Hidden Treasure

I live in a house that was built in 1860.  My shop is in a “carriage house” that I suspect was built sometime between 1900 and 1920.  My guess would be that the structure was built for “horseless carriages” and replaced the original stable.  It’s a large structure with a second floor apartment that, very likely, was home for a driver in an earlier, grander time.  I’ve worked in this shop for more than a decade now and it still surprises me that very few visitors have ever noticed the “hidden treasure” that resides next to the west wall.  In fairness, it may be that I’ve managed to keep it buried under various tools and supplies.  But it’s worth a look.

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Clearly, someone who resided here in the past, was involved in some serious woodworking.  This is a bench that was built for joinery and it’s been here for a long time, a very long time.  The bench is 126″ long, 18″ deep and 32″ high.  The top is a single slab of 3″ thick white oak.  A pegboard (hopelessly stuck in place) leg vise is attached on the left side.  A 12″ wide “stretcher” runs diagonally from the left front leg to the right rear.  The stretcher has helped maintain the top as “straight as a string” in length.  However, over the last century the slab has cupped (crowned, if you prefer, as the work surface is convex).

The stretcher is fitted with two tiers of planing supports.  These are large dowels that can be moved forward when additional support is needed.  Unfortunately, some of the support rods have been cut short, rendering them useless.

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Though I use the bench now for a place to support a grinder, filing vises and storage containers, it could be put to work, jointing long stock in a heartbeat.  With any luck, this bench will be around for another century.  I guess I could clean it up a little bit.  But it’s got an awful lot of “character” just the way it is.

 

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2 Comments on “Hidden Treasure”


  1. Thank you for posting this. The bench seems to be an interesting variant of bench where the stretcher works a similar way as on a Nicholson bench but the slab are stiff enaugh to support normal work? The diagonal stretcher get me to think about a picture of some workers using a skottbenk as support for planing wide boards on the flat side. The use “langbordet” on the diagonal. You can see the picture in this post: http://skottbenk.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/hovling-pa-skottbenk-ved-suossjavre-i-finnmark-forst-pa-1900-talet-2/

    Could your workbench be related to a skottbenk in any way?

    Is there some kind of planing stop on the bench?

    Regards Roald

    • D.B. Laney Says:

      Hi Roald,

      To be honest, this is the first bench I’ve seen with a large diagonal stretcher. There are a number of holes in the bench top. I believe that some are for bolts used to secure metal working vises. There are no holes that would indicate the use of a holdfast on the bench. I don’t see any indication of a planing stop. However, there is some type of wooden pin visible on the underside of the bench that would correspond with the normal position of a planing stop. But, it is not visible on the top surface. There is heavy wear, paint, carmelized grease, etc. on the top, so it will take a little more investigating to determine what the pin was used for. While the bench appears unsophisticated, there are several feature that indicate that the builder was a skilled woodworker: the planing supports are set perpendicular to the face of the bench top, not the stretcher; the vise chop is very carefully made and its tapered shape is very graceful, showing some consideration for design.

      This particular region of the country was heavily settled by German, English, Irish and French families. My guess is that whoever built the bench came from one of these traditions. While it appears to be “built-in”, it is, in fact, a free standing bench (although, at some point it was secured to the building frame. It may have been built and used at some other site, then brought here. There was a great deal of manufacturing in this area which included several wagon building (and early autocar) companies. Also, there was a water driven lumber mill just a 1/8 mile down the street. I believe that the mill was destroyed sometime early in the 1900’s. (All of the trim in this house was produced in that mill.) There is certainly a possibility that the bench came from the mill or one of the other businesses. It will remain a mystery.

      Regards, Dennis


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