An Essential Read

  • Advertise with us
Review by thewoodwhisperer posted 01-23-2008 08:48 AM 3799 views 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
An Essential Read No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

**This review was pulled from a previous blog post on The Wood Whisperer

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.

sawI 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.

frenchbench.jpgThe 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.

-- For free video tutorials and other cool woodworking stuff, check out

View thewoodwhisperer's profile


605 posts in 4957 days

9 comments so far

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 4557 days

#1 posted 01-23-2008 09:33 AM

Great review. I thought I was done obsessing about workbenches, but it looks like I’ve only just begun!

-- Eric at

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 4569 days

#2 posted 01-23-2008 12:51 PM

Nice review Marc! This is simply a great book, and I really think it should be required reading for anyone looking at building a bench.

Before this book, I thought all benches were created equal. Now, I know better ;)

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 5073 days

#3 posted 01-23-2008 01:45 PM

Nice review Marc!

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 4648 days

#4 posted 01-23-2008 01:54 PM

I do like the writings of Chris Schwartz. I will probably get this book fairly soon, especially after this review. Thanks Marc.

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 4542 days

#5 posted 03-06-2008 12:53 AM

nice review. I’m looking into building a workbench sometime in the near future. i think that before i build one I’ll read this book.

View gator9t9's profile


333 posts in 4478 days

#6 posted 04-18-2008 07:09 PM

I have that book on order now from that Brazilian River store …

I wish I had room for a French workbench or a German or Italian …What we need is a good AMERICAN workbench …but alas even that wont fit in my garage/shop….I will just be content with using the kitchen table to workup my projects …I am lucky, I have no wife to tell me to get it out in the garage …And i am not against Marriage ..that is a subject for another day …lol Tho I digress …
I also have the Scott Landis book on Workbenches …i love looking at the old benches …that weigh a lot …...gee …without the tool storage ..even ….
tHanks alot Whisperer now you got me wanting and the rule is …Thou shalt not want …
or my rule is “the one with the most tools wins ” and i am def not winning ..

-- Mike in Bonney Lake " If you are real real real good your whole life, You 'll be buried in a curly maple coffin when you die."

View gator9t9's profile


333 posts in 4478 days

#7 posted 04-24-2008 05:56 PM

I just got the Workbench book …I love it …I will prob never build a bench ..but if i do ..i want it out of Fir or Southern Pine ..tho i did find a dealer with some nice BEECH ….
The only prob i have with the book …..The type in the book is small and not very dark …and i have a tuff time reading it …granted i am nearing my golden yrs ..and my eyes are not what they once were…SO i have just learned to read the book near a lot of light …
But i do love the content of the book and Chris Schwarz style of adding history and funtion and practicality of the bench …is great ….I will be watching for more books by Christopher Schwarz …
and you say there is a DVD companion to this book …i will look for it ..

mike in Bonney lake

-- Mike in Bonney Lake " If you are real real real good your whole life, You 'll be buried in a curly maple coffin when you die."

View StraightEdge's profile


26 posts in 4466 days

#8 posted 04-27-2008 02:00 PM

Awesome timing. I need some guidence on the subject and this book sounds like the one for me.

Thanks for the review. As usual, Marc, you do deliver!


-- Cheers!

View drknoxy's profile


31 posts in 4256 days

#9 posted 11-24-2008 06:58 PM

Just thought I’d bump this topic. Very interesting read so far, I don’t need to make one right now so I didn’t go further than the limited preview.

FYI: google books preview

-- Knoxy for short

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics