As many of you know, Bob has a popular website called Logan Cabinet Shoppe . A year and a half ago, Bob began a series of podcasts in which he constructs a Nicholson bench using handtools without using an existing bench. This series is really interesting and a must view for anyone considering building one of these benches. I just want to focus here on one episode that has mostly to do with design and use, Episode 23, Workbench Work Holding.
One of the most important attributes of a workbench designed for hand tools is workholding. Others are mass and rigidity, which I'll discuss separately. When you use stationary machines, you take the piece to the machine. When you use hand tools you take the tool to the piece, usually on a bench. It is crucial that the piece be held firmly and in a way that allows the operation to be performed conveniently and effectively. Ideally, you'd position the piece on the bench just the way you want to work on it, snap your finger and it would be instantly locked into place.
A popular way is to do this with vises, which have attained limitless variety and an almost unimaginable degree of quality and sophistication. For example, Benchcrafted sells a "Roubo Benchmaker's Package" consisting primarily of exquisite vise hardware for $750! A more traditional alternative is Lake Erie Toolworks, which sells a fantastic premium wooden screw kit to make a twin screw vise for $365 or you can buy one screw for other alternatives like leg vises. Lee Valley and Lie Nielsen both make hardware for twin screw vises. These are amazing products. Of course, there are more economical alternatives as well.
For Bob, simpler is better. His bench has a basic twin wooden screw vise attached to the side board that is often not even on the bench. That's it. All other work holding is accomplished in other ways. Episode 23 is a demonstration of those ways. For me, it was an eye opener and fundamentally changed my way of thinking. Watch it to see a minimalist, highly effective traditionalist alternative. It comes down to having a system of stops that oppose the force you are applying. What Nicholson calls a bench hook and we call a planing stop holds a piece from moving side to side (the x axis). The split top accepts a stop that runs the length of the bench in the middle and holds a piece from moving front to back (the y axis). Holdfasts hold the piece from moving up and down (the z axis). It's that simple.
Similar thinking applies to pieces held vertically on the front side board. The board is held up by dogs or holdfasts. It is held to the sideboard with a "crochet," a piece of wood shaped like a finger holding the end of the board, and holdfasts. That's it.
The vise still has a place, most notably to hold pieces vertically for dovetailing, sawing tenons, etc.
You either like this or you don't and there is a not a right answer. I am as impressed as most by the benches with these beautiful vises. But, this simple approach appeals to me for its historical authenticity, its elegance and its economy. As best I could, I experimented with my existing bench and found I really liked it. To me, this episode makes an overwhelming case for a Nicholson bench that employs traditional work holding methods. I have decided to go one step further as an experiment. My bench is not going to have a vise at all, though I did think through how I will add one later if I choose to.
Notice that I didn't say I wouldn't have a vise. I'll post about the Moxon vise, which I will have, separately, but the point is it won't be fixed to the bench. And it might use hardware from one of these companies. I'm not as traditional, or as accomplished, as Bob.