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Thinking about a thumpin' slab? This is your book!

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Review by BikerDad posted 2218 days ago 2957 views 2 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Thinking about a thumpin' slab?  This is your book! No-picture-s No-picture-s Click the pictures to enlarge them

I picked up this book recently after stumbling across a mention, then a review, then a bunch of raves. I chose to purchase the book directly from Lost Art Press, getting the Deluxe Edition (w/ CD). Their website didn’t want to have anything to do with my credit card, but that simply meant I had to deal directly with a real live and very courteous individual. The verdict on the purchasing experience: the folks at Lost Art Press are a pleasure to deal with.

But, you may be wondering, what about the book? Is it all its cracked up to be?

In a word, Yes.

What it isn’t is directly comparable to the other Workbench books out there (Scott Landis’s comes to mind). Schwarz’s book isn’t chock full of stunning photographs and chapter after chapter of human interest stories. What it does do quite well is delve into the fundamental nature of what a workbench is really intended to accomplish and how to evaluate various design features in light of those intentions.

How Schwarz goes about doing this is usually entertaining, especially the early chapters. The chapter on evaluating different workholding options is, frankly, a bit tedious to read. The information therein is valuable, well organized, but since its basically asking the same questions in various permutations, yawwwwnnnn. Page turner in the sense that you want to get past it to more entertaining pursuits like “where’s this gonna take me, and how do I build it when I get there?” Well, go ahead, skip over the bulk of the chapter, at least on your first read, I did.

First read, yes. Like the other Workbench books, this is something you’ll likely revisit, certainly while you’re pondering the subject of bench design. What’s somewhat unusual about this book is it accomplishes something rare in woodworking publishing, it increases the value of its competitors. Christopher brings clarity to the subject, and equips the reader to revisit Landis’s and Schleining’s (sp?) books with a much better set of analytical tools. Landis’s book is very well suited for appreciating the workmanship that goes into the benches it profiles, Schwarz gives you the chops to evaluate them on their performance, and determine whether or not a feature is something you want to add to your design.

There are some downsides to this tome. First, ‘tis printed in China. While that doesn’t affect the content, it does matter to some folks, including me. In truth, had I encountered the book in a bookstore without the benefit of prior knowledge, I likely would have sat it down simply because my past experience with books that have been printed in China is that they are “lightweights” as far as their content and depth are concerned. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book is an exception to that paradigm.

Second, the “Hotzie” bench is NOT included in the book, although it is on the CD. Since I haven’t dipped into the CD yet, I don’t know whether the treatment of the “Hotzie” is comparable to the English bench and the Robou.

Third, the section on wood selection suffered from some shortcomings. Schwarz’s geographic situation led to him giving a lot of attention to Southern Yellow Pine as a benchmaking material, which in itself is fine. Unfortunately, his coverage of Douglas Fir, the western equivalent, is less than impressive. While DF can be quite hard, it is also very soft, and any large flat surface using DF will need to account for this. Sure, grain orientation can pretty much solve the issue, but unless a person has worked a fair amount with DF doing furniture projects rather than simply construction, they’ll unlikely to be aware of its quirks.

Along with the short shrift given DF, there’s no mention of the subject of bench color. Setting aside cost, are there downsides to using a dark wood for a bench?

Last, on the subject of wood selection, there’s two charts in the book, one covering the strength of various woods, the other addressing their hardness. Unfortunately, the two charts don’t include the same woods! Oh, the usual suspects (hard maple, European beech, ash, red and white oak) are in both, but some other woods aren’t. Synchronizing info like this is the sort of thing editors are supposed to insure happens.

In one sense, the book is “evolving”, because Christopher continues to explore the subject and posts his musings in his blog. Thus, the tactic of “sleeving” a drawer or carcase over the end of the bench is covered, something that certainly would have been of value in the book. (Can’t sleeve if your bench has no overhang!).

In closing, if you’re looking for a coffee table book with wonderful pictures that may inspire you to get working, or inspire others to begin, then Landis’s book is a better tome. For those interested in the purpose, design, analysis and use of woodworking benches, this book is IMHO the best available today. Yes, it can be just as inspirational as the Landis book, but whether or not you’ll enjoy the inspiration while you’re flattening your new Robou because Schwarz enabled you to articulate what it was about your old bench that just wasn’t working, well, I’ll just leave that for you to find out.

-- I'm happier than a tornado in a trailer park! Grace & Peace.




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BikerDad

69 posts in 2225 days



12 comments so far

View Kevin's profile

Kevin

293 posts in 2582 days


#1 posted 2218 days ago

I also bought this book and have been enjoying reading it. Is it worth buying, yes. Are there some parts that get a little repetitive and boring, also yes.

I have not finished the book, but have already gone back and reread some parts. I think it will be a book that I keep for a long time. You can tell that Christopher put a lot of thought into his exploration into workbenches.

-- Kevin, Wichita, Kansas

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27251 posts in 2446 days


#2 posted 2217 days ago

Thanks for the review. I have been considering getting this book. I am not sure I am ready to tackle a “Schwarz” bench yet but it would be interesting to read some background material first.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View DannyBoy's profile

DannyBoy

521 posts in 2489 days


#3 posted 2217 days ago

I’ve got his book on my coffee table at home. It makes a nice distraction when my wife demands the TV be off for the night. It is very well written and a great resource.

