Hello and welcome to my blog. What I'm doing here is documenting my personal expression of "hands-on history" from a craftsman's perspective. I've been on this path for a large part of my life and it's taken me to some interesting and challenging places. I hope to share the processes and the historically inspired objects I've crafted along this journey into our past. This adventure has deepened my appreciation for past craftsmanship and the intelligence of common place things in Early America. Besides, now I have all this cool stuff to play (teach) with.

Jim Miller

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Traditional Carpentry Revisited and a New Job

     I was recently hired by the City of Angels (aka Angels Camp), as the Education Coordinator for the Angels Camp Museum. One of my primary goals is to create an outreach "Traveling Trunk" program for 4th graders as an enhancement to their Gold Rush studies. I'm also involved in improving overall interpretation at the Museum. Previous to landing this job, I was involved in several Museum projects, one of which is the focus of this post.

Angels Camp Museum
Calaveras County, California

    The Angels Camp Museum is an important regional Museum, housing many rare artifacts and collections relating to the history of the Mother Lode. With the recent opening of the new Artisan's Exhibit area, the Museum has begun a transition from the traditional emphasis of display only, to a more "interactive" approach to teaching local history. The Aritsan's Exhibit area is intended to highlight various craftsmen who contributed to the growth of the local community. My contribution was to build a typical 19th Century carpenter's bench for the new, interactive Carpenter's Shop.

A Nice Version of Underhill's Portable Workbench
(mine is long-gone)
image courtesy closegrain.com

    Back in 1998, when my wife and I started working in the Carpenter's Shop at Columbia State Historic Park, I was faced with trying to build a small, functional workbench to fit the tiny shop part of a small retail space. I was fortunate to have found the design for a portable workbench in Roy Underhill's "The Woodwright's Apprentice" book. Over the 10 years of use, that little bench proved itself as a great interpretive tool and gave me the experience to design and create the bench for the Angels Camp Museum.

A Classically Simple Carpenter's Bench
image source unknown

    For the Angels Camp bench, I wanted to follow the basic "form and function" of a traditional bench but keep it simple. It needed to be a good size (6 ft. long) with a nice mass for the top ( 4"x12"x6' ) and a tool well along the length. Support would come from a stout frame (4"x4" and 2"x6"), through mortised and tenoned, with a leg-vise on the left. It would need plenty of holes for a pair of hold-fasts and bench-dogs and maybe a single drawer on the front.

Lewis Miller in His Carpenter's Shop
image courtesy folkartcooperstown.blogspot.com

    Traditional carpenter's benches seem to be as varied as the people who built them, whether past or present. I fell in love with Lewis Miller's contemporary illustration of his mid-1800's carpenter's workshop and after finding several similar original examples, I was inspired to come up with my own design.

My Finished Bench
images by Lindy Miller 2012

     I purchased the hold-fasts from Woodcraft and while cleaning up the rough castings, decided to grind off the large TAIWAN on the sides to "improve" their apperance. The screw for the leg vise came from Busy Bee Tools in Canada and the Douglas Fir and Pine from the local lumber yard. After the pictures were taken, I fashioned a pair of bench-dogs to complete the project. I think it turned out well and I'm looking forward to using it at the Museum as we recreate a Carpenter's Shop of not that long ago.

Another View Showing Leg Vise


  1. Nice looking bench! I really think interactive museums are of more interest to people, especially children. I have demonstrated my woodworking skills and tools at many historical functions and am also surprised at how excited people get when they get to use the tools. I had a 90 year woman running my pole lathe a few years ago and she was as happy as a 10 year old. Of all my tools the biggest draw is the shaving bench. I have kids stand in line to get a turn on it. The next item would be the pole lathe. Congratulations on the new job!

    1. Thanks for the positive comments. A pole lathe and shaving bench are on the list. I'll be posting soon on some tools I've made, so stay tuned.

  2. Cool bench. I visited the museum several times when I lived in Stockton. It is great.