Heart of the Studio

My workbenches in action (Photo: Adam Proctor)

I’ve had my share of workbenches, but often I’ll work wherever I can. When I build boats, fix bikes, dismantle computers or pluck geese I’ll plonk stuff on any surface smaller than the floor. I’ve stripped rear gear mechanisms on our kitchen worktop, and sorted 4 years worth of receipts on a (really large) carboard box. You really don’t want to know the places I’ve changed nappies.

When it came to my day job though, though, I got picky. The first thing I did when I set up my original stained glass studio was build a small bench. I had a handful of tools, 3 or 4 sheets of Spectrum Waterglass and a beautiful work space - I was in business. After all, the dictionary definition of a workbench is “a sturdy table at which an artisan works”. Three windows in, and, in my own mind, I’m already a craftsman. Picture any workshop, and the image that springs to mind is a filthy bench, smeared in oil and covered in tins of random spares, rags, coffee mugs, with tools neatly hanging on a pegboard behind. Sculptors, potters, jewellers and printmakers might have their particular needs in a bench, while others, dressmakers say, simply need a smooth, flat surface… With the construction of my bench, I’d somehow joined their ranks.

And so, when I moved to a bigger studio, I built a bigger bench. When I moved to my third studio, I built three 8’ x 4’ tables. You can probably see a pattern emerging, right? My original bench (“One Bench to Rule them All”) was used for everything, but now I have two benches for glazing, a cementing bench, a light table (for painting and gilding), a kiln table, a warm box (for HXTAL repairs), a long bench for grinders (fine, coarse and a tool sharpening station) and a drawing table.

Now, I know what you’re thinking - with so many work surfaces, I must be one of the world’s finest stained glass artists. Fortunately, some time between building my first bench and building my fourth window, I realised there was more to it than that…

My basic bench design makes a great general purpose glazing table. It consists of a full sheet (2440 x 1220 mm) of MDF, mounted on 3x2 legs with a shelf underneath for lead “coffins”. The surface is big enough for the biggest panel, each side is big enough to work at, the surface is smooth and relatively stable (flat), while maintenance consists of painting the top white every 3 months. Most textbooks recommend chipboard as a top surface, but I find that MDF is much easier to sweep free of glass chips. It is a little bit hard on horseheoe nails though.

These benches are now 8 years old. Unlike handmade woodworking benches, which are designed and constructed to last a working life, as a working testament to their builders, I’m pretty certain my benches won’t see me to retirement. They’re made of cheap materials, and all three were cut, assembled and painted in an afternoon by me and my Dad - they were only meant as a stopgap while I built one of these:

(Image: Patrick Reyntiens “The Techniques of Stained Glass”)

Until I get round to building the ultimate Reyntiens bench, mine are fine. Actually, they’re better than fine. They’ve seen a lot of windows (and chainrings, and a bed for my daughter, and shelves for the house, untold domestic appliances and even a clock) and the numbers and notches on them that refuse to be covered by paint are a form of memory. Every year I’ll add a bigger block of wood under each leg, to save my back while soldering. A fresh coat of paint every now and again, sand them flat perhaps. And one day I’ll build some shelves underneath - after all, I guess I might even be an artisan by then.

StudioGordon Watt