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I’ve been getting questions almost daily about the 18th-century French-style workbench I built for the cover of the August 2010 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. The questions go something like this:

1. Has the benchtop exploded into pieces yet, you dufus?

2. Has the epoxy shattered?

3. How are your chiropractic bills with that leg vise?

During the last four months I’ve been using the bench quite a bit and have built four projects on it. I feel like it’s pretty much broken in, though I still have some uncertainty ahead with my benchtop (more on this in a minute).

Here are some of the changes I’ve made to the bench in the last four months and some things I’ve observed about its behavior.

The first alteration I made was to add a tool rack along the back edge of the benchtop. This is a traditional French feature that shows up on many plates in AndrÃ?© Roubo’s 18th-century books on woodworking. The rack is 28-1/2″ long and 3″ wide. It’s made from 1/2″-thick material in two layers. One layer consists of spacers. The other layer is the long piece that contains the tools.

I’ve found that a 1/2″-wide slot is a great width for many bench tools. Your results may vary. The rack is nailed onto the bench using some cool iron nails I found at VanDyke’s Restorers.

I like the tool rack quite a bit. The only time it gets in the way is when I’m dovetailing. I had to pull the tools out of the rack to transfer my tails onto my pin board, which was secured in my leg vise. If I cut pins first, this wouldn’t be a problem, by the way.

I also added a hinged lid that covers the space above the shelf. This creates a little toolbox that has been handy for stowing stuff. It’s a nice addition, but it’s not a game-changer.

I also added some stop chamfers with a lamb’s tongue detail on the long stretchers. I think it lightens the look of the base a bit, and I like stop chamfers.

About the Top
I rather like the way the slab top looks. Of course, most people have wondered if the through-tenons and through-dovetails are tearing the bench apart. So far, no.

But the top is moving.

When the top came into our shop it had been sitting outside for several years and it was at about 15 percent moisture content. After being inside since February, it’s now down to about 13 percent. Black cherry usually ends up at 10 percent moisture content in our shop, so it still needs to dry out a bit.

As the top lost moisture, it shrank a bit and squeezed out some of the epoxy I had forced into the cracks. This epoxy is flexible so it didn’t shatter or crack. It simply bulged out like a vein on your arm. So I took a card scraper and trimmed off the proud epoxy. It took about 15 minutes.

In June I checked the top for flatness and found that one section in the middle had moved a bit. That was a good excuse for me to whip out the jointer plane and true it up. This also removed the finish from the top. While the old finish looked good, I had added too much varnish into my finish mixture so the top was a little slicker than I wanted.

So after flattening the top I put on two coats of straight boiled linseed oil, and now the top is grippier.

About the Vises
I couldn’t be happier with the leg vise. The Lake Erie wooden screw is fast and robust. And I’m glad I placed the vise’s parallel guide above the leg. I can reach down and move the pin without stooping much at all. In fact, I can usually just drop my arm and reach the pin while I’m adjusting the tommy bar of the vise.

The end vise is also a success. It’s an old Sheldon quick-release vise. Unlike modern quick-release vises, it doesn’t move much , maybe an 1/8″ when you engage the lever. I was concerned that this wouldn’t be enough pressure. It turns out to be ideal. In fact, I like it because you don’t tend to over-tighten it and bow your stock.

Other Changes Ahead
I can’t wait to get this bench against a wall. While it hasn’t tipped a bit, I just feel more comfortable working against a wall. Also, I need to make some more hickory bench dogs. The two that I have made have been a complete success.

If you’re going to be at Woodworking in America this October you’ll be able to see this bench in person and give it a thumbs-up or -down. But for me, I think this bench is a success. I like the way it works and the way it looks. Do I wish it were bigger? Sure. I always prefer a bigger bench. But for a short bench, this is a fine one.

– Christopher Schwarz

Workbench Resources , Free and Otherwise

– Want to mainline some workbench information? You can read every blog post I’ve written about workbenches in the last five-plus years by clicking here. Hope you have some bandwidth handy.

