Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Shigoto die

This is my traditional Japanese woodworking bench that I have used for many years.  It is made from a good piece of Birch wood.  The removable vise is somewhat taller than you usually find a woodworker using, but it suits my own height well.  The original vise that was given to me as an apprentice, it was quite a bit lower, and my back was always hurting.


Aaron said...

Hi Dennis,

I see that you use a standing workbench in addition to your traditional japanese workbench close to the floor. It would be great to hear for which kinds of work you find each best.


djy said...

Hi Aaron,

Some woodworkers in my neck of the woods will use the low bench for almost everything, maybe with the exception of also having a planing beam for longer wood. You can see some very large cabinets constructed on that style of bench, so I would say that basically, there are no limitations once you are used to it. The Japanese up until the recent generation, were built pretty low to the ground themselves, so they can move around the bench with a lot of dexterity, and always proper orienting yourself to the work is much emphasized to people learning in that style.

When I first started working here, it was the only option, and my back gave me a lot of pain. I did eventually get used to it, and probably if I had developed better habits of being as upright as possible instead of leaning over, it might have made it easier.

Nowadays, I work mostly standing, using the taller bench for planing or other tasks, but I don't use a normal western style woodworking vise, I prefer holding parts for working in a machinist's vise that has wood jaws. That is a method that I picked up in the chair shop in Great Britain, and all chair makers worked that way, in every shop. The action of the machinist vise is much smoother and quicker, especially a good one like a Wilton, and the grip is very positive. It hangs off the bench a bit on a separate plate, so the bench doesn't get in the way and you can be almost centered over it when working. It's a real good method that i'm sure lots of folks would find valuable, if not using it already. I go to some length here to expound upon it, because I have found that a lot of woodworkers have never really considered it. The typical wood vise along the side of the bench is pretty much a given.

As far as the low bench goes, I do find it invaluable for some things. Edge jointing wide boards that are too wide for the taller bench is very comfortable, either held on one end in the vise, or on edge directly on the bench and working more in a squatting position when moving forwards and back. You get a good position over the work for a nice balance and to direct your power. The low bench is super helpful when planing table top edges, including end grain with the top held in the vise and hanging over the edge, you can plane in both directions, pulling down or pulling up, or pushing, if that type of plane is your favor. Holding smaller things for planing like the doors for the cabinet in the photo, goes real well....sawing some things as well. For some tasks, having your center of gravity lower, but at the same time being able to vary your height above the work, is real user friendly. I should mention that you don't always sit on the bench to work the smaller things, kneeling or squatting there or off to one side on the floor is common. All in all, there is just a lot that you can use the low bench for, and I think it's very helpful to have the options it provides. Having both types of bench, you can possibly develop a more efficient style of working for yourself. A nice thing too is that when the low bench isn't in use, it can stand on end and not take up much room in the shop.

Are you thinking of making one for yourself?

Aaron said...

I have thought of making one. A big selling point is that a sitting/kneeling bench seems easier to make than a regular standing bench - especially given that I don't have a bench to start with, nor do I have any power tools that come with their own sort of bench, like a jointer or a table saw.

On the other hand, as you mention, it seems like for heavy duty planing a standing bench is the way to go. I'd hoped to use a planing beam instead of a standing bench because it's easier to make, but unfortunately it seems like on a beam it'd be hard to scrub plane across the grain on a wide board. (Maybe I'm missing something here as I think about this in the abstract...)


djy said...

Good point about the support needed when cross planing or working things like table tops. A taller wide bench is pretty essential for that.

Some people will raise up their low bench when required, by putting it on some saw horses or something. Often shop space is pretty tight and a full time larger bench prohibitive.

All in all for most of us who aren't used to working, or living for that matter, close to the ground like the Japanese do, a taller bench probably has more practicality. For the supplementary things that a low bench can provide, in a lot of cases you don't really need a very long one. Even a three foot long one will work great. Having a vise available does really add to the range of uses. Making one is pretty simple if you have the steel thread that the jaws track on. A couple different ways to attach the vise to the bench. Some have a wood tang that drops through a slot and is wedged underneath, a somewhat purer way than mine, which just has a treaded rod that fits through a hole and is tightened with a nut enclosed in a wood handle, then tightened from underneath. Mine provides the option of the vise pivoting, but that seldom seems purposeful.

arugulakiller said...


I am interested in building a vice for carving similar to what you are displaying photos of here. In the workbench book the caption of the photo says that the vice can rotate 360 degrees on its attaching bolt. I am curious how the bolt is attached from the bench to the vice? Also, is the metal rod at the base of the vice also threaded, so you can adjust it's width? Thanks for your help.

djy said...


Sorry, I missed your comment.

The bolt that attaches the vise to the bench..... Actually, the bolt is a threaded rod that has a nut, or possibly two nuts welded at one end (can't quite recall), then the affair slips into the vise side through a T slot on the inside face that gets plugged . The rod extends down through a hole into the bench, and a nut embedded into a handle tightens the vise from underneath the bench. Loosen to turn, then retighten.

I assume that by "the rod at the base of the vice", you are referring to the tracking rod, that the vice side and cheek slides on. Do you mean threaded so that you would be tightening against the vice inside face, as with the upper large thread against the outside, to adjust the jaw width? You are wanting to keep the jaws parallel when you tighten? Your question is a little unclear. There is no need to have a thread on the tracking rod, a slightly larger hole in the side of the vice slides over it to keep the jaws parallel. The one large screw is sufficient to keep the jaws in position to tightly hold the work.The vise side does angle in a bit when you tighten the jaws, but it has never been a problem, even though my vice is somewhat taller than most Japanese ones. I get a firm grip with the arrangement on my vise.

Hope this helps, and please clarify if I have misinterpreted your question, or if further details needed.