine’ from 1897. It helps hold the saw perpendicular to the tree and allows you to use a lever to push and pull the saw.
A nice oak shave horse or schnitzelbank It was made from heavy oak, pegged and secured with cut nails.
An interesting commercial tool cabinet made from metal with what looked like mediocre post WWII tools.
While no Anarchist’s tool chests were to be found this year, this solid old chest, presumably from Nantucket given the huge painted label on the front. It looks like it was based on traditional designs, made in the 20th century but built a bit more like a modern carpenter with very simple joinery compared to a traditional joiner who more likely would have used dovetails, mortise and tenon etc.
The till lid screws were stripped and was removed for the above photo. There were 3 layers of tills and at least one division on the bottom to divide the bottom compartment of the chest.
Saw till was protected by a frame and panel that attempted to dress up the chest. The corners of the chest were reinforced with extra wood and hid the joinery, but I suspect the overlapping boards mean that the corners were potentially all nailed together which means this chest was likely built quickly.
The chest lifts were heavy cast lifts that looked of modest quality. It was interesting to see how the dust rim was screwed on.
This year I did well. I found all the odd items on my list and only a couple of extras. I picked up a great double gear Miller’s Falls egg beater drill — recommended by Tom Fidgen and love it so far. Also got a nice set of Russel Jennings Pattern Auger bits, a nice Miller’s Falls push drill (just a novelty I wanted to try), and a few books. For my Sloyd related projects I found a real nice transitional jack plane, 2 foot folding rule, bit brace drivers, stanley square etc. As always I had a great time and I’m already looking forward to the September show.
(You can check out what happened last September here.)
A Joiner's Guide To Traditional Woodworking and Preservation