In 2001, just as the dot com crash was getting up a good head of steam, I built an addition on the back of my house. Fortunately, I’d already cashed out some options to pay for it (plus, even more fortunately, a bit extra for the kids’ college funds, taxes, etc.) so I was able to move forward with the addition despite the doom and gloom in the industry. Among the other benefits of the addition, it created the room in the basement for a walkout shop, which I have greatly enjoyed to this day.
Amongst the detritus left behind by the contractor (who did excellent work, this is not really a criticism, as I’ve observed that most tradesmen seem to specialize in leaving stuff behind, and occasionally in taking my stuff with them…) was a 20ft-long 4"x6" full-of-knots-grade beam. Not sure what it was intended for, and I’m sure I could have got them to come collect it…but heck, I paid for it, figured I might as well keep it and think of something to do with it. Well, of course, I had to cut it up to get it in the door, and then to stash it someplace. I cut out four lengths to use as legs for a potential workbench (in the end, used the oak that came with the Roubo "kit" so still have them) and had a couple other random lengths buried behind a bunch of other scrap lumber under a long countertop.
When Chris Schwarz got interested in historic "sitting" workbench models – for hundreds of years, people sat on the benches rather than stood at them – and wrote about them in "Roman Workbenches" and "Ingenious Mechanicks", I got the idea that maybe these beam sections could somehow be used to experiment with a sitting bench. It’s been in the back of my mind since I first read the books, probably 7-8 years now. But this week, with the decks temporarily cleared of other projects, and the desire to make use of the space they were occupying, now seemed like the right time to give it a try. So I dragged them out and started squaring them up. I decided to use the "Saalburg workbench" (a Roman bench found in a well [!} in southern Germany, described in "Roman Workbenches" and more fully explicated in "Ingenious Mechanicks") as a model, because, aside from its being a small, attractive, practical bench, Chris showed a way to convert it into a shaving horse on demand, which appealed to me — I’ve always wanted one, and don’t have room for both!
In working with them, I quickly discovered that the beams were not particularly square, very weathered from having spent sometime outside before I got them into the shop, and full of knots and cracks. So I got another workout getting them tried and true. This time, I got out my little lunchbox planer to use as an electrical apprentice. Still had to do the first side and a square edge on each by hand (I don’t have an electric jointer) but it certainly sped things up a fair bit.
In the end, I should get a 5′ bench out of it. Chris’s model was >8′ but this is good enough for my purposes. I just want something I can haul out into the back yard to work on a pretty day. Looks promising.