Monday, 9 September 2013

Workbench Wonders - two husbands, lots of benches

It's September now and many people are returning to school and work. It seems like a good time to have a look at workbenches. Here is The English Woodworker hard at work in his shop.

In contrast to the English Woodworker, my husband, His Excellency, is not a very practical person. Here's what happened when he tried to change a lightbulb in our kitchen.

His Excellency thinks this blog is going to be boring. And I don't think he means 'boring' in the craftsmen sense that The English Woodworker means it.

But His Excellency hasn't seen all the wonderful workbenches I have been collecting. While everyone else was on their summer holidays, I was here at my computer Googling workbenches and work benches and benches work.

His Excellency: I'm bored already.

For writing this blog, I thought it best to get help from Emily Hardhat, who is an old school friend of both my husbands. And she's a qualified engineer. You can tell because she has a bench wrench in her hand.

Here she is in her workshop, making benches for the Fribble-under-Par community project.

Emily is the perfect person to help me pick out brilliant workbenches. For example, here is a very cheerful Little Carpenters workbench.

His Excellency: Just how small is this carpenter? 

Emily says size is not the main issue with workbenches. You can have a modest little workbench . . .

or you can have a gorgeous, humungous state-of-the-art kiln dried ash workbench like this one.

It depends what you need it for.

His Excellency: I don't need it for anything. I'm a philosopher.

This is true. His Excellency is not one for getting his hands dirty. 

The Pilgrim's Progress, 1683

He has, as he puts it, a philosopher's mind and an artist's soul. Neither are condusive to putting up shelves. 

Last time His Excellency tried replacing the toilet roll the results were disastrous.

Emily reminds us that artists need a good workbench.

Van Gogh, for example, was very fond of sketching carpenters and their work. Here is The Carpenter's Yard in The Hague, where Van Gogh lived in 1882.

His Excellency: The people in the laundry next door must get sick of listening to hammering and sawing all day.

No jokes about cutting off ears, please. 

OK. I'd like to see a Van Gogh sketch of a proper carpenter though.

Here you are then, HE. I hope you like what you saw.

His Excellency: I'll ignore the pun and pose a philosophical question: is one- handed sawing a good idea? 

You mean like the sound of one hand clapping?

No, I mean if his hand slips he'll have a nasty gash in those wooden clogs.

I see what you mean. Maybe these crocheted carpenter tools would be safer?

His Excellency: That's a soft option. But I would like to pose another philosophical question: what is a workbench for? 

Funny you should ask. 

Here is a sign warning about the dangers of unsafe practices in the workplace.

Gosh, it makes you realise how important a workbench really is.

This fellow seems to be doing it properly.

In carpenters' terms, he has hit the nail on the head.

In complete contrast to His Excellency, my imaginary husband Mungo is more practical. He did O Level woodwork in school and scraped a pass with his project, which was a birthing stool. 

See what I mean by practical? The 14 year old schoolboy had the foresight to realise that a birthing stool could come in handy at a later stage in his life.

His Excellency:  A coffin will come in handy at a later stage. Why didn't he make a coffin?

In fact, Mungo comes from a long line of skilled craftmen. Here are some of his ancestors fashioning stair spindles for Grinling Gibbons.

You'll notice that the tools here aren't powered for fast work. This photo was taken in 1672 and the stairs aren't finished yet. 

Going back even further, Jesus's father Joseph was a carpenter. Here is Joseph at his workbench. He's making a door, apparently, or maybe one of the gates of heaven.

Little red-haired Jesus has hurt his hand, so Mary is trying to kiss-it-better. 

In reading his school reports, Mary and Joseph became concerned about their son's future.

Joseph was gutted that Jesus chose not to follow in his footsteps.

With Christmas on the way and Santa's elves in charge, it wasn't long before Joseph's workbench became nothing more than a table for the wassail punchbowl.

But I digress.

Mungo's skills aren't limited to woodwork. Here he is at the sturdy workbench in the Tin Workshop where he earned an O Level in Metalwork (grade C).

His Excellency:  And how much use is an O Level in Metalwork I ask you? I didn't get where I am today by having an O Level in Metalwork.

It's true I guess. His Excellency was a rather diligent boy who always got his homework done.

