Workbenches Book Review

Christopher Schwarz’s new book “Workbenches: from Design & Theory to Construction & Use” isn’t like other books on the subject. And that’s precisely the reason this work is a must-have for anyone interested in building a workbench. Other books on the subject show different forms of benches and the necessary accoutrements for using them, but they don’t offer much help in deciding which options are right for you. This book, in contrast, offers a real education in the whys and hows of what can often be confusing choices.

A good book will get you thinking and maybe starting on a daydream or two. A great book will change your thinking and empower you to launch into action. That is exactly what this book does. With a studious review of historic forms and common theories, Schwarz has the knack of explaining why they did it the way they used to; he then raises the questions of what will likely happen if you follow an historic form, or decide to veer off in another direction. Rather than presenting information in a pompous “this is the way you should do it” manner, this book works by posing questions about the way you work, and provides solutions based on how you answer.

In addition to the thorough discussion of bench styles and forms, there is an incredible amount of detailed information about using a bench as a valuable tool and helpful shop assistant. Holding the work to the bench is an important part of this, and this is covered completely. Vises, holdfasts, dogs and other accessories are explained both in historic context and in terms of contemporary use.  Schwarz has done his research, and he’s also gone out to the shop, put these things together and tested them to see how they work.

In addition, his personality comes through the pages which makes this an entertaining as well as instructive book. He’s an interesting, amusing and knowledgeable guy. He has his opinions, but he doesn’t try to shove them down the reader’s throat. His interest isn’t in making you believe he’s right; it is in informing and inspiring the reader to make good decisions. He shows you how he built the benches that work for him, but the key to this book is that he gives you what you need to build the bench that works for you.

I believed that I was ready to build a workbench before reading this book, but I gained enough from the experience that I’m heading back to the drawing board to make some changes, add a few things and get rid of some others. The bench I eventually build will be significantly better than what I had in mind before. It will suit my habits and methods better, be more convenient, and ultimately improve both the quality of my work and the quality of me as a woodworker. I can’t think of many books that can do all that, but this one certainly does.

This book is widely available, but the best place to buy it is directly from the author’s web site. You can get a signed copy that includes a bonus CD.

– Robert W. Lang

Editor’s note; In the interest of full disclosure, Chris is the editor of
Popular Woodworking magazine and Bob is senior editor. Bob is the better woodworker of the two, but Chris has the cooler car.

8 thoughts on “Workbenches Book Review

  1. Raymond

    @ Bob – Thanks a ton. Google & free are both great. (Although the $495 version better come with an assistant that builds the project for me with resale value.)

    On a strang note, my wife came home tonight with another woodworking mag in her bag – in it an article by Tim Killen about SketchUp. So maybe its a sign.

    However, I’ll give you the credit. In a picture being worth a thousand words theory,..I feel closer to your Mac, the power strip and the coffee cup than I do Killen’s pics. (A) he uses a PC. (B) he holds the mouse like its a plane, which is great for woodworking, but not computers.

    Either way, Im looking forward to checking out SketchUp.

  2. Bob Lang

    Raymond, the image is of my machine, and is the drawing/model I’m working on for the bench I hope to build over this winter. The software is Google SketchUp and it is available as a free download for both Windows and Mac machines. I’ve written a couple of blog posts about it.

    I’m a fan of it, moving to apostle status. It’s relatively easy to learn and quite useful. The tutorials with the program and from the SketchUp site are very good, as is the "SketchUp for Dummies" book. I’m finishing up a book on drafting and design for woodworkers that will be out about a year from now, and using SketchUp will be a significant part of it.

    Bob

  3. Raymond

    Screw the car, gents. Somebody has the cooler Mac – or at least software running on it. Its not clear from the article – is the picture of the Mac with the bench design some sort of CAD software for woodworkers?

    I’m a better geek than I am a woodworker, but I try and sawdust has always felt better to my fingers verses plastic keys. Anyway, I’ve kept a Mac in the shop for years, but it only plays music and keeps me in touch with the rest of the world via email and chat.

    But using CAD software never occured to me – duh! Is that what I am seeing in the picture? If not, are there choices out there?

  4. Alan

    Gents, gents, gents…this is not about having the coolest car, in this case it’s about having the coolest workbench. Chris is clearly ahead of the curve on workbenches, given the number of them he has built over the past couple years. I think we need to give Chris the nod on the coolest bench. However, the opportunity is there for Bob to create the coolest bench for his purpose, and it seems he might be in the process of doing just that.

    Until then, it seems safe to say that Chris has the coolest workbench(es). LOL!

    Regards,
    Alan

  5. Bob Lang

    Well, Chris keeps his at the body shop, and when I park mine I’m afraid of getting a ticket for littering. My claim to automotive coolness was entirely tongue in cheek.

    Bob

  6. Bob Lang

    Not to start an argument, but Chris is the better woodworker, and Bob has the cooler car. Not everyone may agree, but it is newer, and it is capable of getting from home to work and back again most of the time.

    Bob

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