Chris Schwarz's Blog

New Book Coming on Workbench Design, Construction & Use

Designing and building good workbenches has been a passion of mine for the last decade or so. I’ve spent years rooting around in old books and getting dusty in the shop while building benches (I think I’ve built 10 different kinds now). And then I’ve had a great time using all these benches for all sorts of woodworking with both hand and power tools.

For the last year, I’ve been writing a book at night and on weekends about workbenches. It was first intended as a manual for my students when I teach classes. Then it grew into a series of articles for the magazine. Then it got out of hand.

I finished the book in February, designed it and turned the whole thing over to our woodworking books division (which is run by David Thiel, a former senior editor for this magazine). They thought it was good enough to publish, so you can look for the book in early 2008. The preliminary title is “Workbenches: From Design & Theory, to Construction & Use,” but that could change. The design of the book will be quite similar to Woodworking Magazine: nice paper, sepia-toned photographs, old engravings from historical books (many from Gary Roberts at The Toolemera Press) and lots and lots of words.

I’m not permitted to give out advance chapters or material on the book I’m afraid, but here is what I can tell you about my first literary effort.

- Workbench Design: The book explains the fundamental rules of good workbench design that have been largely forgotten. It explains all of the complex vises and ways of holding work so you can understand what they do. And it shows you how to use this knowledge to design a workbench using two venerable designs as basic skeletons.

- Workbench Construction: The book features extensive plans for two workbenches, including an expanded explanation of how to build the French-style Roubo workbench and complete plans for the English-style Nicholson workbench. The construction drawings are extensive and nice (they were made by Louis Bois, a draughtsman who makes the eDrawings for the Woodworking Magazine projects).

- Workbench Use: The heart of the book is on how to use the various vises and workshop jigs to actually hold work on your bench so you can work on it. While you don’t need a good workbench to do world-class work, it certainly takes away one of the biggest obstacles: workholding.

Also, I think it’s important to say what this book is not. It’s not going to offer you a tour of workbenches both unusual and typical from around the globe. I think that the current crop of workbench books have done a good job of showing the wide variety of solutions out there. Instead, this book is an attempt to explain the principles of good workbench design that you can use to build any style of bench.

When I have more information on the release of the book, including where it will be available and its price, I’ll post it here. So stay tuned.

- Christopher Schwarz

19 thoughts on “New Book Coming on Workbench Design, Construction & Use

  1. Christopher Schwarz

    The book is printed and we’re awaiting its arrival.

    The original release date was Oct. 10. Now they are guaranteeing Nov. 1. It should be out sooner than that.

    Believe me, as soon as it’s out, you’ll hear from us. You’ll get sick of hearing about the dang book.

    Chris

  2. Christopher Schwarz

    Dave,

    I think your wagon vise is very clever. I’ve seen a few like yours that use the sliding block as a traveler on the rod. If I had to remake mine, that’s how I would do it.

    I’ll be interested to see how your dogs work on the block.

    One other comment, your jaw for the leg vise looks a little on the thin side in the photo. How thick is it and what is the material if I might ask.

  3. Bill Wiese

    Hi Chris:

    I think it is hi time we readers make you a superstar. How about talking with your publisher and make arangments so that we all can order autographed copies of your new book on workbenches. You deserve more then the ordenary 15 minutes of fame that we all alot other authors.

    Bill Wiese

  4. Christopher Schwarz

    Dave,

    I’ll be really interested in seeing your wagon vise. I’ve modified the one on the Nicholson Bench that works really, really well.

    Chris

  5. John Tarbutton

    Chris, Count me in as another one ready and waiting to have your new book. Bravo, kudos, et cetera from me as well. Writing a book is HARD work, subject matter notwithstanding. I deal with physical limitations. So, a workbench that fits well should do well. I don’t have such quite yet (mine is an old heavy cast iron legs, tool shelf in back, Emmert vise on the left front), so your book may well fix my situation. While lifting and strenuous effort are mostly a no-no, it shouldn’t stop me from building a bench that really fits. (A half scale bench can be doggone handy to use too). Thank you for delving into research and doing all the work entailed writing a book. Put me on the waiting list if there is one. I’ll take two the minute I can get them. The article in the June issue was tantalizing. Now I will have handy reference at hand. It is so refreshing to consider workbenches which can really fit the work and worker rather than just stock items (though these do have their place certainly). Thanks for what had to be a challenge to do and yet keep happy family life plus regular work to boot. Your wife is to be congratulated too. So please treat her to a nice dinner, or maybe a quiet picnic down by the lovely Ohio river! We are never able to do this stuff without them. Thank God for a good wife! John T, Newark, Ohio

  6. John Tarbutton

    Chris, Count me in as another one ready and waiting to have your new book. Bravo, kudos, et cetera from me as well. Writing a book is HARD work, subject matter notwithstanding. I deal with physical limitations. So, a workbench that fits well should do well. I don’t have such quite yet (mine is an old heavy cast iron legs, tool shelf in back, Emmert vise on the left front), so your book may well fix my situation. While lifting and strenuous effort are mostly a no-no, it shouldn’t stop me from building a bench that really fits. (A half scale bench can be doggone handy to use too). Thank you for delving into research and doing all the work entailed writing a book. Put me on the waiting list if there is one. I’ll take two the minute I can get them. The article in the June issue was tantalizing. Now I will have handy reference at hand. It is so refreshing to consider workbenches which can really fit the work and worker rather than just stock items (though these do have their place certainly). Thanks for what had to be a challenge to do and yet keep happy family life plus regular work to boot. Your wife is to be congratulated too. So please treat her to a nice dinner, or maybe a quiet picnic down by the lovely Ohio river! We are never able to do this stuff without them. Thank God for a good wife! John T, Newark, Ohio

  7. Christopher Schwarz

    Jeff,

    I don’t think this is as much of a chicken-and-egg problem as some people suspect.

