It has been a matter of consideration with me whether to include the bench among the things which should be described, but I am inclined to think a detailed description is unnecessary. The professional cabinet-maker is seldom asked for an opinion on what kind he would like. He just takes them as he finds them, so that directions for making benches are not necessary for him, especially as by keeping his eyes open he will see more varieties than could possibly be described here. The amateur would find bench-making very uninteresting work, little more indeed than heavy joinery being wanted; and, moreover, if he is competent to make it, would probably prefer to embody his own ideas in it. If he cannot make it he can either buy one ready or have it made for him by any carpenter. Bench and bench-making is an almost inexhaustible subject, and one which would require a book to itself to treat it fully.
The principal features about a bench should be firmness and solidity: so long as these are secured the rest is merely a matter of detail. No bench, however, could be considered complete without a bench-screw or wooden vice and a stop to prevent wood when being planed from slipping off. A good useful size for cabinet-making is about 6 ft. long by 1 ft. 6 ins. wide by 2 ft. 6 ins. high, and for most purposes one considerably less on top would do equally well. The amateur, therefore, who may be cramped for room must not fancy he cannot indulge in cabinet-work because he has not got a full-sized bench. For his accommodation many tool-dealers keep small benches, one of which, measuring 34 ins. long by 26 ins. high by 13 ins., is sold with a variety of tools for 22s. I may, however, say that I have not seen this bench, which is probably more suitable for a boy than for a man. A fair-sized bench, 4 ft. 6 ins. long by 1 ft. 3 ins. wide, as shown in Fig. 67, is obtainable for 22s. 6d., and it is really a useful thing, though rather too light for the rough wear and tear of a trade workshop.
Fig. 67 - Cheap Wooden Bench.
For this the bench made by the Britannia Company, and represented on Fig. 68, is admirably adapted, the supports being of iron, held together by bolts and screws, so that it can easily be taken to pieces when required. The top, of course, is wood. It is made in various sizes from 5 ft. by 1 ft. 6 ins. to 7 ft. by 1 ft. 10 ins., and is fitted with a patent 'Instantaneous grip vice' in lieu of the more ordinary wood-screws and blocks.
Fig. 68 - Iron Standard Bench.
The 'German' Bench, of which a modified form and one better adapted to English usage than the original is shown on Fig. 69, is very highly spoken of by those who are accustomed to use them. It will be seen that the principal difference from the ordinary bench consists in an end block and screws in addition to the usual one in front. By means of it work can be held at both ends between the pegs, one of which can be placed in the most convenient position in a series of holes near the front edge. The end screw and pegs can also be used for cramping up door frames, etc.
The bench is illustrated as sold by various dealers, but I consider it would be much improved by the addition of a perforating sliding board between the top and the lower rail very similar to that seen in the before- named iron framed bench. The board, it may be said, is useful for supporting long pieces, one end of which is held by the screw, as a peg can be put in any of the holes.' The board being movable can be altered to the most convenient position. It can easily be added by any one, as it is merely a piece of wood of sufficient substance, say, 1 in., with top and bottom grooved or tongued to fit corresponding tongues or grooves on top of the rail and below the top. The construction of the bench is so clearly shown that no one who can manage the manipulative work will have any difficulty in making or adapting an existing one by adding the essential feature, viz., the end screw and row of holes.
Fig. 69 - German Bench.
It is the less necessary to say anything much about the construction of benches, as those used in many workshops are very rough old things, so crude and coarse that the amateur who may be accustomed to seeing them in their new condition might think them no good. Still much of the best furniture is made on such as these, for a clean smooth top is by no means necessary to those who can work, though it must not be winding. A good bench will no more render the novice a competent worker than the possession of the newest thing out in the way of tools. A smooth top may be desirable, but even if it is worn and battered to such an extent that it does not answer for all kinds of work, the remedy can easily be found in a board temporarily placed under the work in hand. Whatever care is taken, a bench top is bound to show signs of wear in course of time, and if these are from legitimate use no exception need be taken to them. It is of far more importance to keep it free from nails or screws, though these may be driven in temporarily when required to hold work.
The bench is for working on, not for ornament. The top should be kept as clear as convenient from odds and ends when using it, and as many tools are constantly being required it is a usual thing to have a trough or tray along the back, so that small tools can lie in it and be out of the way of the work.
A chest of some kind will be useful to keep the tools in; indeed, for the professional worker, it will almost be a necessity for more reasons than one. Very little need be said about it except that it should be strong, and so arranged that the contents can be kept in an orderly manner and any tool be got at easily.
A very convenient form, and one frequently adopted, is fitted inside with shallow drawers or trays less than half the width of the box. In these the smaller tools, chisels, gouges, bits, etc.,can be placed, the rest of the space being occupied with the larger things. The trays may be laid on small strips of wood nailed to the ends of the box, or they may be more highly finished as drawers. There is no recognised pattern of universal adoption.
I cannot speak highly of the combined benches and tool-chests which are sometimes seen in the amateur workroom. They may be convenient in some rare cases; but, as a rule, they, or at any rate the bench portions, are more suitable for odd jobs than for real work, unless they are so large that as chests they are awkward in case of removal. A good bench can easily be made portable, so that the top is the largest portion which has to be moved, and a separate tool-chest need not be unwieldy or unsightly.
Speaking generally, the same rule applies to combination tools as to combined benches and tool-chests, i.e., they are not to be recommended indiscriminately. Many of them are very ingenious, and it may also be added, costly, but it is rarely that a combination is equally good in all its forms. In one or other it may be as serviceable as a separate tool would be; but, as a rule, it will be better to get simple forms, and not be taken with ingenious combinations.
With regard to new forms of tools, or so-called improvements, the amateur need be in no hurry to get them. Let him wait till they meet with general approval in practical workshops. They will be adopted quickly enough if they are really improvements by professional workers. Many of these improvements have, no doubt, been devised by them, but for all that cannot be regarded as of much practical utility, but more often as fads and fancies which have been developed and which some enterprising tool-maker may have taken up. It must be remembered that tool-makers and dealers are not generally practical cabinet-makers, and that these latter will be safer guides as to the best forms of tools. It is astonishing how quickly any really advantageous improvement is adopted, and if any purporting to be so remains unused for any length of time among practical cabinet-makers, the amateur may depend there is not much in it. This may be 'straight talk,' which will not be altogether regarded with favour by some; and, of course, if the reader likes to spend his money over fads there is nothing to prevent him doing so. The professional worker, though it is to his interest to turn out his work quickly and well, does not, as a rule, care to waste money on things which his experience shows him are not improvements in reality though they may be called so. Were it expedient to do so, I could name many of the class of things referred to, which show pretty conclusively that amateur workers are numerous, and that they go in largely for improved tools or it would not pay dealers to keep them, as they are never seen in practical cabinet-making workshops.