Chris Schwarz's Blog

French Workbench Class – Day 4

When I walked into the shop at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking this morning at 8:24 a.m., the place was a wreck. The students were fitting their joints among piles of shavings and sawdust and joking with one another.

The radio was on (they have a radio?) and playing a Bob Marley tune.

This, I thought, is the day we go off the rails and into the high weeds. This calamity happens with some classes, and it actually never surprises me. After all, most amateur woodworkers aren’t accustomed to 10-hour days on their feet, lifting 300-pound tops all day and my peculiar brand of fecal-based humor.

So I got a cup of coffee and waited for something to happen. Or, more likely, nothing to happen.

It’s 11:02 p.m., and I just walked the narrow bridge from the school to the Sunday House where I’m staying. We glued up all 10 workbenches – in one flipping day. The students kept at it all day, helping one another fit and assemble the benches – it takes four or five people to do it right.

We stopped for dinner after gluing up six benches. I felt pretty good about that number – six. And I thought the students would fall asleep on the nice deck on the back of the school with the cool breeze wafting though their smelly armpits.

But no. We just kept going. Each assembly got easier. Each bench looked better than the one before it. After we glued up the last student’s bench, I gathered up my tools.

One of the students said: “What about Kelly’s bench? Can’t we do that?”

Kelly has been building a bench alongside the students that will be used by the school. The parts needed some tune-ups before assembly, but all the students jumped on it and the glue was flowing within minutes.

At that point, I was just playing along with the mob. If someone had suggested we go lynch someone at the jail, I probably would have joined in.

— Christopher Schwarz

Read the other stories in this series:

French Workbench – Monday
• French Workbench – Tuesday
• French Workbench – Wednesday

10 thoughts on “French Workbench Class – Day 4

  1. Mitchell

    Hand tools, power tools or a couple of beavers with big teeth, who cares. The videos show a group of people having a damned good time building great looking benches.

  2. rhancock

    That was my question, too, Damian, but I figure those old benches Chris talked about in the first blog weren’t built with bandsaws. While I would love to build a bench with half a dozen other woodworkers to help lift stuff, I can’t see anything that can’t be done by hand. Looks like about 10 pieces of timber to plane and joint – a good workout, but not impossible. Course, you’d need a friend or two to lift the top on!

    I like the simplicity of the design of this one, so I’m already planning on making one in the next while (year or two…) Are there / will there be plans available somewhere?

  3. damien

    Great, as beer marketeers say here: Home is where my Stella is.

    It was instructive to see the thing happen. I had a question, if it takes “four or five people to do it right” can the lone worker expect to finish a workbench in 40 hours like it was proposed in the first post? There is the added handicap of smaller or no thickness planer, but there, I can always go to a lumberyard.

    1. Simon Frez-Albrecht

      Damien,
      I’ve built a Roy Underhill Roubo with the rising dovetail joint on the front and tapered back legs, and with the exception of driving a couple of screws with a cordless driver, all the work was done with handtools. I used pressure treated 6×6 for the top (only two wide though, with a tool tray on the back)and Douglas Fir for the legs and stretchers. I was able to complete my bench in 30-40 hours working alone. Mine isn’t nearly as attractive as the benches that we’ve been seeing in these video clips, but it certainly works excellently.

      If you are clever with supporting the top on sawhorses, you can maneuver the legs into place and drop the top down one end at a time onto the base.

    2. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      Damien,

      With a thickness planer and a band saw I can build one of these in 40 hours by myself. You just build it on sawhorses. You don’t need a bench to build a bench.

      When I wrote the line about “four or five” people, that’s how to do it quickly and without having to prop the top up as you glue. I should have written that it takes for or five people to do it “easily.” Sorry I mis-typed.

      1. phillipsmiley@gmail.com

        What is this “thickness planer and band saw” you speak of? I built my Holtzapffel (using your book as a guide) with my #4 and #8 hand planes to flatten the top. I promise it took me more than 40 hours but it took significantly less than one year elapsed time.

        I confess I used my jointer, thickness planer, and tablesaw to dimension the stock (Home Depot SYP) but after that, I flattened the top using my hand planes and I cut, and bored the mortise and tenon joints by hand. I also draw bored all the M&T joints.

        It was a daunting task at the time but I highly recommend it to anyone who does woodworking. To invest the time and effort in building something that massive that you will then use regularly for years is a very satisfying exercise.

        The other posters are correct. You can do this alone and you can do this on saw horses. I didn’t find it difficult to fit the legs to the top. The hard part, for me, was manhandling those long pieces while dimensioning them.

COMMENT