Chris Schwarz's Blog

French Workbench Class – Day 3

The problem with Wednesdays at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking is that Kelly and Teri are a bit too nice to the students and instructors. That’s the evening when the Mehlers shut down the school a little early to feed the students a light dinner, some wine and beer and bring in a masseuse.

It’s a lot of fun. It’s also the day we don’t get enough done, so I start to panic.

Yes, all the workbench bases are complete and ready to glue. The tops are ready to assemble. But it’s the legs that are kicking our behinds.

They need to be fit into the tops. And the fit needs to be crazy-good because with these ancient workbenches, all of their strength comes from the connection between the legs and the top. So it’s an arduous paring process to make the legs slide home.

Some of the students managed to get some of their legs fit. But we have a lot of work ahead for Thursday. Still, I hope we can start assembling benches on Thursday. My plan is to order pizza that evening then bootleg some beer into the school for dinner, trapping them into a game where we assemble the benches.

I know that sounds stupid, but you have never seen how I assemble these French benches. It’s as fun as cockfighting (but without becoming “Faces of Death – The Poultry Edition”). Yes, assembly time is redneck time. No mallets. No gently pulling the assembly together with clamps while we twiddle our pocket square and ascots. It’s mostly a process involving “Yeeee Haw” and “Coo-coo” and “Here, hold my beer.”

Of course, if you know me, then you know those three phrases were in my wedding vows.

In any case, stay tuned.

— Christopher Schwarz

You can read earlier accounts of this class
French Workbench – Monday
• French Workbench – Tuesday

11 thoughts on “French Workbench Class – Day 3

  1. Fernando

    I apologize for my bad English, but I provide a detail in the construction of the French bench.
    The video shows the assembly where the legs are perfectly square, and that’s not so much because the front legs, if that should be square, because that is where the screw is mounted, but the hind legs should have a certain inclination, to give him a broader base of support and more stability to the bank.
    I have seen many banks work in my life, with this structure, but lately, I think, to simplify are symmetrical and square. The bank has no stability.
    Also at the top, there is no preparation for the installation of side screw.
    Since it is a school, the work must be done according to the needs of a carpenter.
    I have over 40 years in carpentry, and am currently teaching (theory and practice) of carpentry, Spain.
    I hope to be helpful with my comment.
    Fernando
    ea2lw. fernando@gmail.com

  2. J. Pierce

    “They need to be fit into the tops. And the fit needs to be crazy-good because with these ancient workbenches, all of their strength comes from the connection between the legs and the top. So it’s an arduous paring process to make the legs slide home.”

    The perfect-tight fit between the legs and top I understand. The one bit I’ve never grasped (although I probably haven’t sat down and thought about it too hard, either) is what the dovetail in the Roubo construction gains you? How would the tenon/dovetail combo be better than a double tenon? There’s probably a real simple answer I’m missing, but at first glance, I’m not sure how the stresses in the bench and vise assembly benefit from the dovetail.

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      While Roubo doesn’t talk about the “why” of this joint, I can guess after building a bunch of them.

      The joint is easier to make than a twin tenon. The dovetail can be sawn out easily from the front of the benchtop. The mortise has to be bashed out with a mortise chisel. I think it took me about 30 minutes to do a mortise and less than 10 to cut the dovetail socket (working entirely by hand).

      The dovetail shape at the front ensures the joint won’t peel off the front of the bench.

      This is only a guess, but I think it’s a good one.

  3. Mark Singleton

    Inspiring as always. Maybe someday I can attend a class or two myself.

    OH, and yes, youtube rocks. This was the first video I could see beginning to end….

  4. jimmcfarland

    Thanks Chris. Your blog makes this darn near as fun and exciting as the world series! Can’t wait for the next update.
    Wish I were there if for nothing more than to watch and drink the beer.

  5. Shawn Nichols

    Sigh…Youtube is blocked at the office…The first two videos looked awesome. I’ll have to go back to just reading during lunch. This really isn’t a complaint – I know how hard it is to please the masses.

  6. robert

    Thanks for the switch to youtube. I could watch the entire clip with out the jumpy starts and stops that your videos usually have; blip is a piece of crap unless you have a T1 line.

  7. chayward

    Thumbs up for the benches.

    Second Thumbs up for using youtube. No more #$%@ing blip problems.

    Third thumbs up for the music – by Friday it’s gonna be “the flight of the bumblebee”.

  8. Mitch Wilson

    Have you considered bringing in a Cajun fiddler (Doug Kershaw?) to speed up your tempo? Throw in a little crawfish on your pizza and you should be able to get back on schedule. Damn, those sliding dovetail/tenon joints look amazing. And tedious. You’re crew’s done real good.

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