Furniture: What it’s all about!

Furniture: Here at Rowden, it’s always great to hear back from our readers and this week we hand over to Peter Sharman, who got in touch with us recently to talk about making benches. His enthusiasm for woodworking is plain for all to see, and we love that. Thank you Peter and over to you…

Good Morning David,

I thoroughly enjoy your regular thoughts that you share with us. Your slightly draconian sketching/drawing advice reminds me very much of one of our inspirational graphics tutors at Shoreditch who would give us “no more than 7 minutes” to capture a similar still life.  I used to joke that he would probably only give us 10 minutes for a detailed cut-away view of Concorde! It was all very good for us however.

I recently made a couple of extra benches for my workshop. I already have 3 or 4 woodwork benches and 2 or 3 metalwork benches here that have served me well for many decades. I really wanted a couple of extra benches that are better suited to my height now that I know exactly what works for me. This is a bit of a joke when I am now 74 but better late than never I suppose, and there is no substitute for using something for prolonged periods to be able to define what you really want. Sometimes one just has to do something for some time before one really knows what are the important priorities

The tail vice on the cabinet maker’s bench turned out all right in the end so I am hoping that I don’t experience the normal slumping condition over time. I designed and made all the steel hardware for the vice to suit the 80mm thick top which is made from a couple of kitchen worktops glued together. I have incorporated some gib adjustment screws that I can use to compensate for wear etc and I intend to apply some graphite grease on the slide-ways and the operating screw in the next day or so, to keep it sliding smoothly over time.

I was keen to build the vice with the “L” shaped section even if it is really only a sort of vestigial nod to the traditional all-wood tail vice. I think that work bench construction may involve the biggest dovetail joints that I have ever made so that is always an enjoyable challenge for my ailing eyes and hands. In practice I will try to avoid gripping anything aggressively with the “L” shaped piece because it is really too far from the main axis of the screw.

The dedicated working heights of the woodwork and metalwork benches seem to work well for my personal dimensions and I am also pleased with the way that there is plenty of natural daylight available at this end of my workshop because the sloping ground means that the window sills are closer to the floor here. It is always inspiring to have a patch of green Somerset to look at through the window whenever one looks up.

I made 4 beech bench dogs to complement the pair of steel ones that I bought in a junk shop for 50p some time ago. I just feel slightly less jittery about smacking my Norris type planes at full tilt into an unforgiving chunk of steel somehow. The steel ones are fine if the section of timber is not too slender, and certainly do a good job of gripping the work-piece.

Note the cast iron snail cam (the operating knob is only just visible near the far front leg) that I use to adjust the height of the bench stop I rescued this off the rickety old workbench that my wife’s deceased dad used to have, because I have not seen one before although I have of course made timber versions for various jigs etc. Both the vices (1 Record and 1 Paramo) were ancient and rusty when I bought them so they have been stripped right down and refurbished.

Obviously, I had to cut the dog holes but only just enough, as in my bitter experience, too many holes in a bench mean that I tend to lose too much stuff through them. In fact I have resorted to fitting temporary blanking plugs to the dog holes in one of my previous benches for that very reason. I will manfully resist the temptation to bore a load of holdfast holes in this top since I can always resort to one of my other benches if needs must..

I have eschewed a tool well as I personally don’t get on with them, I would sooner just have a solid flat surface especially when it comes to working on assemblies. I am however considering extending the width of the top although an extension of stout plywood could well be sufficient at the back of a bench just to support the back legs of a cabinet/chair etc.

I find that it is often just much easier to use hand tools than even start to set up power tools or machines. It is all to easy to be seduced into using a machine with all the limitations that they, of necessity, entail. Machines can also be very good at producing your mistakes much faster, so I believe that a grounding in hand work is a useful prelude to producing good work with machines.  I am however not a Luddite at all and I always remember something written by David Pye that was challenging the perceived wisdom that hand work is better than work produced by machines. He cited an example of a dentist setting out to drill a hole in one’s tooth.  He could either use his trusty hand wheel brace and a tipped twist drill and allow it to skid around on the enamel for a bit, or he could use his high speed water cooled  power drill – which would you choose?

Keep your stream of wood-based philosophy coming.


Peter Sharman


David established Rowden Atelier in 1995, a now world renowned fine woodworking school. Discover Rowden, the woodworking courses, and the work that students go on to do.

Looking for our woodworking courses? is the new home of Rowden Atelier Fine Woodworking School.

It is where you will now find all the information about our renowned fine woodworking courses, our ethos, and why our students go on to do so many great things. This site remains dedicated to the designs and work, of Rowden’s Founder; David Savage. If you are looking for our woodworking courses, please click here.