Despite the title of the blogger's post, many of the things he doesn't like about his existing bench aren't because it is a Nicholson. Both designs can be adapted to a wide variety of vise configurations. Both can be made different sizes. The two issues he writes about that seem most related to the Nicholson design are that he thinks the top is bouncy and doesn't work well with holdfasts and he doesn't like the aprons. These are the issues that I want to discuss,
The complaint that the top is bouncy on a Nicholson is one you hear frequently. I think it can be valid but that is entirely a matter of how it's designed and built. If you make the top from construction lumber and space the cross-members fairly widely, the top can in fact be bouncy in places. My personal view is that standard construction lumber 2x12s are too thin for the top, although I'll explain below how I think you can make one with them that would be very rigid. I made my Nicholson with full 2" vertical grain douglas fir and put cross-members every 14". It's rock solid with no detectable bounce at all; it just goes thump. Even though it's 8' long, I'd put it up against a 6' foot Roubo with a 4" top anytime. The main points I'm making are that you can make the top as rigid as you want by adding cross-members, which is very easy to do, and you can have a Nicholson with a top that is just as rigid as a Roubo. In fact, my claim is that a Nicholson bench using about the same number of board feet of material will be as or more rigid than a Roubo, particularly for a long bench. I believe that this flows directly from the properties of wood. For obvious reasons, a 12" skirt is highly resistant to flexing. If you add a 2x6 to the bottom half to support the cross-members it gets even stiffer. The flex is coming from the top. Adding cross-members limits it. As for holdfasts not working well in a 2" benchtop, my Gramercy holdfasts work great; I have never had any problem and I don't have any extra blocking. I think this is another reason to have a full 2" top though. Thick benchtops have the opposite problem and apparently have to be counterbored.
As for the skirts there are three criticisms that I have read:
- They take up space that could be used for storage under the bench;
- The make it hard to clamp things to the top of the bench;
- You won't use them.
The clamping difficulty was an issue raised by Chris Schwarz I think and I can't understand it at all. I clamp things to the top of my Nicholson bench all the time. It's true that you need clamps that span the width of the skirt, the top and whatever you are trying to clamp, but that's not a big issue to me. Alternatively, you can clamp on the ends of the bench and, if you have a split top, you can also clamp from the middle, something I do regularly.
I use the skirts on a regular basis and I am surprised that there are some woodworkers who don't. They're great when you are jointing the edge of a board. Roubo benches accomplish the same thing by having the legs in the same plane with the top and a sliding deadman. Whether you prefer a sliding deadman to a skirt is a matter of personal preference, I think. I like the fact that the skirts do double duty, as a structural element and for holding workpieces vertically. I can't imagine how you can think they are like "curtains on a dog house." What does he think a deadman is, a sliding door on a dog house?
I think that Nicholson benches are sometimes regarded as inferior to Roubo benches because the former are often made with construction lumber, use much less material, can be very inexpensive and can be made quickly and easily. Mike Siemsen has a nice one that he makes in a day. To me these are strong advantages in that they make a quality bench available to a broad range of woodworkers. A fair comparison between a Nicholson bench and a Roubo bench, though, is to make both with the same amount of material and the same craftsmanship.
This last observation points to the real issue in my strictly personal opinion. A Nicholson bench looks and is very utilitarian, functional, practical. A Roubo bench often exudes craftsmanship and style. This isn't to say that it's not highly functional, only to describe its appearance. It's better looking to many, particularly if the Nicholson bench is made from construction lumber. I made my bench from vertical grain douglas fir that had been rejected for millwork for minor imperfections. It looks great to me, standing there plain, capable, unpretentious.