– We filmed a DVD of the construction of this bench. It includes many details we didn’t have room for in the magazine article, including a slideshow of all of the construction photos. You can order the DVD “Build an 18th-century Workbench” from the WoodworkersBookshop.com.

– I have a second workbench book coming out this fall titled “The Workbench Design Book.” My first book is on sale in our store: “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use.”


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Showing 29 comments
  • snifflesthumbs

    Chris
    What’s the brand of epoxy that you used to fill the checks in the top of the 18th century workbench?
    Jim

  • Christopher Schwarz

    1. what is the advantage of the Roubeau over the Holtzapffel bench?

    There’s no advantage, really. They are different designs for different purposes. The Holtzapffel is ideal for dovetailing carcases. The Roubo is more of an all-around bench.

    2. Why the need for what is almost permanent joinery for the top to the base? Does it make that much of a difference in terms of stabilizing the bench? It seems like it is an impediment to moving the bench or if you need to remove the top.

    You can make the top removable if you like. I’ve done my time with those sorts of benches. The tops tend to shift. I prefer this method, but I recognize that no everyone will do it.

    3. Does the leg vise ever get in the way? They look great and seem to function great, but they seem so bulky and protrude so far from the bench.

    It hasn’t gotten in the way yet. The more I use it the more I really like it.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Having a crochet and leg vise is a “belt and suspenders” approach. I put both on my first bench to try them out. You don’t need both. Though there’s no reason not to add a crochet if you’d like to experiment.

    As to a deadman, the bench is so short that it doesn’t need it. Once you get longer than 6’ you run into situations where you need that support between the right leg and the face vise.

    Hope this helps.

  • John Smith

    Chris,

    Your latest Roubo (Aug 2010) doesn’t have either a crochet or a deadman. Any particular reason(s) for these omissions?

    I’m just getting started in woodworking although I have subscribed for several years and my first major project is building a Roubo by hand. I can see this will take a beginner some time!

  • Jake H

    Christopher, these are probably questions answered in your book(s); but I’ve been curious about a couple things:

    1. what is the advantage of the Roubeau over the Holtzapffel bench?

    2. Why the need for what is almost permanent joinery for the top to the base? Does it make that much of a difference in terms of stabilizing the bench? It seems like it is an impediment to moving the bench or if you need to remove the top.

    3. Does the leg vise ever get in the way? They look great and seem to function great, but they seem so bulky and protrude so far from the bench.

    Thanks!

  • Christopher Schwarz

    The top is mostly flatsawn, and so most of the movement has been in the width, not in the thickness. I haven’t felt any protrusion through the top. Yet.

  • Tom Holloway

    One thing I’ve wondered about since I first saw this bench is whether the top ends of the leg mortises, originally planed flush with the top, have by now protruded enough to be slightly proud of the rest of the surface. Or more precisely, if the shrinkage of the top has left the ends of the legs proud.

  • Rob Cameron

    How about the absence of a deadman? What happens if you’re working on the edge of board that isn’t *quite* long enough to make it to the back leg and held by that holdfast? I suppose a clamp across the bench to secure the stock to the front edge of the top would work. But if I’ve learned anything from you it’s that using a clamp to hold anything to a bench is usually a last resort. 😉

  • Rob

    Regardless of whether the tool rack is on the right, left or centred, I worry about those sharp edges dangling unprotected below the bench top – while reaching for something under the bench you may get stabbed. Better place it against the wall quick..

  • Christopher Schwarz

    It’s this stuff:

    http://www.advancedrepair.com/pricing/epoxy.htm

    The Flex-Tec product.

    Hope this helps.

  • Rainer

    What exactly is the flexible epoxy you used? I did a search, and found a whole host of so-called "flexible" epoxies with various properties/uses and don’t relish getting totally wrong epoxy. TIA

    My Roubo is slowly coming along…

    Rainer

  • James Watriss

    Chris,

    I’ve been pondering the issue re: transferring markings. I think you should make an accessory to go along with your Benchtop Twin screw idea. Seems to me you can make a trestle of matching height (or shim one of your small japanese trestles) to stand on the bench behind the twin screw. Then to transfer lines, just lay the board on the trestle and the back part of your twin screw. Voila, no need to keep dumping out the tool rack.

