French Bench Details
My rusty high school French has been getting a workout this week. I’m slowly consuming bits and pieces of the book “Les Rabots” by Pierre Bouillot and Xavier Chatellard. It’s a beautiful monster of a tome about planes – 352 pages of densely packed information on the
history, manufacture and use of handplanes.
And it’s all in French.
I picked up the book this summer in Paris to gain more of a European perspective on the tool. Mike Dunbar also has a copy, and that lucky chairmaking Francophone has read it all and reports on it on his blog.
In addition to relearning my French, I’ve also picked up on a couple interesting details on workbenches shown in the books, and I have
sketched them up for you.
The first one is from an engraving showing a shop in the suburb of Saint-Antoine. Two of the benches feature the board jack shown in the drawing above. The board slides in and out of the notches and can be moved up and down depending on how wide a board or panel you need to support.
This jack isn’t as versatile as a sliding deadman, but it gives you more versatility than using just a few holes bored in your bench’s leg with holdfasts, which is another traditional approach. And it’s easy to build with scraps and nails. I wouldn’t use this jack on a bench that’s against the wall, however, because the movable board couldn’t be easily slid out of your way.
The other engraving shows a commercial card from the early 19th century from the company “La Flotte D’Angleterre,” and it features a
bench with a dramatically curved stretcher on one end. The curved stretcher allows you to use a traditional tail vise and stabilize the
bench with a rear leg right behind the tail vise. The overhang required by some benches with tail vises makes them a bit unbalanced. This curved stretcher fixes that problem.
That stretcher would be quite a feat to steam-bend, though it would be a fairly easy bent-lamination.
— Christopher Schwarz
• Our new DVD “Build an 18th-century Workbench” shows you how to build a French workbench entirely by hand.
• And if you want something free, check out this article I wrote in 2007 on “The Rules for Workbenches.“