Video: Roman Workbenches in Mortise & Tenon Magazine


This morning I had a 15-minute video chat with Joshua Klein of Mortise & Tenon Magazine about the article I wrote for him on the low Roman workbench.

The discussion ranged from how I became interested in this form of bench to how this workbench might be ideal for woodworkers in apartments or who have disabilities.

You can watch the video in its entirety for free here. And be sure to order a copy of issue two of Mortise & Tenon Magazine, which will begin shipping in about a week. It’s only $24 but contains a huge amount of coverage of traditional work that you won’t find anywhere else. And the physical object itself is gorgeous and worth keeping.

Update on the Book ‘Roman Workbenches’

This book project has taken on a life of its own and has inflated like a pool toy as Suzanne Ellison, Görge Jonuschat and I have dug up new material that hasn’t been published outside academic circles. We have flushed a lot of money down the potty for this project. But it’s a tale worth telling.

So here’s what we’re going to do.

We are going to publish a short letterpress book – about 64 pages – about our research, bench building and conclusions up to this point. That book is already written and we’re going to illustrate it with old-school line drawings from artist Nicholas Mogley. We will do one press run of this book on the vintage letterpress machinery owned by Steamwhistle Press in Newport in February.

Everyone who wants a copy will get one, but once that press run is done, that version is kaput forever.

The letterpress book will be a bit of an odd duck. It’s a book about research, dead ends, bench building, wet wood and cow sex. And it’s written in a loose style that makes academics sneer.

Then, in March, photographer Narayan Nayar and I will fly to Naples (Italy, not Florida) to visit Pompeii, Herculaneum and climb Vesuvius. If there’s enough interest, we will publish a regular offset Lost Art Press book that greatly expands the research from the letterpress book with tons of photos, illustrations and the fire hose of research from Suzanne Ellison and Görge Jonuschat.

I think Roman workbenches have a lot to teach us. And it begins with these two words: Be seated.

I hope you will join us for this odd journey. Even if you don’t, I’ll get some great meals in Italy and climb a volcano.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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18 Responses to Video: Roman Workbenches in Mortise & Tenon Magazine

  1. Luke Maddux says:

    I guess it’s safe to say we’ll get info on how to order one when the time comes?

  2. corpmule says:

    I’m looking forward to this one.

    The concept of … and methods of working on the “low workbenches” are the reason I was interested in the “Woodworking in Estonia” book.

  3. artisandcw says:

    As I get older (and the injuries pile up) I become increasingly inclined to working while seated. Given the detail-oriented nature of much of my conservation work this melds nicely and I already have one workstation set up essentially as a jeweler’s bench. Up to the Roman workbench I was attracted to Japanese woodworking manners, although sitting directly on the floor has the problem of actually getting back up. I needed to split the baby. Then I saw the Jonathan Fisher bench when visiting Joshua, and Chris’ Roman bench and the Estonian bench, and it looks like I need to add another bench (or two?) to the current shop inventory of ten workbenches. An even dozen benches sounds about right for one guy.

    Thanks Chris for your passion on pursuing arcane and esoteric information, and Suzanne’s discoveries are solid gold.


  4. Ryan Cheney says:

    Makes me wonder. I’m going to need to build a new (and improved) sawbench soon. Maybe I can incorporate some elements from the Roman bench into and get a kind of Roman/sawbench hybrid thing going. Now you’ve done it!

  5. jenohdit says:

    Is everyone just pretending not to notice those nifty boots for fear they will sell out before you get yours?

  6. charlie says:

    With a low work surface, that doubles as a seat, is there any relation to a cobbler’s work bench?

  7. waltamb says:

    Great stuff Chris.
    What ever happened to the Woodwright’s shop video on the bench?

  8. I have finally gotten my first workshop set up in a 10’x25′ room in my garage. My Dad has a laminated slab from a piano (he repairs and tunes them) that he’s giving me. Although it is not a proper slab in the traditional sense, it’s what I’m going to use to create one of these low benches for sawing and working on. Or inviting friends over to work, etc.

  9. drjohn1963 says:

    Does that really not skitter across the smooth wood floor, or is that not where you actually use it? Did you do something to the bottoms of the feet to stop sliding, or is it heavy enough on 8 feet to stick to the floor well?

  10. bsrlee says:

    Please consider those of us who do not live in the U.S. of A., and make an International postage option, its not like you are going to print enough for any of your regular stockist to have them.

  11. handplanepastor says:

    I am nearing a sabbatical, in ministry, and want to look at how woodworking and spirituality is so often intertwined and how it is heightened by using hand tools. Basically, how wood work is soul work.

    I think this work and what might be valuable resources. Thanks for the work you do! And if you need a pastor to travel with you to dive into the religious history of ancient Rome…drop me a line…

  12. Peter Raftos says:

    I think there is strong continuity from Rome to the Byzantine Empire – an unexplored link at the moment . An 11th C equivalent of this bench type portrayed in the Kynegetica, An ivory worker is sitting at one See ivory worker 11th century MS so called Cynegetica (Cod Z 479), fol 36r, Venice Bibliotheca Marciana
    Not surprising that continuity will be found in the medieval Roman Empire. Illuminations of Joseph sthe carpenter show him with saw,axe and plane like this12th C example f164v Joseph - An earlier 9th C manuscript Paris gr. 923 – Shows shipwrights using a similarly constructed saw horse. Your work is great

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