Fair Woodworking

September 12, 2015

Naked or afraid. What Nicholson bench is right for you.

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Things I've made — fairwoodworking @ 11:26 am

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It’s funny to me how I’ll be working on a topic that I feel is not the topic of the month, and then before I get to it someone beats me to the punch. Some may call it coincidence, but it seems it’s just my life.

So now that the Nicholson bench has returned to the public eye, let us quietly proceed…

If you are not familiar with these two designs CLICK HERE and read up on Chris’ blog.

Last year about this time I was just days from taking possession of our new (to us) home, and I was mentally preparing for my new workshop. I had already chosen the “Naked” Nicholson bench as my future bench, but over the next few months it turned out that I had switched over to what most people call the KD Nicholson. I’ve discussed the two benches with a number of woodworkers from beginner to experienced, and found that there is a strong preference to the KD vs. “Naked”, and so you may assume that I also feel that the KD Nicholson is the superior design.

Surprise!

Nope…

I think comparing these two, or any other benches for superiority is an un-fruitful venture, and as with most things, cost/benefit will get you a superior fit in your shop.

For those that have not watched the Naked Woodworker DVD, it is targeted at woodworkers that either have never woodworked, or are very new to woodworking. That being said, I’d recommend it any woodworker that is man/woman enough to admit that they don’t know everything. It starts with a DVD on acquiring a beginner set of tools, and enough on their setup to take on the bench build. The second DVD is proof that yes you can build a bench without a bench.

So could a DAY ONE woodworker build this bench? Honestly? I really don’t think so. And wisely the first project on the DVD is not the bench. First the beginner is tasked with building two saw horses that you will build the bench on. These are not the simplest of design, but they are a good place to cut your woodworking teeth. If you can build the saw horses, you can build the bench. It will be rough, and snobby woodworkers will turn their noses at it, but unlike most beginners, you will have a functional workbench.

The biggest criticism I’ve heard about this design is that it seems like a backwoods hack job of a bench. If you are one of those that would agree, I’d humbly suggest you may have a little “snobby woodworker” in your blood, and you completely missed the point of the DVD. So let me restate it.

Any Frickin’ woodworker can build this bench! No bench required, and really, no experience required. Show me any, ANY other design that can make that claim, and is useful. No? I thought so.  It removes one of the biggest catch 22’s of woodworking. So if you still turn your nose at this design… Lose my number!

So why would I chose the KD bench over a bench I’ve so aggressively defended?

Obviously because anything knock down is awesome, and I also have a serious man crush.

While both of those are true, the real reason is, I discovered that the doorway of my shop is really small, and it opens to a very narrow hallway. Just getting the lumber into my shop was a real eye opener. Once built, the Naked bench could never leave the shop without being completely destroyed, and that one point is what made me change.

I’m really looking forward to the new article on the KD bench. I have no idea what all it will cover, so I’ll offer my thoughts that are entirely my own.

The KD design is fantastic, but I don’t believe it should be attempted alone by a beginner with a handful of flee market tools and two 5 gallon buckets. Unlike the Naked bench, I think that a critical part of sturdy collapsible anything is precise tight fitting connection points, and many collapsible bench designs have failed at this requirement. As I mentioned before, the strength of the Naked design is that it can be build with the slop of a beginners inexperience, and still work well.

My initial goal in this build was to simply build a KD bench using the “Naked” method, and quickly discovered that Rough dimensional lumber no matter how precisely cut, still lacked the accuracy the bench required.

Have you ever tried to dimension bench parts by hand on a roughly built saw bench?

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I have…

It was the final straw that brought me to this point.

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If only I could fit a jointer into the shop. Not likely…

So what am I saying?

The Naked bench is accessible to all. Additional skill and power tools would make it better, but are not necessary. If nothing else, it is the perfect bench to build “your” perfect bench.

The KD Bench is also a great bench, however is no less miserable to build than most other benches without a proper bench to build it on, or your typical table saw, jointer and thickness planer to handle the dimensioning it will require.

Or both.

OH!!!

One last thing before I go.

If you are looking to build the KD bench you may have read about Chris’ challenge with mounting plates. He started with some cheapo inserts that failed. This was all an attempt to avoid using Tee-nuts. The complaint being that as the wood dries, they lose their hold, and will fall out when you collapse the bench. I know that some people (like me) would prefer to avoid ordering in hardware. I’m old fashioned, and believe that the only mail order you should invest in should also include a Russian marriage license.

What I’ve tried is just the good old pronged Tee-nuts but I also added some exterior grade caulking.

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Quad by LePage is super thick and is a real pain in the butt to remove after it has cured. This is very different stuff from what you would use to caulk your tub. You only want to apply it on the perimeter of the nut mind you. It would suck if you got it on the threads or in the hole, so don’t do that!

I don’t know if it will solve the problem, but I’m hopeful.

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3 Comments

  1. There are two types of knock down workbenches: those you move any other week and those you move a few times in you life. The CS one is of the first type, the Paul Sellers (PS) one is of the second type.
    The CS KD workbench relies on a tight fit of the apron around the legs. I would think that it would cause raking problem when the wood shrinks and the bolt holes grow larger. And what about the tight fit if you knock it down frequently?
    The good news is: you could add the wedge system used on the PS one.

    The large L shaped structure made by the glued top and apron on the PS workbench certainly contribute to the rigidity but it certainly doesn’t make it easy to move.
    We always have to make choices…
    Sylvain

    Comment by Sylvain — September 13, 2015 @ 7:35 am

    • I may be close minded and a jerk, but I honestly can’t consider Paul’s bench a good bench. I know, I know, he has way more experience and knowledge than I ever will. I just can’t understand why anyone would cripple themselves with such a horrible bench. The tool well is a nuisance, and the nipple high bench top? Pass. I originally had my vise mounted like he does, and found it nearly useless. And don’t get me started on the bar clamp in the vise planing thing.
      And seriously? Who paints their workbench?!
      I’m sure I’m just flaunting my ignorance here, but I’ve always felt bad for people that build his benches.

      Despite all this, Sylvain, Thank you for your comments. They are always welcome here. We may not always agree, but as you said, “We always have to make choices”

      Comment by fairwoodworking — September 13, 2015 @ 2:06 pm

  2. Thank you for the answer. I am not particlarly in love with the PS workbench.
    My comment was limited to structure and knock down possibility. The workbench PS uses for the demonstrations was originally without tool well but aparently with the same construction principles. So the tool well is an option. Height and finish are certainly very personnal choices. The vise is not part of the stucture; I guess it needs to be taken off for easy transport. Nothing prevent boring holes in the top and the apron of a PS style workbench.
    I just see two workbenches with large aprons.
    My point was mainly about compensating the possible leg shrinkage with wedges. I should focus my comments on one item.
    Sylvain

    Comment by Sylvain — September 14, 2015 @ 10:26 am


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