A: Chris finds the Retro (shown above) is easier to install. The Solo requires perfectly straight and deep holes, which for many people requires a drill press. So he chose the one that’s easier for beginners or for those without a drill press to install.
54. Q: In Mr. Schwarz’s first workbench book, he states that the stock is cut to rough length and ripped oversize when the stock is first purchased. It is then stickered and allowed to dry for a time before starting the build. In his latest book, Mr. Schwarz states on pg. 197 that he piles the latest purchase on top of the pile in the basement. When he has a bench-sized pile, he makes a bench.
Is one method preferred over the other? Should the wood dry as full 2x12s and when ready to begin the build, cut the wood to length, rip it a bit oversized and the glue and clamp it up?
A: Both are correct. If he has a bench in mind and knows the rough sizes, he’ll go ahead and rough cut then sticker the stock, and it’ll dry faster. But if not, he’ll buy a pile and let those dry until he’s ready – it takes longer for them to dry that way. But both approaches work.
This is the final tour in our series. I have one more workbench on site – the Loffelholz workbench – but it is upstairs and in use as part of a makeshift kitchen (we ripped out our kitchen on March 1 and then the project halted because of the pandemic). So someday I’ll post a tour of that bench after our kitchen is rebuilt.
The bench in this video is a personal experiment. I have worked on lightweight commercial benches such as this all over the world, including some schools. I always wondered if I could improve them to the point where I might say: Yeah, this is a good idea for a beginning woodworker.
I improved this bench with about $50 in additional materials (cheap plywood, lag screws, shelf brackets and carriage bolts). But it’s still not as good as a bench you build yourself. All told, this bench cost $270 once you add up the cost of the bench ($200), shipping ($20) and improvements ($50). For $270 I could build a lifetime bench that is heavy and functional. Here it is.
So why even show this video to you? Well, I know that some of you own these benches. You inherited them or bought them out of ignorance or in the throes of drunkenness. If you are in this situation, these are cheap improvements that will help. Also, any bench can benefit from more rigidity, and this video shows you two ways to do that.
Finally, and I say this in the video but it bears repeating: I am not picking on this particular manufacturer. There are loads of these benches on the market. And they are all about the same quality. This was the one I thought was the best of the featherweights.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the series. I apologize for the low-rent quality of the video and audio. But it was the fastest way to do 10 five-minute videos without hijacking our entire book-production process.
After looking at these videos over myself, you can rest assured I am not headed to YouTube anytime soon.
I built my first Roubo in 2005 out of yellow pine. Loved it to death. I sold it after I had the opportunity to build this beauty in 2013. It has remained my workbench ever since.
I don’t know why, but this bench seems to receive more abuse than any other bench in our storefront. Perhaps it just looks like it can take a punch. Or an auger. Or a sawcut. It doesn’t look any worse for the wear, however.
When I first built it, I omitted the parallel guide on the leg vise, which is how A.J. Roubo shows it in his 18th century text. I worked that way for more than a year. It’s not a bad way to work; you just slide a scrap between the vise jaw and the leg at the floor. But a Crisscross mechanism is much more convenient. So I was glad to upgrade (even though it was difficult to do on an assembled oak the size of a baby woolly mammoth).
That was the major change. I also added a swing-out seat (it’s vintage; I recommend you buy a Benchcrafted version). And some one-piece bench hooks, which people are constantly stealing. I might make some for all the benches in the coming weeks.
Products shown in the video (these are not affiliate links):
Peter Ross planing stop, tommy bar and iron ring for the hub
The Moravian workbench made popular by Will Myers is a gorgeous piece of work – probably the prettiest workbench in our shop. It’s a full-featured bench in a compact design that can be knocked to pieces in minutes.
I hadn’t worked on one much until Will loaned us one last year. The top is oak (likely white oak) and the base is yellow pine. It features a Benchcrafted Classic face vise and Crisscross mechanism. And a wagon vise mechanism that Will makes and sells.
We’re happy to have the bench here – visitors always want to compare the different forms of workbenches before they commit to building one. And we encourage them to try them all and ignore advice from us and others. You know what you like.
Whenever I finish building a massive workbench in oak, I think: This thing is going to last a long, long time.
For proof, just ask Ryan Bowen, of Charlotte, North Carolina. Ryan had built a “lightweight Roubo” workbench about five years ago. It was built using almost no glue. All the joints are pegged and without adhesive.
The bench lived in his shop, a green outbuilding, along with his great grandfather’s tool chest. The bench was, according to Ryan, “easily my favorite tool.”
Last week a giant oak decided to fall on Ryan’s shop, destroying the entire structure. Then it rained on the interior contents for two hours. No one was hurt.
Check out the photos to see how the bench failed. “All in all I was not too upset,” Ryan wrote in an email, “and plan to rebuild with a new top.”
Ryan had some things to say about the damage:
“Assembling base joinery without glue has advantages. You can see how things broke apart cleanly – I would expect a lot more shearing and splintering with glued joints. Or perhaps it all would have held together…we’ll hopefully never know.
“I definitely should have done a through-mortise to the top and made a beefier top. But (I was) young and poor with limited access to oak….”
There’s one more important lesson to share, and that relates to Ryan’s tool chest. I’m waiting on a photo and then we can discuss that.