Chris Schwarz's Blog

Workbench Day 2: The Case for Workbench Classes


Building a workbench at a school is, in my calculation, a wise investment. Good schools have huge machines – wide planers, beefy mortisers and sliding table saws – that can make difficult jobs a breeze.

You also have lots of help – another 10 to 20 people who can help you muscle the stock.

And you get it done in a week, so you can get on with building furniture or guitars or whatever.

This week at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, we’re building 16 benches. And on Friday, all the students will drive away with a bench that is finished or ready to assemble once they get the parts down their basement steps.

The school has some fantastic machines, including a 22” planer with a spiral cutterhead. Marc Adams has spent more money on clamps than some people spend on their first houses. And he has one machine – albeit a fussy one that requires a lot of maintenance – that no other school has. A soft-serve ice cream machine.

— Christopher Schwarz

7 thoughts on “Workbench Day 2: The Case for Workbench Classes

  1. Biblio

    From the novice point of view and from hard experience I must say that I agree with Chris’s comment. Possessed of a stubborn will and few avenues for such a class, I took the harder road.

    As a complete novice I didn’t take Chris’ advice and use clear and near square yellow pine. No, I fell in love with some large, very rough, and heavy yellow pine at a local lumber dealer. I then proceeded to mill that down and surface it using a 6″ Steel City jointer I’d refurbished, a Delta surface planer, a bandsaw, a contractor’s table saw, and hand tools.

    I ultimately ended up with a pretty sweet bench at 25″ deep, 4″ thick, with 5.5″ square legs. It is an absolute rock to work on, although my first flattening of the top left the the back left corner dropped about 3/16″. If you think loading a finished or partially finished bench on a trailer is a chore compared to building one up solo with no other bench at hand, I think you’re nuts.

    Chris told me that it would take me 80 or 120 hours to build a Roubo workbench a couple of years back, and suggested that I enroll in a class to do it. That was excellent advice. It took me 18 months of calendar time and about 200-240 hours of labor. Now, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, but even accounting for that I would have been well served by going the class route.

    Regardless, building that bench was very satisfying and contributed greatly to me having a deeper keel as I embarked on other projects. As you contemplate four 80 pound bits not coming together as you’d like in glue up, that you spent weeks getting prepped and with no one else about, you naturally generate some resourcefulness.

    If you can, take a bench building class. Definitely take the easy path w/r the wood for your bench.

    Regardless, build the bench and set to using it.

  2. woundedpig

    I’m wondering about the skill level required to attend one of these work bench classes. I have experience milling lumber, though at times have trouble with reading grain direction, believe it or not, due to being visually challenged in terms of processing (not good for a hobbyist woodworker, aye?). I have a jointer/planer combo machine.
    I started out as a power tool guy but am learning to sharpen and have beginner skills with chisels and hand planes. I am not afraid to try anything, having grown up in Tennessee as a farm boy, fixing our equipment and machinery, building farm structures, etc.
    My current shop is lacking in work holding capability (not in floor space) due to my compromised thin-topped work surface. I want to build a Roubo with knockdown capability with the Benchcrafted glide crisscross leg vise and tail vises and drive it home in my truck, even though it’s a far piece from Austin, Texas.
    David

    1. WadeH

      David I live in Texas too. I am in Bridgeport just above Fort Worth. Maybe if enough of us wanted a bench we could build them here in Texas and would not have to drive as far. I know I am interested.

  3. karlfife

    Speaking in the manner of Joseph Heller’s Yossarian from Catch-22:
    “I always didn’t sign up for your bench class” because even though it solves the logistical problems IN the shop, “it always doesn’t” solve the logistical problem of getting the big, heavy beast back to MY shop.

    When I think about MOVING a workbench back home, I begin to waiver in our shared belief that “A bench can’t be too heavy or too long” :-) You obviously haven’t seen my car nor my girly arms.

    I’ve pondered deeply over this problem, and after a complex multi-factor analysis it occurred to me that OTHERS may have ALSO wanted to bring their benches home after the class! Besides the obvious solution of arriving at the class via flatbed rail car, are there other ready-made solutions to this (vexing) problem?

  4. Loves2ski

    The ice cream machine is the most important (and popular) power tool at the school! Nothing like trying to handplane a surface with one hand on the plane and the other hand holding the ice cream cone.

    One question for Chris: at 1:23 in the day 2 video where it is showing the glued-up bench top. I recognize the rectangular holes as the mortices for the legs. What is the square hole, the planing stop?

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