Over the weekend I made two improvements to my workbench. The first was a new handle for the leg vise, and the second was a new board jack, or “sliding dead-man”. To be honest, both of these improvements were more for aesthetic reasons than for functionality. Don’t get me wrong, the new handle is longer and therefore offers more leverage, and the new board-jack is wider and offers more spaces for support, but neither additions were absolutely necessary for an increased overall functionality of the bench.
The new handle project is something I detailed in my last post; the board-jack I made on Sunday afternoon. It was a very quick project. I still had a decent-sized section of board left over from making the leg vise, so I used the table saw to cross cut it to width, I planed it square and smooth, and sawed and chiseled out a channel at each end to ride along the rails on my work bench. It took just 15 minutes. In fact, it took longer bore the holes and apply the finish-boiled linseed oil and wax, than it did to make the part. On that topic, I used a 7/8 bit to bore out the holes rather than the traditional ¾ because I thought that I had a 7/8 dowel in my bucket. It turns out that I did, but it was only 6 inches long; so I will have to pick up another (or make one myself) next weekend.
What prompted me to write this post wasn’t a board-jack, however.
After every project, I will generally give the workbench area a cleaning. Most of that involves dust and shavings. My bench has a tool tray, which contrary to popular belief rarely gets dirty. It has a lot of tools, pencils, knives, and other items in it, but that is the reason it is on the bench. When I was taking a photo of the new board-jack, I accidentally snapped a photo of the cleared bench top. I didn’t notice it until I had walked out of the garage and was upstairs about to charge the cell phone. I then went back and took two clearer photos, the reason being to make a point about my tool tray. But as I was doing that, I noticed that my bench looks exactly like the “theoretical woodworking workbench” I have in my mind’s eye. Now, that theoretical bench will very likely appear a bit different from woodworker to woodworker, but at its core it would function the same.
I have a firm belief that a woodworking bench needs to look like a woodworking bench to work properly. Of course you can get away with two sawhorses and a door, or a kitchen table, or what have you. Some people may even thrive on that approach. I can’t and I don’t. I’m a fan of conformity and uniformity, because those virtues exist in nature and in the man-made world for good reason. All good woodworking benches share the same features and they have for a long time. And though aesthetics aren’t always important to functionality, I’d much rather be working on a nice looking bench than two trashcans and an old door.
So, yeah, it’s important to me that my woodworking bench looks exactly how I think a woodworking bench should look. Making aesthetic improvements to a woodworking bench may seem silly, but it really isn’t. It’s good practice to incorporate both form and function. And while I would never go out and drop thousands of dollars on material for the sole reason that it would make a nice looking workbench, I am going to try to make what I have look as good as it possibly can.