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.