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.
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.
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.
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.
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.