More Holy Roman Weirdness


While the jaw of the face vise of this Roman workbench is unusual enough (it’s inset into the benchtop), the screws that operate the vise work unlike most modern vises.

In a modern face vise, the screw turns inside a nut to advance or retract the jaw of the vise. With this vise, the screw is fixed and it’s the nut that moves. This is a very typical construction found in benches from the 1500s up through the late 1700s (and perhaps later).

After weighing all the options for making and installing the screws, here’s how I did it. It might not be the way they did it in 1505 or even the best way, but it was the best method for my tools and the way my mind works.

To make the screws, first I made a 28mm maple dowel on the lathe and left one end square so I could clamp it in the vise. The maple blank was about 12” long, and after threading it I ended up with about 9” of thread.

After threading the dowel with a German-made threader, I cut off the square section.


Then I drilled two deep 25mm holes in the benchtop. With my threadbox, you are supposed to bore a 23mm hole. But I used 25mm so I could adjust the screw so it protruded dead square from the benchtop. That 2mm of slop gave me just enough wiggle.


Then I threaded the 25mm holes.

To assemble things, I coated 3” of the threads with epoxy and coated the interior of the holes with epoxy. I screwed in each screw until 6” protruded from the benchtop. Finally, I adjusted the screws so they were dead square with a clamp.

The epoxy filled in the 1mm gap all around the screws, producing a very sound joint.

Why use a modern glue and not hide glue (my favorite glue)? Epoxy has more gap-filling properties than hide glue in my experience. And filling gaps is what I was after. Part of me thought: Wait, don’t I want the joint to be reversible in case I wanted to repair the screws?


Then the other lobe of my brain answered: How would you repair a damaged 28mm threaded rod? That’s like taking a gerbil to the oncologist. You’d cut off the damaged screw and install a new screw. Duh, other lobe.

So epoxy it was.

Today I also received the hardware for the end vise from blacksmith Peter Ross (it’s gorgeous). I hope to get started installing that stuff tomorrow.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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17 Responses to More Holy Roman Weirdness

  1. Chris, I am really enjoying this build. As an enormous history buff, I love to read your detective work as you try to understand and duplicate the original, with so little background material to go on. I know this research isn’t cheap (in cash for materials or in time spent). And lord knows you don’t NEED another workbench! So I feel very lucky to be able sit back and enjoy the education while you do the work. Funding things like this is one of the reasons I buy books from LAP (and soon tools from Crucible). Anyway, I’m not trying to blow smoke up your keester. In fact, if you ever stop doing things like this you’ll be dead to me… 🙂

  2. Joshua Allen says:

    Really cool. Can’t wait to see the hardware. I’m guessing a guide on the other side?

    That’s a big old hunk of oak.

  3. Robert Lindh says:

    Sorry,but a hell of an advertisement for wrong use of tools…vise grip on tap….buy a tap handle and illustrate it correctly !!!!

  4. Rachael Boyd says:

    I love the stuff you do, and you try your best to think as they did back then. most of it is common sense and to think (as you said what if it breaks how do I fix it). thank you for sharing your work with us we all learn so much.

  5. Paul Straka says:

    Great stuff Chris. Thanks for documenting and sharing.

  6. charlie says:

    If this is a bench from the 1500’s than what do you suppose Noahs bench looked like when he built the Ark? I saw the work bench at the Ark Encounter and it did not remind me of ancient BabylonIan times. Maybe you could do some consulting work over there and show them how benches have evolved over time?

    • Well that is an interesting story. They called me several years ago, but it didn’t go very far after I explained they couldn’t buy “gopherwood” at a lumberyard.

    • tsstahl says:

      “…what do you suppose Noahs bench looked like when he built the Ark? ”

      Being a boat, I’m assuming it was lofted on a support structure. The only bench would be for Noah’s holy arse. 🙂

  7. Very interested to see how durable these stationary threaded rods are without guides to take some of the load. I am confident that I would break them off (being a klutz and all). I wondered when looking at source drawing whether these bits might have been metal too? Hard to tell. Exited to see the end vise!

    • The artist drew wood as brown and metal as grey. I think that’s pretty clear throughout the entire codex. Pokey-outy things are always hard on the soft bits below the waist. But I’m happy to take one for the team (I’m done making children).

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