The Moxolson Workbench – My Next Big Thing

I’m not quite finished with the tea table just yet. I still have to complete applying the finish, which is giving me its own problems, but that’s another post for another day. I expect to finish up the shellac this weekend, so the final tea table episode should be up some time next week.

workbench13

In the mean time, while I wait for a couple of coats of oil to dry, I have begun some of the detail planning for my new workbench. I’ve had the design kicking around in my head for awhile now, but to date I have not put anything down on paper. So I thought it would be a good opportunity to practice my Sketchup.

I have had the lumber for the new workbench stacked up in the corner of my shop for several weeks now, getting happy. As soon as the tea table is 100% done, I’ll be jumping right into the workbench build. I’m calling it a Moxolson workbench, because it has features taken from the workbenches described in both Joseph Moxon’s “Mechanick Exercises” and Peter Nicholson’s “The Mechanic’s Companion”. Watch for an upcoming podcast series on the build.

Workbench Sketchup File

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29 thoughts on “The Moxolson Workbench – My Next Big Thing

  1. Bob:
    I did something similar with the hook at the left end. I added a 1″ diameter wooden screw through the hook to secure the left end of the board for planing. I got the idea from Stephan Shepherd’s website. You probably will not need it with the number of peg holes in the apron and left leg. I added the screw, because the board would tilt down at the end of the planing stroke. Probably a sign that I should let up more on the front of the plane at the end of the planing stroke.

    I also built a detachable twin screw vise out of threaded rod and douglas fir that I clamp onto the bench at the right end, when I need to saw dovetails or tenons. I always thought having a wide twin screw vise permanently attached would get in the way during surface planing. Your vise design looks like it would be easy to remove. I think I would put in more holdfast holes. I cannot believe how much I use these.

    I think the space between the top boards will come in handy for a planing stop and for temporary place for storing chisels and squares.

    Your plan has given me some good ideas on how I might modify my workbench. Good luck with the workbench build. I am really looking forward to seeing the video.

    • Bill,
      Yeah, Stephen’s bench is nice, though I’m not sure I could live without a vise. My current wooden twin screw vise will be going on the new bench. As for holdfast holes, I like to bore them as I need them. No sense turning the bench top into swiss cheese if I don’t need to. I only have 4 in my current bench so what I have here is actually quite a few more 🙂

  2. Bob,

    I am planning to build a bench in a couple of months. I am a beginner, and only own hand tools. Please excuse the ignorance in my question…
    I have wondered why I could not just glue two 2×12 yellow pine boards face to face to create a 3.5in-thick top? I may have to flatten them more often, but would this not work? I like the thick top of the Rubo because it seems like it would absorb more of the vibration and noise of my mallet, as opposed to a thinner top of your design. Do you think that this would work? Any alternate ideas?

    Thank you for your great site!

    • Caleb,
      Your solution will work fine for a Roubo type top. It will just be a lot of work to flatten each board face flat enough for a good gap free lamination. I have laminated two bench tops in the past (in the more traditional side by side orientation), and it’s a job I don’t care to do again. Laminating boards like that just wasn’t done when hand tools were prevalent. It’s a modern day solution to a lack of thick timbers. If you can find 3-4″ thick stock, it would make your life much easier. Most yards carry 12/4 poplar, which would work really well I think. Your idea will however work just fine, it will just take a lot more work.

      • Bob,
        What do you perceive the benefits are for your Moxolson bench over the Rubo, other than the laminating process? I have been considering building a Rubo, but will watch your build closely before I make a decision.
        Also, have you used a leg vise? Why do you prefer the twin-screw?

        • Caleb,
          I don’t think there is a distinct advantage of the Nicholson style bench over the Roubo. Both are solid designs.

          I do think the Nicholson style has simpler joinery, which I think is a benefit if you don’t have a lot of experience with large joinery. The leg to top joint in the Roubo is not a joint I would recommend for someone who has never cut a joint before. The Nicholson is also much less expensive to build because it doesn’t rely on thickness of the top for stiffness. I spent about $100 on lumber for the Nicholson style bench. A similar sized Roubo style bench would likely cost 2-3 times as much if you laminate the top or a lot more if you go for thick slabs instead of a lamination. I also think the Nicholson will be much faster to build because it doesn’t require the lamination or complex joinery of the Roubo. I think I could probably build one in about 3 good days of work. Another benefit of the Nicholson is that it can be used without any vises at all. Because of the wide, pierced apron, one can use a pair of holdfasts for just about every task you might typically use a vise for.

          On the other hand, a similar sized Roubo will be heavier because of the mass of the top. This is a good thing, though I think the Nicholson will be plenty heavy enough.

          As for my choice in the twin screw vise, I simply would not trade it for any other style of vise. I can clamp long case sides up to 18″ wide between the screws without any interference from screws under the piece all the way to the floor. And I’ve seen them with clamping capacities up to 24″ wide and more. The leg vise can’t do this, unless you have a pair of them like Shannon Rogers put on his Roubo.

          In the end, it’s really just personal preference. Both benches are solid designs that were meant for using hand tools.

  3. Interesting design! Why did you put the dog holes on the back half of the bench rather than the front? Why no tail or wagon vise?

    • Donna,
      The holes at the back of the bench top are for holdfasts, not bench dogs. There are no holes at the front because there is no tail vise. I don’t like tail vises. I had one on my current bench and took it off and sold it. The dog holes in my current bench are a product of the days when I thought they were necessary. They serve no purpose these days. I just use a planing stop.

  4. Hi Bob,

    Just saying hello after lurking for a while. I’ve greatly enjoyed the podcasts so far. I can’t wait to see the workbench build -it really looks unique. Greetings from down under!

