Golden Ratio Benches, Historic Windows, and Preservation Standards

[ Or, How a million and one different things are all strangely connected... ]

This past weekend, in addition to doing an initial thermal analysis of the Mansfield House (challenging task), I also collected lumber (easy task) for the frames of two Golden Ratio workbenches that I’ll begin constructing this coming weekend.

Lumber and Kreg Klamp Traks at the Hawkins House

Douglas fir 2x4s and Kreg Klamp Trak sections collected in the south chamber of the Hawkins House. This unused room will temporarily serve as a 2nd floor historic window repair/restoration workshop.

Some readers might recall how, back in the winter, I had an idea for a workbench with a movable clamping system traversing the benchtop. One clamping path (comprised of several Kreg Klamp Trak sections placed end-to-end) would run length-wise, dividing the bench width into golden sections, while another would run across the width, likewise dividing the bench length into golden sections. And the smaller of each divided dimension would define the same quadrant of the benchtop.

Lumber and Kreg Klamp Traks at the Mansfield House

Another set of the same materials, awaiting assembly at the Mansfield House.

Why do this? Well, having a movable clamping system makes infinite sense. As does having two, opposed at ninety degrees. And skewing their intersection asymmetrically would make the benchtop more readily accommodating of differently proportioned work pieces, especially if one also plans to incorporate vises for assembly work. But does it really matter if this asymmetry is aligned to golden sections?

Golden Ratio Workbench

Golden Ratio workbench, with asymmetrical clamping system spanning the benchtop.

From a truly practical standpoint, probably not. But there’s certainly an aesthetic appeal to it. If one is constructing, or repairing and re-assembling, work pieces that often exhibit Golden Ratio proportions, it seems reasonable that the jig supporting them exhibit those same proportions, as well. Perhaps in time, and only after some significant amount of use, will I reach a firm conclusion on whether or not this particular detail really mattered.

Golden Ratio Workbench Exploded View

An exploded view of the Golden Ratio workbench, revealing its framing.

On the other hand, there are other nuances of my design that I feel are of considerable practical importance. Both benchtop and storage shelf are designed as torsion boxes for extra rigidity, and the weight of either is transferred to the legs via direct load paths, with no weight on fasteners. Furthermore, each is tied to the legs via just four knock-down connectors, making the occasional disassembly of the workbench for storage or transport relatively quick and easy. And the frame will be joined with #10 x 2-5/8″ structural pocket screws and glue, thus facilitating rapid construction of a strong, final product.

A single hung 6/6 window in the Hawkins House

A single hung 6/6 historic window of the Hawkins House, in need of some serious restoration work.

Although my workbenches are general purpose by design, their initial application will be in the repair, restoration, and weatherization of all my historic windows. The Hawkins House windows, in particular, are in dire need of much restorative work. Every one of them.

A single hung 12/8 historic window at the Hawkins House

Yet another historic window (single hung, 12/8) of the Hawkins House, likewise in need of repair and restoration.

By contrast, the windows of the Mansfield House had been better maintained over the years. Many are in need of re-puttying and re-painting. Some need minor re-glazing. But for the most part, they’re in reasonably decent shape.

But nonetheless, each home will soon have an onsite workshop dedicated to historic window repair, restoration, and weatherization. And once the bulk of the high priority repair and restoration work is complete, I’ll turn my focus toward weatherization and energy efficiency issues (undoubtedly the Mansfield House will enter this phase first).

I’ll be experimenting with interior versus exterior storms, traditional weather stripping methods, use of insulating shades, air sealing, and proper control of moisture and ventilation. All of this will be accompanied by systematic, incremental performance testing, the results of which I’ll publish here and on my website.

Older single hung 6/6 small window

One of my favorite windows is this extremely old, single-hung 6/6 in my study. Note the muntin bars tenoned through the interior meeting rail. Like all the windows here, this one leaks air and moisture like a proverbial sieve.

And like many of my primary projects, my historic window repair, restoration, and performance efforts will channel results to other endeavors of mine, or those of my colleagues. For example, a by-product of this effort will be the systematic cataloging of both the sashes and frames of each type of window encountered here, in terms of 3D SketchUp models, categorized and published on our Google 3D Warehouse page.

Furthermore, I’m planning to use my extensive restoration of the Hawkins House windows to directly evaluate the first edition of the National Windows Preservation Standards, which is due out sometime early this summer. Created and published by the Windows Preservation Standards Collaborative (WPSC) of the Preservation Trades Network, the National Windows Preservation Standards are a comprehensive collection of proven best practices in the repair, restoration, preservation, weatherization, and energy performance enhancement of both wooden and steel historic windows.


Founded and led by a team of well known preservationists, including John Leeke and Bob Yapp, the compilation and writing of these standards has been well underway since spring of last year, and is nearing release of its first public draft. The WPSC maintains an online forum detailing their current objectives, progress and activities. I’ve participated in the forum as a reviewer, but am hoping my direct testing of the first standards book in a live project of my own will provide some useful feedback that might assist the collaborative in their production of the second edition of the standards.

It’s interesting how sometimes stars align, as they seem to be doing in these multiple projects of mine. It demands a lot of hard work and sweat, but I view it as an opportunity to engage in something that’s of some significance and universality, at least within my own world. I hope that many of you have similar experiences and likewise attempt to make the best of challenging, but closely interrelated, endeavors. Feel free to comment here on your own, similar experiences of celestial alignment, if you feel so inclined… :-)

About John Poole

My interests include historic homes, architectural preservation and restoration, improving the energy performance of old houses, and traditional timber frames.
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2 Responses to Golden Ratio Benches, Historic Windows, and Preservation Standards

  1. John Poole says:

    Fire them up! I have found my moon dial to be amazingly accurate; the sundial only during certain hours but not so at noon nor later in the day. So it is less than aligned! :-)

  2. John Poole says:

    I am indeed off-kilter, but only in a productive, societal-safe way!

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