A 1572 Workbench from the Netherlands


I have a theory, which I’ll delve into in my next book, called “Roman Workbenches,” that the transition from the old-style Roman workbench to the more formally joined French or modern bench occurred in the 16th century.

So I was thrilled when the above engraving showed up today from researcher Suzanne Ellison. The engraving was made by Johannes of Lucas van Doetechum after a work by Hans Vredeman de Vries in 1572. The work is part of a series of four prints that depict carpenters’ tools in an artistic way – bunches of chisels are depicted as flowers and so forth.


There is, as always, a lot to see and process. Because we are on a workbench kick this week, the bench is of particular interest. It is firmly in the Roubo camp of modern benches with its stretchers and rectilinear construction. Also worth noting are the crochet, holdfast and peg holes in the legs.

In real life, this engraving is about 7-1/4” tall , but I wish it were 7’ tall.

— Christopher Schwarz


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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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9 Responses to A 1572 Workbench from the Netherlands

  1. Sean Yates says:

    E = M. C. Escher?

  2. Once again, I request pictorial clarification in the fascinating bench parade. Would you provide a sketch the bench here without the confusion of other items? Are the posts splayed or just an artistic conceit? Is there any indication of screw threads anywhere in the image. Do you see the little rectangular bump on the bench’s front edge as a hook? Holdfast? This is a Cry for Help, not a Comment.

  3. Hank Cohen says:

    Looks like they didn’t sweep up the chips very regularly back then.

  4. Jeff Faulk says:

    Is it me or is this image perhaps somewhat stylized? Surely it requires a pinch of salt?

  5. Hats off to your researcher! A good eye for detail, and no doubt a capacity for perseverance that makes learning to adjust a hand plane, child’s play.

  6. Paul Murphy says:

    The design is a trophy. Panels of this type first appeared in Roman architecture (IIRC), typically displaying the spoils of war. For the most part, they would consist of captured enemy weapons and armor, sometimes featuring bound prisoners at the base of the panel. Later, the form evolved as a format to display the wares of any given pursuit or trade. It isn’t uncommon to see “musical trophies” for example; compositions featuring stringed instruments, wind instruments, sheet music, and the like. Stylistically, what you see is grotesque. Before Roman ruins were unearthed, the remains were often buried. Discovering ancient art from Rome was cave exploring; exploring grottos, hence grotesque. Like many ancient forms, the trophy emerged anew in the Renaissance. If you don’t like the style, you’re in good company. Vitruvius, the Roman architect didn’t like it either.

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