One thing you learn as a woodworker is that what is good for somebody else might not be good for you. Alternately, what works for you might not work for another person. Take my chairmaker’s bench that I built roughly a year ago already, I love the bench. I modified a design from woodworker Drew Langsner and incorporated some other features. After seeing the storage compartment on a Chris Schwarz bench, I added one to mine. I like having a storage compartment underneath. I would have liked to build the whole bench longer with an end vise/tail vise, but I had space constraints. The trick with the hinged storage area underneath is you don’t want to store things on top of it. Dah. In particular, I love having all the dog holes through the bench top. I’ve heard other woodworker’s complain at different times that they don’t like benches with that many dog holes. That’s when you hear that a bench top looks like Swiss cheese, but my response so don’t have them. Having that many dog holes works for me and I like them. My clamping needs and preferences are clearly different than yours if you only need less than 10 dog holes. Even my Ulmia carver’s bench which has two rows of square dog holes has 30. It might not look as esthetic for others to have 30 plus holes, but as a practical woodworker I appreciate the capability. Whether it is making a spoon, fabricating chair parts or holding a woodcarving, I want those clamping options. When I invested in the Veritas twin screw vise, it made all the holes that much more important. Don’t get me wrong, some day I’ll build a thick Roubo bench with dovetailed legs, wooden threaded leg vise, and a nice tail vise, with significantly less dog holes. I don’t plan to do it for awhile though. Other than having a fastener or dust fall through one of the many dog holes on my current chairmaker’s bench, the benefits for me far outweigh the disadvantages.
What is an exciting new addition to my chairmaker bench is that I now have a WoodRiver Patternmaker’s or Gunstock Carving Vise. If you don’t have one, it is sweet for holding anything higher on the bench. I just used it to trim some tenons on some dining table aprons. All it takes to mount the vise is to find a dog hole to attach it anywhere on the bench. Options for changing orientations of stock are there. How cool is that? Like some others, I confess I drooled a little over the elegant Benchcrafted Carver’s vise, but I simply couldn’t afford the cost. Nor could I find the time to build a similar carver’s vise from scratch right now. If you’ve looked you know that there are some nice designs for building a vise for above the bench top clamping. Other than the lower part being cheaped out on the Woodcraft carving vise, by using stamped steel instead of cast iron, I am quite happy with the new vise. Replacing the light weight base with something heavier is one of the upgrades I’ll eventually make.
Since woodworking is such a broad application, I am glad for being blessed to do it. Whatever the interest level a person has in woodworking, there are numerous publications out there that can feed you with inspiration, new knowledge, and offer project ideas. To that end I have enjoyed Popular Woodworking Magazine for years and it was Fine Woodworking Magazine before that, but let’s face it our tastes change and publications change. I’m a currently a subscriber to Popular Woodworking, but I find other woodworking magazines also helpful at different times. The fact is that we have many opportunities to share woodworking information through magazines, blogs and websites, to take a class, to buy a DVD, or to watch a video clip on YouTube. What’s growth for me though has been to focus on my experiences of hand tool work in the moment. I find that my just doing the activity of woodworking gives peace, provided the performance goals are kept reasonable. If you read contemporary spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh sometime, you’ll get the idea that savoring our experiences is key to finding joy and contentment. Perfectionism can hold some of us back from the enjoyment part and if that is our experience sometimes, then think about using mindfulness as a way to keep the fun in woodworking. I won’t define it here, but suffice it to say that it involves greater appreciation for what you are doing as you do it. If your shop time gets squeezed in with all the other priorities, or you succumb to feeling some pressure to accomplish a lot on a free day, then enjoying the experience in the present tense may help you as well.