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Ron Herman's Sawbench


This week we are putting the finishing touches on a new article from Ron Herman, the Columbus housewright, on a topic that has yet to be covered by the woodworking media – as far as I can tell.

I’m not going to tell you what the article is about.

But this isn’t just your typical “nenner, neener, neener” blog post. No, I have something to share.

In looking at Herman’s sawbench (no, I can’t give you dimensions) and reading about it, I noticed it bears similarities to Estonian workbenches that I’ve been reading about at bedtime this week. These benches, featured in “Woodworking in Estonia” by A. Viires, look like carbon copies of Roman benches, including one that I’ve seen on a wall at Pompeii.

The weird thing about the Estonian and Roman workbenches is that they are so dang low – knee height – but are used for many cabinetmaking operations such as planing and sawing. Now before you start picturing a bunch of Estonian pygmies, consider this:

Ron Herman’s bench is basically a modern Estonian/Roman variant. He planes on his workbench against a planing stop, which is described and shown in “Woodworking in Estonia.” They straddle the work. When edge-planing, the Estonians worked against a planing stop and braced the work on edge using wooden pins, which are shown all the time in early Roman workbenches.

Estonian woodworker planing faces and edges.

They use the benches like a modern sawbench for sawing things. And for mortising and chiseling. Virtually every operation we do standing up – rabbeting, grooving, too – are shown being done in a sitting position.

Drawing of an Estonian workbench that looks much like a Roman bench.


While for most people this information is as dry as the intestinal gas caused by the ingestion of popcorn, I find it really cool.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. I know the pygmy/Estonian attorneys are going to roast me for this blog entry. Bring it, tiny counselors.

For More Workbench Rantings…
• Visit They might be even crazier than I.

• My latest effort, “The Workbench Design Book,” is available in our store and only at a few select retailers.

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Showing 11 comments
  • tsstahl

    Please don’t post dimensions on Ron’s bench. I don’t have Ron’s legs and arms. Feel free to post the dimensions on my bench, though 🙂

    Serious question, is there anything unique about the planes they use?

  • John Cashman

    Woodworking in Estonia is a great book. It’s also really hard to find. I spent a long time hunting for a copy through the usual channels, but never got a sniff. I finally tracked down a source where it is still available in either a downloadable or print on demand, if anyone is interested. It’s a US government service. Go to the National Technical Information Service website,
    Then search for item TT-68-50342, and you can choose your format and pay for your book. It’s not cheap.

    I imagine after St. Roy named it as his favorite book in the latest issue of Popular Woodworking, there would be a lot of folks looking for a copy.

  • Niels

    Kicking it BC!
    Nothing wrong with doing something sitting down.

    “Never run when you can walk, never walk when you can stand, never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lay down, never lay down when you can sleep.”
    -Military Proverb

  • chayward

    All that on the pymgy Estonian bench users and no comments on:
    -his swarthy white moustache;
    -his knee high black books; and
    -his Thomas Lie Nielsen vest?

    I use my sawbenches for teaching kids to plane, drilling (in the seated position (while sitting on the workpiece) morticing (ditto) and sometimes sawing too.


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