Win Our 'Most Pathetic Workbench' Contest - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Win Our 'Most Pathetic Workbench' Contest

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Schwarz on Workbenches, Woodworking Blogs

Because of my unholy obsession with interest in workbenches, people send me photos of the beautiful benches they’ve built. They’re like baby photos, and I keep them all.

Sometimes, these kind souls also send me photos of what they were working on before they built their dream bench. I’ve seen hollow-core doors on plastic sawhorses. A changing table converted to a workbench. A sorrowful stack of cinderblocks.

There have to be some even more pathetic workbenches out there, and we decided to hold a contest to find the photo of the lamest woodworking bench ever. The “winner” of our contest will receive all the resources he or she needs to design a first-class workbench, including:

1. A copy of our new “The Best of Shops & Workbenches” CD that contains plans for 10 workbenches, plus 11 of our best articles from the last 10 years on setting up shop and plans for 37 jigs and toolboxes. This CD, which arrived in our warehouse last week, is just $15 and contains our best writing on workshop issues. The CD is fully searchable and printable.

2. An autographed copy of my 2007 book “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use.” This book walks you through the design process for any workbench and helps you pick the workholding you need and discard the features you’ll never use. Plus, it includes plans for two nearly vanished workbenches, including my French Roubo-style bench. It’s a $30 value.

3. An autographed copy of Robert W. Lang’s “Build the 21st Century Workbench” DVD. This hour-long video shows you how Lang designed and built the bench that he now uses in the shop at Woodworking Magazine. The DVD also contains a digital SketchUp model of the bench, slideshows of its construction and additional printable drawings. It’s a $20 value.

Here’s what you have to do to win. Take a photo of your workbench. It has to obviously be a working bench , don’t try to fool us by taking pictures of a card table. E-mail it to me at with the subject line “My Pathetic Workbench” before midnight on Monday, March 23, 2009.

The editors will review all the entries and pick the one that we think is the saddest, most pathetic workbench. We’ll announce the “winner” in our March 25 e-mail newsletter (and here on the blog).

We’ll also publish a rogues’ gallery of the winner and the runners-up (don’t worry, no names will be used) plus the judges’ comments on your entry.

This could be just the excuse you need to get off your duff and design your dream bench. So fire up the camera and good luck!

– Christopher Schwarz

P.S. That “workbench” at the top of this entry? That’s Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick’s bench at home. It’s the kitchen table from her house as a child. Megan, however qualified, is not eligible to win this contest.

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Showing 32 comments
  • John Tooley

    Hi Chris & Megan,
    Hey, I went nuts when I found "Daemon" notifying me I had a bad address. Nuff Said.

    I did finally get the mail out (today – following Daemon’s note about no domain something.

    Take a look at what I finally got out today. You’d scream if you saw my "portable table saw" bench. Scary isn’t the word for it. If you’re interested, I’ll pic that also for you guys to scratch your heads and ask me if I still have fingers or limbs.

  • Ron Cox

    Does it have to be just 1 bench as I have a horse shoe type of arrangement that I had to set up in the hay loft of an old carriage barn. common sense says that you would set up on the ground floor which I had originally did. However my wife made that impossible to work with as she kept the bottom for furniture storage which meant I would have to move everything just to use the table saw.

  • Bruce Jackson

    How much space on Megan’s bench??? Oh, I never noticed!!! Good of Jon to point that out. I share his envy!!!

  • Jon Johnson

    Oh, I don’t know, Megan… Maybe TWO of those mail bins (inverted) and a hollow door and you would have a neat assembly table. Then add a Kreg pocket hole jig…

    Actually, I’m jealous of all the space you have remaining on the tabletop!

  • Jon Johnson

    Oh, I don’t know, Megan… Maybe TWO of those mail bins (inverted) and a hollow door and you would have a neat assembly table. Then add a Kreg pocket hole jig…

    Actually, I’m jealous of all the space you have remaining on the tabletop!

  • Bruce Jackson

    Your Sick Workbench contest was intriguing – at least for a few minutes. But then I thought better of it since I am cleaning up my garage anyway. Too much of my wife’s and my things in there. On outside chance of winning, I wouldn’t know where to put the prize and still have room for the car.

  • Marcus

    I’m not going to enter (because I’m not doing this anymore) but up until very recently I had my long dangerous chinese lathe on a card table. No joke. I made innumerable tool handles and even a couple of bowls (6") like this. It wasn’t super stable but nothing ever got away from me. It was a terrible way to use a lathe, I’ve since built a proper stand. My actual workbench is pretty awesome, thanks to Chris’s help. Gracias.

  • megan

    No complete Shakes, but there _is_ "a very ancient and fish-like smell" (especially when it rains)

  • Rob

    I know there’s a cat in that picture somewhere.

  • Wilfred Wright

    Especially for Megan: There is a Shakespeare quote for everything.

    "Macbeth" – Act III, Scene IV

    Macbeth: The table’s full.


  • Thomintejas

    I didn’t see a copy of "The Completete Shakespeare anywhere….

