LVL Workbench


Tradition meets technology when we marry an 18th-century workbench design with modern laminated veneer lumber.
By Christopher Schwarz & Megan Fitzpatrick
Pages: 32-41

From the November 2009 issue #179
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When it comes to workbench designs, I think it is difficult to improve on the 18th-century designs developed in Europe, England and the United States.

These behemoths are far simpler to build than the contemporary and common Euro-style bench, yet the old benches also offer better workholding, superior mass and less maintenance. In fact, there is only one true advantage offered by the Euro-style benches, and that’s portability.

Modern Euro-style benches are bolted together and can be knocked flat and shipped by truck or rail. The ancient benches are about as portable as a pregnant brontosaurus.

After building and working on more than a dozen different workbench designs, I resolved to fix this problem with the ancient benches, and I set my sights on turning one of my favorite French workbench designs from the 1700s into a bench that could be disassembled in less time than it takes to knead a baguette.

This design was first published in André Roubo’s “The Art of the Woodworker,” an 18th-century masterpiece that explained everything from carpentry to woodworking, marquetry, carriage-building and garden furniture. The workbenches in Roubo’s volumes are monolithic and simple, yet they excel at making it easy for you to work on the faces, edges and ends of boards and assemblies.

Since 2005 I’ve been working on a version of Roubo’s bench and am impressed daily with its versatility. I also have a crick in my back from moving this bench in and out of trucks to demonstrate it at woodworking shows. It is one solid chunk of wood.

With a little design work, I easily transformed Roubo’s bench into a version that was ready for the traveling Cirque du Soleil. But I wasn’t satisfied that I had pushed the limits of the bench’s design.

After writing the book “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use” (Popular Woodworking Books), I was besieged by people who wondered if you could use engineered wood (such as plywood or MDF) to build a good workbench. I’ve used Baltic birch to make a number of workbench tops, but I’ve never been thrilled with cabinet plywood (it’s unreliable these days), MDF or OSB (all of which sag like wet croissants). After doing some research I came across a material that you don’t see much in woodworking shops: laminated veneer lumber (LVL).

Online Extras

* Click here to watch a video tour of Megan’s LVL Workbench.

* Click here to view a video of Glen Huey’s method of drilling bench dog holes.

* Click here to download the 3D Google SketchUp Model of Megan’s LVL Workbench.


From the November 2009 issue #179
Buy this issue now