Review Show #5: Build an 18th Century Workbench

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Title: Build an 18th Century Workbench
Run Time: 38 Minutes
Production Date: 2010
Produced By: Popular Woodworking
Price: $24.99 US (Buy Now)
Marc’s Score: 3.8 Grape Sodas out of 5
Matt”s Score: 3.7 Grape Sodas out of 5

From the Back of the Case:

“One of the most important workbench plans ever published appeared in A.J. Roubo’s 18th-century masterwork “L’Art Du Menuisier” (The Art of the Craftsman). Roubo’s simple and hulking workbench offers everything that the modern woodworker needs in a bench, whether you use hand tools, power tools or both. Roubo’s bench is simpler than almost every other design out there ? so it’s easy to build ? yet it excels at all of the workholding tasks in a woodshop. In this DVD, Christopher Schwarz shows you how to build the Roubo workbench using only hand tools (though you can use power tools if you wish). Schwarz, the author of Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use (Popular Woodworking Books) also shares his insights into this influential workbench form, which he has been using exclusively since 2005.”

Our Thoughts:

This DVD delivers on its promise, plain and simple. With the plans and the video content, you should have all the info you need to build an 18th century Roubo-style workbench. That is if you plan on making it 100% with hand tools. The video states this very clearly but I found myself longing for the Schwarz’s preferred power tool methods as well. After all, making massive deep mortise and tenon joints is going to be tricky, regardless of whether your tools are electrical or “alcohol-powered”.

The strong focus on hand tools and the fairly short length of the video ultimately means that you’ll need to come into this with a fairly strong working knowledge of various saws, chisels and planes. You’ll also need to have a fairly well-equipped shop. As a woodworker who has what I would call a “decent” set of hand tools, I saw numerous things I would need to acquire if I were to build this bench using hand tools alone.

In true Schwarz style, the DVD offers a nice mix of woodworking history and techniques. Something I love about Chris’s teaching style is that he not only shows you what to do, but why. He even goes so far as to explain why Roubo may have made the choices he made when designing this bench. You walk away with a great sense of history and the knowledge that this design truly stood the test of time. You’ll also walk away wanting a little bit more.

The Breakdown:

Entertainment Value: Marc 3/5 | Matt 4/5
Production Quality: Marc 3/5 | Matt 2/5
Information Quality: Marc 4/5 | Matt 4.5/5
Overall Value: Marc 4/5 | Matt 4/5
Keeps Its Promise: Marc 4.5/5 | Matt 4/5
Final Score: Marc 3.8/5 | Matt 3.7/5

15 Responses to “Review Show #5: Build an 18th Century Workbench”

  1. Well, looks like we’ve ID’d your audience. No extra DVDs to give away. And a big ZERO comments (up until now). Hmmmm.

    You fine reviewers often seem to mention that the DVD has much greater capacity than the 30-40 minutes given, so why didn’t they expand, add and such. When making that comment seems you should give a little nod to why they did not run longer. Production costs? Concern about audience attention spans? Saving material for the next “must have” DVD? Not knowing how to use new media? Why?

    Thanks much. Nice to have this set of reviews as the 2012 Guild Build is approaching.

    • You want us to tell you why they didn’t make the DVD longer? Our guess is as good as yours, lol. We can certainly speculate, but I think we’d need to ask them to get the real answer. My guess is because in the past, that would have been “enough”. Not doubt the current new media landscape has certainly had an effect on expectations for productions like this.

      • I suspect the past is the controlling issue. When they are scheduling a crew to go out on location and paying for the presenter’s personal and shop time I can (Phillip Lowe for example) appreciate having a story board and mostly sticking to it. Understanding (I hope) that they risk falling a few grape sodas short of the new expectations.

        new topic: After seeing/listening to Chris live and reading many blogs and articles I was shocked when I watched the first Lie-Lielsen DVD. Either he came to grips with the more formal aspects or I got used to the more academic/dry presence as I continued to watch that series. Good content, but not the engaging and inspiring CS we are used to.


  2. Sounds like The Schwarz could have gained possibly a 4.x Grape Soda rating if he would have added a bit more on options using power tools.

    Leaving a media like a DVD half empty seems like almost a sin. I don’t mean just fill it up with advertising (some ads are OK IMHO) but possibly additional content or some ‘tips’. For some of the additional content, some of it could reasonably be duplicated partially on other DVDs as ‘additional content’ also. Every content vendor must make an evaluation of the value of doing that kind of thing for themselves.

    Just my opinion.

  3. I reckon that the content restriction to about 35-40 minutes is a hangover from the length of TV programmes – there is a belief (wrong in my view) that viewers won’t last longer than 40 minutes because they have been trained to that length by TV.

    I also wondered how much the DVD was just a rehash of the article (which was almost a rehash of the Schwarz’s blog :))

  4. Pretty clear that some research is being done on benches. That is exciting. Anything that anyone would like to share on some of what has been learned (quite the learning curve) would be fun. After all, a bench is a time honored tradition. But things have changed and are changing. Yet, one can not overlook what has been learned (and experienced) for hundreds of years.

  5. $25 for 38 minutes of video instruction seems to be a little high for my liking no matter how much additional print material is available. I would rather put that $25 toward a Guild membership and get a nearly complete walk through on a project.
    It has been over 7 years since I had last spoken French but I believe the correct pronunciation of “Menuisier” is “mun-we-zee-a” (with a long “a” at the end) someone correct me if I am wrong. Matt basically said “The Art of the Mister” or “Sir”. But who really cares, right? No big deal.
    Marc, I look forward to joining the Guild in the next few months.

  6. Thanks for reviewing. I have this video and like it a great deal, but I also learn more from listening to your critique.

    I’ve been thinking hard about the upcoming guild build and what I’ll need to rebuild the base of my bench. My top is already Roubo style on top of a build it in a weekend base. That way I could build in stages.

    A year ago I built one with an MDF top. Over Christmas, replaced the top with my doug fir Roubo style top. Starting in January, I’ll replace the base and add a leg vise. That’s given me a chance to see how things are working or not.

    Since the guild is building this, I’m jumping at the chance to replace my face vise and install a leg vise. I’ll move the face vise to the end since I’m pretty sure that will still address everything I need at the moment.

    Lookin’ forward to the guild build!

    • PS. I’ve been getting by with my existing bench using the tips that are in the next Chris Schwarz upgrading your workbench video that you’ll be reviewing. Another good one, in my opinion.

  7. Hey guys, great job on these reviews. I am thinking on building a workbench and I have mixed feelings between a hybrid between the Roubo and the 21st century bench. I read The Schwarzzzzzzz book and up to now I was sold on the idea of the Roubo … I can’t wait for your next review.
    Those Joints!!!!

  8. So .. do you guys have any further thoughts on this work bench construction now that the bench built .. broke .. under unknown (to me any way) circumstances at WIA? 😉

  9. I am French (I lived for 22 years in France before moving to the US) and you guys made me chuckle in this episode 🙂 Keep it up! Anyway, in case you (or your readers) are interested, another great video is “Build a Sawbench with Christopher Schwarz” by Popular Woodworking. I recommend that video not only because of the amazing content, but also because Chris does not seem to be as scripted as in the Lie-Nielsen videos, which makes it much easier to watch. Cheers!

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