Moravian Bench Reimagined #8: Coming to the End of the Beginning

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Blog entry by MagicalMichael posted 11-20-2019 08:40 PM 603 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 7: Some Small Changes and Some Grieving Part 8 of Moravian Bench Reimagined series no next part

The bench build is finished. I purchased the ash for it on Sept 6th and probably began work a week to ten days later. I set myself the goal of finishing before Thanksgiving but didn’t start with a lot of confidence that I could make that happen. More of a hope, but I have to admit that it has occupied a lot of space in my brain and left me running to catch up with many other responsibilities and commitments. I am surprised that I got it done in two months, on Nov 18th to be exact. It took me much longer than that to build my out-feed table last year, but then I had sold my jointer and planer with the plan to buy a combo machine and then got trapped in the tariff war so did all of that milling by hand.

Here’s the bench:

and here’s a link to a photo essay as the project unfolded
icloud seems to have some very firmly held opinions about what order the photos should be in, but it is pretty close to how it happened.

This final blog post in this series will be given over to likes and dislikes as I survey the end product. I’m pretty pleased with the overall quality of the work. None of the mistakes proved to be very important and none can be found without a good bit of searching.

The vises are everything I had hoped.

The action is incredibly smooth. Certainly not as fast as the Benchcrafted but the vises move in and out without any play and resistance whatsoever and the holding power of the face vise is awesome. Just out of curiosity I tested the amount of time it took me to completely close both the tail and face vise from a distance of 100mm. My Scandinavian bench has beefy single threaded screws. Working as fast as I could three times on each vise it took me 9 seconds on my traditional tail vise and 11 seconds on the shoulder vise. With the pair of Gordon vises the numbers were 9 and 9. This was certainly faster than I would move them in every day use, and no doubt slower than either the Benchcrafted or Hovarter vises and at least comparable to what I suspect the Lie-Nielsen and Veritas models. It may be slower than the big threaded Lake Erie screw, but the action is much, much smoother. It is certainly smoother than my leg vise and achieves equal power with much less effort than the wooden screw. The face vise is very heavy. Gordon lists it as 8 KG (17 1/2 lbs) so I have every reason to believe it will hold up longer than I will. It easily holds long boards on one side of the screw without any racking at all. The screw is inclosed and sealed from dust infiltration and the resulting wear that would cause.

The installation was pretty straight forward, although a misstatement in the instructions lead to a do over installing the face vise, but even with that it wasn’t much more than two hours work, including head scratching and wondering where I went wrong. (The base plate ended up 2 mm proud of the facing chop instead of 2 mm behind it). Installing the tail vise was also straightforward but made me very anxious. I am always anxious around a hand held router and working on the face of the bench, with its two months of accumulated labor, really multiplied my stress.

I am very pleased with the ergonomics, despite the benches unusual proportions. The height, 970mm (38 1/4”) is a full 90 mm (3 3/4) higher than my old bench. The length, 1940mm (76 1/2) is close to my old bench at 1905 (75”) and the working width, 430mm (17”), is also pretty close to my Scandinavian which has 460 mm of work surface. The new tool well is smaller. But that added bench height really works well for me. Here is a picture of me set up to cut end gain, as in a dovetail. For reference, I am 6’1” tall.

Notice three things. My back is straight; I am not hunched over the board. The board end is just above the vise, reducing flex. My arm, from elbow to wrist is lined up level with the board. This position gives me a comfortable stance, a good line of sight, and a perfectly aligned stroke. I assume this is what workers are looking for when they add a moxon vise to a lower bench.

The height also works perfectly for planing.

Here again my back is close to straight but more importantly my arm, from elbow to wrist, is at the same angle as the blade. This should give me optimal power, control, and comfort for repeated strokes. No doubt taller hand planes, like my wooden ECE Jointer, would benefit from a lower bench and their lighter weight perhaps calls for more downward pressure by the woodworker. Usually, when working with longer boards I prefer to work my way up from Jack to Fore, before bringing out the unwieldy 24” Jointer for just a few strokes.

Finally the height also works well for chopping. In the past this has been the process that seemed to most stress my back. Chopping out dovetails for a set of drawers or carcase can be very time consuming and being bent over the work was the most difficult part of the process. Now I can do it much more comfortably.

Now for the dislikes! First scratch on the top! Maybe I should put that under likes because now I don’t have to worry about it. I built a jig to drill the dog holes which consisted of two pieces of 3/4 plywood screwed together at right angles to straddle the bench edge. Then I drilled two holes 75mm from the edge. One hole was 45 mm from the end and the other 95mm further. The idea was to drill the first hole close enough to the vise to hold small pieces and then use a dog to align the next hole as I worked down the top. Unfortunately, before I discovered that my jig was sitting 25mm away from the tail vise I drilled 1/2 inch in diameter and about a half mm deep. I decided to leave it there as a reminder to be more conscious.

Maybe I’ll get over it but I still haven’t warmed to the way the bench looks! The workmanship is good enough and the ash top is very pretty, but it just doesn’t look like my idea of a workbench. Not a French, a German, a Scandinavian, nor vanilla American. Not a Sjobergs nor a Lie-Nielsen. I may love woking at 970 mm but it still startles me when I look at it from across the room. The bench is rock solid but it doesn’t exude the immovability of a roubo. It looks minimalist. And the vises hardly look like their there at all! It’s like opening a car hood and seeing, for the first time, a turbo charged four cylinder engine and wondering to yourself, “Where’s the other four cylinders?” Real beauty isn’t just skin deep; it’s what the soul looks like that really matters.

Now the bench building has come to an end building with the bench can begin. BTW, I have decided to recycle my old bench into high quality shop aids – saw-bench, horses, shooting board…., so that in a way it will remain with me. Thanks for following along with my musings. I hope they have been helpful as well as entertaining. Don’t hesitate to send me any follow up questions, observations, amplifications and criticisms. I’ll be happy to engage.

-- michael

2 comments so far

View swirt's profile


4373 posts in 3530 days

#1 posted 11-21-2019 02:17 AM

That bench is incredible. I need to read up some more on that face vise. Seems pretty cool.

-- Galootish log blog,

View MagicalMichael's profile


158 posts in 1075 days

#2 posted 11-21-2019 11:05 AM

Thanks for the kind words. If you go to the Gordon web site, keep in mind he is quoting in Aussi $$. I just got an email indicating that Gordon has set up US distribution through Heartwood Tools and a few item through Lie Nielsen.


-- michael

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