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It’s funny how my chainsaw skills have gone through the roof since I started to build lots of workbenches in 1999.

Today I cut down a buttload of 6 x 6 x 16’ Douglas Fir beams for a bench-building class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking that I’m teaching next week. And when you get into crosscutting 6 x 6 beams, the best tool is a chainsaw.

Because I do a lot of quick cuts over many hours, I find an electric chainsaw to be less nerve-wracking. After many years of using gasoline chainsaws, I made the switch to electric – despite the fact that they feel less powerful and don’t leave you smelling like gasoline and oil (a smell that chicks really dig).

Next week’s class is the biggest bench-building class I’ve ever taught. Eighteen students will all be building a Roubo-style workbench, and I’m going to build a bench along with them. The bench design will be totally old school, but it will be built with a combination of hand and power techniques.

We’re going to mortise the legs’ tenons through the benchtop, but we’re going to form the joints with power equipment before we glue up the benchtop. All the joints will be drawbored, but we will rough out the tenons on the band saw and drill press. Every surface will be hand-planed.

It’s a fun and exhausting class, but everyone walks away with a completely assembled bench that is ready to receive its vises. I might be a crappy carver and a middling turner, but I know how to get benches built in 40 hours.

Today as my chainsaw bit into the first Douglas Fir beam, I was rewarded with a spray of sawdust. Dry sawdust. It was then that every sphincter in my body relaxed. Many times when you buy Doug Fir, it’s too wet. The first time I made a bench with fir, I ripped down the beams and was soaked by a spray of water flying off the sawblade.

This stuff has been kiln dried and is free of heart. After picking through the entire load of beams, I found only one split, which was about 12” long. That’s impressive.

The wood is from J. Gibson McIlvain Lumber Co. in Maryland. Shannon Rogers, The Renaissance Woodworker, works there and helped me get the right stuff for the class – thanks Shannon.

After cutting all the parts down to the correct length I wiped the chainsaw clean and covered the blade. Who knows where these burgeoning chainsaw skill will take me – perhaps to the land of chainsaw bears or cigar store Indians.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 12 comments

    Since I just bought your first workbench book, I’m betting that this bench plan is in the second one? I havent stated building yet so is there a picture or plan of your completed 6×6 bench that I can get to on-line?

  • runningwood

    Actually Chris, if all your sphincters “relaxed” you would have a mess in your pants. The sphincters keep body fluids in, you want them not to relax.

  • pmcgee

    “It was then that every sphincter in my body relaxed. ”

    Never write this sentence ever again.
    I am suffering severe mental visualisation. :p

  • tms

    Hey Chris,

    I just recently purchased the electric equivalent of the old ‘Swedish banjo’. It takes a wider kerf, but it’s less of a workout for the arms and shoulders.


  • metalworkingdude

    I think the “sphincter” and “spelching” are two words that should never be used together.

  • renaissanceww

    Chris that one with the split was for you. I know how much you like epoxy!

  • Peggy

    Chris, just wondering why douglas fir instead of SYP this year?

  • joshuaderck

    Thanks for this I am in this class next week nervous and excited

  • Jason

    The worst part about electric chainsaws?

    The cord keeps getting in the way when attempting to juggle, and it takes several more beers before you can convince yourself that it’s actually possible.

  • skirincich

    Did you rip the beams into 4×4 lumber? Oh yeah, I am still looking for the section on core box planes in “Handpane Essentials.” Thanks.


  • konkers

    Chris, you seem to be getting a lot of tearout. Maybe you’re cutting with the rip filed teeth. Try flipping the saw over and cutting with the other side of the blade. You should see much improved cut quality.

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