Esbjorn doing His Homework, Carl Larsson

Car mechanics was popular with boys at school. A lot of boys enjoyed standing at their workbenches greasing their pistons.

His Excellency: During the lunch break, a few of us found interesting uses for our workbenches.

Like most boys, His Excellency was interested in cars but he had no talent for mechanics. The teacher took him away from the workbench and got him washing cars. Unfortunately, he wasn't very good at this either.

After another crash, the teachers had a meeting about what to do.

They decided on a science career. In fact, His Excellency and Emily were in the same chemistry class. Emily ensured that they kept a well-organised lab bench.

Then Emily had flu one day and didn't come to school. Whilst testing out the chemical formula for butane, His Excellency had a mishap with the lab bench.

The school didn't fare well either.

After that, His Excellency turned his attention to philosophical debate and he's never looked back.

The girls at Mungo's school did practical skills too. Their workbench was more likely to be a kitchen though.

As girls tend to like shoes, some of the girls opted for shoe repair instead. They liked to stand around the workbench talking a lot of old cobblers.

Like Emily, a few exceptional girls went for the high-end engineering projects. Celestine is rightfully proud of her skyscraper. 

The habits learned at school workbenches are drilled into you. 

Emily shows us her tidy little workbench where she keeps the tools of her trade.

Everything is beautifully organised for easy access and aesthetic appeal.

His Excellency: This is a real work of art. I saw something like this at Tate Modern once. 

Mungo is not very orderly but he's fiercely protective of his tools.

Our house, La Casa Perfecta, gets in a bit of a state at times. Like all other houses, it needs a wee bit of maintenance.

So, very occasionally, my two husbands have to work together on some domestic task. Being the practical one, Mungo does the repairs while His Excellency holds the light, smokes his pipe, and listens to Radio 4.

His Excellency has another philosophical question at this point. 

How do you make a workbench if you haven't got a workbench to use while you make the workbench? In other words, what is the origin of the very first workbench?

I dare say philosophers have pondered this chicken-and-egg type of question since Joseph's time.  

Chelsea is a mother crafter who loves to make useful things for her babybump, who is now a fully fledged child. In February 2011 Chelsea took one bedside table and one afternoon and a lot of creativity and made this lovely little toy workbench for just $20 plus a little more for tools.

People who do practical work and hobbies often dream of having a shed for their workbench. A shed is a retreat for people who work with wood or tin or plants or radios or photography or model rockets. 

Here is Emily's shed.

Mungo's shed is quite unlike Emily's shed. For a start, it is often full of cats.

© Daniel Rutter,

Inside Mungo's shed, an oily chainsaw has pride of place. Useful stuff like rope, paint, blow torch, gas cannisters, and squirrel feeders are randomly clustered around. The proximity of gas cannisters and blow torch is probably something to worry about.

Mungo's workbench is not a thing of beauty or function. Nothing on or around it has any use whatsoever. That roll of lino is from our London kitchen. We left London in 1982.  

That bottle of methylated spirits is so old you could probably drink it with no ill effects. 

Mungo tells me that messy workbenches are a sign of character and productivity. Gardeners' benches, for example, are notoriously haphazard.

Captain F.S. Barnes's workbench was not a model of tidiness when he collected plant specimens on his Oregon expedition.

Even Joseph was messy.

The Acid Workshop where artist Carl Larsson did his etchings was also a bit of a tip.

My Acid Workshop 1910, Carl Larsson 

There are saw shavings all over the floor: this carpenter is getting things done!

It's important to keep motivation for practical jobs so having a nice shed and a strong workbench helps people to roll up their sleeves and get busy on their projects.

Of course Mungo would like a bigger shed. He would like a new vice and lots of screws and a good quality boring tool. But times are tough, as everyone knows. 

As a rather sad end to this story, here is His Excellency breaking the harsh news to Mungo that we can't afford a new shed and worse still, we can't afford a new workbench either.


The story begins with The English Woodworker, a traditional wood workbench maker based in Lincolnshire. The very first image here is the logo of Richard Maguire, The English Woodworker. As a furniture maker by trade, Richard specialises in working exclusively with hand tools. "Being a furniture maker myself I thoroughly understand the requirements of the workbench. After all, the workbench is the heart and soul of my workshop”.

