The Roman Bench – 3 Legs Away from 11


The legs of this Roman workbench are on a sightline of about 30° with a resultant angle of 15°, numbers which I created by using a square with a protractor head and a long blade. Once the blade of the square looked right to my eyes – not too splayed and not too vertical, I measured the compound angles right off the square.

(A full treatise on working with sightlines and resultant angles is in “The Anarchist’s Design Book.”)

Then I drilled four 1-3/4”-diameter mortises to see how solid the bench felt with just four legs.

I don’t have an auger bit that’s 1-3/4”, so I cut the mortises with a Forstner and a corded drill. Megan Fitzpatrick spotted me during the process, and I showed her how you can use two inexpensive laser levels to monitor your progress as you bore.

Even with Megan’s sharp eye and the assistance of the lasers, it was a challenge to bore the mortises without the Forstner bit or its angle wandering a tad. Right now the legs look a bit cattywampus, but once they are level to the floor some of that will disappear, just as it does with chairmaking.

After boring four mortises, we inserted the legs and turned the bench on its feet. It felt completely solid, even when we jumped on the benchtop. I think four legs is definitely enough.


But I wanted to be the first boy on my block with an eight-legged workbench. So I bored four more mortises, and today I fit the additional legs. The bench looks fairly unusual, all in all, but I like it.

— Christopher Schwarz

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30 Responses to The Roman Bench – 3 Legs Away from 11

  1. tsstahl says:

    The bench looks like it is compensating for something. 🙂


    • Damien says:

      Maybe a prelude to Viking woodworking (Sleipnir) but more generally eight legged horses carry the dead to the otherworld.


  2. tsstahl says:

    I posted my flippant reply and looked at the 8 legged picture again….

    …Sitting on 8 legs of saw horse. Then it hit me–Captain Obvious to the rescue–the extra four legs provide a tremendous amount of resistance to racking forces! Just what a work bench is subjected to on a regular basis. So, they aren’t there to resist gravity, they are there to resist assliditis!


    • abtuser says:

      Yea, this is what I was thinking right off, resistance to racking. It’s a good idea and it adds to overall loading capacity, which it’s not clear a diagonal brace would, or would as much.


  3. I wonder if having 8 legs makes any noticeable difference while chopping a mortise. Like the vibrations/impact would be divided more ways.


  4. proclus153 says:

    Maybe this would be a good place to ask whether you’ve ever tried or investigated the usefulness of so-called “self-feed” bits for boring big round mortises like this. They seem to be like Forstner bits but with a lead screw to improve control. Wood Owl makes a version of them.


  5. Noel says:

    I’ll have to say, I was definitely hoping for the 8-legged/arachnid version of this. I’m sure it’s overkill, but those spiders can’t possibly need all of their legs, either, and they seem to be taking over the world (or at least my porch…)


  6. azezo1 says:

    “Less is more”.

    NO! More is more.


  7. azezo1 says:

    Looks like it might make a pretty cool looking bench for sitting on.


  8. Regarding eight legs, anything worth doing is worth overdoing.


  9. josef1henri says:

    Sure would be nice if you would share how to use those laser levels.


    • Next time I do it I will. Basically: one shoots on the sight line. One on the resultant.


      • neitsdelf says:

        In no way did I understand this statement.


        • James Russ says:

          One is positioned directly in front of the driller but at the correct angle out of square from the edge of the surface with the laser positioned vertically to make sure that line is splitting the bit up the middle to make sure you are plumb (not sure that is the right term since you are not plumb in all directions). The other is placed 90 degrees to either the right or left and positioned so the laser line splits the angle you need to be drilling at. Then you just make sure the laser lines are splitting the bit in the center from each side.

          There is a Highland Woodworking episode that shows this somewhere in the episode number 10-15 range. The host is visiting a Windsor chair maker and he shows this. Makes complete sense once you see it.


  10. seancotter says:

    “Four legs good, two legs bad,” said Old Major, “eight legs awesome.”


  11. Does it increase speed on stool making to fit the legs before cutting the seat to size? 😀


  12. Greg Merritt says:

    Looks like it will be plenty stable. I believe you are building two Roman style benches. Will you be using this bench to build the next?


  13. toolnut says:

    Spinal Tap reference in your title?


  14. Greg Bétit says:

    Sight lines: see Peter Galbert’s Chairmaker’s Notebook.


  15. skilledno says:

    Too much is just right.


  16. kenwanobi says:

    I’ve never seen a protractor/square like that. I’ve just been trying to find it online, but the closest I’ve found are the Starrett pro-site protractors, which don’t look like they’d stay standing up very well. May I ask who makes that protractor/square, and where I might find one?


  17. Somehow, I knew you’d go with eight. It’s okay. I would have done the same.


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