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If you ever want to try out a lot of different workbench designs before you settle on building one for your shop, you might want to take a class at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking.

During the last five years, Kelly and his students have been building different style benches with all manner of vises and accessories for the school in Berea, Ky.

As a result, students get to try out the different benches and see how they handle typical workholding chores that people encounter during the week. All of the benches work. They just all work a little differently.

One of my favorites is the Old-school Roubo bench we built during a class last year. Made from giant beams of yellow pine, these things are burly and mean-looking. Kelly added a Moravian-style leg vise chop to the bench, which gives it a little civility. But he didn’t add any finish as far as I can tell.

There’s a split-top Roubo that the instructors use. It is equipped with Benchcrafted hardware and a sliding deadman. Sweet. And nice especially so for the teacher.

Several of the benches are Holtzapffel-style benches with enormous twin-screw vises that can hold the 24”-wide case sides we are dovetailing this week (we’re making tool chests). These are great benches. I should know. I have one in my sunroom.

Back by the clamps is a 20th-century Workbench, a design of Robert W. Lang’s. It is equipped with a Hovarter twin-screw face vise and a quick-release vise in the end vise position. Bob taught this class at Kelly’s a few years ago and the bench is holding up nicely.

Next to that bench is a Lie-Nielsen European workbench. It has a lot of miles on it – it used to be the bench for the instructor. It looks quite broken in now. When I first walked in today I thought it was 20 years old.

And there is an old Sjoberg. Poor Sjoberg. It doesn’t get any respect next to all these massive custom benches.

— Christopher Schwarz

Oh, yes, there’s a video. We’re building “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” from my book “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.” Check out the book at

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Showing 6 comments
  • Fred

    Wish I had known about this before building my bench. I am in the process of making a large workbench for both hand and power tools as the work I do is varied.

  • trs

    Hey Chris — Do any of your books address mods for left handed people? If not do you have any links / hints? I’m assuming there’s more to it than just flipping sides of the vises. Thanks — Tim Snider

  • Bill Lattanzio

    No tool trays for the most part….I have to say that not long ago I worked on a bench with a tool tray for the first time and I liked it…

  • Steve Barnhart

    Nice chop, Kelly!

    What’s the schedule for the week, Chris? Pushing hard or will there be some recreation?

  • bstjohn

    If the gentleman in the white t-shirt can keep up with the class after using that many tails, someone oughta buy him a beer or three.

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