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June 24, 2010

The following article  is a continuation from my friend Stephen Melhuish’s work bench journey. To read the first installment go here.

Bench Homecoming: A follow up to Bench Quest.

By Stephen Melhuish

It’s a gorgeous day in north Oxfordshire, England; the sun dapples my back garden lawn through the honey scents and warm buzzing bees covering an arched Ceanothus in full blue bloom on the way to my shop.

Today is a great day…all is right with the world… a few months ago I decided to order a new bench from Richard Maguire up in Lincolnshire about 2-3 hours away as the crow flies. Today is the day it’s delivered and I can truly say I feel like a kid waiting for Santa at Christmas, except I doubt if Santa would have squeezed this 7-foot bench down my chimney! …and instead of Rudolph and a sleigh a dirty great pallet truck pulls up to my driveway casting a vast shadow over the front hedge.

I rush out with my camera to snap a shot of the bench wrapped in black shrink-wrap. At this stage she looks more like a Henry Moore sculpture than a workbench, but hey, beauty’s in the eye of the beholder right.

My rugby-playing neighbour Terry helps the driver and I to lift her gently to the ground…the bench has landed!

Over the next couple of hours I’m busy busy, setting her up in her new home and a new shop that I built and finished just a couple of weeks ago, well I say finished, in fact there’s masses more to do and kit out internally but the shell/structure is done.

So much junk has gone from the old shop and I’ve promised myself a minimalist work environment, just as well as it’s pretty damn bare right now, but as soon as the bench top drops onto it’s legs retaining wooden lugs with a reassuring smooth airy thud the shop takes on a whole other mood, the sunlight pours through the double doors bouncing off the Ash bench and illuminating the shop walls with it’s delicious warm colour and wood oiled scent.

I stand back and take it all in, the end of a long journey, from make do benches with all their faults to this perfect working beauty.

My thoughts then on the new bench:

Well I’m so happy I could tie a balloon to the top of our local castle flagpole!

Size matters!

…She’s 7 foot long, and 2 foot deep, the bench top is made up of 3-inch thick sections of solid Ash, in fact the whole bench is solid Ash….love it!

Two vices: there’s a hefty wooden screw set into a beautiful leg vice, the nearest jaw of which is lined with a rectangle of leather to help protect and add more grip to anything clamped there. These wooden screw vices are definitely the Biz, with its easy action and surprisingly speedy travel, all down to the wonderful hand built qualities and those large wooden threads.

There’s an ergonomically designed wagon vice at the end that is so sweet and smooth running that I’m sure she’s greased with honey!

The top has two lines of dog holes front and back the nearest row has a bench stop fitted at my own request. Richard Maguire also makes his own blocks for these stops, again very simply and cleanly made all in matching wood. This is a lovely extra to the bench and can help support very sizeable dimensions of wood when running a plane down towards the leg vice end. I saw Rob Cosman using it exactly for this purpose on another Maguire bench earlier in the year at London’s Alexandra Palace wood show.

Finally there’s a nice sliding board jack, giving huge flexibility when adding additional side support on longer board lengths.

And that, my friends is just about it.

…A bench, in my opinion is at it’s best when it achieves all the requisite clamping and support options without hindrance, for instance all the legs and sliding board jack are cut and fixed flush with each other, no overhangs, and nothing to get in the away. Additional clamps can then be attached without compromise.

Also I’m glad I didn’t go for a bench with a tool well, (as long as you have good at arms length surfaces next to the bench along with racks for your chisels and planes) then that’s sufficient, tool wells I believe just waste bench top space…keep it tidy and you’ll work that more efficiently… that’s the aim anyway.

Over the coming weeks I’ll put the whole bench through it’s paces with a couple of small projects, but right now I simply use the wagon tail vice aided by a couple of Veritas bench pups to clamp a 1 foot off cut of English Oak to the bench top for it’s first ever shaving.

I take the thinnest of scrapers and pass it numerous times over the Oaks tight grain, that lovely sound of a clean, thin metal edge whistling over the hardwood softly fills the solid wooden confines of the new shop…The bench has at last come home.

You just kind of know it’s going to be right, instincts and the sheer knowledge that a master bench maker has poured over every nuisance to get it right for you, yes it’s all there, perfectly in proportion, 7 long feet of working Ash.

She looks right, operates smoothly and just won’t budge a jot, a lifetime ahead of wood projects and when the quality of bench is this good it just makes you want to make the best better still….

check out the Richard Maguire website, you won’t be disappointed!

Mine is the Signature Bench.


and remember…The Bench is still the shop!

Good luck to all those making or purchasing new benches.

Cheers Steve.

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