When Jessica and I first heard about Bench, we thought it was a fantastic idea–a co-working space, not for the typical tech-types, but for woodworkers. It’s a great way to foster learning using hands-on experience, and a great community-building space as well. Bench launched on September 29, and we met with co-founder Ben Petersen to photograph Bench and interview him.
COOP: How long have you been a woodworker?
Ben: I’ve been operating my furniture company professionally for four years and have been doing some sort of woodworking my whole life. When I was twelve, we lived on a farm in Iowa. My family gave me my first workshop, it was a twelve by twelve outbuilding that they converted. For my fourteenth birthday the building was wired for electricity so that I could work with power tools.
C: What made you choose to enter that field?
B: I chose to start building furniture four years ago because I couldn’t find furniture locally that was well-made and aesthetically appealing that I could afford. So I made furniture for my wife and my apartment. Turned out some other people had the same needs we did.
C: Why did you create Bench?
B: We started Bench because I kept being approached by people interested in learning to build and some who knew how and just needed space. So we decided to scale the shop up, find some nice storefront property and help people design and build.
C: Are there any other full-time workers at Bench?
B: Nick Evans and myself are currently the only ones who work out of Bench “full-time”.
C: What are your long-term goals for Bench?
B: We want to expand into more trades. We just got a Singer 31-15–a machine made for tailoring garments–we also are always expanding our metal shop. We recently added a Hobart stick welder. We’d like to see Bench grow into more trades and get setup for CNC routing, laser etching, and rapid prototyping to facilitate even more building.
C: How do you tie your business to sustainability?
B: We are just starting–more realistically testing a concept–local, responsible, and sustainable milling. We have started to mill some lumber in-house and in the future plan to mill all of the lumber that we sell at Bench. The primary sources will be fallen trees that we can hopefully salvage and trees that we harvest from a couple select groves in Iowa. We plan to replace every tree harvested and to harvest at a slow enough rate that we can watch these groves sustain their current size while still harvesting usable hardwoods.
C: What’s your advice to others wanting to enter your field?
B: My advice to those wanting to learn this or any related trade is find a shop to work in with people that you can respect that are willing to show you how to do what they do, e.g. Bench.
C: What are your favorite woods and materials to work with?
B: I love working with locally sourced walnut, it’s apparent in my work. I love including unique imperfections, and characteristics that say something about the life cycle of the tree. That’s how you know you have some real furniture made from real materials by someone who really cares.
Whether you’re a professional without a space of your own, or just learning, Bench offers plenty of options; day passes are just $25, with monthly memberships at $150. Classes at Bench are coming soon, and their site lists a full complement of equipment available to workers.
All photos courtesy Bosley Creative Photography.