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 Joel's Blog

Workbench Contest - Answers - And The Winner is....

05/30/2010

Last Week I posted the following challenge: Match up 7 engravings of workbenches in Diderot with their trades. I didn't expect it to be easy but I thought it an interesting way to allow people to look at benches critically and try to figure out what a workbench of a particular design would be good for. Here are the answers:








For all the talk lately about a double screw vise, nobody recognized this as a type of bench used for cabinetmaking or marquetry.
Musical instrument makers (Lutherie) use a bench that's pretty much the same as a cabinetmaker's bench but the work is overall lighter and maybe the glue pot is indicative that instruments are mostly glued together rather than joined like furniture. There is a small planing stop on the bench and of course precisely planing wood is an important part of the job.
Wood engravers don't need a fancy bench - just something that will clamp the work on the surface
The case maker's bench is pretty simple but also the only bench that is fitted with a screw actuated vise.
This bench is shown several times in the encyclopidiea, once in a workshop illustration but twice as a detail, in the joinery section and in the cabinetmaking and marquetry section. The engravings are identical down to the placement of the wood in the holdfast, except for a detail of the size of a plane in the till under the bench.
This very simple bench belongs to the chest, case, and trunk maker. The support under the table is unusual but might reflect that this seems a lighter bench than the others and the leg might help add a little stiffness to the top - maybe. I'm really just guessing
The box maker's bench is the one drawn the most accurately. The top doesn't cast a shadow on the legs which shows the top is mounted flush to the legs, and we see a hook on the left which serves as a support for wood mounted in the crochet. Unlike the benches drawn in Moxon and other places the crochet on all of the benches that have them seem more like a simple stop - and the wood would be held in place by holdfasts, than a wedged clamp. Considering that the crochet dies out and disappears from benches in this, the eighteen century, the smaller crochet/stop might be an interim design. Of course it could also be just a drawing error like the shadow of the bench top shown on so many other benches.

Sawyers and carpenters don't use workbenches - they work on-site. Clog maker's use a narrow mini-bench that is designed to allow you to easily clamp two clogs at a fairly low height for working. There is no illustration of a carriage-maker's bench, and picture framing isn't separated out in the book as a distinct trade.

Nobody got all the answers correct. Frankly I didn't think anyone would, I doubt I would either and while I list some observations above that might have helped - the fact is I make these observations AFTER I knew the answers - so I am really projecting backward and don't get any credit for insight. But it's still very instructive to look at a consistent group of benches all from the same time and place. There's a lot to be learned about workbenches from these illustrations and also a lot to be learned about research at the same time. I plan a summary of workbench observations in the near future, but the real question is who won? The maximum number of right answers by anyone was two right. Of the four contestants who got two answers correct Jamie Bacon was the first to post his solution and that makes him THE WINNER and I will be emailing to get an address to send the holdfast.

Join the conversation
Hey Joel. I was surprised to see my name as the contest winner. Especially with
only 2 right. That was a tough quiz. Lots of guessing from everyone apparently.
VERY COOL quiz though. I love anything to do with history. All the better if it's
woodworking history.

Jamie Bacon
06/01/2010 Al R.
RE - Carpenters not having a bench - What did they use to hold the work when creating trim, mouldings, siding, shutters, doors, tongue and groove flooring, etc.?

Or where those all speciatly trades? I was under the impression that all of that fell to the carpenters to complete.

That was a tough quiz.

Al R.
Carpenters don't do trim, mouldings, or any of that stuff. joiner's did. Carpenter's only did the main timber construction and framing. There were very extensive guild and union rules on who did what. Joiners of various levels of competency, did all the finish work, stairs, windows, etc.
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