Ask for Help

When we set out to build a workbench for the Cincinnati Museum’s Center’s exhibit on Henry Boyd, I figured that Megan and I would do most of the work. Yes, we had invited the public to help, but usually that involves them heckling us: “I bet that would be easier if you had a nail gun!”

But these were Lost Art Press readers.

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About 15 minutes after we unlocked the doors we had a small crowd in the bench room looking over the parts and my construction drawings. I glanced at Joe Grittani, one of our loyal local readers, and I asked if he’d saw the workbench’s aprons to shape. He took the panel saw from my hands and went to it. 

I looked over at another pair of readers. “Would you plane up these legs?” They took my jack plane and went to it. Within a couple hours, we had entire teams of people sawing, planing, boring and nailing the parts of the workbench together. I had to put the brakes on the activity to make sure we didn’t finish it before lunch so that other people could help work on it.

For me, this felt like the first ray of sunshine since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Here we were, working as a community to build a workbench that would help educate others about one of the most important (and lesser known) black furniture makers in the Midwest.

During that morning, we talked about Boyd and the hardships he faced. And the historical stew of 19th century techniques, tools and materials we were using to make the bench so that it might have looked at home in Boyd’s workshop on Broadway Street in Cincinnati.

Sometime during that Saturday afternoon, we turned the bench onto its four legs, and I called the bench done (for now). I still have to clean up the joints and add a face vise and a planing stop. But the bench is solid and looks like how I envisioned it.

And the most surprising thing was how difficult it was to build: All I had to do was ask for help.

— Christopher Schwarz


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