Chris Schwarz's Blog

So Did You Finish the Bench?

At Woodworking in America, the question I was asked most often was, “Did you finish the bench?” The answer? “Yes , sort of.”

On Thursday morning last week, Glen Huey and Bob Lang loaded up Bob’s split-top “21st-century Workbench,” Chris’s 2005 behemoth Roubo workbench, my LVL workbench and a passel of small Sjoberg benches that were kindly lent to us for the conference by Woodcraft. Lucky for me, at that point, the truck was full.

As they drove over the river to unload at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, I was scrambling to get enough done on my new “Petite Roubo” that it would hopefully pass muster.

Wednesday night, I’d cut and attached the guide blocks for the awesome Benchcrafted Glide vise, and cut the almost-final shape on the chop. I did not, however, have time to relieve the top front with the planned curve, nor had I smoothed the evident band saw cuts on the sides. Soon, I’ll relieve each stretcher edge with stopped chamfers and perhaps lambs tongues, and I’ll install a shelf , and possibly a door to create a low, flat cabinet like the one Chris retrofitted on his “18th-century Workbench” (it depends on how curious my cats get about my tools). I may also add a tool rack at the back left edge; I find the rack location on Chris’s bench awfully convenient for borrowing his chisels.

Thursday morning, as the truck rumbled across the bridge, I was frantically cutting a 3″ x 3″ or so 1/2″-deep mortise to accept the acetal bushing that helps the Glide run so smoothly, and making final adjustments to the guide blocks. Heck , I was in such a hurry that I used a trim router to hog out the bulk of the mortise waste , and I dislike powered routers (so messy!).

Finally, with the chop cut to final length, I tossed a winding stick at either end of the top, squinted down the length, then tested the middle for high and low spots. Because we’d run the 20″-wide top through our 20″ powered planer (tight fit!), there was little flattening to do , but it wasn’t pretty. The soft white pine showed evident tool marks and dings, and I wanted the bench to look at least halfway decent for its first outing. So I took a jointer plane to it, and Chris stepped in to help speed the process (I think he just likes flattening benchtops).

As the truck pulled back into our parking lot, I was wiping on a coat of oil/varnish blend with the help of a couple friends. We loaded the rest of our benches and tools for the second truck run, saving this new bench for last in hopes the finish would dry a bit , then wiped the oil off our hands.

Once at the WIA, we played a little game of “Find the Bench.” My bench started out in the back of Frank Klausz and Roy Underhill’s room, where I got a thumbs-up from Frank (though he said it needed to be a foot taller) , but he was concerned I’d cut myself on the sharp edges of the chop’s top, so he chamfered them for me…¦which means the planned curve is out. It would be bad building karma to cut off Frank’s chamfers!

Then, we moved it to (I think) Marc Adams’ room, and finally to the back of the room in which Chris and Jim Tolpin were teaching. On Sunday morning, I finally got to sit in on a class in that room. While I’m sure I’ll soon enjoy building something on the “Petite Roubo,” for now, I can report that it makes an awesome seat.

- Megan Fitzpatrick

Did you see a bench at WIA that you’d like to build? The joinery on my new bench is identical to that on Chris’s 18th-century bench from the August 2010 issue (also available on DVD with video instruction and scads of additional step-by-step pictures). The major difference (other than materials) is that mine was, where possible, built using powered tools.

In the story above, the links take you to individual products in our store in which you’ll find plans for all the benches mentioned therein. But the “18th-century Bench,” the “LVL Workbench” and the “21st-century Workbench” are among the nine complete plans in “The Workbench Design Book” (along with 10 additional “before-and-after” bench makeovers, the latest in workholding devices and real-world advice on wood selection, correct bench dimensions and more). The 2005 Roubo (the one that kicked off this little obsession) and Chris’s Nicholson bench (which wasn’t at the conference) are in “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction and Use.” Plans for the Holtzapffel bench with the wooden twin-screw vise (it was in one of the rooms , though I can’t remember which) are available here.

9 thoughts on “So Did You Finish the Bench?

  1. Chris Kenney

    btw, The LVL bench was awesome, too. I still prefer an all wood top, but the base had a nice contrast between the red and the curly maple. Both were rock solid. I’d love to have either in my shop. (A HUGE difference between the benches made by all the Pop. Wood. people and the store-bought (well, store-borrowed) ones.)

  2. Megan

    Thanks. The plans are basically the same as the 18th-century bench from the August 2010 issue – the difference is, we hogged out the mortises and center waste of the DTs on the table saw (the rest of the tail was cut by hand) before the top was glued up. The legs are the same dimensions as the 4 pieces that make up the top, so it was relatively simple to fit the tenons; the tail cuts atop the legs were marked directly from the top. So, follow along with the 18thC bench build, and you have it. The wood was found on Craig’s list under building materials (it was left over from a log-cabin build).

    Chris,
    How about I take a nap atop it instead? I simply haven’t recovered enough from WIA to jump.

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