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Talking about the motivation for building a French-style handwork bench using lots of power tools is always a discussion that feels like a hall of mirrors.

Many of the 16 students in my workbench class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking aren’t infatuated by the gorgeous machinery the school offers. They don’t seem impressed by the Felder sliding table saw, or the wide belt sander or the digitally enhanced Powermatic planers.

All they want is to get their bench completed so they can carry on with their true goal: Building furniture with hand tools.

I’m OK with that. In fact, I’m thrilled with their attitude. Personally, I feel like a bit of a charlatan because I am intimate with the machinery. I resawed more than 100 timbers on the table saw today. Plus I did very alarming things with a hollow-chisel mortiser in the name of getting their handwork benches complete.

But over a couple of beers tonight with the students, I tried to make this clear: We need to understand the machines so that we don’t have to use the machines unless we want to. That’s the trick. You can be a slave to the machines or you can enslave the machines – your choice.

Today we really made the machines do our bidding. By the end of the second day of class we got all of the benchtops glued up and planed, plus we trued up all the leg stock and cut it to length. It’s going so well that a few of the students are building Roubo try squares on the side as we build these benches.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 3 comments
  • J. Pierce

    Man, having recently almost finished a hefty (albeit, short) bench with only hand tools (I work in my living space, and don’t own any power tools other than a tiny drill press) I am so incredibly jealous of having that kind of horsepower at your disposal for a project like this!

  • Sean A

    “You can be a slave to the machines or you can enslave the machines”

    Hmmph. Someone obviously never watched Battlestar Galactica growing up.

  • switzforge

    Looks like a grea experience. I have a similar bunch of timbers and hope to get my bench built this summer. Watching the video it looks like you are cutting the mortices for the legs as a single mortice as opposed to the sliding dovetail and mortice & tennon combo. Any pros or cons of this joint?

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