    < nor an empty bottle of Shiner Bock >

    Thomas W. Hoyt
    Giddings, TX

  • Gene

    I actually have several workbenches. One of them doubles as a tablesaw. 🙂 There’s the one that is also a router table. And a ver 1.0 storebought foldup, and a rather beatup, but very servicable "regular" bench I made, and the sawhorse and chipboard assy. bench, Oh and the floor. All are in use during my current project. How many times can I enter? 😉

  • Tom

    Oh, Megan, say it ain’t so! That’s one heck of a bench you have there!

    And, I thought my old bench was bad…. shesh… 🙂

  • Michael

    Chris, there is one glaring omission in the prize list. The materials to build the bench, wood, holdfasts, vices dogs, etc. I see that someone else had the same idea. 😉

  • Jeffrey Scott Bell

    I will have to enter but I am NOT taking my new Canon Digital SLR out into my garage/workshop/federal disaster area so my point an d whoot will suffice.

    My challenge now is distinguishing my work bench from the scrap pile as they appear to be at least fraternal twins with the same height, lack of stability and the parts appear interchangable….kind of like a Mr Potato Head Workbench.

    Chris – Any chance of scaping up a donation of construction materials from one of the advertisers to go with the plans?

    Now to tie a rope around my waste before wading into my indoor junkyard….just in case.

  • Brian

    I am so in on this contest. I inherited a "workbench" when we moved in, complete with repurposed meat and produce drawers from a fridge for storage. It’s only about 18" deep and I have to assemble everything on the floor.

    Photos to follow.

  • Jim


    I was preparing to enter your Sorry Workbench contest and hired a photographer to take a picture. He nearly died laughing and refused to hold me up to ridicule.

    I engaged a second one and she broke down crying.

    Since I am deathly afraid of lawsuits I will not try further. Just remember that whatever you do receive will not be half as bad as the mess out here on the desert.

    New Mexico

  • Bob Strawn

    Finally a contest that has it right! Usually the contests give a bunch of stuff to someone who is clearly over equipped anyway. This one puts the goods where they are needed.

    Let me know when the messiest shop contest starts, I am pretty sure I am a contender there. But then that contest would be giving stuff to someone who already has a shop with too much stuff in it. There’s just no winning some days!


  • Tim Aldrich

    I think my old body shop table turned work bench might be in the running. The thing racks so bad when sawing and planing that it looks like a porch swing. Not to mention the squeaking and the metal working vise.

  • Christopher Schwarz


    I have a whole shelf of POD samples. I’ve seen Lulu’s recent offerings. It’s fine for some things, especially text. But when you start adding photos and technical illustrations with gradients, it’s not so good.

    I’m all for POD. But the good POD I’ve seen would make this book $90 — about 260 pages of full-color text on coated paper.

    We wouldn’t sell many, nor should we deserve to at that price.

    We’re working on a product for this year (I hope the fall) that will make this problem completely moot. We’re very excited about itI >t should make both the digital people and the paper people happy.

    Thanks for the comment!


  • Gye Greene

    Print on Demand: Wil Wheaton (writer/actor/blogger) has had recent good experiences with POD — and the price-point seems reasonable.

    Blog entry at:

    ("Sunken Treasure" is the title of his book.)


  • Christopher Schwarz

    … hopefully before the Federal BI arrives.


  • megan

    John, that errant property of the USPS is now in my car, and will be returned to its rightful owner tomorrow…

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Bill and Kari,

    I empathize.

    I prefer books to reading on a screen any day. But the economic realities are that digital products (such as this) are easier to produce with our limited staff and budget.

    So right now there is no plan to produce this CD in book form. We’ve looked into POD (print on demand) and it’s not pretty. The resolution was not to my liking and the price was unacceptable to me (and probably the marketplace).

    However, I am passing your comment onto the powers that be.


  • The Village Carpenter

    I’m with with Bill T. on the book vs. CD. I embrace my inner luddite.

  • Bill T.

    Hey Chris, any chance that "The Best of Shops & Workbenches" CD would be published in book form?

    I find it much more enjoyable and easy on the eyes to browse through a book than click through a CD on a computer screen. I tend to look at that sort of thing last thing at night before I go to sleep, while lying in bed. Easier to do with an old-fashioned tree-based book than a laptop.

  • Megan

    For me, it evokes thoughts of the catacombs in Poe’s "Cask of Amontillado." My summer project is to tuckpoint, coat and paint the walls. Then build a bench. No more "murder room look," as we call that in my neck of the woods…

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Yes well I’m now beginning to wonder if they’re the same thing.

    See any lotion in a basket?

    No? Whew.


  • Chris C

    I am glad that is just Megan’s house. I was getting a flashback
    of the creepy basement scene from "The Silence of the Lambs".


  • John

    Uh oh!

    I hope that’s not US Post Office property under Megan’s bench!

  • Joel Silverman

    If you haven’t seen the 1923 video of swedish craftsman making shoes, spoons and chairs this is a must. Talking about crude tools and benches. This to me shows that fine work is practiced. With a minimum amount of tools these crafts people turn out astonishing work. You can find this on Kari the village carpenters site.
    Joel S.

  • Josh B

    This is a great idea! May I suggest one modification though? Have people also add a picture of the nicest project they finished on the benches they’re entering. I think the contrasts between shoddy bench and nice projects together would make for a really interesting photo gallery.



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