The Anarchist's Workbench is the final entry in the anarchist trilogy. The first book was The Anarchist's Tool Chest, which was followed by The Anarchist's Design Book. Taken altogether, they
comprise a holistic set of ideas and advice that, if not in fact essential, is at least highly
instructive and inspiring of the best of which one is capable.
This intriguing book is somewhat unusual. At its base, it's a thorough personal review of
the good, the bad, and the ugly of the author's experience in building workbenches. In
this guise, it's chock full of ignore-at-your-own-peril advice. But it's also an
autobiographical account in which Chris (can I call you Chris?) recounts large portions
of his life, from the closet homesteading of his upbringing to his time at Popular
Woodworking and from there to his ultimate escape from the throes of corporate
publishing into the unknown territory of starting an independent publishing house known as Lost Art Press. Along
the way, we learn about his highly ethical and fair-minded approach to partnership with
his authors. We learn how he lost the rights to his famous predecessor to this book, Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use. And how this book tallies up as a stick-it-to-the-man comeuppance to
the vulture capitalists from whom he escaped. If you are a follower of Chris's leadership
in hand tool and exploratory craftsmanship, you'll delight in the personal side of his
story, here told in a no-holds-barred treatment.
But personal interest aside, you're probably reading this review because you're
interested in workbenches. Maybe you're just starting to put together a woodshop and
need basic guidance. You'll find it here. Or maybe you've got a bench now but are all
too well acquainted with its shortcomings and know an upgrade is in order. You'll find
lots of valuable experience here for you as well.
There is no perfect workbench, just in case you're seeking out the one best design.
Designs abound, as do work environments and personal preferences. This book fits
those facts perfectly. It does not advocate for a particular type of bench. Rather, it
walks through Chris's experience building and using a large variety of benches. And of
these there are many; I counted 17, not including the one he finally settles on. Those
that he built, plus some early European benches he researched, are reviewed in the pages of this book. Along the way, we get the pros and the cons, the successes and the
failures. If you are contemplating bench building, his experience will save you from
much frustration, wasted effort, and expense. Sure, Chris has evolved his preferences
to a particular style and the book lays out how he built it in sufficient detail to follow his
lead. But if that style doesn't suit your needs or your vision of what a workbench should
be, many options are there for the taking. At least you'll know what you are walking into
once you've digested his ideas.
The book goes well beyond the design and construction of the bench itself. It delves
deeply into all the appliances and accoutrements that accompany it (neat bit of
alliteration, that). Fully covered are vises of all types, planing stops, crochets, tool wells,
shelves, and even a foldaway seat. Not only are you presented with a wealth of
experience in using various incarnations of these devices, but you get the voice of trial
and error in installing and using them.
The experience Chris shares in this book is buttressed by numerous invaluable black-and-white photos of each workbench he built. You'll also find drawings to guide you in
constructing the one he now prefers, as well as of the appliances with which he prefers
to work. You'll be able to follow his step-by-step lead in building a solid but economical
bench from the information he's offered.
Frankly, there is so much valuable advice presented here that you may find yourself on
information overload. I will confess that I made 11 pages of notes as I read the book!
(Yes, I take notes on the books I review, just as I read every page and don't just skim
them.) This book has that much knowledge to convey, and more. And if the text weren't
sufficient, the book has four appendices, including an especially valuable one that
answers all the commonly asked questions. Like, what wood is best for a workbench?
Answer as I read it, anything, as long as it's not white pine. Turn to this appendix if you
are looking for quick advice and are overeager to get your building project underway.
But better yet, take a more contemplative approach: read, no, study the whole book.
Your resulting workbench will suit you much better for your effort.
To sum up, this book is the most complete treatment of workbench experience
available. It is comprehensive. It is incisive. It is open-minded. It is often charming. It is
even, at times, humorous. If you have any interest at all in building or equipping a
workbench, you want this book. In fact, you need it.
Chris has invested a major part of his life building the wealth of experiences that will save you
much angst. He deserves a small reward in return. Buy the book. You'll not only have a finely produced volume of your very own, but I guarantee you your money will be well spent. Highly recommended.
Find out more and purchase The Anarchist's Workbench
at Highland Woodworking
J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of
Choosing and Using Handplanes. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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