The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Leaving well enough alone…

In my region we are experiencing what the geniuses that predict the weather call an “arctic blast”. The temperatures have been frigid for more than a month, and the streets and sidewalks have a perpetual covering of snow and ice. It is not fun weather for woodworking, or anything else for that matter. I’ve decided that this morning I will brave the cold garage one last time to finish up any loose ends on the Dutch Tool Box I’ve been building. There is really nothing else left to do but attach the tool rack. I do not want to hammer in the cut nails or attach the handles until after the chest is painted. Nonetheless, this weather has given me something that I’ve struggled with finding for many years, and that something is time. My wife and daughter are a little under the weather, and with the extreme cold and snow covered streets we have not really been doing much outside (except for shoveling snow), so that has left me with some actual free time around the house, which also means I can spend a few hours in the workshop without incurring the wrath of mom.

Here is something I’m finding out, and which also goes against nearly every instinct I have when it comes to woodworking…Sometimes, having too much free time for woodworking is a bad thing. A great example was yesterday afternoon. I arrived home from work around 1 p.m. It was snowing, again, and I had little to do except wash some clothes. After a while, I wandered into the garage and found myself disassembling my jointer plane yet again. Why this time? I very nearly stripped off the handle and refinished it. I have no reason to do this really. The handle works fine and doesn’t look bad. But, when you have nothing to do and a garage with some woodworking tools in it, these are the things that tend to happen. Not that refinishing the handle on my jointer plane is such a bad idea, but it is completely unnecessary. Still, that was nothing when it comes to what I really have been considering.

A few months back, when I changed the configuration of my workbench, I actually had something very different in mind, and a post by Jeff Branch really brought it back into focus. Jeff is considering building a new workbench, a Nicholson style bench to be specific. What does it have to do with me? Well, a few months back I nearly did the exact same thing. It started out innocently enough. When considering ideas for modifying my current bench, I came across another fellow woodworker, Graham Haydon, detailing the build of his Nicholson bench. I love the Nicholson design, because I believe it fits my style of woodworking. I use my bench for sawing dovetails, sawing tenons, cleaning and smoothing up boards, edge jointing, and other basic joinery tasks; just like most woodworkers do. I do not use the bench for assembly or for preparing rough lumber. The wide front apron on the Nicholson style bench really would help greatly with what I do, such as holding boards vertically for joinery sawing, as well as eliminate the need for a board jack, which is an appliance that I do not care for. So one fine day late in autumn, I decided to modify my bench by installing a front apron on it.

That idea was not a bad one, but not a great one either. It would have required modifying the bench top, which I did end up doing, but also modifying the base. In theory that seemed plausible, but it wouldn’t have been all that easy either, because I would have had to disassemble the base completely and saw out the notches to set the apron. Long story short, it was easier said than done, so I scrapped that plan. My next idea was to build the base in pieces, set it aside, and assemble it when everything was all ready to go. In fact, had the weather not gone south and I hadn’t gotten sick, that is exactly what I was going to do. In the meanwhile, all I would have had to do was find a taker for my current workbench just before my new one was assembled (my garage does not have room for two). In the end bad weather and a case of the flu kept me from building a new bench. That was a blessing in disguise, wasn’t it?

My workbench in its current form.

My workbench in its current form.

The truth is that I really don’t need a new bench. My current bench works just fine, and with my wife and I considering a possible move to a new house, building a new workbench just to end up having to move it probably isn’t a great idea. But workbenches are funny things. I’ve said before that I don’t enjoy building shop projects, especially workbenches, but there is something about the Nicholson bench that I really like; it speaks to me. As I was just saying, my current bench works just fine, and changing it for a bench that may be no better doesn’t sound like a smart idea, in particular when all I am doing is adding one seemingly minor detail, a front apron. But in woodworking, minor details can make all the difference. You could also wonder why we should build fancy bookshelves when cinderblocks and a 2×10 will do just fine. It may seem stupid to spend money and a lot of time replacing a perfectly good piece of equipment with a another very similar piece of equipment. Maybe it is stupid, but climbing a mountain may seem stupid to people who don’t climb mountains. I’m a woodworker, I like making stuff. That may sound stupid to some people, but then again, there is a reason that most people don’t woodwork, and only some do…


  1. Andrew says:

    Personally, if I was considering a move, I’d wait until I got to the new digs before building a new bench.

    • billlattpa says:

      That is how I am leaning. Yet a small part of me feels that I should strike while the iron is hot and start the bench while I have the inclination to do it. Either way, I’m not decided yet. Thanks.

  2. Jeff Branch says:

    I’d have to agree with Andrew. New digs may mean more room for a larger bench. But if it is an itch that has to be scratched…

    • billlattpa says:

      The logical side to me says wait, and the impulsive side says that even if we do move it may be at least a year, or even two, before we find a house that we like and also sell our current one, and I am getting itchy…

  3. bloksav says:

    I voted: Not yet.

    If you are going to move within a foreseeable future, I think it would be better to wait with the build until you know the size of the space the bench will be in. Perhaps the bench needs to be either longer or shorter than what you make for the current garage, and then you will still want to build a new workbench once again.

    If you move and you get enough room for two workbenches, then I would suggest you build a Nicholson type bench, and then you can sell the old bench in good order, where you can kep it till the correct offer / buyer is found.

    Happy house hunting.

    • billlattpa says:

      The good news is that if we do move, it will definitely be to a house with a larger garage, at least two car, so I’m not very worried about bench size. What worries me is that right now I actually have the motivation to build a new bench, which is something I didn’t expect to have. If I wait too long, or if we don’t move for quite a while, I may lose the urge. Either way, nothing is set in stone right now, and until the weather breaks I have nothing but time.

  4. Hey Bill, I got a mention on your blog :-). I added my vote and voted no! That is strictly from a woodworking perspective. As long as a bench is sturdy and strong the rest can be “got over”. That said the reason I made a face vice is that it “spoke to me”. It’s no better than a quick release but it was fun to do which was reason enough.

    • billlattpa says:

      This is one of those things that I don’t really need and can definitely do with out, but there is something urging me to do it. For that reason alone I am considering it, because otherwise it doesn’t make much sense. But when I get these feelings it is usually a good thing. Thanks for the advice.

  5. bloksav says:

    Hi Bill.

    I promised my daughter to tell you that she thinks “Confused Woodworker” is a really cool name. She is 13 years old, so it actually takes quite something to impress her!

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