Ron Herman: Kicking it Estonian-style! - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Ron Herman: Kicking it Estonian-style!

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Schwarz on Workbenches, Woodworking Blogs

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.

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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?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      Not really. They are planes like any European variant. The only thing that would look odd to North American eyes would be the rabbeting planes, which are longer and have an unusual escapement. See Whelan’s book on wooden planes for more..

  • 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.

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz


      Sadly it’s a terrible copy from NTIS. Barely readable. And the photos are awful. I bought it there and don’t recommend it.

      • John Cashman

        It is terrible. I have the digital copy, I’m not sure which you have. You’d think they could at least crop the pages properly — a monkey could have done that better. But it is better than nothing, and god only knows how long and at what price it would take for a decent original to turn up. I checked libraries through worldcat, and there the few that have it are academic libraries that don’t like dealing with sawdust-covered lumpenproletariat.

        Tell Megan maybe her dissertation will continue to make a stir the way this one has.

        • Megan Fitzpatrick
          Megan Fitzpatrick

          She’d have to write the blasted thing first…

          • skewedII

            Shouldn’t be any problem for such a gifted writer! Does anyone happen to recall the subject?

            • Megan Fitzpatrick
              Megan Fitzpatrick

              You’re very kind. But no, I can’t recall the subject after all this time away from it 😉

    • popularwoodworking.4q2

      Try your library. Of course it won’t have a copy of on the shelf but I was able to order an original printing of “Woodworking in Estonia” through my local public library using Link+ (a version of interlibrary loan). If it turns out to be the bad reproduction printing you got after all at least it was free.

      If you’re not familiar with this, check it out. Your library might not have the book you want, but quite possibly some library somewhere does, and your library can get you a copy on loan from that other library… for FREE! Just don’t lose the book. In my case the book is coming from another state. Libraries are still incredible resources, even in this era of the internet and ebooks. Some libraries use Link+, others use ILLiad for interlibrary loan.

      Just don’t lose the book! The replacement costs for books through these services can be steep.

  • 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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