German Workbench: Artistic License or Pure Genius?
I’ve collected tons of drawings of old workbenches, during the years, and most fall into two categories:
1. A typical workbench with typical vises that looks like lots of other workbenches.
2. Workbenches that were drawn by an artist that have vises that would never work and that are put in stupid places where vises never should be. Oh, and usually the workbench joinery is all messed up, too.
Today I have to add a third category: A 1943 German workbench that could be the result of artistic license or could be a really good idea.
This image was dug up by Jeff Burks, a fellow woodworking historian who knows my love of all things relating to benches. The structure of the bench is pretty standard German/Scandinavian fare: A trestle base with big sled feet. Plus square dog holes – one of which is unfortunately placed right over the base of the bench.
What is very interesting about this bench is the combination vise on the left end of the bench. Using one bench screw, the vise has a chop like a face vise on the end of the bench. And the same screw drives a wagon vise for pinching your work between dogs.
This is a very non-traditional way to do things. Typically the face vise goes on the front face of the bench, and the wagon vise goes on the right side of the bench.
However, I think this bench could actually work – if you had a big enough shop so you could saw while standing on the end of the workbench.
This vise has some obvious disadvantages:
1. You have only one screw. So you can’t clamp something in the face vise and simultaneously work between dogs.
2. You’ll need a fairly long screw to get enough travel in the wagon vise and make it through the thick jaw of the bench.
3. You would be planing into the vise mechanism, which is generally a no-no. In theory, it would wear out the vise a little faster – though it’s probably not much an issue.
Next time I’m in Germany (in June), I’ll have to show this drawing to the students and see if any of them have ever seen one of these in the wild.
— Christopher Schwarz
Interested in choosing the right vise for your work? I cover this topic exhaustively in my first book “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction and Use.” It’s available through most book sellers and through ShopWoodworking.