The English Woodworker has the kind of website I can browse in for hours. You can see Richard's range of amazing benches at The benches shown in the Gallery slideshow are truly amazing. These include the Nautilus, shown in the story. Richard also writes a brilliant blog with some basic carpentry advice: When in doubt, give it a clout! Worth remembering.

Emily Hardhat is a civil engineer. She won the Spanner of the Year award in 2013. And she knows a thing or two about bridges. And benches. Bridges and benches go together really well and Emily is keen to show off some of the best bridges and benches around the world. To see Emily's gorgeous and well-engineered bridge benches have a look at

The sketch of His Excellency is The Formalist from John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress 1683. It's the best image I have of His Excellency as he refuses to have his photo taken. His Excellency and Mungo, my two husbands, feature in many of the postings on Bench Site (not always with their full agreement). For more about both of them see Who's Who in Fribble-under-Par. And if you'd like the romantic details of my marriages, see how I met Mungo  and how I celebrated Valentine's Day with His Excellency.  

The ruined kitchen was not ours. Mungo photographed it in an abandoned manor house in Kefalonia this summer. You can follow our ill-fated bench-finding mission in Greece at

The cheerful Litte Carpenters workbench and the bright red kitchenette are both from Jamm Toys, who make traditional quality toys, designed by Indigo Jamm in the UK. Noah's Ark, a London bus, tea parties with fluffy cakes - these toys are a real treat.

In contrast to the glamorous and robust wood workbenches, I chose the modest metal frame workbench at random off Google shopping. It's a Silverline TB01 portable workbench which is light and portable and so ideal for DIY jobs at home. It was selling for £16 on the day I found it.

The artist's workbench is a miniature to one inch scale, complete with brushes and artists' tools. It comes from Jill Marquis in New Hampshire. Jill makes all kinds of exquisite miniatures, like little tables and chairs and Welsh dressers -- rustic realism in miniature.

The Vincent Van Gogh paintings and sketches are in the public domain because the artist has been dead more than 70 years. It's just brilliant looking at Wiki Paintings and they're so well organised and informative. Van Gogh did many sketches and paintings of people at work, especially carpenters. I have used the following from Van Gogh's work:  

Carpenter's Yard and Laundry, seen from Van Gogh's room in The Hague in 1882.

At Eternity's Gate, 1890

Man with Saw, 1881

I can make a granny square but mixing bowls, hats, people, monkeys, cupcakes, kitchen appliances and yes, crocheted power tools, Sally at KTB Designs in Ontario can crochet anything. What Sally can't crochet isn't worth having. You'll see a fine array of crocheted everything in her shop at

The warning about working on your knee rather than using a workbench comes from the Office for Emergency Management, War Production Board (01/1942 - 11/03/1945). This workplace poster is thought to be around 1942-43. It's from the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland, available on Wiki Commons at

Emily at BellaBordello sells vintage 1950s greeting cards which are oddly familiar. When I saw the little teddy sawing I thought I recognised him. Indeed, he's a Valentine card and was probably put into my school Valentine stocking in the days when every child had to give every other child a Valentine. If you're from this era you can have a nostalgic trip by looking at The Bella Bordello shop at

Sometimes called The Michaelangelo of Wood, Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) was a Dutch-born master woodcarver who worked throughout Britain on beautiful wood carvings which still endure. His work appears on staircases, doors, friezes, panelled walls, and throughout Britain's palaces, castles, libraries, churches and cathedrals. The photo showing people doing woodworking is from the Kentwell re-creation in 1991.

John Everette Millais's painting Christ in the House of His Parents (1849–50) depicts the Holy Family in Saint Joseph's carpentry workshop. Jesus is the red-headed boy, who has cut his hand on a nail and yes, Mary his kissing his hand. The painting was extremely controversial when first exhibited, prompting many negative reviews, most notably one written by Charles Dickens. It catapulted the previously obscure Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to notoriety and was a major contributor to the debate about Realism in the arts. It is currently housed in the Tate Britain in London. The painting and the comment above are from

Two images in this story are from Gutenberg Press. Under the terms of the license, This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at

The eBooks referred to from Project Gutenberg are the following:

The picture of Joseph and Mary considering the school report is actually from A Hoosier Chronicle by Meredith Nicholson, illustrated by F.C. Yohn and published in 1912. 

