My first big project will be the Holtzapffel cabinetmaker's workbench. If you’ve kept up with Christopher Schwarz, you already know well what I am talking about. It’s a beautiful machine, and I want to start my shop off with this cornerstone of hand tool work.
I’ve long sought after the European benches you see in the magazines, but the money put them well outside of my reach. Just as I was about to fold and build a modern design on the same, I found some articles regarding bench design and some brief history on the topic. I can’t find the link now, but one of the more noteworthy articles pointed out the top 10 features to look for in bench design. Of those, the things that struck me were in materials and weight. There was a great stress on weight being an important factor. A bench approaching 300lbs. was “ideal.” The material should be something with the same characteristics of steamed European Beech, but it doesn’t have to be Beech. As the article’s author pointed out, the only reason Beech was used was because it was plentiful in the area, and stiff. The latest batch of reading I had done had pointed out some major flaws in my mind with many modern bench designs. So that’s why those fancy cabinetmaker’s benches cost so much? I knew I wanted one, but I didn’t know why.
That’s approximately when I found the article on the Holtzapffel bench. I had been looking so long at bench designs and products that the Holtzapffel bench struck me as something new. I read on. It was as though the bench were Christopher Schwarz’s answer to this “Top 10” article I had read. A twin-screw face vise with 24” space between screws. 3” thick heavy top – even beefier legs and appropriate stretchers tenoned together. A day or two later and I’ve made my decision to build the Holtzapffel bench.
As a first big project, this looks promising. It’s simple enough that I don’t think I can screw it up, and there are techniques at play that give me practice with some hand tools on big stock (an easier thing to learn on than tiny, delicate stuff). I chose White Ash as my wood of choice because of its local availability, density, and stiffness. Woodworker’s Magazine Ed. 8 in hand, on-the-job training with some mediocre tools, and ~75BF in lumber, I’m itching to get started with this project.
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