Chris Schwarz's Blog

Poll: Workbench With a Flourish

One of the goals of this latest bench is to build a piece with enough visual interest that you could put it in a dining room (think sideboard) or a living room (think table behind a couch).

I’ve added lots of details that I think will make this work in a living space (as well as a workshop), but there is one flourish I’m not so sure about. That’s where you come in.

I’ve drawn the lower stretcher of the bench three ways, all of them taken from A.J. Roubo’s books on furniture. The first way is to just leave the stretcher straight and squared up , just like Roubo shows it on plate 11 of his books. I call this “Roubo de viril” (manly).

The second variant features a rail detail taken from one of Roubo’s table designs. It’s quite a bit more elaborate. We’ll call this one “Roubo la compliquÃ?©.” This stretcher looks fun to make but a little too frilly for my tastes (perhaps from the Late Whorehouse Furniture Era).

So I swiped a simpler S-curve shape from one of Roubo’s cabriolet leg chairs. Four line segments later, I came up with this. For the lack of a better word, I’ll call it “Roubo l’hermaphrodite.” It’s a little Jamie Lee Curtis without swinging into the Liberace zone.

What do you think: Too much? Take the poll below and let us know.

– Christopher Schwarz

36 thoughts on “Poll: Workbench With a Flourish

  1. Milford Brown

    To go along with cloud-lifts at the ends of the stretcher (leaving the center straight for whatever foot-work), how about some square ebony pegs to hold everything together, just to add to the Greene & Greene aspects of the design?

  2. Dick Clendaniel

    Straight but maybe embellish with generous chamfer, either flat or concave.

    Dick Clendaniel

  3. John Worth

    I prefer the Roubo de viril, not because I’m some kind of tough guy, but it suits the piece better. Sometime more is less, and I think that’s the case here.

  4. Gerry

    Of the options offered, I’d go with the purist Roubo de Viril. If you want to add some lipstick,what about a simple stopped chamfer along the top edge and some contrasting square pegs through draw bored mortise & tenons…voile’ Roubo & Green.
    Slainte’,
    gerry

  5. Ellis

    Really, with a big leg vice on the side, the choice of stretcher would be the last of my worries if I had to convince the wife that a bench would look good in the living room! 🙂

  6. Gene

    I don’t remember if you were planning on gluing or bolting this bench together. If you’re using bolts, though…. Why not just make 2-3 different front stretchers? If you work on the bench for a couple of weeks and can’t stand it, swap out the stretcher.

    I also like the ideas of making the vise and/or the deadman to match the curve of the stretcher. All sorts of options there (especially with the deadman), and also easy to swap out.

    Gene

  7. mac

    Chris,

    I’d opt for the viril, but since I love ( the forms of ) Jamie Lee Curtis I came to think of another option:

    How about the l’hermaphrodite theme and then shape the leg vise ( the upper part ) with the same pattern as on the lower stretcher. Uniform, trés elegant and conceptual.

    Cheers,

    Mac

  8. John Walkowiak

    Chris,
    I would keep everything straight. Use a 3/4" corner bead on the outside of the legs and a chamfer with lambs tongue on the top and bottom of the stretchers.
    John

  9. Chris Mershon

    I am going with number two…Sorry. I would also add a similar detail on the front legs which still leaves the front face flat. There is no reason why the legs could’t be a bit curvy….I mean really who doesn’t like curves?

  10. Andy

    Of the three options, definitely the straight and square. IMO the ornamentation on the stretcher looks like an afterthought – doesn’t correspond to anything else on the bench. I agree with other posters who suggested a simple chamfer or possibly curves that reflect those on the leg vise. Speaking of which, the leg vise would preclude its inclusion in any "normal furniture" category in most homes…

    Also, I’d like to point out that it’s confusing to have the poll options in a different order than they were presented in the write-up. I know I’m just being picky, but we’re talking about design here, right?

  11. David Chidester

    I normally would prefer the straight stretcher. But I feel part of what makes this bench so awesome is that you’re doing it different than the other ones you’ve already built. So I think you should switch it up this time and go with one of the decorative choices, like the Roubo l’hermaphrodite.

  12. aaron cashion

    Chris,

    Leave it square. For some embellishemnt how about a carving or inlay in the bottom stretcher? Just a thought.

  13. Bill Dalton

    I like the looks of the 3rd one, but, while pretty, if you need to use the lower stretcher to clamp to, i.e. a pipe clamp, this would cause an issue. Just a thought.
    Bill

  14. Brian

    Looks like one step away from turning this manly bench into a doily. Keep the bench square. What if in some crazy scenario you need the bottom of the stretcher for some odd clamp up job, but you’re stuck ski’n the slopes of the underbelly. Just my opinion.

