Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mike Siemsen's bench

Mike Siemsen has a woodworking school north of Minneapolis and a website.  Three years ago, he began posting about his construction of a Nicholson bench on his blog (Mike's blog).  This is how he characterizes his requirements:
I needed a bench that was portable and fit in my van to take to demonstrations. I wanted it to be an inexpensive example of a workbench for people getting into woodworking without a large outlay of cash. I wanted a bench that could be easily switched from right handed to left handed use. I wanted to build my own wooden vises. It needed to be stout.
He spends about $100 on his benches using construction materials and, as you can see, ends up with a very nice bench.  I learned a lot from reading his blog posts.  One thing of particular interest to me is the way he constructed his vise, which is quite similar to the one in the original engraving.  He made an assembly consisting of a tube for the guide to run in and also to hold the screw securely (picture here).  There has been criticism of the original vise and this seems like it would take care of it.  I emailed Mike about this and his opinion is that all vises rack and you need to use a spacer block.  Before deciding not to include a vise, I had been musing about modifying the original vise to operate like a leg vise installed horizontally, with holes and a pin in the guide.  I think Mike's solution is superior.

Here's a picture of the completed bench from this page of his blog.

Mike also shared the news that he is hoping to post an article around Christmas time about a "simplified" version of the bench.  It took him 9 hours and cost $110 to build, including a steel screw for the vise that he bought on sale at Lee Valley!  Even though I chose to spend more money so I wouldn't have to use construction lumber, I really admire his approach.  As Mike says, "These benches are very simple and we tend to over think things."

You can make a Nicholson bench as fancy and expensive as you want, but it is good to remember how simple and economical they can be.

Update:  Someone asked Mike about the traditional vise on his bench and he gave a thoughtful reply on his blog.  Read it here.   


  1. Hi Andy, you have started a very interesting blog and I look forward to following your progress. I don't know where you live in Oregon, but if you are close to Vancouver, WA I recommend a trip to the carpenter's shop at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. There are two full size Nicholson benches in that shop and you might be interested in how those benches were built from Nicholson's instructions. I have worked in that shop as a volunteer and can attest they are a joy to work on. I am planning to build my own bench as well.

    Thanks again for your blog,
    Patrick Neal

  2. Patrick,

    Unfortunately, I'm 250 miles away in Grants Pass, but will definitely visit Fort Vancouver the next time I am up there. In the meantime, if you have any pictures or any information about the benches, I would love to post them here.



  3. Mr. Margeson:

    If you haven't already, you might wish to look at what looks like a very nice white oak Nicholson bench build at:

    Also included there is slide show of the finished product.

    Good luck with your own project.

    Phil Lang