It Takes Only 100 Workbenches

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Some things in woodworking are hard-earned. Translation: I might not be so bright.

This week I performed some maintenance to my circa 1505 workbench designed by Martin Löffelholz. I’d built the bench last year using components that were soaking wet. This was not my preference, but sometimes we don’t have a choice when it comes to wood.

So what would be my preference? A wet top and bone-dry legs.

In my case, the tenons on the four wet legs had dried out faster than the wet benchtop. Because the ends of a stick of wood dry out before its middle, this was to be expected. As a result, three of the tenons became loose in their mortises, and I needed to re-glue and re-wedge them.

This is quick and easy work, maybe an hour. And because I use hide glue, there was no need to scrape off the dried PVA glue to remake the joints. (Yay for animal glue – for the 102nd billionth time.)

What’s the point here? Well, if you’ve ever made a workbench with through-tenons or through-dovetails then you know that the most difficult part of flattening the benchtop is dealing with the recalcitrant end grain. It can stop your handplane short, no matter how sharp it is or strong you think you are.

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This week I got smart. Usually when you make a through-tenon, you make the tenon over-long and then saw or plane it flush to the surrounding wood. This is a good idea when making doors or small boxes. But when making workbenches, perhaps not.

This week I decided to cut the tenons 1/16” shy so they would end up recessed instead of proud when the joints were assembled. And, after assembly, I chiseled the wedges down flush with the tenon.

As a result, the benchtop was easy to flatten. My jack plane didn’t encounter any end grain until the last few strokes of flattening the benchtop.

Why haven’t I done this for the last 100 workbenches that I’ve built with my students, for customers or for me?

Lesson: Don’t be a Schwarz. Cut your workbench tenons short.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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23 Responses to It Takes Only 100 Workbenches

  1. Man I love this bench!

  2. ralmcc7yahoo.com says:

    May the Schwarz be with you

  3. nrhiller says:

    That bench is a thing of beauty.

  4. djmueller says:

    Don’t be a Schwarz? Be careful dude. That could enter the vernacular.

  5. fitz says:

    Say – that is smart!

  6. franktiger says:

    I built my loffelholz bench with metal screws and old wood,all together I have about $25 in the bench.

  7. lclement4 says:

    “Don’t be a Schwarz.” I feel a new t-shirt design coming to Lost Art Press.

  8. Larry says:

    Did Martin Löffelholz put his dog holes in line with the leg, or were you just being a Schwarz?

  9. ajw2250 says:

    After being the wiener for a few years and knowing it, this post brought me back – you rock Schwarz.

    Really I get it and you now – thank you.

    Tony

  10. wilburpan says:

    I tend to do the same thing with dovetails. I try to cut them to fit, but if there’s any error, I try to err on the side of the pins being a hair short. That way I’m planing face grain on the tails board to bring the joint flush, rather than the end grain on the pins.

  11. Joseph Roth says:

    I see the merit for these legs, Would you do the same on a roubo with the through sliding dovetail?

  12. artisandcw says:

    Revel in the reality that you are not ineducable.

  13. Daniel Wagaman says:

    Thanks for being so transparent in your woodworking adventures. I’m relatively new to woodworking and assumed tenons in workbenches left long to create an uninterrupted surface. In my own builds I found it frustrating not just for the hateful job of planing endgrain but because the tenons would often peek out as the wood moved. Which only meant more planing of endgrain to flatten them.

    Keeping them below decks to begin with makes perfect sense, and makes me less prejudiced against Nicholson benches with recessed hardware holding them together. Thanks for all the tip great and small.

  14. spoiler says:

    Just wondering out loud… Would there be any disadvantage to leaving the tenons 1/8th shy… After you flatten it they are now a 16th shy and allow you one future flattening with the same end grain free pass. I don’t think i’d bother on dry wood but it sounds as though a bench built with awesome (huge) wet slabs will need a few tune ups in the first couple years.

  15. Cody Carse says:

    Is there a reason you don’t just make it a stopped mortise instead of a through mortise? That way you’d have a nice smooth top?

    • Stopped mortises are fine. I have made many many benches that way. You just have to get the fit pretty good (and drawbore them) to ensure everything is solid.

      With through-joinery you can wedge the ever-loving snot out of them, ensuring a solid result.

  16. toolnut says:

    Hi Chris,
    Have you built anything on this bench yet (start to finish without using the other benches) or have you just tested certain work holding scenarios? I’m curious as to what you like or dislike.
    Thanks,
    Patrick

  17. Donna Davis says:

    I read your article and think you might be interested in my bench ..I have a bench similar to yours .

  18. Simon Stucki says:

    haha, even before I read your solution to your problem I thought “heck why doesn’t he just leave the tenons a little short” after all isn’t he going on and on about how it is not very important at all to have a perfectly flat mirrorfinish workbench…

    another question: how important is the glue in that joint? or is there a non animal based glue that would work? what about that rice glue you were mentioning? 🙂

  19. Royce Eaves says:

    Being new to woodworking, I second the questions about vises and dog holes. I am impressed with the similarity to the roman benches you have written about. Wish I would have read this before I left the legs long on my practice bench. Hopefully, I will not repeat too many mistakes on my next. Great article.

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