Stretchers on Your Workbench are Optional

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The video we’ve recently released, “Roubo Workbench: By Hand & Power Video,” is intended to be a brain dump from me and Will Myers on building slab workbenches. Not only do we show the techniques we’ve developed to make it doable for the home woodworker, we also seek to dispel a lot of the myths and misdirection encountered by the bench builder.

We take the following topics head-on:

  • You can use (very) wet wood for the benchtop.
  • The finish can be simple (or non-existent).
  • The species you use isn’t all that important.
  • Moving big slabs doesn’t require a forklift or Roman garrison.
  • You might not need a tail vise.
  • The lower stretchers are not very important.

This last detail always makes my bench-building students crazy. They go to great lengths to make the mortise-and-tenon joints between the stretchers and legs massive and tight. While I’ll never bad-mouth a good joint, the stretcher joints are not as important as the joints that join the benchtop and the legs.

Early workbenches didn’t use these stretchers (check out the Stent panel for one good example). In fact, I think the biggest job of the lower stretchers is to make it easier to install a shelf below the benchtop for your bench planes and appliances.

As a result, I don’t think the joints for the stretchers have to be massive. To prove the point we used a Domino XL to make one of the stretcher joints on our bench. I probably wouldn’t use a pocket screw or a biscuit for this joint, but loose tenons are an excellent choice, whether you use a router, drill or Domino.

In fact, some Roman boats were built using loose-tenon joinery, and those seemed to do OK.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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8 Responses to Stretchers on Your Workbench are Optional

  1. Chris Decker says:

    How would you recommend drawboring when using loose tenons? I’m making a dining table using loose-tenons and I’d like to drawbore the joints that join the legs to the aprons. Does it make sense to just bore a hole and peg the apron end of the tenon first, and then treat the other end like a normal drawborn mortise and tenon?

  2. Bob Burch says:

    Hmmm….not sure I agree with you Chris. The bench I built ,(from your excellent book on workbenches) ,has the massive stretchers below but I never pinned the top to the legs. I use it almost every day and never had an issue of racking or any movement. I think the solid undercarriage in this design is responsible.
    Also , you can have my wagon vice when you pry it out of my cold dead fingers! If I ever make another I’ll use the Bench Crafted hardwear.
    Also, the simple 3/4in hold fasts from Grammercy are more than enough to hold your work down. Those big 1in monsters seem to be over kill.
    Sorry, I work by myself and don’t have anyone to complain to.

  3. Ed Clarke says:

    Adding the stretchers will add some possibly significant weight to the bench. Since none of us are going to be making a bench per month as you seem to end up doing, why not spend a little time and add the stretchers? It also give you a place to hook your foot when sawing (as you have often mentioned).

  4. fitz says:

    The stretchers are also useful for vertically challenged woodworkers; by standing on the front stretcher of my baby Roubo, I can just reach the plug on my basement ceiling.

  5. davidhickspc says:

    Found this little game online and thought it might be of interest to fellow woodworkers. Just how good are you at “eyeballing” it? http://woodgears.ca/eyeball/

  6. Actually, Chris, loose tenoning was the standard ship construction method of the ancient Mediterranean world. The Athenians built their triremes by loose-tenoning the planks together for most of their length – and by most, I mean about 90%. Skilled artisans would cut mortises for long, thin slats to fit in in between adjacent planks. Then the frames would be ‘sewn’ in with tarred ropes. They were very strong.

    By the late Roman Empire/early Dark Ages, they were using dowels to join the planks together. This… didn’t work nearly as well (but keeps my nautical archaeologist friends in work!)

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