09
Feb
09

Episode 13 – The Bench Page

Schwartz meets Roubo

The Schwartz meets Roubo (that's French, you know)

Foundational for the Galoot, the subject of workbenches is eliciting a lot of attention lately, in large part due to dvd6Christopher Schwartz’ excellent book Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use. The popular western workbench falls into one of five basic patterns. On the right is an example of the pattern that seems to be most popular right now, the Roubo pattern. Note the massive top and legs, the robust leg vice, sliding deadman (the hourglass-shaped panel with all the holes in it), the holes in the right leg with a mechanical holdfast in it, and the traditional holdfast at the rear of the bench top. Note also the planing stop just behind the front left leg; this is adjustable, tapped up and down as a stop to keep stock put whilest one planes, and adjusts to be shy of the planed surface so that the plane is planing only that which needs to be planed, and not the planing stop. Get it? Shown prominently in this photo is one of the endearing features of the Roubo, the crochet, on the left front apron of the bench. Subtly appearing is the wagon vice in lieu (that’s French, you know) of the tail vice — you can just make out a slot at the heel of the very cool low-angle smoothing plane. Think of this as a bench dog that moves in a slot, because that’s pretty much what it is. The wagon vice solves many of the issues associated with other forms of tail vices.

nicholson-bench

Nicoholson's entry into the Ugly Bench contest. Cheap gimmick to try and use colorful floor mats, but you can't fool the judges.

Second in popularity is the Nicholson bench, as shown on the left. Here we have a top that is not massive, but that is compensated for with supporting cross members. This bench also sports front AND rear aprons (Peter Nicholson drew his bench with a mere front apron.) Note that the apron in the front has a series of peg holes in a “Z” pattern. These holes permit the Galoot to insert dowels to support stock when jointing, replacing a deadman (which is a good thing, because a deadman wouldn’t fit well under there.) The splayed legs were something that The Schwartz added to increase access to stock in the leg vice. This bench sports a couple of metallic folding planing stops inlet into the bench top (in line with the left front leg.) I guess these are a matter of personal preference, but just seem to be a stark anachronism to the tradition of this bench. The Schwartz added a wagon vice to his Nicholson bench as well, which may defeat the purposes of economy and expediency in building the bench, but never, ever the purpose of use. As I’ve emphasized all along, the Galoot workshop is an acutely personal place, and one is crazy to think that because The Schwartz, The Wood Shepherd, or anyone else sets something up one way that that is the only way; Don Weber (the Welch bodger) likes this pattern for its ease of assembly, so that one can get on with the work. I like the pattern because you can use Big Box dimensional lumber for a much smaller investment than other patterns.

taunton-shaker-workbench

The Shaker bench, so named for the Religious sect and not for any instability in the bench design.

The third pattern we look at in the podcast is the Shaker pattern. This is a pattern that came to my attention in Scott Landis’ The Workbench Book. The photo on the right shows a brilliant execution of the design, incorporating many of the best features of other patterns: solidity, cool leg vices (note the wooden screw in this one, constructed with the ability to be removeable,) a beautiful maple top with a row of dog holes hear the front, a sliding deadman, and a tail vice. The typical shaker bench reclaims the lost space beneath the bench in the form of cupboards and drawers. This one even has contrasting and wonderful milk paint. I have to say that this pattern is near and dear to my heart because of my many forays to Pleasant Hill in Kentucky (we called it “Shakertown,” but I don’t know why.)

klausz-shoulder-vice

Klausz shoulder vice, the dovetailer's dream

To name our fourth pattern we use a somewhat universal name, “The Continental.” Several years ago Frank Klausz published material expounding the benefits of this pattern and for many years the Klausz bench was the vogue. Since that time many of these benches have been built better than a lot of fine furniture, using exotic hardwoods that contrast. And why not? This is an extremely functional bench and can be pretty versatile; and if the Galoot has the time and inclination along with the desire to showcase his or her joinery skills, why not in a bench?

klaus-tail-vice

The tail vice on a Klausz bench. I hope the builder signed the vice!

Two of the defining features of the Klausz bench are visible in the photo at the right; the tool tray in the back, and the distinctive shoulder vice. Tailor your choise of benches to the work you do a lot of; if you don’t need to use a lot of clamps in strange places all the time, you need to be less concerned about under-bench storage interfering with clamping points. If you cut dovetails every day (some of them taking only 3 minutes, rasafrackin!) then this is the vice for you. Some prefer square dog holes with a retractable dog in each hole, some prefer the ease of boring round holes after the bench is assembled. There is no right or wrong. I absolutely love the look of this tail vice, no questions. I find it to be a very versatile vice as well.

The fifth pattern is not a pattern at all, really, it is just all those other non-woodworking vices out there. This is my entry in the Ugly Work Bench contest. Send your entries to me, and I’ll publish them in this blog, just for the fun of it! We’ll vote to see whose is most gruesome!

benches-002

My entry into the Ugly Bench contest. It does keep all the junque (that's French, you know) off of my woodworking bench, so that makes it a decoy!

Okay, the podcast:

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7 Responses to “Episode 13 – The Bench Page”


  1. 9 February, 2009 at 13:00

    The Klausz bench has always been my favorite and I plan to build one someday. Just as soon as I get some nerve….

  2. 9 February, 2009 at 13:38

    Hey Kari-

    It seems as though the Klausz bench was THE favorite of thinking Galoots everywhere until The Schwartz disrupted everything with his book. I’m sort of glad that I don’t have to make that decision just yet!

  3. 3 Phil Lang
    9 February, 2009 at 19:12

    Assuming that you mean no disrespect (although you have been writing it for a while now), there is no “t” in Schwarz.

  4. 18 February, 2009 at 17:48

    This is really embarrassing. My mother’s grandfather was named (would you believe) Schwartz McPherson (you can’t make this stuff up!) I’ll blame the extra “t’s” on Schwartz rather than THE Schwarz, whom I venerate. And who is bigger than I am.

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