One Tree, Which Tree, Will You Tell Me?


I want to make a workbench good,
But do not know what kind of wood.

If you would tell me the best tree,
I might not build workbenches three….

If you reveal which tree is best,
I could avoid a workbench fest.

Could I make it out of oak?
Or would I go completely broke?



You could make it out of pine,
And you will be completely fine.



But could I make it out of fir?
Would Master Klausz then call me “sir?”

Would walnut be an OK wood?
Would butternut be twice as good?

Could I make it out of elm?
Or would my friends be underwhelmed?

I could use my pile of birch
Might that leave me in a lurch?

Should I use the Southern yellow?
Or would I be a stupid fellow?

Might I use the mighty maple?
For this heavy workshop staple?

Should I seek the perfect ash?
On which to thrust my mighty… rasp?

Perhaps I’ll try a bench of beech
What benchery kings would that impeach?



Make your bench from fir or oak,
Or elm or larch or reclaimed spokes.
You can use some purpleheart
(But for it I won’t give a fart.)

Make your bench from any tree.
Just make it, make it, you will see.

Workbenches can be any wood.
It is a point not understood.

You can make it out of pine,
And you will be completely fine.


What about mahogany?
Would that be too bourgeoise?

Would sapele be the perfect timber?
Blah blah blah blah blah blah limber?

Would Osage orange be tough enough?
Or should I look for stiffer stuff?

How about some eucalyptus?
Or would that wreck my left meniscus?

Or perhaps some hearty hickory?
Would that be workbench victory?

I could procure some primo jarrah.
And working, don a wood tiara.

Would it be nuts to use padauk?
And would that bring a Schwarz rebuke?

I have a pile of curly cherry –
Or would that be just too dang hairy?

What about a torsion box?
With vacuum pads and filled with rocks?


I think I hear the other phone.
My cat is choking on a bone.
My kids are playing with a spear.
I have to go right now I fear.

But if you make it out of pine.
I know the bench will turn out fine.

— Christopher Schwarz. With thanks to Megan Fitzpatrick, Tim Henrickson and Narayan Nayar and apologies to Theodore Geisel.

About Lost Art Press

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25 Responses to One Tree, Which Tree, Will You Tell Me?

  1. Patrick says:

    A poem of wood
    Now that was good
    And it certainly turned out fine.

    But why write it?
    I have to ask.
    The question boggles the mind.

    Did Chris get asked one too many times
    about which wood was best?

    Me thinks he did and wrote the poem
    to put the issue to rest.

    • Patrick says:

      Sablebadger has a good point below. So good that I felt I had to add the following:

      Or maybe under scrutiny,
      My theory will surely fail.

      It could just be,
      that Chris and his co-authors three,
      were drinking Pale Ale.

  2. sablebadger says:

    I am just going to guess a little alcohol was involved. 🙂

    the site those pictures are from is a fantastic trove of period details. and awesome beards.

  3. shakey says:

    Chestnut do you recommend?
    It is quite rare, my smart ass friend.

  4. Rick says:

    My workbench is ash
    It is hard and stiff and long
    You cannot beat that


  5. Paul says:

    My bench top is made from sugar gum, a type of eucalyptus
    The poem does suggest good sirs, I must have a dodgy meniscus
    Yet it is you who should have the wobbly knee and bow down lowly unto me
    For the workbench frame is old stout jarrah, and my crown is a bejewelled tiara
    And yet a crown is not needed upon my head, for every man is king when he has a workbench in the shed.

    Happy wood working!

  6. George Jon. says:

    And if I built it out of spruce,
    Could it still be put to use?

  7. john says:

    Hey Chris, Instead of wood, could I make a workbench out of rubber? It’s derived from trees, and I thought that as you planed your boards, after a certain point in the stroke, as the rubber generated enough resistance, it would flex and then begin to move the board back against the cutter, effectively doubling the stroke and halving the energy required to get the job done. And you’d never have to worry about accidentally putting your plane iron down directly on that terribly dulling wooden workbench top…

    Genius no?

