A blog about the restoration, remodel and renovation of a 1929 Chicago-style brick bungalow

Surprise, Come Pick Up Your Workbench!

Back in July, my mom texts me and tells me her brother (my uncle) is putting his house on the market and he wanted to know if I still wanted my grandfather’s carpenter’s workbench. Whaaaa?!

I have fond memories of that workbench. It practically filled the basement in my grandparent’s house in Toledo, OH and when we were there to visit for the holidays my grandfather would invite my sister and I to join him in the basement when he needed to fix something. He taught us how to hammer with the wooden pegs that were built into the bench and normally used to help brace a piece of wood in the vise. My grandfather taught me practically everything I know about painting and probably more than I even realized about DIY renovation.

It was about 20 years ago when we helped move him out of his home and into my uncle’s house, and at the time I had expressed my interest in the workbench to my uncle but he said it would be handed down to my cousin (his son), which was totally understandable and fine with me.

Of course I was a little surprised when it was suddenly offered to me, and the first thing I thought was, “uh yeah, I want it!” followed quickly by “where the heck are we going to put it?”, along with, “OMG please let it be as awesome as I remember it!”.

He needed me to get it ASAP, and luckily my mom happened to be traveling to Toledo a few weeks later for a class reunion, so I reserved a 10-foot truck for a one-way rental to Chicago (more than I needed, but the smallest I could rent long distance) and drove out with her, planning to stay overnight and return the next day with the workbench.

We picked up the truck as soon as we arrived that afternoon, and I mentioned to the rental guy that I wished I could rent something smaller than a 10-foot truck since I had one lowly 3′ x 7′ foot workbench to move. He said, “Oh you’re not getting a 10-foot truck; those are gone. The only thing I have left is a 16-foot truck.” Did I mention that I’d be driving this 250 miles home…ALONE?!

We pulled into my uncle’s driveway, and there it was, waiting for me. At first glance it didn’t seem that special.

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Luckily that was the view from the back and it was much more appealing from the front. My uncle and I loaded it onto the truck (except for the top, it wasn’t too heavy) along with a bunch of my grandfather’s old tools, a couple ladders and other things my uncle wanted to give me.

After spending the night with my mom and one of her high school friends, I took off for home the next morning. The truck rode surprisingly well and the only scary part was trying to change lanes and gauge distance using only side mirrors, especially once I got into Chicago.

2014122704Here I am at our garage before unloading. Yes, that’s the truck FULLY loaded.

Pete met me at home to unload into the garage and that’s where it sat for a month or more until we could clear out a space for it in the house.

In the meantime, all I did was clean it with TSP substitute and water to get rid of some of the grime. I knew I would be keeping its patina and character and only planned to give it a coat of wax or something similar.

You can kind of see the half that has been cleaned on the right half in this photo (in the non-recessed part in the foreground).

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Here’s a view from the back before it was cleaned.

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Check out those dovetails, dowels and detail in the vise! It’s like a fine piece of furniture.

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Even the screw (proper term??) of the vise is made out of wood!

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Looks like he made a drawer from parts of an old crate of baking powder.

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It was totally worth the trip. I’m not sure when I decided that it was too cool to stash away in the basement where practically no one would see it, but you’ll have to wait to see its final resting place…

2 Comments

  1. Chris on June 12, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    I’ve got a 1917 bungalow myself and discovered your site today. while looking at Chicago bungalow art glass. I have bought art glass with a tulip motif while in the area soon to be installed in my own bungalow in MN. However, I stumbled across this post and HAD to comment.
    Assuming this was made by your Grandfather, this bench is something you might wish to reconsider turning into a piece of furniture depending upon what kind of man your grandfather was.
    There was more than a little care put into it if indeed he did build it himself. Workbenches often are honest personal expressions or statements about the people who made them.
    This style of bench is primarily for woodworking. The wooden pegs are called “dogs” and, as you mentioned, used to secure work to the bench. The end vise is dovetailed quite nicely and the wood screws for the vise are terrific. The recessed area on the workbench top is a tool tray or trough. The materials used to build this suggest it was not store bought or from a mail order catalog. The tail vise jaw looks like a bracket or possibly a corbel and was chosen with some care. Just by looking at it, the person who built it was fairly accomplished, creative, and resourceful. The bench construction is knock-down and the front surfaces are all on the same plane indicates he likely clamped larger lumber to it. Most amateur workbenches did not have this mix of features and the wear on this suggests it was used quite a bit for its intended purpose. If he designed it, he likely included these features for a reason.
    If this was my bench and found its way to my descendent’s bungalow, ideally, I would hope it inspired someone to use it to build something like a wine cabinet or such using the bench and any skill I had taught them. What a beautiful way to honor someone, by being inspired by them.
    You have something special there.

    Chris

    • denise on June 14, 2015 at 11:56 am

      Wow, thanks Chris for all the info/insight on the bench! The reason I wanted to use this as a sideboard is that I found it way too beautiful to put in the basement (neither my husband nor I would use it to its full potential as a carpenter’s workbench) and wanted everyone to be able to see and appreciate it as much as I do. My grandfather definitely did not build it though; the story I’ve been told is that it was given to him by his neighbor who was a lawyer and enjoyed woodworking. I assume the neighbor gave it to him as he grew older and could no longer use it. My grandfather was very handy and used it for projects around his house in Toledo, OH. I’m pretty sure the neighbor did purchase it through a hardware store, though, as there is a shipping address written on the underside of the top. Either way, it must have been handcrafted by someone with great skill and I really treasure it. Thanks so much for writing, and congrats on your bungalow art glass!

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