One of the workbenches in Andre-Jacob Roubo’s French masterwork on the craft is called out as a “German” workbench in Plate 279 of “l’Art du menuisier.” It features a sliding deadman/leg vise, lots of storage and a complex tail vise.
While I am still searching, I’ve yet to find an historical bench that matches the image of the German bench in Plate 279 (in contrast, I’ve seen hundreds of benches that match Roubo’s Plate 11).
So what did 18th-century benches look like from the area we now call Germany? The answer, of course, varies. Here we’re going to look at a 1764 bench from “Hallens, Werkstätte der Künste” (I think I have that right; I’m not the best at reading German blackletter type).
This entire plate could occupy a book of discussion because there is so much to see and explore. But let’s stick to the bench for the most part.
It is drawn as being made from fairly thin components with joinery providing the rigidity. Tusk tenons do most of the work in keeping the base from racking. And lest you think tusk tenons are weak, please ready this fun article from Will Myers where tests them to destruction.
The first thing I noticed about the bench (besides that the tail vise was missing its dog), was the tool well. This might be the earliest depiction of a tool well I have in my archive – I’ll have to check.
Also interesting: the face vise. It’s a shoulder vise that looks like it hasn’t quite cast off its crochet origins. Check out the nice bead to the left of the hook, which is really the only ornamentation on the bench.
Finally, we have the system of dogs that works in conjunction with the tail vise. I usually curse modern manufacturers for placing the dogs and drawer so they interfere with one another, but it appears this is not a modern problem. Two of the dogs are in the way of the drawer. Sigh.
And finally finally, look below at Fig. 20. A bench like this (where the legs are not coplanar to the front edge of the benchtop) requires a board jack. And this is a nice one.
I hope you enjoy the plate as a whole – there’s lots to see here.
This is the most conventional of the German benches we’re going to look at. Next up, some vise mysteries.
— Christopher Schwarz