The building of a workbench often becomes a right of passage for many accomplished woodworkers. For these artisans, it’s a tangible expression of their skills, esthetic, and approach to the craft. It’s also a prized tool. Why a bench looks and works the way it does will not always reveal itself quickly. But if you ever visit the shop of a master craftsman and ask about their bench, you might be amazed at what you’ll learn.
In this video, we get to do just that when we meet master cabinetmaker Patrick Edwards who gives us a guided tour of his massive, hand-built bench designed for working with hand tools. Patrick works almost exclusively with hand tools, most either originals or hand-made reproductions from the 18th and 19th centuries. Patrick says pretty bluntly, “The bench is the first tool. The bench is the beginning tool that every person who works with hand tools has to have.” In Patrick’s case, it truly is the centerpiece of the shop. And it’s easy to see why, because if you can’t hold the work, you can’t use a hand plane or a chisel or any tool that requires the workpiece to be held stationary. For hand-making drawers and dovetails, you really need a purpose-built bench.
Patrick’s bench is influenced by several historic styles. His incorporates characteristics of a typical Northern European style bench which features wooden-screwed tail and shoulder vises complimented by a series of dog holes (the bench style most famously used by Frank Klausz). And he also merged elements of the French style Roubo bench, which makes use of quick-release iron holdfasts. Then for good measure, he added an antique leg vise to one corner (which he purchased from Windsor chair maker, Michael Dunbar). The combination of all these vices and clamping stations allows him to hold almost any workpiece including often difficult to hold turned objects and carvings.
Now decades old, Patrick’s toothing-plane-scrubbed bench has a well earned patina, evidence left behind by the maker working his craft. It’s a patina just waiting to tell us its story. I hope you are inspired. (10 Minute Woodworking Video)
Patrick Edwards is President of Antique Refinishers, Inc. which offers restoration, conservation and reproduction of pre-industrial American and European furniture for dealers, private collectors, and institutions. Mr. Edward also owns and instructs at the American School of French Marquetry, Inc. Both business are based on San Diego, California. Mr. Edwards has also formulated a slow-set, ready-to-use liquid hide glue. which he produces and sells under the brand name “Old Brown Glue”.