The Schwarz syndrome

Recently, the Schwarz syndrome has been described in the literature. It seems to be a highly contagious disease which spreads rapidly through the internet woodworking community. The main pathways of infection seem to be the blog of The Schwarz and his book, other infections are reported from sources like work-in-progess reports in woodworking forums and blogs such as here and here.

Among the symptoms are the inexplicable longing to build an old-fashioned workbench, manic internet researches, long contemplations of the question English vs French, a manic lust for softwoods such as Southern Yellow Pine,  as well as profound dissatisfaction with the current workbench situation of the affected woodworker. In severe cases of the Schwarz syndrome, it is reported that the patient wishes to build the aforementioned workbench entirely with handtools.

The only remedy so far seems to be to give in and tackle the project, although there exist some reports about relapsing patient. The best example for multiple relapses seems to be The Schwarz himself.

I happen to be infected with the Schwarz syndrome in a severe form. In my case, the severe form is a direct result from an acute lack of power tools, which I decided to make a virtue out of necessity 🙂

Anyway, I decided to do something against the symptoms, and set out to build a Roubo-influenced bench. I took a trip to the lumberyard and acquired a bunch of left-over “Nordische Fichte”, which is probably the same as siberian spruce. In particular, I found four 1-meter beams with a cross section of 9 by 13 centimeters, which I declared to become legs, a long board with a cross section of 5 by 15 cms which had “long stretchers” written all over it and three 2m-beams with a cross section of 9 by 13 (btw, 9 by 13 translates to roughly 3.5 by 5 inches), those looked very much like becoming a top.

That whole bunch being leftovers, I paid a ridiculous price for the wood (leaving some room for, uhm, tools, maybe. Or a fancy leg vise. And holdfasts. And…)

I decided to build a split top, such as in that gorgeous Benchcrafted Roubo, and for this purpose, I had to add an additional stretcher in the side assemblies. For the short stretchers, I decided to use the two beams of 8 by 8 cm (3 by 3 in) pine that I had stuffed away in my workshop. All the lumber was thickness-planed and jointed, by the way, but all edges are chamfered.

When I arrived in my workshop with the wood, I set out to crosscut the legs and the short stretchers with my bow saw. I settled for a total workbench height of 82 cm (32 in), copied from the old, wobbly workbench, and a total depth of 55cm (21 in).

This took me some time and a lot of sweat (sweat and sawdust is a dreadful combination). After crosscutting, I cut 2 in thick and 2 in long tenons in the short stretchers, this time, I used my Ryoba. I can cut more precise with this saw, that is probably a matter of practice. (One day, I’ll take some scrap wood and spend an afternoon practicing with the bow saw…)

From the tenons, I marked the mortise locations in the legs and set out to excavate large amounts of wood. I used a brace with the most suitable bit that I found (a 8mm general purpose bit which was in fact rather unsuitable for this task, but I already placed an order at, which is known to have certain remedies for this case…), my largest mallet and an assortment of chisels and bored and banged away.

During this, my mortising speed improved considerably, I went from one hour for the first mortise (fine tuning and test fitting included) down to 20 minutes for the last (read eigth) one. All joints ended up to be nice, square and tight (disassembling them results in a very satisfying “plopp” kind of sound). Here, I called it a day, left the two side assemblies in the workshop and headed for the lake.

Dry fit of the first side assembly

The plan for the next weekend includes:

  • do the joinery for the long stretchers
  • assemble the base: I think I’ll go for drawboring the joints, since I don’t have long enough clamps, and assembling each joint separately with drawboring looks like a promising approach. But I’m wondering how to make sure that the base stays (that is becomes) square during assembly. The book is a bit unclear about that – when I assemble each joint separately, how do I ensure squareness? Any advice would be very welcome!
  • source an additional 9 by 13 beam for the top
  • pay a visit to the local carpenter/joiner and kindly ask if I can use his power jointer for the top. I’ll be very happy If I can avoid jointing the beams for the top by hand, in particular since I have to remove the chamfers…

So far, thanks for reading, and excuse the poor photography! The only picture-taking device in reach was my mobile phone. Next time, I’ll bring my DSLR again.


~ by Michael on July 12, 2010.

5 Responses to “The Schwarz syndrome”

  1. I do have been infected with the Schwarz syndrome. It cost me 12 months and I won’t say how much money.
    But you know what. It’s a gem.

  2. Oh yes, Dan, you’re obviously a victim of the Schwarz syndrome. But your bench is indeed a beauty.

    I’m quite sure that mine isn’t going to be so pretty.

  3. Yep, your ‘black and white’ photography is a dead giveaway – Schwarz Syndrome has definitely taken its toll on you!! 😀 😉

    Look forward to seeing more progress on the workbench.


  4. Amazingly, I haven’t gotten hit by it yet. I have to admit that there is severe temptation. It’s likely, though, that the looming threat of death if I don’t get current projects done has been an effective deterrant.

    One day I’ll make a new bench. I made mine just before the Schwarz book came out, and I have to admit that there are a lot of things in there that make a lot of sense, and my bench just doesn’t have them. I may just end up making a new top for mine first.

  5. Brian, that looks like hit by it to me… The severe temptation is obviously one of the symptoms.
    The actual building of the bench is a therapy to cure the Schwarz syndrome…

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