About 8 a.m. Wednesday morning I’ll pack a thermos of coffee and hit the road for North Carolina in the hopes of gaining some small understanding of the craft culture of ancient Rome.
Thanks to Will Myers, there’s a large load of dry oak waiting for me in North Carolina that I’ll use to build two Roman-style workbenches. The benches are separated by about 1,400 years but share the same DNA.
The reason I do this stuff, which is admittedly a bit bonkers, is the same reason I started building nearly vanished French and English style workbenches in 2005. I’m not looking for a better workbench, just another one that might make sense for your work and mine.
For me, the appeal of 18th-century French and English workbenches is that they are simpler. They are far easier and faster to build than your typical Scandinavian or Germanic bench. I don’t have anything against those central and northern European benches. The ones that are made by woodworkers for woodworking are great.
But not everyone wants to build a bench that is that complex, with a tail vise and a shoulder vise, a fifth leg, a dovetailed skirt and square dogs. Some of us would rather do something else with our time.
In the same vein, the Roman workbench has always interested me. It is even simpler than a French or English bench. No stretchers. Simpler joinery. Less mass (perhaps). And during my last 11 years of ongoing bench research, I’ve concluded that the Roman workbench has never fully gone extinct. Instead it has gone out to pasture, so to speak.
By building and using these two Roman benches in my shop, I hope to learn their strengths and weaknesses – all bench forms have upsides and downsides. None is perfect. My hope is that I can show how these even simpler benches can be used to hold boards so you can work on their faces, edges and ends. Because that goal has never changed for woodworkers, whether they wear togas or flannel.
— Christopher Schwarz