‘The Workbench,’ à la Nicholson

IMG_8636Last week, 99 boxes of “The Mechanic’s Companion” arrived on my sidewalk, and one by one, I hauled about one-quarter of them up the stairs and into the house. Two by two, Christopher Schwarz hauled in the other three-quarters. (He is strong and generous.) I taught a class over the weekend, so I wasn’t able to get pre-publication orders packaged, addressed and in the mail until yesterday and today – but I’m delighted to report they’re now all on their way. And I’m ready to ship to select international and domestic retailers with whom I’ve talked about carrying it – more on who they are as I get those orders confirmed. (I do, however, have plenty remaining should you wish to order a copy.)

The die-stamp image on the book’s cover is the bench (with some of the lines removed so as to make a crisp stamp); it’s the first tool about which Peter Nicholson writes in his joinery section:

§ 2. The Bench. Pl. 12. Fig. 12.
Consists of a platform A B C D called the top, supported upon four legs, E, F, G, H. Near to the further or fore end A B is an upright rectangular prismatic pin a, made to slide stiffly in a mortise through the top. This pin is called the bench hook [planing stop], which ought to be so tight as to be moved up or down only by a blow of a hammer or mallet. The use of the bench hook is to keep the stuff steady, while the joiner, in the act of planing, presses it forward against the bench hook. D I a vertical board fixed to the legs, on the side of the bench next to the workman, and made flush with the legs: this is called the side board [vise]. At the farther end of the side board, and opposite to it, and to the bench hook, is a rectangular prismatic piece of wood b b, of which its two broad surfaces are parallel to the vertical face of the side board: this is made moveable in a horizontal straight surface, by a screw passing through an interior screw fixed to the inside of the side board, and is called the screw check [vise chop]. The screw and screw check are to­gether called the bench screw; and for the sake of perspicuity, we shall denominate the two adjacent vertical surfaces of the screw check, and of the side board, the checks of the bench screw. The use of the bench screw is to fasten boards between the checks, in order to plane their edges; but as it only holds up one end of a board, the leg H of the bench and the side board are pierced with holes, so as to admit of a pin for holding up the other end, at various heights, as occasion may require. The screw check has also a horizontal piece mortised and fixed fast to it, and made to slide through the side board, for preventing it turning round, and is therefore called the guide.

Benches are of various heights, to accommodate the height of the workman, but the medium is about two feet eight inches. They are ten or twelve feet in length, and about two feet six inches in width [about 12″ wider than my bench!]. Sometimes the top boards upon the farther side are made only about ten feet long, and that next the workman twelve feet, projecting two feet at the hinder part. In order to keep the bench and work from tottering, the legs, not less than three inches and a half square, should be well braced, particularly the two legs on the working side. The top board next to the workman may be from one and a half to two inches thick: the thicker, the better for the work; the boards to the farther side may be about an inch, or an inch and a quarter thick. If the workman stands on the working side of the bench, and looks across the bench, then the end on his right hand is called the hind end, and that on his left hand the fore end. The bench hook is sometimes covered with an iron plate, the front edge of which is formed into sharp teeth for sticking fast into the end of the wood to be planed, in order to prevent it from slipping; or, instead of a plate, nails are driven obliquely through the edge, and filed into wedge-formed points. Each pair of end legs are generally coupled together by two rails dove­tailed into the legs. Between each pair of coupled legs, the length of the bench is generally divided into three or four equal parts, and transverse bearers fixed at the divisions to the side boards, the upper sides being flush with those of the side boards, for the purpose of supporting the top firmly, and keeping it from bending. The screw is placed behind the two fore legs, the bench hook immediately before the bearers of the fore legs, and the guide at some distance before the bench hook. For the convenience of putting things out of the way, the rails at the ends are covered with boards; and for farther accommodation, there is in some benches a cavity, formed by boarding the under edges of the side boards before the hind legs, and closing the ends vertically, so that this cavity is contained between the top and the boarding under the side boards; the way to it is by an aperture made by sliding a part of the top board towards the hind end: this deposit is called a locker.


book covers


About fitz

Woodworker, writer, editor, teacher, ailurophile, Shakespearean. Will write for air-dried walnut.
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18 Responses to ‘The Workbench,’ à la Nicholson

  1. claydeforge says:

    That left me exhausted reading just that amount 😉

  2. Paul Smith says:

    Thanks for the report. I am looking forward to reading,,, no devouring the book.

  3. Jillian Ramsay Stern says:

    The style is definitely from a time past. At first glance and reading, I would diagnose the worthy gentleman of having a severe case of logorrhea. I do sympathize with the gentleman for suffering from this condition. However, upon a second perusal of the passage, I had to admit that the narrative was far from wordy. If you’ve had to work with someone who is just starting out, or someone who is a bit “slapdashing” (not a good thing in a theatrical scenery shop), those words are the necessary “cold water” to instill a more sedate approach to machines and tools that are capable of providing all sorts of uncontrolled surgery on the human body…
    I spent over 30 years in a scenery shop and can attest to all sorts of characters that came there to make a fast entree into theater. I can remember Siggy Lomaki intoning a modern day version of that recital. The foreman would watch the listener intently. At any sign of impatient and wandering attention from the neophyte employee, Charlie Bender would gently lead the would-be employee to the door and gently push him out with an hour’s pay and told to come back next century.
    Scenery shops were a good place to force one to sink or swim. The pressure of getting a show out was close to a NASA rocket launch.
    Mr. Nicholson’s words are right on point, though they sound a bit foreign, they actually were the words of the “King’s English” and not a wasted word in the bunch.:-)

  4. jmwagle86 says:

    Looking forward to receiving my copy!!!

  5. toolnut says:

    …”( I do, however, have plenty remaining should you wish to order a copy.)”…

    Hi Megan,
    With regards to the above, does this mean you’ll only be doing one print run or will this book be in your catalogue for as long as RMP exists?

    (I ask because my list of books to buy is already very long thanks to your buddy in Covington and while the list keeps steadily growing, my book budget isnt quite able to keep pace.)


  6. Raymond Brasser says:

    Received Nancy Hiller’s book this week – I love it – thanks

    On Tue, Jun 26, 2018 at 7:27 PM, Rude Mechanicals Press Blog wrote:

    > fitz posted: “Last week, 99 boxes of “The Mechanic’s Companion” arrived on > my sidewalk, and one by one, I hauled about one-quarter of them up the > stairs and into the house. Two by two, Christopher Schwarz hauled in the > other three-quarters. (He is strong and generous.)” >

  7. Mark Colyer says:

    Congratulations! I hope this project is a major success and I am looking forward to hearing about your next book.

  8. Mine just arrived- excellent job! Looking forward to your next project.

  9. jmwagle86 says:

    Mine just arrived! Fantastic quality, wonderfully clear images. Thank you for all your work, including the custom made “signed” shipping container. Congratulations on another wonderful accomplishment.

  10. SSteve says:

    The light gray text on the order page looks like it was designed by someone in their 20s, not so much by someone of our age bracket. Nonetheless, book ordered!

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