One of the largest engineering spaces currently missing from the Tufts campus is a student-accessible wood shop. But over at Malden High School, professors and Tufts students are working to create a fully-equipped wood shop/makerspace in Nedlam’s Workshop, a mere ten-minute drive from Tufts. Several of us spent the last few days there learning about the tools and working to improve the space, cleaning it up and creating new and improved work spaces around the shop. My team’s particular focus was the shop’s four solid maple workbenches, each of them a beautiful butcher’s block work surface covered in years of varnish, paint, and grime. Our task was to clean up and stabilize the decrepit worksurfaces and solidly remount the woodworker’s vices loosely hanging off each bench.

A quick experiment with a planer and then handheld sanders revealed that the built-up coatings were more than a match for our tools. The layers of varnish quickly clogged sandpaper, and hidden nails blocked progress with the planer for fear of chipping the blade. But a much easier solution quickly presented itself: flip the table tops over. Four easily-removed bolts secured each top to the base, and with them out of the waywe found bottom surfaces in near-mint condition. Some wood filler, scrapers, and a little bit of sanding took care of years of holes and gum within minutes.

Our other challenge, then, was to mount the vises. The vises had originally been mounted with lag screws, which, while solid, will (and had) eventually strip out a hole. So instead of screws, we used carriage bolts to secure the vises through the table. The bolt heads were counterbored – sunk into the tabletop so as to sit flush – and secured on the bottom with nuts and washers; additionally, the vise faces were screwed into the table face. This secure mounting mechanism will allow the hardware to be continually re-tightened whenever it loosens, something not possible with lag screws. The finished workebenches were much more solid, smooth, and easily usable – and stylish to boot.