Chris Schwarz's Blog

The New $5.87 Sawbench

I leave for North Carolina this week to shoot two episodes of “The Woodwright’s Shop” with Roy Underhill then teach a three-day class on handsawing at Underhill’s little Utopia of a woodworking school in Pittsboro, N.C.

One of the shows will be on English handsawing (no on-screen French-sawing DIY vasectomies are planned) and the other show will be about the simple toolkit of a joiner, circa 1839.

To prepare for the class and show, I built a new sawbench this weekend and improved the design a bit to use less material, I used a wood species that is easier to deal with when working with hand tools and I tweaked the design to make the sawbench ideal for those who do a lot of ripping on their sawbenches.

Here’s why I made these changes:

1. Less Material: Previous generations of my sawbenches used 2×8 material. This allowed me to have the top fairly wide (just under 7″) and to rip all the components out of the 2×8 and increase the chances that I’d end up with quartersawn stock. I switched to 2×6 material for this new generation, which reduces the cost of the project a bit (always a good thing). It also makes the top a little narrower, which hasn’t been a problem yet. But it does mean I need to be more careful in selecting my stock because there’s little waste when ripping up the 2×6.

2. New Species: By switching to 2×6 material, that meant I could use Canadian white pine instead of Douglas fir or Southern Yellow pine. I usually prefer yellow pine for this project because the stuff is durable. But when I teach students about sawing and we’re cutting yellow pine, they struggle. The different densities of the earlywood and latewood give them fits. By switching to white pine, I can further reduce the cost of the bench and make all the joints easier to cut. And white pine is plenty durable for a sawbench.

3. Design Change: I now have one long stretcher down the middle of the sawbench instead of two long stretchers attached to the outside of the legs. This does a few things. It reduces cost and weight. It gives us another type of joint to cut. And it makes the sawbench easier to use for ripping. On previous generations of sawbenches, students would sometimes score the long stretchers with their ripsaws, especially when sawing with the tool vertical. With this new design, you can’t nick the lower stretcher unless you are sawing wrong.

And one last change: The parts are fastened together using 6d cut nails instead of screws. The cut nails just look cooler.

After I get back from The Woodwright’s School, I’ll have a four weeks in the office and the shop before my next trip. That means I’ll finally be able to give you the answer to the e-mail you sent me in May.

- Christopher Schwarz

Other Interesting Links on Hand Tools for You

- Read an interview with Roy Underhill about his most recent book. http://blog.woodworking-magazine.com/blog/An+Interview+With+Roy+Underhill.aspx

- Read my review of Roy’s book “The Woodwright’s Guide.” http://blog.woodworking-magazine.com/blog/Review+New+Book+From+Roy+Underhill.aspx

- Have you heard about our reprint of the book “Exercises in Wood-Working”? It’s a great lesson-by-lesson way to get familiar with hand tools. And I host some short videos actually performing the exercises. Fun! Read about it in our store.

- Like the PBS show “The Woodwright’s Shop”? You can watch episodes for free here. http://www.pbs.org/woodwrightsshop/

- Got a drool bib handy? Go here: www.maison-de-l-outil.com.

18 thoughts on “The New $5.87 Sawbench

  1. Bill Rusnak

    "The bottom of my kneecap is 20 1/2" high. Is this too low for a sawbench?

    Janet Brewer"

    No. I learned about the knee height rule last year at WIA from Ron Herman. If you go much higher, you won’t be comfortable when you saw which means you won’t saw well and will end up going back to your tablesaw.

    Keep in mind that not everyone can push a 26"+ saw. To find your ideal saw length, Ron suggested holding the saw backwards with the tow towards your shoulder. If the saw is much longer than that distance it’s too long for you. Of course, this rule is for standard thickness stuff (3/4" thick, 4 quarter, etc.). If you’re sawing something very thick you can get away with a slightly longer saw.

    Good luck.

    Bill

  2. Rob Porcaro

    Hi Chris,

    The sawbench looks very practical. I’ll bet it beats sawing on a Workmate as I do.

    Couple thoughts: a total height of just-below-the-kneecap (which makes ergonomic sense) may be too low for some people to get a full stroke of a 26" rip saw, depending on the angle of the saw. May need to compromise/adjust.

    Also, I wonder if it would be practical to have an asymmetric leg splay that would allow closer support of the board on one side. This may improve ripping by reducing vibration, but I don’t know how it would work out ergonomically. Might not be enough room for the right leg to get out of the way (for a right-hander).

    Good luck on TV!

    Rob

  3. Narayan

    I like the single stretcher a lot better. It’ll make the sawbench a lot easier to stand around (my ankles almost always find the stretchers on the version we built in Portland, Oregon). And, as you mention, it’s one less "alignment" you need to think about when sawing.

    The way the single stretcher sits on the leg stretchers is a bit odd, though. It’s too proud for my tastes. Not that aesthetics are the point of this piece…

  4. Colin

    You can get good holding power with a holdfast on these sawbenches by gluing two 2×4 blocks (stacked) to the bottom of the underside of the top and drilling a 3/4" hole through them.

  5. Jonas Jensen

    I made the sawbench from Woodworking Magazine, and I think that design is prettier than the new one. You also get to make drawbored tenon joints. But for a sawing class, I can see that it might be a better idea to make it in the new design.

  6. Christopher Schwarz

    The dimensions are determined by your body. The length is about 32". The total height is just under your kneecap. The splay of the legs is 10°. The overhang is the width of one of your hands. After that, it’s really all dependent on those dimensions and how they play out.

  7. victor

    Any idea how I could get to watch the first 25 seasons of The Woodwright’s Shop? I keep looking for the DVD, but apparently it doesn’t exist. Which is really too bad.

    Victor Ghiga

  8. Matthew Holbrook

    Chris and Roy,

    I plan to to see both of you at Woodwright’s School. Will the above version of the sawbench be the one that our class at Woodwright’s will build, or will the design from Woodworking Magazine be used?

    Regards,

    Matthew Holbrook
    Reformedtruth@yahoo.com

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