    My .02… and future plan.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Mike,

    Hard to say. Both are fine and sturdy and traditional joints. I don’t really have an opinion.

    Sorry about that.

  • I liked the tool rack idea a lot and immediately went home and threw one on my bench. I admit I didn’t bother to look at what you’d actually done, so mine ended up in the center rather than at one end.

    But what really convinced me to do it was that it allowed me to brace the bench against the wall. Like many (I suspect) home woodworkers, my bench is in the basement. The combination of the drainage edge on the floor and the uneven wall makes it impossible to get the back of the bench against the wall. I’ve been solving this by trapping a spare piece of wood between the top of the bench and the wall, but this does the job just as well and provides handy tool storage. Bravo!

  • Mike D.

    Do you see any advantage with the double through M&T over the Draw bored M&T?

  • Dan

    Workwood sounds like a really neat and crafty profession (cause it is). I hope to learn more some day.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Kurt,

    Racking is not an issue with dogs set up this way. Particularly round dogs.

    You could have the rack on the right. Sure.

  • Kurt Schmitz

    Chris;

    I’m guessing no serious racking problems using the end vise w/ off-center dog? And given the bench isn’t as long as the ones shown in historical plates, having chisels / other tools on the right side wouldn’t be quite the long reach it would have been.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    It’s indeed a drawer that shows up on a lot of early benches and is a place to lock up your valuables at night.

    Chris

  • Rob Cameron

    Hey Chris, loving the bench and hope to be making one soon. I’ve started studying the infamous Plate 11. Any idea what THIS is? http://skitch.com/cannikin/du33j/photoshop Appears to be a little lockable storage box? If your planes and chisels are sitting out in plain sight, what else is valuable enough to have to lock up from other people in the shop?

  • Christopher Schwarz

    ((Perhaps if you moved the tool rack to the back right hand side it would be out of the way of leg vise operations. doofus. ;)))

    All the racks I have seen are on the left. I think there are a couple reasons (I’m guessing, however).

    One, most of your mortising and fine work occurs at the face vise traditionally, so it makes sense to put the rack there.

    Second, if the bench is against the wall the rack will be braced against the wall. That’s a good thing because you saw in the face vise — offering a more stable bench.

    Chris

  • Christopher Schwarz

    ((Have you considered a tooth-plane finish on a bench?))

    I tried it after hearing about it from Patrick several years ago.

    I personally don’t see a big difference in the grippiness. But Patrick does. Try it yourself. It’s easy to do.

    Chris

  • Christopher Schwarz

    ((One question- why did you choose to put the dog holes on the heavily-checked side of the top? Or is the other side punky on the bottom? Gorgeous bench, all in all.))

    Except for the check near the leg vise, the checks are shallow. So I didn’t think there was a strength issue. And yes, the underside of the rear is a mess.

    Chris

  • Christopher Schwarz

    ((With the bottom of the tools not visible, how can you tell which size/type chisel you’re grabbing?))

    The slots for the chisels are graduated. The 3/4" slot is on the left… on down to 1/16" on the right. I can grab the tool I need almost without looking.

    Chris

  • Dave Knapp

    One question- why did you choose to put the dog holes on the heavily-checked side of the top? Or is the other side punky on the bottom? Gorgeous bench, all in all.

  • With the bottom of the tools not visible, how can you tell which size/type chisel you’re grabbing?

  • TSJones99

    Whew, that’s relief. I just knew you used a magnetic strip and ruined all of those chisels.

  • mdhills
  • Dano

    Perhaps if you moved the tool rack to the back right hand side it would be out of the way of leg vise operations. doofus. 😉

    It is a fine looking bench to be sure. When it comes time for me to build one I’ll likely utilize some of its features.

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