In Love With Ugly

My workbench is ugly. It’s REALLY ugly. If ugly were bricks, my bench could build the Great Wall of China.

The beast was born one Valentine’s Day night when my wife was working evenings. I was the only guy at Home Depot that night (everyone else had the sense to take their sweeties out for a nice dinner). I cobbled a puny little bench together with some Simpson Strong-Tie connectors, 2×4’s, a half-sheet of ¾” plywood and a fistful of screws. And, it was good.bench1

Later, when I discovered that my 2 foot by 4 foot bench top wasn’t going to be large enough to work for me, I scrounged through my neighbor’s garbage after he did some renovation work and found his old wooden entry door. SUPER ugly 1970’s carvings and molding on the outside a dark, chocolate brown paint on the smooth inside panel. I carted that heavy sucker home, removed the small plywood top and screwed the big 36″ x 80″ door in its place.

Yes, it has the hinge mortises. And the bore holes for the deadbolt, door knob and security peep-hole. I consider that as part of my shop security plan.

Over the years, I have glued up on it, painted on it and tested the sharpness of plane irons on its corners. I’ve pounded on it, screwed jigs to it and (accidentally) cut into it with a circular saw. This thing is a beast! The creature from a nasty corner of the nasty garage.bench2

But, it has a beauty all its own, too. That ugly bench of mine is the perfect size for my shop. I have built countless projects on it – from the obscenely large to the dainty and delicate. I can lay a straight edge on the door and verify that yes, it is dead flat – once I scrape the beads of dried glue off of it. I can clamp projects down to the overhanging edges and know that they won’t move when I chisel, cut or plane. It’s the same height as my table saw, and functions as an outfeed table.

I’ve added some modifications to my bench to make it even more useful. After using a real, professional woodworking bench with a tail vise, I longed for a better way to clamp projects to my bench top to face plane them. I bought a matched pair of Veritas Bench Pups and Wonder Pups, and drilled a series of ¾” holes through the top. Now, I can plug in the pup, clamp it in place and face plane until my heart’s content.bench4

Another awesome upgrade was adding an old Wilton vise to the front of the bench. It’s right there on the left corner. I experimented with several different configurations of where to site the vise, but the classic position for right-handed woodworkers suits me just fine. Edge planing boards is now a snap.

By the way, the vise itself is just as ugly at the bench is rides on. It was plucked from a dumpster behind a school that was doing away with its wood shop program. It must have been built in the 1960’s, coated in a light layer of oxidation and surface rust and has a handle made of a length of metal electrical conduit. I cleaned it up, put some southern yellow pine faces on it and it works like the day it was built.bench3

Do I ever want to replace that ugly bench with something new and pretty? Sure I do. I get bench envy from time to time. I was at the American Sycamore Woodworker’s Retreat in Cloverdale, Indiana and saw a beautiful maple workbench with purpleheart inlays. Heavy mortise and tenon joinery. Dual screw tail vise. The thing looks more like an altar for some woodworking religion than a bench.

But, it didn’t have the character of mine.

Will I eventually replace my bench? Well, I have to confess that I have researched a number of plans from books, magazines and the Internet. But, every time I draw up a shopping list for wood and hardware – I find myself sitting at my old, ugly friend that has seen me through so many projects…

You know, I discovered I really am a loyal, sensitive guy.

5 thoughts on “In Love With Ugly”

  1. Tom-

    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Back in my shop in the states I have a huge table that use to be in a clothing store as a display table. At one time it looked nice, but now like yours has hole drilled in and paint and stain all over it. I think we could spend alot of time making a beautiful bench, only to work on it and mess it up. As long as it’s flat it’s good enough to work on.

  2. Although I am one of those guys with the “nice” workbench, I have no reservations about beating the hell out of it. 🙂
    Workbenches are meant to be used, and not babied. I would never criticize someone for having an ugly workbench. I would most likely give them the thumbs up because a beat up bench usually means they are getting things done.

  3. Tom……..I’m with you brother. All my benches are recylced materials from dorm loft posts from undergrad, to the posts of a coal bin from a remodel flip.

    It’s only about how worked it is.

  4. My benches are of a lite beer flavor or delicate in kind. One of my benches is a Formica top from my parent’s old family kitchen table. It sits on top a strong 2×4 foundation. Another bench, I had trash-picked (Tom, I thought I only did things like that) a Formica counter top that was perfect. An old twin bed frame (angle iron) been siting in the basement doing nothing, so I cut it up with a hack saw (that’s a whole different story) nut and bolted it together, rock solid! Now I’m working on another Formica bench top of an old office desk (free) 1” mdf, I’m thinking 2×4 again. Can never have to many work surfaces. Getting too old to be working off the floor. LOL

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