Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I bought this workbench a few years ago from a family that had been using it as a kitchen island. I told the owner, who was clearly unimpressed, that I was going to use it in my woodworking shop.

And up until now, it still hadn't been put to the use for which it was built. Instead, it was a flat surface on which to dump everything that was cluttering up my main workbench.

But with all the storage units I've been building lately, it's finally cleared off.

This is not an ideal workbench. It's not easy to use clamps along the front edge and the backsplash is an obstruction. Presumably, the recessed section on the work surface is a tool tray (or in my shop, a shavings and sawdust reservoir), which I find unnecessary.

And by the looks of the disparate drawer fronts, it's had a few cosmetic repairs. I don't know how many different wood species complete this bench, but it's a patchwork of patterns.

There is plenty of storage, with sliding tool trays in the main drawers and a set of cubbies and small drawers on one end.

Two things I love about this bench: the near-perfect condition of the top and the design of the vises. The rectangular wooden arms provide a flat, non-marring surface on which to place your workpiece when you tighten the vise. And wooden screws are just cool.

The three metal screw-arms that work each vise on my main bench will leave indentations if they touch your workpiece.

The first thing I did was remove the backsplash. And since the workbench had to be placed with the left side close to the wall, I removed the door that enclosed the little cubbies so they could still be accessed. Finally, I added a piece of old chestnut to cover the tool tray—a species similar in appearance to one of the woods used in the drawer fronts.

Some might not approve of a bench being altered, but I did save the two pieces that were removed, and the chestnut is only tacked down with small nails in case the next owner wants to restore it to its original condition.

It's been patched up, pulled apart, and rebuilt over the years, but it's once again experiencing the joy of being covered in plane shavings; it smells like sawdust instead of tarragon; and instead of wearing pizza stains, its patina will continue to darken naturally. As it should.


Erik said...

While some may not approve of altering the bench, if they thought for a moment, surely they would approve of it's current use compared to what you rescued it from.

Tools are happiest when they are being used.

Bob Tinsley said...

It's a beautiful bench. You're lucky to have gotten it. As for altering it, it appears to have been altered several times before you got it, so whatever you do won't matter. Besides, benches are made to be used. If you can't change it to match your way of working, what use is it? Pretty to look at? Gah!

Gary said...

I realize you're not a collector... but... what is the name on the bench screw collar? Looks to me as if this is a vocational style bench from the Manual Arts Press era. The base was most likely covered with a tinted varnish, hence the different woods. Just a guess from looking at it. But who knows, with a makers name we might pin it down.

Not that you're a collector, of course.


Kari Hultman said...

Erik and Bob, I couldn't agree more!

Gary, the collar reads: C. Christiansen Chicago ILL
Thanks for offering to do some sleuthing. P.S. I don't have enough money to be a collector. ; )

Stephen Shepherd said...

Considering what the bench has been through in its history, you did a good job. Removing the tool tray is the best thing you can do in my opinion, to which everyone is entitled.

It is now serving its original purpose.


Myeloman said...

Well, of the few workbenches I have seen that were for sale, all were waay outta my price range. All I can say is, if you're ever unhappy with it, it will have a very nice home in my shop. Until then, or when I finally find one I can afford, I remain... benchless.

Erik said...

No one should be benchless

I built one from these plans in a week of evenings. Cost was minimal and it worked GREAT!

Anonymous said...

I found this about the bench


Woodbloke said...

Kari - great job, I like what you've done to that old bench...the top and working parts seem to be in excellent order, in fact the top hardly seems to seen any shavings of any sort - Rob

Kari Hultman said...

Thank you for the comments!

Stephen, I agree with you about the tool tray even though some people really like them. Mine always seems to be such a mess.

Wooden1, I have seen perfectly useful workbenches made from a hollow core door and a simple base. You can do it!!! ; )

Heinrich, the link you provided says that my bench was built in 1912. There is a bench almost identical to this one at the York Ag. & Industrial Museum, so I might be able to find out more info from them.

Erik, I'll add the workbenchdesign link to my links page. If anyone has other workbench links, please let me know and I'll add them as well.

Thanks Anon!

Rob, the vises work great--smooth and solid. I didn't realize how poorly made the vises are on my main workbench until I used this one.

Bob Rozaieski said...

Way to go Kari! It's back doing what it should be doing.

Gary said...


I had a suspicion that was a C. Christiansen workbench. There is a post over on my blog about another one (try the new Lijit search feature to find it). I also heard from the grandson of Christiansen. The family made workbenches from the late 19th C through the 1940's. He has a catalog that I have yet to get a look at. I'ld say yours was for a vocational school, 1900-1920. I think there's some chestnut in there? If so, that would place it nearer to the turn of the century.

Gary said...

After some thought... The door fronts look like chestnut. The three odd ones were replaced. The original hardware looks to be c1900 give or take a few. The round inset pulls at the top look just pre-1900. Given the chestnut, I would say 1890-1900 unless they had a stash of chestnut waiting to be used.

naomi said...

Cute bench!

Kari Hultman said...

Gary, I thought that might be chestnut on some of the drawer fronts. (The other three might be poplar.) And you're right, if that's the case, the bench was either made before the chestnut blight or they had a stash on hand.

Woodfired! said...

Nice find Kari - and well put to good use. Can't help liking the idea of pizza stains and the smell of tarragon though :-)

Myeloman said...

I will keep that bench in mind. My wife, kids and I are moving to California in a few months so any and all projects are on hold for the time being. My health has taken a dramatic turn for the worse though and as I am no longer able to work (I built high end cabinets and furniture for VERY expensive RV's) I desperately need to get my shop up and running ASAP. I miss the smell of sawdust in the morning (sniffs)... Thanks for the link, and thanks for sharing the bench. I intend to keep looking for a veteran bench too...

Adam Aronson said...


Thanks for the post! Nice work on the old Christensen.

I found a bench like this at a going out of business sale at an old tool shop and picked it up for ~$300. Having been used in a machine shop the top was practically coated in grease, embedded metal bits, etc. It had also been somewhat modified. The rear sawdust/tool well had been split in half (not sure why), the drawer underneath was missing, etc. Mine looked a lot like the one pictured here.

I'd like to use mine functionally but the dog holes are chewed up pretty good. Now that I've done some cleanup I'm considering 1) filling the dog holes and redrilling 3/4" holes to match my worktable's dog system and 2) replacing the rear tool well with similarly sized strips of ash or maple. Considering the previous modifications would this be heresy or practicality?

Kari Hultman said...

Adam, the top of your bench looks great after the work you did on flattening it. As far as altering the bench by filling the dogholes, some might disagree with me, but I'm all for making tools and benches do what they were meant to do. And if that means plugging up square holes and drilling round ones, so the bench will work better for you, then go for it. :o)

Unknown said...

This bench was made by my great great grandfather Carl Christiansen. I would love to find one in decent condition and buy it for my shop.

Kari Hultman said...

D, I'd like to hear about your great great grandfather. If you will email me directly, I'd appreciate it:

Anonymous said...

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Sandro Heckler

Kari Hultman said...

Thanks, Sandro. At the bottom of the right-hand column on my blog there is a link to where you can subscribe to my RSS feed.