Roman Workbenches for Chairmaking (& Other Things)

Ingenious Mechanicks” is my worst-selling book. Since it was released in 2016, we’ve sold about 4,000 copies. But I don’t care. That book changed my workshop life more than any other project I’ve been involved in.

Roman workbenches are insanely useful creatures. The only operations I don’t use them much for are dovetailing large casework and planing large tabletops. Otherwise, I can always find a way to hold my work and get the job done.

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Since I built my first Roman bench, we’ve had one or two of them in the shop constantly. And when someone else is teaching in our bench room, I take a seat on the Roman bench and get to work on my personal stuff.

Last week, I built a stick chair plus the base of a dining table on my Roman bench while Megan Fitzpatrick taught a tool chest class. 

Most of the work is secured by my body or by pressing it against the Hulot block at one end of the bench. Or I pressed the work into one of the holdfast holes in the bench with one hand and planed the stock with the other hand.

For complex shaping operations, I used my carver’s vise to hold the odd pieces then could freely plane, rasp and scrape my work. Carving the legs of the dining table was easy with my body holding the work against the benchtop (though I wish I had more padding in my rear end for this job).

One thing I cannot overstate is how much energy you save while using these benches. Sitting down and working allows me to work longer hours, and I’m less whupped at the end of the day.

Heck, you don’t even really need to build a Roman bench using the plans from my book. This bench is a sitting bench from Skansen I made years ago. Then I made a few holes in it. Any sitting bench will do.

If you have limited mobility, or you have a tiny shop space, limited funds for a bench or you work in the living room, a Roman workbench is a good thing. 

— Christopher Schwarz


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