30 October 2011

Workbench height - 2

Reading Jim Tolpin's The new traditional woodworker I quite liked the part dedicated to workbench heights.

Thanks to a great variety of workbenches in his workshop and a sense of proper height for each activity or is it a  more demanding back, Jim Tolpin develops a system of various heights:  Knee heigh saw benches,  finger tip height for the assembly table,  wrist height for the planing bench and elbow height for the joinery bench.

Saw benches
Jim Tolpin proposes asymmetrical saw benches and these are interesting.  Having one side with square legs allows to put two of them side by side and to saw really close the top, minimizing unbalance and vibrations. My sketch probably misses an essential characteristic of the benches,  they are stackable.  So the width of the top should be less than the width between the legs.
Getting interested I checked the Bahco catalog for their longest handsaw and found  a Bahco Pc-24-File-U7 fcut Fileable Saw 24In at 14£.  It should be closer to 26" long according to  Tolpin.  The fileable aspect makes it a sole survivor in the Bahco catalog,  most probably due to the omnipresence of hard on teeth plywood.  There is for an added cost a more up to date low friction hardpoint Bahco 2700-24-Xt7-Hp Handsaw 24In at 26£.
Is it traditional? Probably not here.  The swedish Vagnmakeri på Söder video from 1932 displays what is by then the old ways of hand sawing. It's done with a frame saw at hip height (wrist height).  It's maybe not the perfect example as it  is about cutting curves. The ergonomy is different from a saw bench cut:  he stands upright behind the blade, with two hands at the saw and pulling the saw down coming from nose height. This position is not specific to a frame saw,  as I have seen on the web people using a handsaw with a high two handed hold. 
With a saw bench  I would need to lean forward resting on one arm, being before the blade and pushing the saw down starting close to the shoulder. The picture shows a high sawing bench,  (Bernard Jones 1920). It leaves more room for the saw. Compared to Tolpin low benches, the knee is higher and is more distant from the cut.  And the left shoulder is also locked higher keeping the trunk in a similar position.
If I look at the french peugeot catalogue of  1938, I see 12 regional models of frame saws (Parisienne, Bordelaise ...) and not a single handsaw.  For narrow blades the standard saw (price in red) is a 26" model with a 10mm blade.  For straight cuts there is a 40mm blade and  numerous lengths. A last 'veneer'  model has a 6mm and a 30mm blade in only one length 24".

Using saw benches is probably very interesting,  but I am in a different tradition.  And I see them as only good for straight cuts, keeping up the need for a second setup.   As it is now, with untraditional  plunge saw and jig saw at hand, I am probably more in need of a decent cutting table (at wrist height?).

To keep this post out of the pile of unpublished ones, I close it without touching the other Tolpin benches. Maybe more about bench height another time.