We have a special guest blog article courtesy of Will Myers from Boonville, North Carolina who taught a Moravian Workbench building class at the Woodwright’s Shop in North Carolina earlier this summer. He’s going to give us all an education on this great workbench style via the following detail.
A few years back I was doing some research on different forms of the Andre Roubo workbench that people were building looking for ideas for the one I was working on at the time. I ran across a blog of a fella building a massive Roubo bench in a high rise apartment. The last entry was over a year old and he had gotten the huge laminated yellow pine top glued up and planed flat. I checked back a couple of times later on and never saw any more updates, the blog is no longer up now. Whether he ever finished the bench or not I do not know. So what does this have to do with a Moravian style work bench? My first thought when I read about this bench build was how was he going to get it out of the apartment if he decided to move? What he was building was not, in my opinion anyway, at all ideal for his situation. Even if he made it to where the bench broke down, he would have run off every good friend he ever had trying to move just the top alone. I have absolutely nothing against the Roubo bench, I believe it is as close to workbench perfection as is possible to attain but its one biggest asset is also its biggest fault: mass. I built a Roubo bench of my own and it is wonderful, especially if you do a lot of hand tool work. I have only had to move mine once since I built it but I will be honest; it makes my back hurt just thinking about moving it again.
A few months after building my Roubo bench, Chris Schwarz posted some pictures on his blog of the workbenches in the collection at Old Salem North Carolina, a preserved Moravian village founded in 1766.
There were a couple of photos of a smallish bench with angled legs that broke down to move around to jobsites. Luckily for me Old Salem is not far from my home so I went down and saw the benches in person and took some measurements. My favorite details of the bench were its simplicity, the look of the angled legs, and of course the fact it disassembled for transport.
The original bench was made of oak and yellow pine. I set about building the bench almost identical to the original with one major change and that was the top. The original had 2 ½ in thick by 16 in wide top. I, while in the process of building the bench, ran across an old white oak beam from a dismantled barn that was 3 ½ in thick and 13 ½ in wide and decided to make this work for my bench.
The thicker top really ended up improving the bench; it has a wonderful solid feel that I love. I had some concern over the narrow work surface but that turned out to not be an issue. If you ever look at old workbenches you will notice that most of the wear and tear on the bench top is in the front 6 to 8 inches of top. I never noticed this until I started using this bench; most of the work you do is on the front few inches of the bench. I also added a homemade wagon vise and row of dog holes.
The Moravian bench is solid, stable, and completely resists racking pressure. I also love the look of the bench. It is always nice when a bench combines functionality with attributes pleasing to the eye as well.
I am not trying to push this bench design on anyone, there are many of good designs out there and would recommend to anyone to do some research before building any type of workbench. There are several good books on the subject as well (my favorites are The Workbench Book by Scott Landis and The Workbench Design Book by Christopher Schwarz). Although the Moravian bench is a historic design, I think it fits in beautifully in the modern woodworker’s shop, particularly for those with multi-use or smaller work spaces and mobility requirements.
My one recommendation to someone building a workbench would be to build one to be used above all. Do not worry with flawless finishes or exotic woods, build something you will not be broken hearted if you scratch or dent it. If your bench is too nice to use then it end up being useless to you. A good workbench will make your work easier, faster, and be a lifelong companion in all the projects you undertake.
Will Myers – Boonville, NC