The ‘Baby Deadman’ (Gotta Get a New Name for That)

Though I am done writing books on workbenches (scout’s honor), I am always on the lookout for interesting historical examples and clever features that I can use in the future.

This week I spotted one that was particularly interesting. I’m calling it the “Baby Deadman,” which is the most horrible name I have ever given anything in this world (including the time I tried to name a cat “Kilgore Trout”).

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The bench shown above is featured in “The Cabinetmaker’s Art in Ontario: Circa 1850-1900” by Lilly A. Koltun, published in 1979 by the National Museums of Canada. Researcher Suzanne Ellison recently dug it up using her superpowers. Download the pdf here.

The paper is a biography and shop inventory of Francis Jones of Middlesex County, who made furniture (and dealt in farm implements and undertaking) during the second half of the 19th century. 

The section on the workbench notes that its top is 21-1/2” x 78” and the bench is 34-1/2” high. Unusually, the bench has a tail vise, but it doesn’t appear to have a series of dog holes on the top. It does have a metal planing stop (barely visible) which is mentioned in the inventory. And a nice holdfast.

I was struck by the two sliding board jacks (sometimes called a “deadman”). The large one is typical. But the small one on top is unusual and ingenious. Here’s why: I built my first board jack in about 2001, and it’s great for holding large panels and residential doors on edge. But most of my work doesn’t need the full capacity of the jack. Mostly, I just want a movable peg that will help support boards as I edge-joint them.

This bench gives you both. 

In fact, I might consider adding only the smaller Baby Board Jack (now THAT’s a better name) to one of our existing benches to fool around with it.

— Christopher Schwarz


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