    I built the French-style Roubo workbench using only two sawhorses. First I glued up the top on the sawhorses. Then I built the base and used the top as an ersatz workbench with clamped-on planing stops.

    Instead of a vise, I held my work on the workbench top for joinery using bar clamps. It worked great.

    Another option: Almost everyone has (or should have) a Workmate in the garage. You can clamp anything for planing or joinery in a Workmate. So you can build the base first, if that suits your way of working.

    Chris

  8. Jeffrey Abell

    Hi Chris,

    Looking forward to both the book and the writeup on the Holtzapfell bench.

    How are you able to build these benches using only sawhorses? Is there some special design that enables you to adequately hold pieces for planing, etc.?

    Thanks for your work on the topic –

    Jeff

  9. Dan Crisp

    Thanks Chris for the information on the upcoming book. I’ve been waiting to build a "proper" woodworking workbench until the honeydo list of improvements is done – many of which include woodworking projects that would benefit from a good workbench, but selling that idea to the boss (that is, the real boss, not my work boss) is a little tough. So, about 3 years ago I bought the necessary construction grade lumber to make the renown $75 workbench. Three years later, it’s still to be built, but now I’m looking forward to riding on the coattails of the knowledge garnered in Chris’s workbench quest to make one of my own. Of course in the last 3 years, many iterations have happened in my design, but they’ve all been in my head, while Chris has the benefit of having his in tangible form. Since I’m now going to use hardwood (probably 2" ash or maple), I’m looking forward to picking up even more design tips.

  10. Gary Roberts

    I wholeheartedly concur on the finishing part. Stay away from boiled linseed oil as it will never quite cure, resulting in a possibility of rub-off of oil onto the work piece. Years ago I bought an Ulmia bench on sale, took off the lacquer top finish and hit it with Watco. Simple, basic polymerizing varnish/oil finish does the trick. Any varnish/oil mix will make you happy.

    Chris.. thanks for answering the old question, ‘How do you build a workbench if you don’t own a workbench?’ Sort of pokes a hole in the whole ‘You must have a workbench in order to do good woodworking’ theory. It’s just a tool that makes some jobs easier.

    Looking forward to the book.

    Gary

  11. Christopher Schwarz

    Hmmm, well, I think I will both please and disappoint you on these points.

    On the board foot calculation, I’ve never been able to please readers with my answers or calculations, especially on workbenches that are built with construction material.

    If I give a typical waste scenario (20 percent), some people buy too little wood and get angry with me when they are making so many more trips to the lumberyard.

    If I give a more generous waste allowance (30 percent), some readers get mad when they buy too much.

    And when I publish what I really use (about 10 percent), people don’t believe me.

    On finishing, we’ve tried all the silly formulas. We’ve heated stuff. Rubbed it in. Mixed wacky ingredients. It’s all mostly bunk. You want something that will resist stains, make it easy to flick off glue and won’t crack if struck. A simple oil/varnish blend (usually sold as tung oil) does all that. And it’s fast and renewable.

    And on the building sequence issue: I always build my benches on sawhorses and build them in a way that doesn’t require owning a bench. Just sawhorses.

    Chris

  12. P. M.

    Well, that sounds like a plan to me (to wait for the book and THEN build the workbench).
    I hope in the detailed plans you can give us the estimated board-foot (board-feet?) required to build both benches.
    …And a detailed instructions on finishing. Sometimes, "sand and apply 3 coats of finishing" is not good enough.
    … And that the bench is not required to be started on another bench. Some books on workbenches shows you how to build a new workbench but most of the required work is over an existing workbench. Nice, uhh!?

  13. Mike Wenzloff

    Good on ya, Chris!

    It will be worth the wait, I’m sure. And I’m happy it isn’t a coffee table book. That there is contribution by both Louis Bois and Gary Roberts with the engravings makes it all the better.

    You know, if there was a companion CD of Louis’ wonderful work…

    Take care, Mike

  14. Christopher Schwarz

    Pete,

    I’m afraid our company doesn’t publish eBooks yet. We’re still soundly in the 15th century. However, I boiled down the essential design specs for a good bench into one eight-page article that is coming out in the June 2007 Popular Woodworking, which is going out to subscribers this week.

    Chris

  15. Pete

    Wow, sounds like a great book– only problem is I want it now! I’ve already got the materials for my first real deal bench and I plan to get started on construction soon. I’ll probably still buy your book to help me with the seemingly inevitible bench version II. I guess there’s no way to buy it as an e-book sooner than the end of the year?

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