Chris Schwarz's Blog

The Holtzapffel Workbench

Building a workbench is a bit like childbirth. Some benches come into this world like my firstborn did, fighting the entire way and taking twice as long as expected , like the English workbench. Other benches are like my second child, where you are done before you know it.

This weekend I’m putting the finishing touches on a workbench inspired by a design shown in Charles Holtzapffel’s “Construction, Action and Application of Cutting Tools Volume II.” I built the bench because it borrows the best features from three traditions: It has massive French bones with both English and German workholding. Holtzapffel himself was a reflection of this bench, a German who lived and worked in England.

This bench was very easy and fast to build. I’ve logged only 35 hours of shop time on this bench so far and have only a couple hours of work ahead of me , mostly cleaning off pencil marks and applying a finish.

Here are some of the details of the bench. I’ll be publishing a full version of the construction details of this bench that will be available by summer, but you can download the (admittedly rough) construction drawing below.

The bench is 6′ long, 24″ deep and 34″ high. The 3″-thick top is ash, with the base and vise chops made using hard maple. All the joints are traditional drawbored mortises and tenons. The legs and stretchers are all flush with the front (and rear) edge of the top.

The face vise is a twin-screw, with 24″ between the two wooden screws. The wooden screws are 2″ in diameter and move very quickly. I bought the screws off of another woodworker who lives in California. He had bought them off another guy many years ago. In other words, I don’t know where you can get another set for yourself. But I’m working on that issue right now.

The chop for the face vise (the big wooden part) is lined with leather, and both legs are bored with Ã?¾” holes for holdfasts to support work from below. I’ve always been intrigued by vises with wooden screws, and I can report that they are remarkable. I’ve been working with this vise as the bench has come together and the wooden screws have tenacious holding power. It’s also nice that your work doesn’t get marked with grease, which happens with metal-screwed vises.

The end vise is my own doing , Holtzapffel showed a proper tail vise. I used a quick-release vise with a massive (2-3/4″ x 13-1/2″) maple chop. Usually, I don’t much care for quick-release vises, especially in the face vise position. The screws and guide bars prohibit you from doing many useful cabinetmaking operations, such as dovetailing.

But a quick-release vise used in the end-vise position is a fantastic proposition. The large chop and its accessory dog give you lots of support below your work. And because I bored the dog holes in the top on 3-3/8″ centers, virtually all of my work is supported from below no matter how long or short it is.

You’ll notice that there’s no sliding deadman on this bench. My theory here is that I’m not going to need it, though I have built in a track for a deadman in case I am wrong. I think the twin screw and the holes in the legs will offer all the support I need for working on edges and ends of boards.

All three of the workbenches I’ve built recently, the French-style Roubo bench, the English-style Nicholson bench and the Holtzapffel cabinetmaker’s bench, perform all the basic woodworking operations that a bench should. But each has a slightly different personality. So picking a favorite bench is like asking which of my children I love more. I can’t do it. They’re all good. They’re all different.

HoltzapffelBench.pdf (35.47 KB)

- Christopher Schwarz

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