Workbench Personality No. 2: The Traditionalist


The Traditionalist sends me an email. He wants to find a source for his slab workbench top. It needs to be 6” thick, 20” wide and 9’ long. One piece of oak. And rived. Definitely rived. Rived is best. He’s talked to a tree service in his town about riving a tree for him, but they just shook their chainsaws at him.

Hmm, I reply. Have you tried visiting I apologize for my joke. OK, let’s try again: If you want a riven benchtop, you will have to do the work yourself.

He’s considered that, he writes. The problem is that the wedges they sell at his hardware store are either plastic or cast iron. Surely there is an online source for wrought-iron wedges. Wrought iron has grain, like a tree, and is much more suited to cleaving without deforming or breaking.

Also, could I suggest a class for making traditional forged axes in the American pattern? Nothing too late in the game – definitely an axe pattern before 1860. Best before 1830, when the great design malaise of Classicism crept into the work of the craftsman.

The Traditionalist sends me a message on Facebook. I don’t use Facebook. A week later he sends me another email. He’d like to buy a large frame saw for ripping his bench legs, but he can’t find anything suitable. Yes, yes, he knows there are people who sell kits for building a saw. He owns those already. But the blade isn’t right. The blade’s teeth have fleam.

Fleam, he explains, doesn’t show up in the historical record until sometime in the mid-19th century, well after the Golden Age of furniture making. If their saws didn’t have fleam, then surely they knew something we didn’t. Fleam must be an unnecessary modern contrivance.

My short reply: Dude, you definitely want fleam, especially in wettish hardwoods.

A week later, The Traditionalist replies: he’s removed the fleam and is having problems. The saw sticks. Do I think they filed sloped gullets between the teeth back then? Perhaps these larger gullets will carry away the waste? Also, he’d like to make some mutton tallow to lubricate the blade but doesn’t know what cut of lamb he should ask for at the butcher to make the tallow. Should it have a lot of fat? Cartilage? Do I have any cites to share on this matter?


The Traditionalist asks me a question during one of his SnapChat stories. One of my teenage daughters sees it and shows it to me on her phone. I decide to wait for his email.

The Traditionalist takes a workbench-building class. On the first day I explain how we’re going to build all the workbench components as a group – one team will work on tops, a second on leg joints, a third on the undercarriage and vises.

During a coffee break on the first morning, The Traditionalist asks if there’s any way he could build his bench during the class without power tools. He explains: Using these machines tends to rob the work of its soul. Everything is too exact. Too perfect. It has lost all its humanity. He wants to stand at a workbench that reflects his own values on craft. It should be beautifully imperfect.

I think about his request. OK, I say. You can build your bench by hand in the afternoons and evenings, and I’ll help you. But in the morning I need you to do your part on the machines so the class doesn’t fall behind. He gladly agrees. I assign him to the Altendorf sliding table saw to crosscut the components to length.

At lunch that day, The Traditionalist sits next to me.

How much, he asks, is an Altendorf?

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site:


Next up: Workbench Personality No. 3: The Cheapskate

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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30 Responses to Workbench Personality No. 2: The Traditionalist

  1. I don’t know how you manage all that and keep your sanity. Or your civility.


  2. Keith says:

    Thanks for the laugh!


  3. Tate Hewitt says:



  4. I know that now points to this page 🙂


  5. bloksav says:

    I am beginning to understand why you haven’t got a public email account anymore.
    All those questions must have taken a lot of time.


  6. Dan says:

    Not looking forward to the cheapskate, sounds disturbingly familiar. Fortunately, I won’t be at work tomorrow, and I can’t afford to use my precious personal electrons to load your page…


  7. Jonathan Schneider says:

    Rater horse races


  8. Doug says:

    This series is genius.


  9. wirepusher says:

    This series is genius.


  10. davevaness says:

    When I was 13 I spent weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas working at my Grandfather’s u-cut Christmas tree farm in the Santa Cruz mountains. Late one Saturday a pickup drives in with sound of a family singing Christma carols coming from the back. I give a cynical sneer as the mother, son and daughter lump out of the back of the camper with freshly made strings of popcorn and cranberries. They are on their Tradition Christmas adventure. I guide them to the type of tree they want and hand them a tree saw. The father asks if I have an axe. I said we normally use saws. He says that in the olden days they used axes. I said that was because they didn’t have really cool saws like this, back then. He insisted on an axe so I went to Grandpa’s tool shed, muttering the limited number of swear words I knew at 13, to get the not so sharp axe. Well trying to cut a Christmas tree, with its branches so close to the ground is very hard. With Grandpa axe it was impossible. He struggles for awhile. I offer to take over and I finish up with me tree saw in 4 seconds flat. (Let’s just say that at 13 I had a very strong cutting arm 🙂 They didn’t even tip me. (Which was just fine because tipping was a capitalist plot to show dominance over the working man,) Man what an ass I was back then.



  11. skirincich says:

    I thought you were unreachable by email? This gives me hope when I need to share one of my harebrained ideas. No need to answer!


  12. schugn says:

    Lord love a duck! Some folk cry compromise, I prefer practical decernment. I have a tool chest that
    was my greatgrandfather’s. I am 64 yrs old. I use some of these vintage handtools with relish but I don’t hesitate to use a drill press for repetitive work. Long live the craft, Wiener


  13. Alan Garner says:

    Chris, Great series. And, I imagine that the “conversation” with your various bench builders is sane compared to some of the conversations you have actually had. Appreciate your wisdom and perspective.


  14. Mike Booth says:

    Now I can’t stop imagining the woodworking version of “Inside Out”.


  15. Anthony says:

    I really, really enjoyed this! Thanks.


  16. meanmna says:

    I don’t often laugh out loud at something I read, but I did here. Bravo.


  17. jayedcoins says:

    Dammit, the slab airing out a bit in my garage right now was sawn, not rived! I’m DOOMED!


  18. Jermwood says:

    I’m loving this series. 🤣


  19. edfurlong says:

    Well, this fancy lad managed to avoid despoiling his artisanal pantaloons reading this blog entry! But you really should have safety warnings ahead of the entry that alerts those of us who suffer from acute humor sensitivity syndrome (AHSS).

    Thanks for the great lunchtime read!


  20. The guy in the “1767” picture is a real traditionalist. He`s working outside, as can be seen from the lower part of the picture. This particular picture also exists in the front cover of gigantic Danish 4 book series of “The Culture History of Handwork”, printed in the 1970`s.


  21. Tom Moore says:

    What a classic story. For a few years I’ve been a volunteer teaching assistant in the woodworking shop at the local college. I encountered similar individuals. The instructor hands them off to me. BTW, they seem not to be those in their teens or 20s, but older. Maybe they’re just set in their ways.

    I find it best, like you, to remain above the fray. Sometimes it’s just comical.


  22. I know this series is meant to be funny, but I seriously think I need more fleam in my diet.


  23. SaltFace says:

    I feel dumb asking this, but shouldn’t a rip saw have zero fleam? Or is it different for green wood?


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