    Brian

  15. Doug F.

    I agree with the chamfers and lamb tongues idea. I think it is the best comprise that preserves function yet enhances form.

    Do you plan on putting a deadman on this bench? If so, you could have a lot of fun decorating it with some carving or interesting shapes. Or maybe you could create a decorative deadman that serves as an art piece when the bench isn’t in use???

    Or maybe you can put a flat screen tv between the front legs while it’s in the living room?:-]

  16. George Walker

    I’d leave it plain but possibly dress it up with the afore mentioned lamb’s tongue chamfers, or a bead. Both would break the sharp corners which is desirable from a practical standpoint and add a small amount of emphasis. Are you going to add some wild "Batman wings" like in the engraving at the top of the post?

    George

  17. Paul Kierstead

    Being manly is not being afraid of some decoration. Sheesh, a measly <10% for the design that properly reflects the roots of the bench, plus adds a completely non sequitur flourish, which is the whole point!

  18. Kenny Horne

    Chris,

    I think you should leave the form well enough alone, but adapt the piece for the home with colour and texture. My Roubo is solid and wonderful in light oil over poplar. If its going into a kitchen (and I truly believe a kitchen is just another workshop that is in need of a great workbench) I’d go maple (built up top would look great) with a nice repairable finish. For the parlour, I’d go walnut with a bit more refined finish with a thicker film. Proportion could also come down as that’s a lot of bdft. though I guess anyone with a kitchen or dining room big enough to comfortably fit a full size Roubo could probably afford it.

    Kenny Horne
    Edmonton, Canada

  19. Darnell Hagen

    I’d leave it straight, unless you need the toe room. My bench revealed this problem during dry fit, an arc was the solution without being too frilly.

  20. Larry Gray

    You see that curve on the side of the leg vise chop, adjacent to the screw? Rotate that 90deg and put it on the bottom of the stretcher, including the chamfer. Simple, elegant, and in context.

  21. Christopher Schwarz

    Couple things: The only flourishes I decry are the ones that impair function (see also: shiny film finishes on benches). During a trip to Germany several years ago I saw workbenches that were ornate, yet 100 percent functional.

    And those were 100 percent bench, baby. Not bench-ish. That’s my deal.

    As to my full intent here, I’ll save that for the printed version. My cookie is about to expire.

  22. james

    YAAAAAAAAAA HOOOOOOOOOOO, i finally am on the winning side in an election.

    How about turned? as in vase & ring turned stretchers.

  23. Mike Siemsen

    Straight, Roubo de viril. If you want to perk it up a bit try adding a chamfer with a lamb’s tongue. The French always try to add a little tongue and it keeps it looking like a bench. If you want to see what it looks like in the living room draw it without the vise unless you eat a lot of nuts, then it would be handy. George Walker would probably say the other options were benchish.

  24. James Watriss

    Wait, weren’t you the guy who wrote the book on building benches from a purely functional standpoint?

    If you’re really worried about making your new tool into a piece of fine furniture, then I think I’m a little confused as to what the point of the project was.

    Would you do this to a Barnsley hayrake table?

  25. Bruce Jackson

    Actually, you could combine the Roubo top with the Nicholson base, then arch the legs. It will work in the shop and look great as a sofa table in the family room 🙂

  26. Sandy Navas

    Mine think thou doust have too many manly wheels turning in thy head space at times.

  27. Minnesota Grant

    Straight and square buddy!
    If you must dress it up a bit how about a split or double stretcher or something along those lines?
    Just a thought.

  28. Gye Greene

    The form of Option #1 is more consistent with the rest of the piece. And it looks Art Deco (IMO) — and thus living-room-worthy.

    –GG

  29. Mike Lingenfelter

    For the shop, I would go with Roubo de viril. Manly always is best for the shop :). For the Living or Dinning room, I would go with Roubo l’hermaphrodite. Although to class up your shop, Roubo l’hermaphrodite might work. Sorry, but Roubo la compliqué doesn’t do anything for me.

    Mike

  30. Nathan

    I believe that you should go with the straight stretcher based on the information that I read, from you I believe, that said that one can gain an advantage during certain operations by wedging the top of the foot under the stretcher. A curvilinear stretcher would get rid of this advantage and enter the bench into the category of "it looks nice but isn’t as functional as it could be", which no tool should suffer.

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