Building a French-style Workbench: Day 2 - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Building a French-style Workbench: Day 2

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Chris Schwarz Woodworking Classes, Schwarz on Workbenches, Woodworking Blogs

I usually keep a log that records all the time I work on a project in the shop. But few people believe me when I say that I spend about 40 hours building an ancient workbench.

Their disbelief is understandable. I hear stories about people spending a year constructing a traditional European-style bench and sinking hundreds and hundreds of hours into the project.

I don’t begrudge them. Heck, I’m sure their benches look a lot better than mine does. But I doubt those purebreds can perform any tricks that my mongrel cannot.

We just wrapped up the second day of the bench-building class here at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking in Berea, Ky., and things are moving smoothly, though we are a tad behind.

Here’s the status report after two days in the shop. (Read about day 1 here.)

1. All the tops are glued up with all the through-joinery complete, plus all the cavities and complex recesses for the tail-vise hardware.

2. All the legs and stretchers are cut to size. All the tenons are cut on the stretchers. All the mortises are cut in the legs.

3. About half the class is doing a final fitting of the joints on their bases.

4. We’re riving the pegs to drawbore the bases.

Tomorrow will be all about installing their leg-vise hardware and preparing the parts for final assembly. If we are lucky (meaning, if I yell at them enough) we should be assembling the benches on Thursday and bolting on the hardware on Friday.

Today we also made some sore backs. On the tool list I told them to bring ibuprofen and brown liquor. One student commented tonight at dinner:

“I thought that was BS. I’m not so sure now.”

Wait until Friday about lunchtime.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 11 comments
  • KC Kevin

    I’ve been through a bench building class with Chris and Kelly. Ibuprofen and brown liquor should have been apart of the required tools list for the class.

  • Emile

    Hummm, does the Felder-n-Festool filled workshop help with the 40 hours ?!

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz


      Festool and Felder tools don’t make you faster. But blending hand tools and machinery sure does.

      I found that what really speeds up bench building is a planer and a drill press, and mine are both Grizzly.

  • funkyspacecowboy


    You mention 40 hours or so for a French bench, I assume that’s the time to build with hand and power tools? Do you recall how long it took you to build the one you did by hand with the slab of cherry for the top? Just curious mainly.

    I had about 120 hours into my French style bench working entirely by hand, but at least a third of that was spent in jury rigging my old crappy bench into supporting the three 12/4 ash beams that became the bench top.



    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz


      Good question. I actually didn’t log my hours for that project (I just checked). If I had to guess, I would say that it was 60 hours or so. Maybe less. I actually didn’t feel like it was a chore to go all hand tools on that project for the most part. Some things were a drag. But it actually went pretty fast.

  • mbred

    I think I’m gonna like this magazine. New to it, I am. Sorry to post this here, as it doesn’t have to do with this project. Somehow I guess I am overlooking it. If I have a question about something,anything, where do I ask, if it isn’t about a blog in progress. I see where you post questions readers have asked, but can’t find where to do it.

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      Believe it or not, you can send us an e-mail and we’ll answer. Contact info for all the editors is listed on the “About Us” page (there’s a link at the very bottom of the home page). And, our phone numbers and e-mail addresses are in every issue of the magazine on the masthead (usually page 8 or 10).

  • griffithpark

    The crosscut tables on Kelly’s tablesaws are serious business.

    My last class at Kelly’s was in March. These videos really have me missing the experience.


  • BJKavanaugh

    Thank you for taking the time to document each day. Hopefully by Friday you will have shamed me into finally finishing my own.

  • Graham Hughes

    Interesting that you used the crosscut table on the table saw to trim the bench ends to length; I would have thought a beam saw (in the ideal case), the track saw you were using, or a circ saw in general would be better suited to that sort of cut.

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      I’ve tried it many ways. We don’t have a beam saw, so nix that option.

      All of the crosscut saws we’ve used do a fairly poor job. The blade deflects in the material. And it is a slow, nibbling process.

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