Reviewed by Mark Gezella – February 2007
First off, a tip of the hat to Wayne Watson for his efforts last month. Not only did he deliver a fantastic presentation, but after the meeting he donated his reference book to the library! Doing so made my choice of topic easy this time around. I guarantee you, The Workbench is no slouch - it was published in 2004 by Taunton, and ranks among the best in terms of information, quality, and presentation. It's one of the pricier books available, and I really appreciate his willingness to turn it over to our library.
The book is fully entitled The Workbench - A Complete Guide to Creating Your Perfect Bench. To my eye it definitely lives up to it's claim. Copious pictures, layouts, and methods of construction are provided, including many fine examples of benches used by recognized names in the field; Frank Klausz, Tage Frid, Niall Barrett, and Sam Maloof to name just a few. Mr. Schleinig culled the very best of his experiences to provide a reader with outstanding examples of how to arrive at the "perfect" bench. He formulated his acquired knowledge into ten chapters, which are categorically arranged to describe similar attributes, or functions of a bench.
Chapters One, Two, and Three describe how to define the perfect bench; i.e., what that phrase means to you. Considerations regarding location, size, weight, height, dimensions, materials, flatness, joinery options, strengthening, leveling, etc. are all touched. These are great, thought-provoking segments that encourage you to consider not only what you want, but how you work, and how you'll most often use it. As Wayne stated in his presentation, your bench is the most important shop tool you will own. This creed is also echoed in the book. A bench is indispensable and commands requisite thought to arrive at what is appropriate for your needs.
Chapters Four and Five discuss options available on how to hold work - vises and clamping mechanisms. Everything you'd expect, including a few that might come as a surprise. Configurations are seemingly endless, and what's most amazing is how effective various fixtures can be. While some opt for high-end vises with every feature known to man, others get by with simply a wedge and block! I'm amazed to see how many different solutions were conceived to solve a problem. Opinions vary...
Chapter Six talks about manufacturing; benches sold as complete kits, and parts available to construct adjuncts for an existing bench. Manufacturers were also alluded to in last month's presentation vis-à-vis the latest Tools & Shops Issue of FWW, which includes an article on high-end benches and how they rate. While all are beautiful and functional, I was astonished to find differences in quality. Many testers cite variations in flatness, vise alignment, clamping ability, etc. The Author confirms all of this in his book with both his own commentary and those of many professionals he interviewed during his research.
Chapter Seven details several "no-frills" benches employed by several widely respected craftsmen. While there are several examples, the one impressed upon me is Sam Maloof's bench. It's literally nothing more than a simple four-legged base and a top, albeit a very large one. Attached is an "antique" Emmert vise that enables him to do all sorts of shaping and assembling of his furniture parts I'm sure you are all familiar with.
Chapters Eight, Nine, and Ten cover a marriage of traditional and 21st century innovations. This trio is probably the most surprising in terms of content. In this last segment the Author considers English, European, and Shaker style designs, along with how to build a version of each. Next up are innovations such as a "torsion box" bench top, and break-down versions which are conveniently stored away when not in use. The last chapter wraps up with an interesting look at benches dedicated to special tasks, most notably portable benches and those made for continuous work with irregular parts.
This is a great book that closely rivals the Workbench Book by Landiss. I briefly reviewed that one years ago (Oct. '03), which in my opinion still reigns as champ among bench books. However, the two of these coupled together affords virtually everything you need to know about building or acquiring a bench of your own. Mr. Schleinig seems omniscient when it comes to this subject, and thumbing through the book is almost hypnotic as you encounter page after page of beautiful benches in full color. It's great stuff! This book will be available for checkout at the next general member meeting.