Tools and Benches

When I came back to woodworking in 2020, I once again discovered that learning new skills and techniques provides me with motivation even when I don’t need the end product. I only get motivation to use the skills I already have when I want or need the product I’m creating.

With new skills come new tools. Here are some of the tools, benches, and fixtures I’ve built to support my exploration of new techniques.

My first experience using an axe (hatchet or 1-handed axe, really) for any real work was when I started working on one of Curtis Buchanan’s Democratic Chairs, using the online classes put together by Curtis and Elia Bizzarri. I still haven’t finished that chair yet, but my use of the axe pushed me towards spoon and bowl carving as well as more woodturning.

Here is my chopping block, before it had seen any significant use. The legs are splayed like a baby deer, and it has 4 legs because I didn’t position the first 3 correctly. The block is a chunk of oak previously destined to be firewood, and the legs are (also scavenged) maple.

Chopping block for axe work; 2020

I had a broad hatchet for hewing, and purchased a Robin Wood carving axe. Eventually I wanted to try a carving axe with the asymmetrical bevel preferred by Wille and Jögge Sundqvist, so I rehabilitated an old roofing hatchet for the purpose. I cut off the hammer head from the rear, reground the bevels with a curve to the blade, and carved a new handle from some scavenged Tree of Heaven firewood. I really like this axe, but ironically I’ve shifted back to using the entirely inappropriate single bevel hewing hatchet for most of my carving work.

The blade guard is carved from tulip poplar scraps. I have since added a second screw and slots to allow it to close securely.

Modified roofing hatchet, now an excellent carving axe; 2020

I was on the fence for a while regarding shaving horses. I got by just fine with a bench and vise for shaving sticks, and didn’t really think I wanted to spend the space required for a dedicated shaving horse. I think what changed my mind was wanting to build the shaving horse more than wanting to have and use it; but it has seen plenty of use since I built it.

This was built using Tom Donahey’s Shaving Mule plans, freely available online. The seat is from my perch, which had a great seat but was never very comfortable as a stool. Rather than carve a new seat, I repurposed the old one. Most of the lumber for the horse was sourced from a single 2×12″. Pro tip: if you want cheap, straight wood, look in the 2×12’s rather than the 2×4’s. You can make 2×4’s out of small, crooked trees, but 2×12’s are big enough that they need to come from good, straight trees. They’re always flatsawn, but if you find a cut that was close to the pith, you can end up with some nice quartersawn pieces once you rip it to width.

Shaving Mule; 2020

I realized the shaving horse is useful for doing work outside, when the weather is nice. For the same reason, I decided to build a low bench with holes for pegs and holdfasts. Again, I was imprecise when drilling tenons for the legs, so this looks like a baby deer. This bench sees regular use in the shop as a saw bench, and when the weather is good I can bring it outside and attach a chopping block for carving.

The top is glued up from two pine boards, and the legs are from my old stash of scavenged maple. On the bench is a turned wooden mallet I made to whack the holdfasts and wedges. The head is black cherry, and the handle is probably Tree of Heaven. Overall, the bench and mallet remind me of the Playskool Cobbler’s Bench I remember from when I was a kid.

Low bench with holdfast, pegs, and mallet; 2021

Although I certainly don’t have anything against beautiful tools, I am also very utilitarian. When I need a thing to get the job done, I concentrate on function instead of form, especially when I’m not sure if I’m going to use the thing long-term, or when it’s likely to be consumable or worn out with use. Some of these items are more beautiful than others, but they all perform their intended function quite well.