Many of you may already know Chris Schwarz. He is an editor for Popular Woodworking Magazine and a self-confessed hand-tool and workbench enthusiast. His most recent work is a book called Workbenches, truly a modest title for what is contained within those 144 pages. Perhaps it was just great timing, since I am currently focusing on my hand tool skills, but this book really struck a chord with me. In fact, since my two-day adventure in reading the book, I’ve spent many hours daydreaming about bench designs and bench functionality. I think I have been bitten by some sort of nostalgic woodworking bug and I have Chris to blame for it. I have even gone so far as to wander into the shop just to look at my workbench and think. And unfortunately, after reading Workbench, I have realized that my workbench is woefully inadequate. But more on that later.
Chris has a friendly and accessible writing style that makes this book read more like a great story than a reference book. A book that teaches you is good. A book that entertains you and educates you without you being aware of it is priceless. The book is chock-full of historical images and information on the workbenches of yesteryear as well as detailed explanations of their features and how they influence the workbenches we know and (sometimes) love today. But with Chris’s anecdotes and light-hearted story-telling, even a person who runs a powertool-focused shop will find that the information is not only palatable, but pleasurable.
I don’t want to create a spoiler here, but after reading this book, you will never look at a workbench the same way again. As I said before, my beautiful workbench that I spent weeks working on (ok maybe it was days, but it sure felt like weeks), is now a painful reminder of my lack of knowledge at the time that I built it. Like many woodworkers, I constructed the bench before I really knew exactly how I would use it. I actually came up with a simple design that reflected the fact that I primarily use power-tools. But now that I am beginning to focus more on the hand tools, it has become clear that a new workbench is on this year’s to-do list.
While Chris strikes me as something of a connoisseur of workbenches, he is by no means snobbish. In fact, he has very down-to-earth theories concerning workbenches, their design, their function, and their looks. One of Chris’s strongest messages is that workbenches don’t need to be made from the most expensive hardest wood. In fact, doing so is completely unnecessary. You’ll have to read the book to find out Chris’s opinion on the best woods for the job, but suffice it to say you will most likely find it at the local home center……..a refreshing change of pace.
The book contains two workbench plans: one English and one French. I am leaning toward the French version myself. The plans are very clear and just about anyone should be able to construct these benches with ease using Chris’s methodology. The Deluxe version of the book comes with a CD that contains bonuses such as the complete and searchable text of the book, 3D models of the two benches in the book, plus a bonus workbench plan and slideshows of the bench-construction process.
I would go so far as to say this book should be a required prerequisite for any woodworker who has any level of interest in workbenches. Whether your current bench is super fancy with all the bells and whistles, or simply a solid-core door on saw horses, you will have some real food for thought after reading this book. I don’t expect everyone to experience the ground-shaking revelation I did, but you will certainly walk away with a better understanding of a workbench’s intended role in a wood shop, and more importantly, YOUR workbenches role in YOUR shop. Now if you will excuse me, I have some day-dreaming to do.