My Workbench Design – The British Are Coming

Time to seriously evaluate the benches from Workbenches:From Design & Theory to Construction & Use by Christopher Schwarz.

The first is the English-style workbench attributed to Peter Nicholson due to the drawing and explanation of a joiner’s bench in his book The Mechanic’s Companion (available online thru Google books). The second workbench is the French-style Roubo that I’ll look at in a subsequent post.

Nicholson’s bench is an example of an older English style with a relatively thin worktop. He explains in his book that the working side of the top would be 1-1/2″ to 2″ thick with boards on the farther side as thin as 1″. The only thing piercing the top would be a planing stop which Nicholson referred to as a “bench hook”. On the front, a “screw” (lengthly explanation regards what a vise is) and wide apron (called a “side board”) with holes for pins to support work. This type of bench may not look like what you think a workbench should but has most all the features one needs to work on it with hand tools.

Schwarz devotes a good portion of his book to his English-style workbench. This model of his bench is available from the Sketchup 3D Warehouse. Wood holding with this bench looks good, really good. You can work faces and edges pretty easily with the double vises and various hole patterns. Deviating from Olde English, Chris added a wagon vise with bench dog holes to the top. He also angled the legs 20° and used a leg vise in place of the “screw”. This angled vise looks beautiful for gripping wood positioned either horizontally or vertically.

At 8’ long and 27″ wide, Chris’ bench is big for me. I’d want to cut down some. As it turns out, that has already been done. Here is another model from the 3D Warehouse that’s just 6’ long and 24″ wide. This model has the top split in the middle allowing you to drop a board in to use as a planing or sawing stop, something I like. Schwarz added a wagon vise to his design but in the end questioned going to the trouble. Wagon vises appear simple but it seems easy for them to get bound up if not carefully aligned when installed. They also use up lots of real estate on the worktop before actually getting to the clamping work. As for square dog holes, I’d prefer simpler and more versatile 3/4″ round holes.

You can search the internet to find others who have built their own version of the English (Nicholson) style workbench. Here are some I’ve found:

  • Bob Rozaieski at Logan Cabinet Shoppe built his bench using only hand tools in his small workshop and shows you how he did it in series of podcasts.
  • Mike Siemsen at his School of Woodworking executed a fine example implementing a split top and Nicholson’s traditional style of “screw”.
  • Bob Easton built his bench 12′ long to accommodate long planks for his boats.

With the few changes made to the smaller Schwarz bench, I could see myself working at it. Add a planing stop, some hold fast holes and I’d be set to go. This bench has so much going for it; great work holding, pretty simple to build, no laminating, and it uses less wood than other types of benches. Still there’s something holding me back from building it. Next time, Roubos.

– Carl

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  • Jim Malone  On December 19, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    Hi, it’s been a year or so since your post. Did you build a Roubo and what are your current thoughts about the Nicholsen?

    • Carl Nobles  On December 20, 2011 at 7:58 am

      Thanks Jim for you comment. I wrote that post back in August of ’10 so it’s been a while. I’m not sure how you missed my construction posts but I went on to build a Roubo style bench in the following months finally completing it this past summer. Since then I’ve off-the-air because of a family tragedy that’s taken the woodworking life out of me. I’m regaining my energy to pick up where I left off. Happy Holidays.

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