So, after a couple years of working on a Nicholson workbench and building everything from a small box to a 7 foot bookcase I am making a change. The change stems from a few things that I have learned and also from things that have changed. The biggest thing that has changed is the size of my shop. When I first built the Nicholson I was working in a one car garage, I am now in a bedroom that is 14'x10'. But, let me explain further by telling a little story. Get a cup of tea this might take a while, its good though.
A few years ago I decided to take the plunge. At the time I was working from a 90% power tool and 10% hand tool method. I wanted a change, a change back to my roots of hand tool work, so I did it and at the same time started this blog. It didn't take long for me to realize that the utility workbench I had was just not going to work for hand tools, no matter what I did to the thing. I needed a "real" woodworking bench. At the time I saw all the Roubo's popping up all over, thought about it, but was influenced by Bob Rozaieski over at Logan Cabinet Shoppe (yes bob, its all your fault, just kidding). As someone that I respect and had been following for a while I decided to build a Nicholson bench like his, he had me hooked. I went all out and built a full 8' workbench and even added a tail vise and later a planing stop to the bench. The bench worked great and all was right in the world.
Then reality kicked in. (caution: reality is different for everyone, not all people are effected by reality in the same way, make your own decisions, and draw your own conclusions)
Over time , like 9 months, I figured out using a quick release vise for a tail vise is kind of a horrible idea (it sucked). Why? It moves, no matter what you do, it will rock side to side(yes I tried different vises of both vintage and new high quality), and no matter what you do the outside corner of larger boards or table tops will be unsupported while planing, not to mention the fact that it moves(yeah I know I already said that once). There is no way to remove this movement because if you did, the vise would not have the freedom to move in and out. So, after those first 9 months I stopped using the tail vise and installed a planing stop. Problem solved. For now.
The other issues that crept up on me had to do with the top, the aprons, and the overall size. Lets take this one at a time.
The top. Well, its just to thin. Even after installing blocking to thicken areas where the holdfasts go, it was not really solid enough for me and the holdfast quickly deformed the holes. But, the bigger issue is that the top was just to flimsy and thin. It works for most work, up until the point where you start to pound on things, then its just bouncy.
The Aprons, O the aprons, how I loved the way you look, but thou are like curtains on a dog house. They look good, thought they would be useful, but haven't really needed them. Yes , you can use the aprons instead of having vises, if you want to work that way , great, but I like my vises, the aprons have never really done anything for me, but with such a thin top you do need something for boards to rest against while in a vise. I just don't think the aprons need to be all that big, you could probably get away with only a 4" apron plus the thickness of your top and be just fine. But there is another problem, I do like using some sort of wagon/tail vise and would really like to have the dogs closer to the edge of the bench. The aprons prevent you from being able to put the dogs close to the edge, this can be worked around, but in the end it is just not very convenient. Not to mention getting to the dogs is more of a challenge because you have to reach under the apron to get to them. Another issue that the aprons cause is the limit to the usefulness of the undercarriage. If you ever plan on using the area under the bench, ie. tool storage or something, the aprons will suck up a lot of the room.
The size. Well, the size was all well and good until I moved into my smaller shop. But, when I am brutally honest with myself I learn the most. When I installed the planning stop I learned something interesting. I didn't need an eight foot bench. The planing stop is only 5' 1" from the end of the bench. Meaning I would be good with just a 6' bench. But, this is also good because a 6' bench would work better in my new smaller shop. I have noticed too that I never in the past couple years have truly needed the extra 2 feet of the bench, even when making large case work like bookcases.
Something that did work for me really well is my twin screw vise. This thing is great and if you think about it, a twin screw is not all that different from a leg vise. Most of the time you don't use the area between the screws, nor do you have to spin both screws to work the vise. The majority of the time I place my work on the right end and only use the right screw. But, when you need to dovetail larger boards there is nothing better. I will be transferring the twin screw to my Roubo bench, but it will be on the back side and be used primarily for the purpose of working ends of large pieces, dovetails, etc. (very much like Tony Konovaloff's workbench).
So when do I start the new workbench build? It has already started and I will be posting more articles and videos regarding the Split-Top Roubo build soon. I don't know how long it will take me to complete the bench. The main part of the build will go quickly, but I am kind of adding things to the bench. Stay tuned for the next blog post as I will speak more to the overall construction of the new workbench at that time.
And for those who may be concerned. Yes, I am keeping the Nicholson bench. It will move back into the garage and will be used for home projects, which I have many, and for which I think the bench actually excels at. It is a joiners bench.