1906 French Bench is From the Future

Let’s say that George Nakashima traveled back in time to the early part of the 20th century and landed in southern France. And he traveled there with a giant drill press.

This bench is the result of that ripple in the space-time continuum.

Take a look at the way the legs are attached to the top. Yup, those mortises and tenons are rounded at the ends, like what you would see if they were made by the Domino XXXL or a super-long Forstner bit. It is so contemporary, it’s shocking.

Second, check out the shape of the benchtop. It’s one slab of oak (according to the seller), and it has a free edge up front and incorporates sapwood. Again, it’s so contemporary looking that I first thought it was fake.

The other details of the workbench are more traditional. My favorite part is the leg vise hardware. It’s so simple, robust and perfect – I wish that piece of hardware was an option for us modern bench-builders.

If you want to buy the bench, here’s the link. It would indeed look great behind the sofa.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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27 Responses to 1906 French Bench is From the Future

  1. Derek Cohen says:

    Chris, that is just gorgeous! I would happily have that in my entrance hall, just so I could stare at it.

    Regards from Perth


  2. John Callaway says:

    Behind the sofa with a few copies of Architectural Digest laid out nicely, and big tall clear vase, full of those Pier One imports marbles. It’s the proper use of a traditional bench in the modern home.

  3. Chris says:

    Hmm, I’ll try and swing by the dealer this weekend and see it in person. The seller is an upscale (read as pricy and hoity-toity) antique dealer here in Austin (Texas). I’ll see if I can get some pictures, to see if it fits in my house… err loft decor.

    • Ches Spencer says:

      Detail view #7 on the referenced site appears to show the parallel beam for the leg vise to be round. If you swing by this weekend please check this feature out. Only two holes in the top for the holdfast?

    • Ed Clarke says:

      Also please see how the top is fastened to the legs. I don’t see any drawbore evidence. Is the drawer nailed together or are those dowels?

    • Chris says:

      I stopped by the dealer today and took some pictures (http://s1326.photobucket.com/albums/u651/topherw/). I meet the owners – Cathy and Pierre- they were very nice and welcoming. It seems this blog post generated a HUGH amount of traffic on their web servers!

      The bench was repaired from the as-found condition buy a french ebonist before display at market and the subsequent purchase & shipment to America. The tongue&grove shelf and the tool rack spacers were disclosed as replacements by Cathy. The top is oak, and the legs/stretchers are pine. I did not examine the shelf boards, but image they were pine.

      Answers to questions from other posters:
      1. The parallel guide was round, with no indications of notches or other methods to cant the vise chop towards the leg. If original, blocks of wood must have been used for this purpose.
      2. There are drawbore pegs that appear to pass thru the leg tenons holding the top to the base.
      3. The drawer front was attached to the sides with nails. It was difficult to tell at first, and only after examining the second side was I able to tell they were not dowels.
      4. The tool rack is a board (with a cove and grove – molding plane practice material?) held away from the bench with spacers. Simple design; I didn’t notice how the tool rack was attached to the spacers.
      5. The vise was fairly beefy, and the holdfast was ginormous! The mallet shown inserted into the dog holes on the leg opposite the vise was too light weight to begin to imagine that it was intended for use with the holdfast.

      I am not an expert in French antiques or antique woodworking benches, but some of the construction details seem more rustic/careless that I would imagine a cabinet maker around 1900 would allow. Look at the drawbore spacing, and the various types of drawbore pegs used (round and square). A bench is a tool, and philosophically only needs to be good enough to get the job done, so maybe this was practice at the time. Thus, I am uncertain of the exact time of building, but the builder (or restorer) was a craftsman no matter the era the build (or restoration) took place. So maybe Chris’ opening statement is the most appropriate: “Let’s say that George Nakashima traveled back in time to the early part of the 20th century and landed in southern France.”

  4. bench envy. I finally have it. Coming from a girl who has a cobbled together whatsit as my current bench.

  5. Derek Cohen says:

    I’d like to add, if the tool rack/slot is of interest to some, I was inspired to build something along these lines (but different) after seeing Chris’ window rack (from the days of PW). The details are here ..


    Regards from Perth


  6. bawrytr says:

    Cool bench.

    I noticed the round parallel bar for the leg vice too Ches. No holes for a pin to keep it spaced away from the leg properly. I wonder if the guy just set offcuts in there, or maybe had a set of U or J shaped spacers he could hang over the bar? On the holdfast holes, I think the carpenters often delivered them with one hole and a holdfast, and then the woodworker could drill more as needed depending on how they liked to work.

    Given that on big mortises like that, they would have used a big auger to drill out the waste, I wonder why you don’t see more rounded tenons. Easier to pare a tenon round than to chop square ends through 2-3″ of oak, even if it was still a little green.

  7. frpaulas says:

    I have to ask, is ‘It would indeed look great behind the sofa.’ a complement or a criticism? Admitting, of course, it would.

  8. David Pickett says:

    You can buy an awful lot of timber and bench fittings for $5000. Pretty though it is, I’d leave that for someone with more money than sense.

  9. Dan McKenzie says:

    In case you missed it, there was also an accompanying French saw bench to go with it (it’s been sold). However, it looks like a great project. Only challenge would be finding the hardware for the small leg vice. http://www.negrelantiques.com/antique_tables.html?itemid=2158

  10. “It would indeed look great behind the sofa.”

    For certain! That way, you could work on restoring your own hand plane while watching Chris’s new video!

    (Hey, not all of us have TVs in our workshops… heck, I don’t even have a TV in the bedroom!)

  11. Niels says:

    That is some sexy old bench action! Thanks for the daily dose of bench porn.
    I agree it would look look great behind my sofa, but I have been thinking that the sofa should go back in the house where it belongs.

  12. N-S says:

    Behind the sofa.. in the hallway.. are you serious?? Thats like having a smoking hot woman and never… well you know 🙂 That beautiful bench was made to be used so get it in the workshop and use it.

  13. Jeremy says:

    Any thoughts on why the live edge up front and the straight edge at the back? Seems like I would prefer the flat surface up front to work with, bench hooks etc.

    • Mike Hamilton says:

      Actually, the front edge looks pretty straight from leg to leg. only the very ends seem to trail off as live edges.

  14. Dean in Des Moines says:

    Amateur. The builder failed to clock the screws and the finish looks too slippery. Not to mention the planning stop is missing. Move on folks. Nothing to see here.

  15. gold price says:

    The 1st ‘epoxy’ I purchased was from the local hardware store. It was a grey paste. I am not sure what I was thinking as I applied it. Did I really think this was going to sand out and look anything different than a cement patch? And yet I proceeded.

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