I get a fair amount of questions about my bowl horse, but this low bench has been at the center of my workshop even longer. I built it thirteen years ago, thinking something like this could serve as a multi-purpose bench that could take whatever I might throw at it — and it has. It’s pretty humble in appearance and construction, but it has proven to be reliable and versatile. It serves as my base for everything from heavy duty chopping to taking photographs. My chopping block is just a 7″ length of log with some pieces of old rubber mat tacked to the bottom; saves space and it’s easy to move off of the bench.
The height of the low bench (a little over 23 inches — or just above my kneecap) makes it handy for all sorts of general shop tasks, like sawing. The heaviness and widely splayed legs make it stable, yet it is still portable and fits into my small shop well. In construction, it couldn’t be more simple. The dimensions of the top aren’t critical; I had been given this oak timber (44 x 14 x 3 1/2 inches), and the size has worked out well. The legs can be anything tough and strong like oak or hickory. Mine are actually four roughly-shaved quarters of a hop hornbeam log. I wrote a post a while back about how I execute these joints — you can check it out here.
So that I could use holdfasts and pegs in a variety of ways, I bored 3/4″ holes all over the top. It may seem excessive, but it certainly hasn’t been a problem. There always seems to be a hole in the right spot. The slideshow below shows just a few of the potential arrangements related to bowl carving. I also have a few higher pegs that I can use in combination with wedges.
Chris Schwarz has been doing some in-depth and hands-on research into low benches used by Roman craftsmen a couple thousand years ago. His book on the subject will be printed letterpress!
And you can sit down to do some decorative carving on the rim (if you don’t feel like standing at the high bench). Here’s how I shaped the rim of the bowl after the bench photos had been taken.
Nice post, Dave. I like how wide your bench is. Mine is narrower, and I wish I had holdfast holes spread across a wider area. Mine is maybe 12″ across.
Hi Dave, I’m relatively new to your blog and the green woodworking scene but I’ve been doing other forms of woodworking for several years. I love your work and and sincerely thank you for sharing with everyone.
One question: do you think this bench could be used as a substitute to the tree stumps everyone (i.e. Follansbee and his Merry Pranksters) use for roughing out spoons with an ax/hatchet? Or would it be too “springy” when exerting those type of forces?
I look forward to hearing your response.
I do use mine as a platform for a chopping block in the shop, and with heavy swings on bowls. I have a log/stump chopping block outside, but the one in the shop works just as well. I don’t notice any springiness in the arrangement at all, but I can understand why one might think the legs would flex.
Hello David – I am a fan of your work and appreciate all of the teaching and sharing you do . It has been a great help to me as I learn to carve spoons (and soon – bowls). Sending you photos of 2 HORSES w Convertible Horses that are adapted from your Bowl Horse Plans. Thank you from Minnesota – Mary
Pingback: Getting Started | David Fisher, Carving Explorations
Thanks for sharing this bench design! I really like your set up! I’ve been looking at Chris Schwarts’ book on workbenches, and I found the Roman design appealing. Your bench is much like the Roman design, and your work is so amazing.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for the post Dave; I’m curious if your bench was constructed green, or if you used dry timber for this one. I know that greenwood chair makers use the “green mortise/dry tenon” technique to get snug joints, but I’m wondering if one could construct a low bench like yours from green wood without problematic risk of either a) loose joints because the tenons shrink, or b) the top splitting around the the tenons because the top was too green. Thanks for all the amazing resources and insights you give us!
Max, the thick oak plank for the top was dry when I made the bench. I split the legs from a hop hornbeam tree. I air dried them before assembling the bench. The leg tenons dried a bit more over the years, but since they were tapered mortise and tenon joints, unglued, they stayed tight. The tenons just protruded up a bit through the top, to be cut off. I would say for this type of bench, you don’t have much to lose if you go ahead with green wood for the top and legs. You could risk the top splitting if the legs were very dry and the top was very green, but a bit of a differential should be advantageous and fine. The top might move/warp as it dries, but you can just hand plane it flat. Good luck!
Great, thanks for the input! Really been enjoying bowl carving with you and Elia!
LikeLiked by 1 person