Today I turned the first four legs for the low Roman workbench but I left my lathe set up because I might need to turn four more tomorrow.
While most images I’ve come across of Roman workbenches show them made with four legs and with staked construction, there is one image from Herculaneum that looks a lot like there are eight legs. The image below is actually an 18th-century drawing of a painting from that doomed city that has deteriorated – all we have left is this image (plus a host of wrongly interpreted images).
Suzanne Ellison and I are fairly convinced this image is accurate for a variety of reasons that I’ll discuss in the forthcoming book. But even if the 18th-century image is accurate, a few experts have suggested that the Roman image it is based on is inaccurate.
It’s a bit of a hall of mirrors to discuss. But the bottom line is that some people think that the Herculaneum image actually depicts a work surface on top of two four-legged sawhorses. I tend to disagree. But there is no way to settle the issue.
So what I’m planning on doing is making the bench with four legs, like this image from Pompeii.
Then I’m going to work with the bench and see if I think it needs four more legs to be robust enough for operations such as hand mortising.
So stay tuned.
These four legs feature 4”-long tenons that are 1-3/4” in diameter. I roughed them out on the lathe and then shaved and scraped them to the finished shape. I like the process and the finished texture.
— Christopher Schwarz