The final picture of Mungo and His Excellency is from Project Gutenberg's 
Astounding Stories of Super-Science, published in July 1930 and edited by 
Harry Bates. The stories were written by various authors; this one is The Power
and the Glory  by Charles W. Diffin. The subtitle of the story might apply to His 
Excellency, Mungo, or indeed, Jesus: Sadly, sternly, the old professor reveals to 
his brilliant pupil the greater path to glory.

Though I am frequently surprised by my internet searches, I didn't expect to find a Wassail workbench. CuriousArtLab is described by its creator, Leah Palmer Preiss, as a wunderkammer of art, oddments and curiosities. There I found what Leah describes as a pair of Santa's elves, toasting each other for a job well done, at the end of a long day of woodworking on a tight deadline ... Their workbench is still scattered with the tools of their trade (inspired by Joseph's tools in Campin's Mérode Altarpiece), along with a generous bowl of wassail. Odd, curious, arty - what a shop!

The Tin Shop was not at Mungo's school. The photo comes from a glass negative and shows students at the United States Indian School in Carisle, Pennsylvania 
between 1910 and 1915 Indian Industrial 
Schools were set up as 'a noble experiment' to provide skills for Native American
children, however they were not a success. The photo comes from a Flickr 
Commons project, 2008 and forms part of the George Grantham Bain Collection inthe US Library of Congress.
Carl Olof Larsson ( 1853 –1919) was a Swedish painter representative of the Arts and Crafts movement. His many paintings include oils, watercolors, and frescoes. He is principally known for his watercolors of idyllic family life but there are also some serious and beautiful landscapes of his homeland.

The car mechanics workshop at Mungo's school was actually a lorry repair workshop in France during WW1. This is an official war photograph taken on the British western front in France in about 1918. It is made available by the National Library of Scotland, who have provided some fabulous historical images at

The circus performers were photographed by Ben at the South Bank, Brisbane, in 2014. Ben says he had no idea they did Kama Sutra type things in circuses these days; he now sees a new use for his joinery work bench. Ben is a musician who originates from Glasgow in Scotland but now lives in Brisbane.  

The two car crash vintage photographs and the building on fire are from Becki Harvey Myers in Anchorage, Alaska. Becki has kept me supplied with brilliant vintage photographs on several Benchsite posts. Each one tells a story and what I don't know, I make up. She has a huge collection of varied vintage photos at 

The chemistry lab workbench is from French photographer Cjp24 on French wikipedia, photographed in 2009 as Paillasse d'un laboratoire de chimie and available at

The demolition following His Excellency's chemistry mishap is not actually a workbench. Death of a garden centre 3 is a photograph taken in March 2010 by Jonathan Billinger for

The women repairing boots were also not at Mungo's school. They are French women mending boots on the British Western Front in France ("Where Tommy's footwear is repaired"). The conditions in the trenches and the constant movement meant that most boots were given rough treatment. They were a vital part of any soldier's equipment and so had to be well looked after. The French women repaired about 30,000 pairs of boots each week. This official photograph is thought to be by John Warwick Brooke.

Celestine is from Walla Walla, Washington. She enjoyed building this skyscraper a few years ago so who knows, maybe in a few years she'll build something grand. Many thanks to her parents, Graham and Jessica, for permission to use this photo. 

The little green and orange workbench is two and a half inches by one and a half inches. It's by Doris Dotz, who makes truly unique things for crafts projects and dollshouses. Glitter? She's got the glitteriest glitter I've ever seen and it comes in every colour imaginable. Her shop is a feast for the eyes

The well-organised tools on the  laminated board are a work of art in themselves. Shari at says she got sick of the 'Tool Drawer of Doom' and created the Tool Dot, a tiny, powerful, magnetic toolholder to store tools on walls and other vertical surfaces. The clever Tool Dots (black or white) are 1/2 inch in diameter and hold up to half a pound in weight (.23 kilos). Using more dots means you can store heavier things. Tools Dots come in packs of 12 and are available at .

Geneva Trimble runs Trimble Crafts from her etsy shop in Ohio. There are all kinds of paintings, chunky block sets, garlands, framed signs and Christmas decor. There are also loads of witty and wonderful wood signs for every room in the house. I loved the Tool Rules, which came in handy for Mungo's workshop.

