On Workbenches Part I: The Lesson of the Schwarz

This is a guest post by Dyami Plotke of the Penultimate Woodshop. It originally appeared at penultimatewoodshop.com. Feel please check back there for post relating to Dyami’s woodworking ramblings.

As woodworkers we all have benches. Some are just a sheet of 3/4″ plywood on saw horses and others are full blown hand made Roubo shrines. Until we come up with at least the most basic bench (just a horizontal work surface) we’re really of very little use as a woodworker.
That’s my current bench, under all those routers.
My current bench is a factory made Whiteside that I picked up on Craigslist for $150.00 a few years ago. It is a basic Nordic style bench, about 24” wide by 60” long and has two (2) mediocre vises. Mediocre is in fact the best way to describe the whole bench.

While it is what I have and it usually gets the job done, it is certainly not what I want. What I want is a mutant with the ancestry of Roubo, the bones of modern materials and an eye towards the 21st century.

But before I go too far into describing my own bench design philosophy I would be remiss if I failed to first bring up Christopher Schwarz, for he is certainly the current authority on workbench design & construction on the interwebs & the greater woodworking community as a whole.

As many of us have, I’ve been influenced by Chris’ rabid consumption and propagation of all things workbench. While he has so far failed to convert me to total Roubo adoration, I think there is more actionable workbench advise being put out by Chris than any other source we have access to today.
Beyond a general workbench philosophy, I’ve taken from Chris two (2) main points. The second is a direct result of the first.

Point #1: The workbench is a 3 dimensional clamping surface. Its job is to hold a work piece still so that any number of woodworking tasks can be accomplished without the piece moving.

An out of proportion hand drawn cross section
of the bench design I’m working on.
Point #2: The legs must be flush with edge of the top. Without this feature you’re left with a 2 dimensional clamping surface, or put another way, you have 2/3 of a workbench.

-Dyami Plotke


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