Chinese/Roman Workbench/Router Table – and a Palm!


Brendan Gaffney sent me this incredible video – likely from Vietnam – where woodworkers are building stair components using a low workbench as a router table.

The low bench is exactly what you’d see in an ancient Roman or Chinese workshop. Most intriguing to me is the V-shaped bench stop at the end of the bench. It is exactly like the Chinese “palm,” a workholding device that Suzanne Ellison dug up and helped me research for the upcoming book “Ingenious Mechanicks: Early Workbenches & Workholding.”

Seeing it in use as a router table is amazing.

The entire video is interesting. The music, however, will make you batty.

Please do not leave a comment on the lack of “workshop safety” in this video. I will delete them. In showing you this video I refuse to open the door for criticism of their work, tradition or culture. You might think that you’re a more evolved being, but that’s really just your Superman Underoos talking.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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27 Responses to Chinese/Roman Workbench/Router Table – and a Palm!

  1. Royce Eaves says:

    The V stop reminds me of the doe’s foot you wrote about from the Roubo plat. On a bench a hold fast could secure it instead of a foot, but the foot worked for him. Minimum set up time.

  2. This is what I do when I need a break (and Josselyn goes out of town for a week) – YouTube holes. If anyone is looking for more, there are thousands of these videos, showing craftspeople throughout the world making what seem like relatively common wares – until you realize the tools and techqniues they have don’t revolve around much more than a corded drill, a router, a hammer, maybe a chisel and (my favorite “swiss army knife” of developing country craft) machetes. It’s a good learning moment – you probably don’t need that new tool. What you probably need is drive and practice.

    • Also, this video confirms somethign for me – if you’re gonna invest in one large power tool, make it a bandsaw. That machine they have is a beast and dwarfs every other tool they use.

    • Chris Decker says:

      The machete is an incredible tool! I spent two years in Paraguay and remember being kind of startled seeing a machete in every home (it has such a brutal connotation in US culture) until I saw the incredible variety of ways that they are used.

  3. Jeff Hanna says:

    My wife is Indian. Every time I see an Indian craftsman over there, I’m embarrassed by my collection of tools/machinery. One particular woodcarver I know in Ahmedabad has a lineage going back further than anyone can remember (he has a shop with his father and brother, both full-time woodcarvers). Their work is amazing. They have hundreds (maybe thousands?) of carving gouges, all unhandled. They are just bits of steel that they whack with a mallet. It’s funny, in America hand tool woodworking is seen as somewhat of a novelty; over there, it’s just work.

  4. studioffm says:

    That guy is great ! Fast highly skilled he carries a full 3D Cad system between his ears and is almost completely uncelebrated. Till now . Rock on baby.

    david savage

  5. Chris Decker says:

    I’m always impressed by how simple solutions tend to be when cash is a hurdle, and when people can guess which superhero underoos I’m wearing. Kudos to you, Mr. Schwarz.

  6. And I get attacked by the safety police for not using a push stick to rip a 12-inch board on the table saw…

  7. tpobrienjr says:

    There must have been a drawing or sketch somewhere, but I didn’t spot it. Someone had the entire design in his or her head?

  8. spoiler says:

    New Year’s Resolution 2018… use feet more while operating lathe ….

  9. Matthew Mizner says:

    Looks a lot like the dust collection system I have set up in my garage…

  10. I couldn’t tell if he was using cut nails or wire nails at the end.

  11. Niels Cosman says:

    The internet-woodworking-safety-police all just spontaneously combusted!

  12. captainjack1024 says:

    I can’t picture myself working quite that way, but I sure would like to be that flexible again when I’m in the shop. I don’t want it enough to eat properly and exercise, mind you…

  13. Love it!!!

    Love to see that I’m not the only one that tends to take off all the guards, and related “Safety Nazis” put on tools…I still remember…”see this?…its sharp…don’t touch”…from decades ago…Seems to have worked just fine as the fullest extent of safety protocol needed…ha, ha,..I think the video also demonstrates brilliantly…”less is more”…in what one can do with simple tools and set ups…be they power or hand tools…I would also note that since these seem to come from log/bolt to finished project that the wood is not “dry” as western woodworkers understand it?

    • Duster says:

      Well, a riving knife is a useful addition. There aren’t many others though. Maybe a finger board.

  14. bob817 says:

    Is that why they call you Stumpy Nubs? 😉 You have some great stuff yourself their Stumpy!!

  15. Craig Regan says:

    Do not try holding woodworking projects with your feet! This is an extremely dangerous and unsafe prctice resulting in pulled hamstrings, slipped disks and groin injuries. Unless you are a trained contortionist or born with prehensile feet, most woodworkers should stay away from this method of work. Remember Safty first!
    Saftey Sam

  16. Leonardo Herrera says:

    Beautiful. I cringe at the end; all that beautiful material and obvious display of skill kind of get washed out by the sloppy finish and really flimsy assembly. But I get it, that’s reality.

    My father old workshop was what you would call a safety hazard. No guards, no dust collection, pointy and sharp things everywhere. I learned to walk in there, bumping my head in every single cast steel machine in the place. I remember sitting a couple feet away from the 20 inch belt wheel fascinated on how it worked. And I learned how to use the bandsaw taking turns with my cousin, one turning that same belt wheel by hand while the other did some pretty small cuts (thin strips of wood, cardboard, that kind of stuff.)

    I had a very happy childhood in there. Nowadays I’d be taken away from my father by the guv’ment, I’m sure 😀

    • Duster says:

      Pretty sure the finish looks grand once it is full complete. That “just before” stage is where I worry most.

  17. Is that really a low bench or some sort of hybrid low/high bench?

    I ask because, looking at the second piece he was working on, his legs are hanging off the side of the bench and his feet aren’t touching the ground. It’s almost like they built it up near waist height, not unlike how we might build a bench, but built it and use it in the fashion of the low Chinese bench from an earlier post.

  18. This is great! Though it does make me wish I could wear sandels at work. And I have to find a fence for our routers, because is plunging was on point.

  19. Christopher Dahle says:

    I thought it was interesting that while there were no safety features on any of the tools, the workers were all wearing dust masks, and not the cheapest type either. Seems they have identified the most serious hazards in their shop and have isolated the one that can’t be avoided through thoughtful work habits alone. Yeah, I cringed a bit watching him face jointing the short slabs, but can’t say that I wouldn’t do the task the same way if I had a similar tool set.

  20. Rob in Maine says:

    What always amazes me about seeing work surfaces in SE Asia is how low they are to the ground. The temptation to bring things up to what in Europe would be considered a “working height” is resisted. Blacksmiths, woodworkers, weavers, and potters all tend to keep operations between the floor and maybe 30-35″.

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