The dilapidated room shown as La Casa Perfecta is not, of course, our perfect house. It's a room from the abandoned Harperbury Hospital in Hertfordshire, now known as Kingsley Green. Following the closure of long-stay institutions under the NHS and Community Care Act 1990 there are loads of these abandoned hospital buildings photographed on the internet and they are always intriguing. This one comes from Burtonash, who made it available on WikiCommons in January 2013.

Obviously Mungo and His Excellency are not ancient Egyptians. This image is from 1350-1300 BC, showing grave-chamber painter and sculptor Nebamun Ipuki. Woodworking is shown in many ancient Egyptian drawings and ancient Egyptian furniture is preserved in tombs. Ancient Egyptians invented the art of veneering and used varnishes and woodworking copper tools such as axes, chisels, saws and bowl drills. Dowels, pegs, and leather or cord lashings were used for joints. The photo and text here come from The Yorck Project in Germany via

Chelsea M. is a military wife and mother who loves to make clever, crafty things for her family. She has a loyal following of people wanting to make things too so she has kindly provided full details and measurements for the little bedside table-turned-into-workbench. You can see how she does it at

You may have guessed that the beautiful building shown is not Emily's shed. It's a view from the northeast of the Weltzheimer/Johnson house built by Frank Lloyd Wright in Oberlin,Ohio. It was commissioned by Charles and Margaret Weltzheimer in 1948-49 and is now owned by the Allen Memorial Art Museum, who make it open to the public. It was photographed by Dirk Bakker (CC-BY-SA) in 2010 and is available on Wikimedia Commons at

The two beautiful twin ginger cats are not Mungo's cats, though our cats have been featured before.  These cats belong to Daniel Rutter, who takes fabulous photographs of his cats and other creatures.  In addition to being an animal lover, Daniel blogs at and writes hardware reviews and more at
Captain F.S. Barnes's workbench was photographed in 1910. Barnes was part of the Huron H. Smith Expedition to Oregon from 1910-1911, collecting botany speciments and taking portraits of trees. This was his workbench in Forest Grove,Oregon.

Joan Walker makes exquisite miniatures, including the lovely little gardener's bench. Look at the detail - pots, tools, baskets! It's suitably messy and looks like it really does belong in a garden. I'd love to have a bench like this in my greenhouse. Joan's shop is at

The painting of Joseph at his workbench is the third (right-hand panel) of Robert Campin's Mérode Altarpiece triptych. Joseph's workbench and tools are clearly displayed. Campin was a Netherlandish painter in the Northern Renaissance; the painting was made between 1425 and 1428. It is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The story features two of Carl Larsson's beautiful watercolour paintings. In The Carpenter's Shop  was created in Sweden in 1905. The other painting is My Acid Workshop (where I do my etchings) from 1910. The two paintings are in the public domain because the artist died more than 70 years ago; Larsson lived from 1853 to 1919. 

The Get Busy guy is from a vintage (1909) motivational postcard which Lee Steiner's grandma saved for many years. Lee is a bookbinder and lover of all things paper. She has turned the postcard into the cover of a Project Notepad and she suggests that it would make a great gift for a DIYer. Lee says she keeps a pad like this on her own garage workbench and she makes notes in the pad when she gets ideas of something cool to build. By all accounts her garage workbench is buried in junk, just like everyone else's workbench. The Get Busy vintage notepad is available from Lee's shop at


  1. What a delightful post, Seashell! Thank you so much for including my Wassail painting!

    Whether it's a good batterie de cuisine, or a potting shed, or a carpenter's bench, there's just something deeply satisfying about an array of good tools ready to be put to use. Brings to mind that line from "Pied Beauty" by G M Hopkins: "And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim."

    In my daydreams I can build anything I imagine, though in reality I can't even drive a nail in straight. So the way this posts drifts in & out of the strictly factual also rings my chimes.

  2. Many thanks for your kind comments. It's great to have the Wassail painting and the woodworking elves among the other workbenches. Like you, I love the "gear and tackle and trim" of the workplace so I really enjoyed collecting all these benches and pulling the story together. As for facts, I don't worry too much about that on Benchsite . . .

    All the best,


  3. Thanks for sharing such a great post about wooden workbenches. We are famous for our high-quality work in the UK. wooden workbenches .