Wednesday, July 19, 2017
in which our plucky heroine has a dream come true...
I have wanted a European style metalworking bench for decades. Instead have made do over the years with assorted thrifted desks, and most recently for the last almost twenty years with a kludged together combination of Ikea IVAR components, which allowed for adjusting the benchtop height to a better level. When Blue Cedar House let me know that they had a source for surplus 3/4" furniture grade plywood, a cunning plan ensued.
My first thought was to use the plywood to greatly stabilise the basic Ivar structure, using it almost like creating a partial torsion box; the plywood skin is much stronger than the thin steel x-frame that usually keeps the IVAR structures from rack and ruin.
Since it doesn't take much surface area to do the job, I had Farbjorn cut a variant on my house decorative motif into the top edge of the back, and mount that panel a little bit lower than the top of the framework, but just high enough that anything on the upper workbench shelf would not roll over the edge and onto the workroom floor. The side panels only cover the benchtop area and partway down the sides, about half of each side panel in total, which adds a significant area that can be now configured for storage without making the bench too heavy to move.
This view makes me all kinds of happy, with all the different complex curves. Right now the workbench is empty of contents, but the corner spots on the upper shelf that usually hold lazy susan turntables are visible in the variable color of the upper shelf. I had created the upper shelf from a standard IVAR shelf when I moved here to Acorn Cottage, as a way to keep more of the small hand tools accessible, and as it works well, saw no reason to change that aspect.
The workbench top, however, was significantly reinforced, gluing and screwing two layers of the plywood to the former benchtop, for a total of just over 2" thick. Since my sabre saw wouldn't be able to cut such a thick chunk, Farbjorn marked out and cut the curve from each layer separately, then attached them together, and finally spent time with a rasp and file making all the curves smoothly align. This thick benchtop has a very solid feel now, and the additional layers bring it up to a good level for me to comfortably rest my arms while working on tiny details. We had to raise the upper shelf one notch to compensate for the increased height.
This style of workbench with a central cutout is more commonly found in the Old World, and not commercially available here. I am not sure how far back in history the concept goes. The basic idea is to have a tall workbench that supports your work and your arms at a useful height to avoid back strain. I found some useful hints about bench ergonomics on this website about the "FrankenBench"
This half circle cutout is close to the shape of a traditional jewelry/metalworking bench. The bench pin to support sawing and filing small pieces will fit neatly in the center of the curve, I plan on a visit to Oregon Leather, for a chunk of hide to make the traditional hanging leather underbench drape that catches anything dropped from the benchtop. The refurbished workbench will make my shop a bit more congruent with the premise of William Morris, I know it to be useful and believe it to be beautiful... plus it will make that aspect of my "going to work" much more pleasant and functional.