  5. So, Bob, as a favor to you, I’ll drop by and pick up the old, no good one you are using now. 🙂

    I am curious about one thing. Why did you put the vise on the opposite end from your current one? Are you a closet left-hander or what?

    • Andy,
      If you lived a little closer…Actually, I will likely be selling the old bench once the new one is built. No way I have room for two benches in my little shop. I do have some left handed tendencies, but woodworking isn’t one of them. The vise is on the right side to keep it out of the way. I do all of my planing on the left side of the bench, against the planing stop there. At times, the vise can be in the way. It is easily removable, but it just makes more sense to move it to the right side where it will be more useful. This is a feature of the bench pictured in Moxon that I really thought made sense. The “bench hook” on the left face is the other.

  6. I like the design. I have a bit more space in my shop and am thinking of building something like your design without a vise at all. Just a planing bench with holdfasts and nothing else getting in the way. The design in my head is a Roubo base with the aprons and top of the Nicolson bench, but the split top idea and the crochet are good additions.

    I then plan to build a smaller joinery bench with a vise and a higher bench top. When using a local school’s benches, I noticed that I loved the height for planing (nice and low), but it stunk for doing joinery (ouch my back).

  7. Bob,
    A nice bench. Thanks for sharing this with us!

    Someone, it seems, is always “in the process of building a (new) workbench” – well, I am, too. My first one, to be precise and it will also be a English bench, with lots of inspiration from Stephen Shepherds “Ultimate Bench”. I will in fact go as far as to copy the whole construction of the undercarriage from his.

    Now I see your drawing and notice another stunning “coincidence” in design… but let me explain:

    I plan to mainly use hand tools and am generally interested in traditional techniques, so my bench will definitely have a crochet, planing stop, holdfasts and for some time I thought I would do without any vise. But, because this whole project is more a “restart” as far as woodworking is concerned and I yet have to learn a lot of rather basic techniques, I decided to play safe, put in some sort of vise and leave this path open.

    A leg vise came to my mind and I am now quite sure that I will go this way “vise”-wise, if at all. But somehow, the thought of having a leg vise cramped on the left hand side of the bench together with a crochet, stop and whatever else just seemed wrong to me – so why not just put the leg vise onto the right? Nah, never seen this before from anyone not being a lefty, so this is probably a bad idea, isn’t it? (Chris Schwarz, in his workbench book, also warns against “unique” new ideas no one has had before). Now, you did it (or consider it), too. – Well, that takes the uniqueness out of the matter and so it may be not so bad an idea then after all? Certainly, this has encouraged me to continue thinking outside the box and I want to thank you for that!

    And, speaking of thanks, let me also thank you for your terrific podcasts, which have taught me a lot already and which will definitely guide me along my renewed woodworking hobby!

    • Stefan,
      Thanks for chiming in. I wouldn’t say that having the vise on the right hand side of the bench is unique or a new concept. The bench pictured in Joseph Moxon’s “Mechanick Exercises” has the twin screw vise located on the right with a “bench hook” on the left. That text was written in the late 1600s, so it’s certainly not a new idea. It’s not a common design today, but I know of at least one traditional woodworker who has done so and likes the configuration (are you out there Dean ;)).

      • Bob,

        I *am* here! 🙂

        I’ve used the “Moxon” bench for 5 years now, with the crochet on the front left and the twin screw on the front right. It is a fantastic bench.

        After helping Mike build the Nicholson with construction lumber, and then using the bench quite a bit, I can say without a doubt that the Nicholson is a fantastic bench!

        And then one day Mike sent me home with a big wood vise screw… “Here, build a Nicholson…” So — I am. I was curious the difference between a construction lumber vs. rough lumber Nichoslon, from a bench-building point of view, so I am going that route. Legs are 12/4 poplar, rest is 8/4.

        And, I am not moving my twin-screw over to the Nicholson, it is staying on the Moxon. 🙂

        • Thanks for chiming in Dean! I think the poplar will make a real nice bench, especially the extra thickness of the 8/4 for the top and aprons. Glad to hear you’re keeping the “Moxon” :). Wish I had the room for two benches.

  8. Bob,
    It is good to see someone else building a Nicholson! You may find the twin screw vise in the way when you plane and a bit redundant when you find that you can hold boards of any width with your holdfasts in the apron for dovetailing. I would have you hold off and try it without it first. I am starting to think that all you need the vise for is sharpening scrapers. the crochet and holdfasts will handle most of it quite well. I would also leave the corners of the aprons square as it is easier to lift the bench from there when moving it. It looks like you are leaving the gap up the middle, this is very useful for a planing stop. Take a look at mine at schoolofwood.com in the blog.

    • Mike,
      Thanks for the comment! I have indeed seen your Nicholson and stole your split top design :). I am thinking about a reversible insert for it that I can simply flip to make a stop or flip the other way to have it flush with the top. Thanks for the suggestion on the vise. Since I already have the wooden twin screw vise made and installed on my current bench, I will likely move it to the new bench. I really like the twin screw and I use it a lot. It’s also really easy to remove it when it’s in the way simply by unscrewing it since I don’t have any garters holding the chop to the screws. Thanks for the tip about the aprons too. I’ll have to think about that one. My initial thought was to chop them off because my daughters are often in there with me and my youngest likes to go under and then hit her head when she’s coming back out. Chopping off the sharp corner is more of a safety item for them since they like to play in there.

  9. I’ve spent the best part of the last 18 months working on my roubo. It’s really interesting to see the design process and construction of a person’s bench. I think you can tell a lot about them. I look forward to the pod cast. (Enjoying the tea table series, you’ve inspired be to try my hand at hide glue on my next project.)

  10. Bob, great video(s). I am really appreciative of the thoroughness of your presentations. Now, the BIG question: What is the intro music you use for your podcasts. I love it. It puts a smile on my face. Great stuff.

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