Chris Schwarz's Blog

Three Cultures, One Workbench

The most common question I’m asked these days (right behind “Could you please get me some chocolate raisins at Trader Joe’s?”) is this one: “What is your dream workbench?”

It’s a fine question. And when Craig Stevens at Woodworkers Resource asked me the question for this podcast interview, I stumbled around and answered that it would be something like a Roubo Workbench (a French design), with the workholding of a Holtzapffel Workbench (designed by a German living in England).

A bit of a Euro-mash workbench, I suppose.

Well today, woodworker James Oliver of Vancouver Island, B.C., sent me a photo of that exact workbench, which he has recently completed building. The bench is 112″ long, 27″ wide and 32″ high (James reports that he’s 5’7″ tall). The majority of the bench is structural fir; the vises and sliding deadman are ribbon-figured African mahogany.

The twin-screw vise is even larger than mine , 25-1/4″ between centers. And the jaws are lined with saddle leather. And my favorite detail is the little oil cup on the left side (made from walnut) , Andre Roubo would love it (if he were alive and had a broadband connection).

The bench took about a week to build. James builds furniture for Coastal Carvings fine art gallery using only solid stock, no plywood or veneers.

I think James’s bench is an excellent design. Bravo.

– Christopher Schwarz

30 thoughts on “Three Cultures, One Workbench

  1. Christopher Schwarz

    Philip,

    To keep the screws from drooping when extended more than a few inches, I would add support strips below the benchtop — no matter if you used wooden or metal screws. The support strips fill the gap between the screws and the benchtop and are shown in the plan for the Holtzapffel bench.

    Both the wooden and metal screws have noticeable play, by the way. Though I have no way of directly comparing the two methods.

    Chris

  2. Philipp

    Just great! Congratulations!

    Designing and building a Holzapffel-like workbench myself right now, I have on question. Maybe Chris or the other workbenchbuilders can help me.
    A simple question: do the two metal tail vise screws give the vise enough support or do they leave some play/backlash thus requiring additional guidance?
    Chris’ original Holzapffel-bench has wooden vise screws which I think have more friction and less play than some metal ones have, therefore my doubts.

    Would be happy to receive your comments!

    Regards

    Philipp

  3. Alan

    Swanz,

    All the more reason to shoot for the cover of Woodworking mag, it is in color! hehehe

    Seriously, I really like the quality of the magazine, the black and white doesn’t bother me at all, and I find the thicker stock to fair better in the shop for me, so it is easier to use as reference while working. Electronic version can be viewed on the computer also.

    This is not to mention when I did have a subscription to FWW, subscription cards would be falling out in the bathroom, the bedroom, the living room, heck I think I found one under the piano 6 months after the fact…:-/

  4. Alan

    He should send some nice color photos of that bench to Woodworking mag, the folks that teach you to build benches like that! Maybe if anyone builds a bench they build from an article in FWW, they could send it to them!;-)

    Support the magazines that bring you the best articles and ideas that you build with!

  5. Swanz

    He should send some nice color photos of that bench to FWW mag for their year end, readers work section.

  6. Rusty Miller

    James,

    I agree with Tom, sure would like to see more pics of the shop and the bench. That saw till to the right looks pretty cool. I’m sure there is lots of other neat stuff that we can’t see.

  7. Tom Knighton

    James,

    I’m not going to lie…I want pics of the whole freaking SHOP! Looks like you’ve got a great work area, one I am truly jealous of! The bench looks like a heck of a centerpiece for it!

  8. james oliver

    i moved the top by myself, my kids aren’t big enough to help with lifting it, and neither is my wife. the top is made up of only 6 pieces of fir so the glueup only took 1 day, i use to timber frame for a living so i’m pretty use to the bigger joinery and material. my shop is usually pretty clean, habits beaten into me as a child. and yes i do smile all day long. i only have 27 hammers thats not considered excesive is it? i’ll send chris some more shots of the bench, sorry i don’t has a website. thanks for the praise, i wasn’t expecting quite the reaction about the bench.

