Workbench #0: Back story


Many moons ago I visited a local school that was in the process of being demolished and rebuilt. A friend of mine was the property manager and he allowed me on site to remove some old fire doors that I wanted to make some compost bins. While I was there I spotted an old woodworking bench in the reception area and I asked what was going to happen to it. My friend said that the workshop equipment that was not going to be re-used was being sold off and that this bench was the last one. When I expressed an interest, he made a couple of phone calls on my behalf, but it as turned out it was spoken for.

download (1)
A bench very like the one I nearly bought

If I had to pinpoint the moment when my interest in traditional woodworking started, that would be it. At that time I was still in my old shed, and I was still a bit of a power tool fanatic, but seeing that bench, and the albeit brief prospect of owning it, got my mind thinking about going back to basics. Over the next few weeks, as I designed my new shed, I watched a number of YouTube videos and read countless articles and blog posts about traditional woodworking. This was the time when I first encountered the work of people like Paul Sellers, Tom Fidgen and Christopher Schwarz. A picture began imagesforming in my mind of my new shed housing a traditional workbench, upon which I would make hand cut dovetails and mortice and tenons; a shed that would be filled not with table saws, router tables and thicknessing machines, but with old school hand planes, tenon saws and braces and bits.

Plate_11As it has turned out, I still make use of the odd power tool or two – my most recent acquisitions have been a lathe and a bandsaw – but I try my best to always finish by hand.


Anyway, I have posted before about my wish to build a traditional workbench, using mostly salvaged and scrounged timber, but when my shed was finished I was stymied by three things: the space I had in mind for the bench was taken up with bicycles; I hadn’t yet amassed all the wood I would need; and I just didn’t have the knowhow or ability to attempt the hefty joinery by hand.


Over that last few months, as documented on this blog, those three obstacles have been overcome to varying extents: the bikes are now housed elsewhere; I’ve manage to beg, borrow or find the wood I need; and I have put a decent amount of practice in. Virtually every project I have documented on this blog has, in some small way, been leading up to this moment.

images (1)I have settled upon a Roubo style bench, following the plans laid down my Christopher Schwarz, in his excellent Workbench Design Book, for a bench which he calls Le Petite Roubo. The design calls for a 4½” thick slab for the top, stout legs and stretchers, and no apron. For work holding there will be a wooden screw leg vice, a quick release end vice and dog hole system, and holdfasts. Storage will consist of a small rack on the back edge of the board and a shelf between the stretchers – no tool tray in the benchtop. The dimensions of the bench will be 5′ long, 21″ wide and 35″ high.

download (2)I have gone back and forth over this decision many times, but I finally realised that for the work that I do, and the way in which I work, this design is best for me. I realise that many woodworkers would prefer a different design, perhaps with a shoulder vice, or large aprons, or a tool tray. Maybe some of you like a wider bench, or a longer one, or a taller or shorter one. Each to their own. This is the one for me.

Anyway, at the time of writing the build is well underway – approximately three-quarters done. Over the next few days I intend making a series of posts to bring you up to speed.



6 thoughts on “Workbench #0: Back story

Add yours

  1. Looks like Schwarz has you covered in his plan book. I’ve always wanted one of the larger tables but my shop is way too narrow. I had to build my tables into the walls. You mentioned a “thicknessing machines”. Is that British for a wood planer? As Winston Churchill said, “we are the only people separated by a common language.”


  2. I’m not sure. As I understand it (but I’m probably wrong) a planer flattens one face, and a thicknesser is then used to make two opposing faces parallel. If anyone knows different, please correct me.


  3. That’s a great story about the start of your hand tool journey. And best wishes on the bench build – I’ll look forward to seeing how it comes out. My journey started almost 3 1/2 years ago when I moved to a smaller place and no longer had space for power tools. They’ve been in storage ever since. I had a few hand planes and a couple saws then. Becoming aware of Sellers and others solidified my epiphany and I’ve accumulated a nice minimalist set of tools (still several more I’d like to have). If I ever get a larger shop I’d like to use some of the power tools again, but mainly for thicknessing. I love the quiet of a hand tool shop – it’s one of the greatest benefits of going electron-free.


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