Blog — Roman Workbench RSS




Making Riven Wedges for Tenons

Building this staked Roman workbench was another opportunity to do one of my favorite woodworking operations: riving and paring wedges. I started with white oak that I’ve had sitting around since building my “Roubo” lathe (seen in the banister-back chair article) last year but any straight grain bone-dry hardwood would do. With a mallet and hatchet (a wide chisel also works), I split off several pieces about a ¼” thick. This only took one moderate ‘thump’ per piece. With my four pieces split, I placed each in my wedge shaping block. This is nothing more than a notched shelf on a block held in my front vise. I’ve seen Windsor chairmakers use a block like this but I’m not sure...

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Final Day of the Roman Workbench Build

Today, Mike and I got the benches done and spent a good amount of time exploring their use. First, we had to cut those protruding tenons flush. Since I broke my flush cut saw a while back, I opted to use my crosscut saw for the task. I considered getting fancy and shimming up off the benchtop top to prevent the saw’s set from marring the top but decided against it. I’ve always trimmed bigger tenons like these with a regular crosscut and rarely nick the wood in any considerable way. The way I do this is by placing pressure on the back of the saw while carefully starting a kerf. I work around from all sides until the kerf...

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Roman Workbench Build Day 2: All Legged-up!

Yesterday, when we arrived back at the studio, the first order of business was to get our leg stock into shape. I hewed my riven ash pieces into rounds with my single bevel hatchet. For this rounding work, I really love the single bevel and heavy head of my Collins hatchet as I can use the flat back (unbeveled side) to establish a flat plane on the stock. After a series of relief chops up the piece, I can swipe it all away to a single plane with one swipe.  To gauge my initial shaping, I bored a hole with the auger in scrap pine and traced it onto the end. That way I worked to the line with hatchet....

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Beaver Sticks and Firewood

When contemplating materials for any project, I always first assess what I have on hand and use it if possible. I feel that this is an historically accurate way to think about vernacular projects. "Making do" is an art form that has been preserved in many pieces that we've seen, including workbenches. We've come across some pretty funky workholding devices lately, whether looking over Jonathan Fisher creations, digging through the Old Sturbridge Village collection, or flipping through Woodworking in Estonia. It is wonderful to see natural crooks, bent knobby knees, or giant hewn slabs incorporated organically into useful and (yes) beautiful forms. We have a pile of tree-length firewood at home that is currently sitting under several feet of snow,...

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Roman Bench Build-along Day 1

  The Roman bench build is underway! Mike and I met this morning, gathered our tools and material (read: planks and firewood) and discussed features on period examples. We were primarily looking through Woodworking in Estonia for inspiration and design guidance. There are so many creative workholding solutions in there that we haven’t seen anywhere else. We can’t resist trying some of them out. If you haven’t ordered a copy of that book yet, what are you waiting for? Go order it now.   We each chose different versions based on our intended uses and materials available. I have a 200-year-old 2.75” thick pine plank that I am using for a benchtop. It’s 10.5” wide and cut to 5.5’ long. The...

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Roman Workbench Build-along Starts Today!

Starting today, Mike and I will be building our Roman workbenches and blogging and posting to Instagram along the way. If you are one of the other folks who will be building along with us, make sure to tag your pictures with #romanbenchbuildalong so that we can follow along your progress. This bench could easily be built in one day but because Mike and I are documenting it (and have other responsibilities) it will be at least a couple days of building followed by a bit of playing around using it. There are a few features and variations that I will be incorporating that Chris didn’t in his low Roman bench so we’ll see what happens with those. This will...

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Roman Workbench Build-Along

  Inspired by Chris Schwarz’s article in Issue Two “Decoding the Roman Workbench”, Mike and I have decided to build our own Roman (i.e. staked) benches. I’ve been doubly curious about this form because Jonathan Fisher’s bench of this type survives in his house (now a museum) and I’ve really wanted to get some time working at one before finishing off my book on him this winter. The week of February 20th, Mike and I will each be building a bench. I will be basing mine largely on Fisher’s bench, which is a 12.5” wide by 7’ long rough-sawn board with four riven and hatcheted legs. His is a little less than 2” thick but the plank I have set...

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VIDEO: Interview With Chris Schwarz About Decoding the Roman Workbench

    In this video, we talked with Chris Schwarz about the fascinating article he has written a  titled “Decoding the Roman Workbench” for Issue Two. His article, which looks at the practical usage of the bench, has been informed by meticulous research in ancient texts, surviving European artifacts, and in-the-shop exploration. As it turns out, this experimental archaeology approach has yielded some compelling discoveries about pre-industrial woodworking. You can order your copy of Issue Two here.  

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