-- He said wood...http://hickbyassociation.blogspot.com/

View Chris 's profile

Chris

1867 posts in 2615 days


#4 posted 2217 days ago

Great review…. I intend to purchase this book prior to building my bench.

-- "Everything that is great and inspiring is created by the individual who labors in freedom" -- Albert Einstein

View sIKE's profile

sIKE

1271 posts in 2378 days


#5 posted 2217 days ago

I too have this book and it has helped me understand how a bench should be designed to be useful for what I do in my woodworking adventures! Good read and a great reference book on the topic.

-- //FC - Round Rock, TX - "Experience is what you get just after you need it"

View TedM's profile

TedM

2002 posts in 2356 days


#6 posted 2217 days ago

Great review. Thanks for the pros and cons. It’s always nice to hear both sides. I haven’t bought the book yet but it’s definitely on my list. Your review helped move it closer to the top. Thanks!

-- I'm a wood magician... I can turn fine lumber into firewood before your very eyes! - Please visit http://www.woodworkersguide.com and sign up for my project updates!

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John Gray

2370 posts in 2509 days


#7 posted 2216 days ago

I own one…..GREAT BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View steveosshop's profile

steveosshop

230 posts in 2250 days


#8 posted 2216 days ago

Awesome review. I think I will start looking for a copy of this myself.

-- Steve-o

View BikerDad's profile

BikerDad

69 posts in 2225 days


#9 posted 2216 days ago

AN UPDATE
I had the opportunity to check out the CD, and it includes a complete article on the Hotz’ bench. The article is essentially comparable to the treatment of the English and French benches in the book. I’m going to re-read the treatment of all three benches before I start designing mine, and in true Yankee (from the Continental perspective, i.e. any American, not just some fella from New England) fashion, I’ll be building an American Bench, which will combine what I believe to be their best elements, always holding in mind the Kitchen Door test.

One unfortunate aspect of the CD is that I’ve not been able to peruse the 3d renderings. Doing so requires a download from Adobe (IIRC), in addition to Adobe Reader. Since I don’t have ‘Net access with my personal ‘puter, I’ll have to hunker down at some coffee joint in order to get the download.

Scott,
Having built one bench so far (the basic one from Sam Allen’s book), and having looked at lots of bench articles and bench books over the years, I don’t think you need fear building a “Schwarz” bench. Aside from face gluing big honkin chunks, there’s nothing complex about the French bench, and the English bench trades some of the big glue-ups for more smaller pieces. Almost any hardware you choose to incorporate into the bench can be moved to another bench if you aren’t satisfied with the results, and unless you truly butcher the job, the bench can still perform as a general assembly table/workbench. Using carefully chosen construction grade materials will also serve to keep the cost down, so ultimately your biggest risk is some time. All of which is simply a long winded way of saying “Go for it!” (channel the annoying Rob Schneider character from “Happy Gilmore”) ”You can do it!”

-- I'm happier than a tornado in a trailer park! Grace & Peace.

View JerryS's profile

JerryS

221 posts in 2234 days


#10 posted 2179 days ago

Great review thanks for taking the time to do and follow up . I was wondering if the book package with the CD was worth the extra $9 or so bucks. Seems like it is .

Regards Jerry

View mart's profile

mart

190 posts in 2248 days


#11 posted 2054 days ago

I bought the Schwarz book after having purchased 3 of the other popular workbench books. I found his book to be a nice change from others I have. I have enjoyed all of them but Schwarz goes into greater detail about the function of a bench and making one to fit your needs. I really did enjoy it and will put much of what he said to use when I build mine.

My current bench is like a lot of woodworkers, a sheet of plywood on a frame and legs. Mine does have casters for mobility, but no vises. It is essentially a catch all and assembly table. I have been researching every book I can find before I start work on my own new bench.

My only gripe about his book is that the print was small and not as dark as it should be. I found my self having to use my heavy reading glasses that I only use for really fine close work. I read everything else fine with 1.25x readers but had to go to 2x and still found myself straining.

He is not very complimentary to benches with drawers. I have always been drawn to Shaker benches and find it hard to believe that the Shakers would have continued to use a bench with drawers if they are as bad as Schwarz describes. I still plan to build a Shaker style bench but will definitely keep many of Schwarz’s recommendations in mind.

All in all it is a valuable resource and well worth the read.

Mart

View BikerDad's profile

BikerDad

69 posts in 2225 days


#12 posted 2053 days ago

Mart,

His points on the drawers make sense, IF one has a certain work style. On the other hand, if one’s workstyle is shaped by a strong religously rooted sense of self-discipline (everything in its place, and a place for everything) and order, then the workbench/storage unit combination that is a hallmark of Shaker benches makes sense as well.

It’s kinda like the difference in work style and flow that the European combination machines bring to the power tool workship versus American individual machines. Some folks simply work better with the more flexible approach fostered by the American machines, and some find the orderliness that combo machines encourage is their cup of tea.

The upshot is, drawers or not is really a secondary issue to workbench design, as long as incorporating the drawers doesn’t lead to compromising the core functions of the workbench. Insuring that you don’t block needed stuff in the drawers is the trick. Such insurance can be found in a highly disciplined work style, or in not putting such stuff in the drawers! Methinks much of his gripe is likely based on needed stuff in blocked drawers, and drawers that intrude into the workzone or otherwise compromise the workholding functionality of the bench.

-- I'm happier than a tornado in a trailer park! Grace & Peace.

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