My Next Book: Roman Workbenches


After considering several ideas (including a children’s book about a constipated snail), I’ve decided my next book will be a short 64-page folio on building Roman workbenches.

I’ve been researching these benches for many years, but thanks to some recent breakthroughs in research by Suzanne Ellison I have become obsessed with making two of these benches because I have questions that can only be answered by building the dang things.


Also, the physical book itself will be another big step for Lost Art Press. We’re going to print it via letterpress with Steamwhistle Press in Newport, Ky. You are going to be able to buy the book in three formats:

  1. Letterpress and unbound (maybe even uncut) pages, tied with a string. You can bind the book yourself or (shudder) put it in a three-ring binder.
  2. For a little more money, Ohio Book has agreed to bind the folio.
  3. And a pdf for people who just don’t like printed matter.

We are doing everything we can to make this book affordable (including me working at the press). I don’t have any prices as of yet. With any luck, this will be a quick project and we’ll be selling it by Christmas.


Work on the book is well underway. The wood for the two benches has been cut and is drying (I’ll pick it up in May). And blacksmith Peter Ross has just delivered two bits of hardware for the the bench from Herculaneum – a planing stop and a holdfast.

The holdfast is of particular interest for two reasons. It’s the earliest known (to me) image of a holdfast – 79 AD. And the shape is unusual. There is no flat pad at the end.

You can posit that the artist made a mistake. But a Roman grave inscription has a similar holdfast where the tip of the holdfast actually curves under. Again, you can protest and say it was an artist’s mistake, but all the other tools made by these two artists look right and proper.

So the only way forward is to make the darn metal bits.

The Herculaneum holdfast has been hard at work this weekend at my bench while I was building chairs. The thing works like crazy, though it really dents the crap out of the protective piece covering the work.

There’s much more to say – enough to fill half a book. And the other bench I’m building for this book is even wilder. Stay tuned.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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22 Responses to My Next Book: Roman Workbenches

  1. stillad says:

    Given how oversexed those Romans were, it might not be a curved holdfast, ya know?

  2. This is one of those “Shut Up and Take My Money!” situations. Also, if I were closer to Kentucky, I’d volunteer to take a turn at the press. Letterpress printing is so fascinating to watch.

  3. Skip Mathews says:

    I would like full sheets that I can tear into pages myself.
    I can sew signatures, bind and cover, myself.

  4. Skip Mathews says:

    I’d like it in full sheets so I can sew, bind, and cover myself.

  5. I was brought up near the Roman town of Silchester, Roman name Calleva Atrebatum . They found a metal plane there that is in Reading Museum.

    I may well make a bench simply because I have always been interested in thing Roman. I shall certainly buy the book.

  6. Adam Lewis says:

    would be neat to have your logo “carved” on the end of the holdfast. every time you wack it……

  7. jmwagle86 says:

    Hmmm, the “damage” may in fact be the origin of the term “bench mark”, the sign of a particular craftsman.

  8. Farmer Greg says:

    I am so looking forward to this book. When you say it will be a folio, do you mean that it will be simply a large-format book, or that it will generally match the historical size of folios, or that it will be printed in the same manner that folios were printed, or something else?

  9. Niels Cosman says:

    To quote the bard, Jay Z: ” You crazy for this one, Rick. It ‘cha boy!”

  10. What’s the source for that nifty Peddinghaus sledge? Looks like ~2.5 to 3lbs?

  11. jwatriss says:

    (Grabbing hold of the yanking chain with both hands)

    2007: Chris Schwarz, at Lie-Nielsen, lectures about how some really good craftsmen did very good work on benches that were little more than a door on top of sawhorses… But that he just didn’t cotton to the idea that it was a real, full blown work bench.

  12. danieltikhon says:

    Me thinks this should have been posted on April 1st. Older does not necessarily equal better. And having seen you, I’m positive you don’t have wings.

  13. abtuser says:

    You say Roman. I say I’m in. I wish I had the space for one of these, I’d be building one too. Maybe someday…the folio for now.

  14. bsrlee says:

    You need to talk to Estelle Laser at Sydney University about getting to look into the back collections at Pompeii and Herculaneum – she conducts International tours and is co-author of a number of books on things like the Pompeii skeletal remains – the stuff in the back rooms and crypts not the ‘tourist junk’.

  15. Just curious what kind of press you’ll be printing on? I still have a Heidelberg windmill in my den from when I had a go at running a letterpress business from 07-12. I really should get rid of it as its occupying a location that is much better for my Roubo than my garage is.

  16. robertlivingstonmd says:

    Letterpress is nice. I grew up in a letterpress print shop and we also printed the county newspaper (a weekly). Ink is tough to get off hands and out of clothing–be warned. Looking forward to it!

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