Roman Bench Legged Up


Building this bench has been a lot more like building a daybed for a giant snake than a typical workbench.

After drilling the mortises last Thursday, I got some time yesterday to cut the wedges for the legs, to kerf the tenons (to make it easier for the wedges to do their job) and assemble the entire thing with hide glue.

The wedges are made from an ash plank I’ve kept around since 2007, believe it or not. It’s an offcut from making the benchtop to my first Holtzapffel workbench that year. It is the most springy and resilient ash I’ve ever worked with. And as I wanted to wail on these wedges, that ash was just the ticket.

After getting all the mortises and tenons painted with glue, I put all the joints together and flipped the bench onto its feet. Then came the fun part with a small sledgehammer.

When building chairs, I have to be careful not to split the seat when driving in the legs or wedges. I try to stop beating the parts exactly one blow before splitting the seat.


With these enormous 1-3/4”-diameter tenons and the 3-1/2”-thick oak top, however, splitting was not going to be a problem. So I knocked the wedges in like I was playing Whack-a-Mole, Deathmatch Edition. When each wedge seated fully, it made a Biblical thunk.

Today I’ll clean up the assembled benchtop, level the legs and start drilling the holes for holdfasts and wooden stakes.

— Christopher Schwarz

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9 Responses to Roman Bench Legged Up

  1. Whack-a-mole deathmatch. That’s a good description for how I felt driving the large pegs for my Roubo workbench. I ended up using a sledge hammer. No moles survived.

  2. frpaulas says:

    I’ve been wondering about leg leveling for a couple of days now, but came to the conclusion that leg leveling was a non-issue as the legs were most likely pushed into a dirt floor.

  3. waltamb says:

    Great job, and now the bench can stand on its own 8 feet.

  4. Brian Clites says:

    What beautiful natural light in the new workshop! I envy the difference it makes in your photos! And love this snake bed 😉

  5. What is the strategy behind shimming what appears to be the four inside legs?

    • The legs are all slightly different lengths (and the floor is uneven). So I shimmed under them before wedging them to keep them from popping out of their mortises below the benchtop.

  6. I thought the shims might have been to protect the floor from being dented with all that pounding!

  7. Chris
    I suggest considering wooden tapered tenons on all stake furniture. First, the commercially available metal bodied taper reamer has an enclosed angle of 12 degrees. Much too large. Try from 5 to 8 degrees. The test is easy. Drive them home and then drive them back out. Drive them in further and see when they split the mortise. Carl Swensson has done it all and 6 degrees is the answer. This confirms what Richard Starr came up with. Then there are the saw teeth. Sounds like Jennie on on one of her expeditions (it was) but the tool reams easily and the resulting surface is smooth. Also there is no need to back out the reamer to remove shavings, the residue is more like saw dust and flows down the the reveals in front of both edges. Getting the perfect angled saw blade is tricky, but leave the teeth on and adjust the back edge. I have also cleaned up the edges of hopeless rusty blades, left the teeth on and adjusted and burred the back edge. I get an excellent result. Yes, the action of the blade floating in the reamer’s kerf is counter-intuitive to me. I did not believe it would work so well but it does. Starr and I took about an hour. I have used the one we made for the last 30 years.

    I’m using my last bench, but if I made an 8 legger I would make two 4 legged trestles so I could take it down and move it around with help.

  8. nateharold says:

    The genius in this tenon battle is the tarp. Genius! My last glue-up drizzled my garage floor with goo that took an extra 20 minutes to clean up. Tarp, newspaper, cardboard, nearly any sheet material from this planet would have worked.

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