An Early Split-top Workbench from Spain


Researcher Suzanne Ellison recently turned up this unusual Spanish split-top workbench that resides in the Museo Ángel Orensanz y Artes del Serrablo. It’s remarkable to find an early split-top bench (which were quite unusual until recently, thanks to Mike Siemsen and Benchcrafted). But the configuration of the benchtop is enough to make you your scratch your head a bit.

Each top is 18 x 14 cm (7” wide x 5-1/2” thick) and are separated by a gap that is 8-1/4” wide. The two tops are joined with two crossbars that are through-tenoned into the tops. The four legs are tenoned into the tops and there is an unusual leg vise (four handles!) that drives a chop that is 58 x 20 cm (22-3/4 x 7-7/8” wide).


The bench overall is 70 cm x 230 cm x 57 cm (27-1/2” high x 90-1/2” long x 22-1/2” deep). The museum obtained the bench in the early 1980s but does not list an approximate age of the bench.

My first reaction to this bench was that perhaps it was for another trade or a specialized purpose, though the museum lists it as a carpenter’s bench. But the more I thought about the bench, the more I think it was used for carpentry or furniture.

The bench is a standard size for a woodworking bench. The vise is clearly set up for woodworking, despite the unusual handles on the screw. There appears to be a holdfast in the rear top. And there are holdfast holes in the front right leg, suggesting the bench was used for edge jointing.

The square block sitting on the top of the bench is a bit of a mystery. It could be a mallet in dog hole, some jig or something else.

If I were forced to speculate, my guess is this was a bench used for woodworking where the owner didn’t deal with stock that was both thin and wide. Of course, the gap between the two tops could have been filled in by a chunk of timber at some point or a tool tray or any number of other things.

So the next time I’m in Spain….

— Christopher Schwarz

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10 Responses to An Early Split-top Workbench from Spain

  1. medullaryray says:

    Any thoughts on the wear pattern on the corners on the right side of the two tops?

  2. toolnut says:

    I think your first instinct about the block of wood being a mallet is correct. If you look closely you can see what looks like a handle to it below the front top.

  3. Jeff Burks says:

    The split frame reminds me of the Wheelwright’s hub mortising type bench, as depicted in R.A. Salaman’s Dictionary of Woodworking Tools (pages 509-510).

  4. g2-ec7d75ce2808b7d5ed1af24642e8f5b8 says:

    Could this bench have been used for ship building?

  5. Great find! Thank you!

  6. Brian Eve says:

    I’ll see if I can make it up there one of these days to take a look at it.

  7. When I was a lad and my Father was joining wood professionally, one of my jobs was to keep the bench top free of shavings. Tools were never allowed in the tray between the two sides. It was used not as a tool tray but as a way of keeping shavings off the work surface. He could produce a prodigious quantity of shavings and wood chips in short order. Being a lad powered vacuum cleaner allowed him to work fast enough to feed four hungry sons.

    Later I would help him work wood on the bench and it was driven into me that the tray was never, under any circumstances to be used to hold tools. Is there any evidence that my Father and Grandfather (and me and my Granddaughters) were alone in this rule?

    Having a gap in a bench is better than a tray as the shavings can be kicked aside at a pinch and the work still proceed apace if the “lad” was slacking.

    This photograph is of a “pinch” in a dry stone wall that allowed the stockman and his dog to pass from field to field but not the stock. I presume that there are none such in the USA hence the use of a vice like , “in a pinch” rather than the English usage of “at a pinch”.

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