This afternoon I got a good start on my first Roman workbench – a knee-high bench with almost no workholding, aside from holes for pegs or holdfasts.
I’m building it using a red oak top from Will Myers, who dried the slab in his homemade kiln in North Carolina. The legs are some white oak stock that is sold at the lumberyard for making rustic mantles. (I was going to instead use some firewood I have in my shop, but that firewood is actually going into two upcoming commissioned chairs.)
The real fun part of the project is the measurement system. Thanks to Brendan Bernhardt Gaffney at burn-heart.com, I have a Roman ruler to guide me as I design and build these two workbenches. I’m using his Cubitus Ruler, which combines several Roman systems onto one pretty stick.
So here is the cutting list for this first Roman workbench:
1 benchtop, measuring 3.4 thumbs x 14 thumbs x 4.9 cubits (or 87.8 thumbs)
4 legs, measuring 2.2 thumbs x 2.2 thumbs x 1.25 cubits (or 21.3 thumbs)
Before you do the math, just think of the cubit as the distance from your elbow to the tip of your middle finger. And the thumb as the length of the second segment of your thumb. That’s accurate enough.
Today I dressed the front edge of benchtop with my jointer plane, making sure it was square to the benchtop (the benchtop is the heart side of the slab, FYI). Then I marked the final width of the benchtop using a large square – my panel gauge is in my other shop.
That’s when I found that I had to remove almost 1/2 thumb of wood in places to make the front edge and back edge parallel.
I looked for my hatchet. Dangit. It’s also in my other shop.
So I decided to traverse the edge with my jack plane. After marking the final width of the benchtop, I use my jack to create a chamfer on the corner that touched the line that represented the final width of the benchtop. The chamfer acted as gauge – as the chamfer disappeared I knew I was closer to my finished width. It also protected the corner from spelching during the traversing.
This dodge worked surprisingly well.
Tomorrow I’ll dress the benchtop and start shaping the legs.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. The book “Roman Workbenches” is unlikely to have any photos because we are printing it via letterpress, so I’m not sure why I’m documenting every step. Old habits die hard, I suppose.