Saturday, July 23, 2011

Why Build The Shaker Bench?

Last week we released our Shaker Bench Plans at the Lie-Nielsen 30th anniversary open house. We received lots of questions about the plans, but mostly "which bench should I build".

That's a fair question. Here goes.

Unlike some huge corporations that have a whole set of people to come up with new ways to make money, just for profit's sake, we work in the opposite way. That is, most of our products are the direct result of customer requests, or products that grew from other products we produce.

We're not about to offer bench plans for every conceivable bench configuration, just so we can sell you a set of vises. The bench design must work, and fulfill the principles set our by our favorite bench scientist, Christopher Schwarz. The kitchen door test must pass muster here (If you're unfamiliar with this concept, read this book) and our Shaker bench does it well.

We're also not going to argue the merits of the Shaker bench design. All those Shaker craftsman who build the great communities can speak for themselves. Although dead, their words are loud.

So why choose the Shaker over the Split Top Roubo?

The Roubo is a massive bench. Just moving the tops and leg sections, once joined, is an act of physical exertion. It's a demanding build. The Shaker bench on the other hand is built up from lighter parts to make a final monolithic structure. It's easier to build since you're working initially with lighter components.Once you're done, the Shaker bench is like working on a giant wooden cube. Filled with tools (or empty) its solid as a rock.

The Roubo has no storage, aside from the single shelf in the base structure. The Shaker has storage (dust free) in spades.

You can use holdfasts with the Roubo. You can use use holdfasts with our Shaker bench too. You'll need to lop off some of the shank, but you'll still get a few inches of capacity. More than enough for almost all work. 

The Shaker bench has a beautiful aesthetic. Yes, we've all heard the arguments about great craftsmen building incredible furniture on a hollow core door and a couple sawhorses. But if you were interested in that "bench" you wouldn't be reading this. I've been building furniture professionally for most of my adult life, and I am still inspired by a beautiful workbench. Would you rather work in a dark concrete sweat shop, or a spacious timber-frame filled with natural light?

You need to add storage to your shop. Yes, you could build a bank of floor cabinets, but why not build them with a robust top and vises? You'll have your storage, and a second bench to boot. See the picture at the top of the post? That's the 14-foot Shaker bench at Mt. Lebanon, (zoom in and check out the dog holes and tail vise) loaded with storage and sporting two vises (the face vise has been removed, it fits in that square mortise at the left). See what I mean? Awesome.

So what's the final conclusion? It mostly boils down to aesthetics. There are some functionality differences, but nothing that makes one bench light-years better than the other. I have a Roubo in my personal shop. When I have the space and time, I'll be adding this Shaker bench to my shop for it's looks and storage potential.


  1. I saw this bench at WIA and was very impressed. It has my seal of approval. Now that Lee Valley makes hold-downs with shorter shafts, benches like this are more attractive to build.

    Plus, as you noted, they hold a lot of stuff (including underwear).

    All the best,

  2. I'm dying to know what the "kitchen door test" is, but, alas, your link to "this book" above is broken, and I can't find out what the name of the book is!
    Pleas help!

  3. Here's the book, Robert. Plus another worth reading.

    1. Alas, these links are also dead. How about the good ol' fashioned Title and Author? Maybe I can find them this way even if Lost Art keeps moving stuff around. Reminds me of my ex......

    2. It's Schwarz's "Workbenches: From Design And Theory To Construction And Use" and likely the sequel "The Workbench Design Book" Both are available from Shop

  4. Jameel, after moving back to No. Kentucky and getting settled in, I am on my way building the Shaker Bench. The plans are great, I'm really enjoying the process, while creating some challanges, I look forward to each next step. I posted some progress pics on my blog and since I am working the Bad Axe booth with Harrell, if you have time, I will share the latest. Best to you and Fr.

  5. Is it possible to build your shaker bench with either a split top or the scissor leg vise?

    1. No on the split top, yes on the Glide/Classic leg vise. It's a simpler build with it in fact.


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