  9. Swanz

    Mama Mia! Roubo on steroids. Gorgeous bench, congrats! I got Chris’s book and am set on a Roubo bench. Just gotta get some of the right lumber, hardware, talent, skill,……………….

  10. Mike D.

    Chris

    That is exactly the bench I will be building.
    32" high 27" wide 96" long with a 5" thick top.
    I have to use douglas fir because I would have to special order yellow pine at a cost of 560.00

    It’s nice to see a picture of the design I was thinking about.

  11. Chris C.

    James,

    When are you going to get some more hammers? It
    doesn’t look like you have enough hammers. :->

    Chris

  12. Louis Bois

    What a stunning bench and work area!!! James, please tell us you just cleaned it up for the pics?!? Otherwise, I might as well just pack it in now…

  13. Mattias in Durham, NC

    James. Holy bovine. That’s one beautiful setup you got there. Not "just" the bench but looking behind it also. You must be walking around just smiling all day long.

    Chris – the interview didn’t sound stumbling, it just sounds like you want to give guarded advice.

  14. David Pearce

    Wow, a week, eh? Guess I better kick it in gear on my bench! Actually, I’m pretty close to being done.

    Very nice design though, however in my case, I found when moving my nearly completed bench down to the basement, that I’m glad I didn’t make it over 6 feet in length, like the design above, or I would’ve had problems fitting it in.

  15. Verne Mattson

    What a great adaptation! I’m building a Holtzapffel right now out of ash. It’s very, very heavy.

    How did you manage the benchtop? Did you have an assistant help move glueups around? I don’t know how I would have managed without my teenage son.

    Making this bench has been extremely satisfying and fun. It has made me wish for a bigger jointer and planer, however.

    Beautiful work!

  16. Christopher Schwarz

    If you cut a lot of dovetails (I do) then the twin-screw is your friend. If you don’t dovetail carcases, a leg vise (like on the Roubo) is great. It’s all about *your* work.

    Chris

  17. dave brown

    Re: the oil cup

    It’d be tough to dip your plane in there to lubricate the sole but I think it looks like an awesome place to set your beer!

    😉

  18. Matt Sanfilippo

    Hi Chris,
    You say above that you would use work holding of the Holtzapffel on a Roubo bench for your ultimate workbench.

    Do you mean the you prefer the twin-screw face vise over the leg vise?

    I am considering embarking on a Roubo-like bench and was all set to go with the leg vise, should I reconsider?

    Thanks,
    Matt

  19. Craig

    Chris…How does it feel not to have the biggest twin screw vise anymore? I think it’s time to build a new workbench!

    -Craig Stevens

  20. Christopher Schwarz

    I’m afraid I don’t have any more photos. If James sends me some more I will gladly post them.

    As to the oil cup — it’s traditionally for linseed oil to lubricate your plane’s sole. It’s shown in Roubo’s original illustration.

    Chris

  21. Tom Knighton

    Very nice! I really like the touch of using African Mahogany for the vise and deadman. I’m not sure if it serves any practical purpose over southern yellow pine or similar wood, but is sure does look good!

  22. james oliver

    chris

    i should give you some more info on the bench. the top is 3 3/4" thick, legs are full 6"x5"s, the rails are 2 1/4"x 4" and are 3" off the floor,[i hook my foot as well]. the planing stop is 2 3/4" square and 12" long. the twin screw vise is 44" x 9 1/4" x 2 3/4", a little bigger than my last one. there is 8" on either end for clamping, i found that the end works just like a shoulder vise which is awesome. forget about the kitchen door test, i can put a kitchen table top in it with the deadman as support and it’s as solid as the bench itself. the oil cup is nice, but i still have to get some oil for it. i plan on a drawer for storing the holdfasts and such, since i get hung up on them occationally when they’re stored in the legs. i was planing on the drawer to pull out behind the oil cup. i got a short post for my veritas holdfast so i don’t smash through the drawer. i must say that i really enjoy your articles, and bench book, without them this bench would have been a traditional roubo bench and not as versatile as it is. thanks again

    james oliver

  23. Dan

    Wow the bench looks great. Do you have any other pics? Also, if you’re going to Trader Joe’s, could you pick up some wasabi peas for me?

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