  8. fred says:

    Don’t forget there’s bamboo too
    But you will need a $#&%-load of glue

  9. BruceL says:

    Workbenches come from many a tree
    As for that subject, I’ll let it be.
    But I wonder if anyone knows,
    Does that pit saw man still have all his toes?

    • Rodger K. says:

      Hahahah! I laughed out loud at that one, as I was thinking the same exact thing after seeing that picture! Well done.

  10. Jerry Dye says:

    Some thirty years ago I decided that I needed a better workbench. Fiscal restrictions demanded that I use common dimension lumber for the top and legs. Two by fours on edge became the top and two by eights the trestle frame. The top was glued and pulled together with 3/8″ threaded rod. Fifteen years were to pass before I leveled the top. I made dogs from 5/8″ metal rod with square tops welded on and pieces of 5/8′ dowel for special shapes. A Record 52 1/2 vice became the front vice after my grandsons destroyed my homemade vice. The end vice was cobbled up from oak and 5/8″ threaded rod attached to oak travelers with 5/8″ holes for the dogs.
    After some time I discovered that the front edge of the bench was wearing and I replaced that with a piece of white oak which wore as well so I rabbeted the top arris and inserted a piece of hard maple. The odd size dog holes have been no problem in use and have prevented me from purchasing every new gadget that has hit the market. The tail vice is functions well even though it is an unusual design. The bench is heavy enough most of the time.
    I could afford a new bench but I’m near 80 and have trouble justifying such. I am satisfied with this bench even tho I must tweak the top for level now and again.
    Point is just as the rhyme said, ” just make the thing and enjoy”.

  11. John Cashman says:

    Someone is getting cranky after being asked the same question eighty bajillion times.

  12. Kevin says:

    Love this… my Boltzapffel bench top is laminated SYP from the home center, base is 5×5 oak that I got from a friend of a friend of a friend who had some that was too gnarly to use for actual furniture (toothed blade to the rescue). Certainly isn’t a showpiece, but damn it works well.

  13. Sam says:

    Then there’s veneer,
    but man, that would take a $#IT load of beer!

  14. Robert W. Foedisch says:

    I made my work bench out of hemlock, over a fathom long, half a fathom wide and very stout
    I used a setting block,to make my planes the sharpest, with out a doubt

  15. Tom Pier says:

    Well there goes my purpleheart idea. I guess I better start collecting ebony, he didn’t say anything bad about ebony.

  16. Colin says:

    In the last picture (the guy in the purple top), what is the red put at the bottom of the picture? Kinda looks like glue, but maybe its a round mallet.

  17. Rascal says:

    Thank you all for quite the chuckle,
    Now down to woodwork I must buckle!
    I do not like the rhymes that do not scan, *
    I do not like them Sam I Am!

    (*BTW, that was on purpose!!! Thank’s to one and all of you Dr Souses, er, Dr Seuss-es!

  18. Get off my lawn says:

    So rich you’d flip the world a finga?
    Craft the whole thing from Bubinga!
    Your saw is sharp, you’re feeling loco?
    Make the workbench from Iroko!
    Tulip poplar’s rather cheap,
    Belizean Rosewood’s way too steep,
    Pull out an Anarchistic mallet,
    And knock apart a shipping pallet!

  19. abtuser says:

    I think my bench be made of fir
    It hath not seen since days of Ur

    Well that’s not true but I’ll eschew
    The type of wood good for the flue

    What’s true is that at twice the price
    I’d have to cut more beans and rice

  20. Stan says:

    And if medium density fiberboard
    Will stability be my just reward?

  21. Chuck N says:

    What is the source for the illustrations?
    Tracking them has caused frustrations.

  22. I know where there’s Wood… Probably Maple

    And if you’re a Real Man… True & Able

    Just bolt your Vise

    To the Wife’s

    Kitchen Table!

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