Janet Combs

Janet Combs

Real craftsmen don’t buy workbenches.

Apparently, this is an unspoken code among builders, woodworkers and genuine skilled artisans since the beginning of time. You either inherit your workbench from your father, grandfather, or great-grandfather — or you build your own. Ancient and beaten-up, or hand-hewn with reclaimed lumber from past jobs, your workbench says you are as authentic as it is. It is a direct and irrefutable reflection of your commitment to doing quality work.

One look at a person’s workbench, and you’ll know automatically that this individual knows how to create a dovetail joint, cut an immaculate groove in a drawer bottom, or construct a jig to mark identical holes in cabinet fronts for new pulls. Conversely, you will also be able to discern from the workbench whether the individual focuses more on basic repair jobs or what we call “tinkering.”

How did I come across these keen insights on workbenches? No, I did not graduate from the Strayer University Workbench History Program online, to embark on a dazzling career in garage space management! I learned this because I pointed to the two workbenches in the garage at our former residence and thoughtlessly suggested to my husband that we “take those to the dump” before moving to our new home in Pawleys Island.

He was pretty much stricken by my suggestion; my recollection is that his expression was one of horror and disbelief. Later, I realized that I would have reacted the same way, had he suggested I put my cherished, if ugly, family Thanksgiving platter on Craigslist, or if he offered to have a garage sale to sell off my strangely beloved “Sound of Music” commemorative plates. Some items are intrinsic to our personal history. On the surface, these things simply belong to us, but we belong to them in a way that is far more profound.

Turns out, my husband had built both of the workbenches. The first one was created with the unwitting help of his father, an engineer with Grumman Aerospace on Long Island, who brought home a discarded Grumman solid maple drafting table top for his oldest son to use sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s when Rich was toying with becoming an architect. But Rich was also always doing woodworking projects with his grandfathers on the weekends, or making and fixing bicycles for kids in the neighborhood, so instead, he fashioned it after school one day into a top for his first real workbench. I’m not sure his Dad initially appreciated this creative application. It’s kind of like using a fine bolt of ornate silk to make an apron. Perhaps this was his Dad’s first clue that Rich didn’t just enjoy designing stuff, but liked to get his hands dirty. There’s a lot of love and acceptance built into that bench.

The second workbench Rich created for himself years later when he had his own business, for “overflow.” It’s designed and built for precisely the way he works and for his height of 6 feet 1 inch, with a cubbyhole below that fits the many power tools he owns and a steel vice the size of my head bolted to one corner that I’m pretty sure could double as a Freightliner anchor, it’s so heavy. We had to remove this before moving the workbench, causing me to purchase the “Copper Fit” back pain belt advertised on late night infomercials.

I continued to question Rich about the necessity of moving this second workbench, but he just said, “You can never have too many workbenches.”

So, we moved them. We even had to take the door off the workshop here in order to get them in, one at a time. We invited our loyal friends, Advil and Copper Fit, to help. And now here they are, twin wooden leviathans, practical monuments to a lifelong passion and commitment to making and repairing stuff yourself.

On more than one level, they are home.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer living in Georgetown County. Her column is published regularly in the Georgetown Times. Contact her at https://janetfrickecombs.wordpress.com.