Highland Woodworking
The Anarchist's Workbench
by Christopher Schwarz
Review by J. Norman Reid

The Anarchist's Workbench is the final entry in the anarchist trilogy. The first book was The Anarchist's Tool Chest, which was followed by The Anarchist's Design Book. Taken altogether, they comprise a holistic set of ideas and advice that, if not in fact essential, is at least highly instructive and inspiring of the best of which one is capable.

This intriguing book is somewhat unusual. At its base, it's a thorough personal review of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the author's experience in building workbenches. In this guise, it's chock full of ignore-at-your-own-peril advice. But it's also an autobiographical account in which Chris (can I call you Chris?) recounts large portions of his life, from the closet homesteading of his upbringing to his time at Popular Woodworking and from there to his ultimate escape from the throes of corporate publishing into the unknown territory of starting an independent publishing house known as Lost Art Press. Along the way, we learn about his highly ethical and fair-minded approach to partnership with his authors. We learn how he lost the rights to his famous predecessor to this book, Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use. And how this book tallies up as a stick-it-to-the-man comeuppance to the vulture capitalists from whom he escaped. If you are a follower of Chris's leadership in hand tool and exploratory craftsmanship, you'll delight in the personal side of his story, here told in a no-holds-barred treatment.

But personal interest aside, you're probably reading this review because you're interested in workbenches. Maybe you're just starting to put together a woodshop and need basic guidance. You'll find it here. Or maybe you've got a bench now but are all too well acquainted with its shortcomings and know an upgrade is in order. You'll find lots of valuable experience here for you as well.

There is no perfect workbench, just in case you're seeking out the one best design. Designs abound, as do work environments and personal preferences. This book fits those facts perfectly. It does not advocate for a particular type of bench. Rather, it walks through Chris's experience building and using a large variety of benches. And of these there are many; I counted 17, not including the one he finally settles on. Those that he built, plus some early European benches he researched, are reviewed in the pages of this book. Along the way, we get the pros and the cons, the successes and the failures. If you are contemplating bench building, his experience will save you from much frustration, wasted effort, and expense. Sure, Chris has evolved his preferences to a particular style and the book lays out how he built it in sufficient detail to follow his lead. But if that style doesn't suit your needs or your vision of what a workbench should be, many options are there for the taking. At least you'll know what you are walking into once you've digested his ideas.

The book goes well beyond the design and construction of the bench itself. It delves deeply into all the appliances and accoutrements that accompany it (neat bit of alliteration, that). Fully covered are vises of all types, planing stops, crochets, tool wells, shelves, and even a foldaway seat. Not only are you presented with a wealth of experience in using various incarnations of these devices, but you get the voice of trial and error in installing and using them.

The experience Chris shares in this book is buttressed by numerous invaluable black-and-white photos of each workbench he built. You'll also find drawings to guide you in constructing the one he now prefers, as well as of the appliances with which he prefers to work. You'll be able to follow his step-by-step lead in building a solid but economical bench from the information he's offered.

Frankly, there is so much valuable advice presented here that you may find yourself on information overload. I will confess that I made 11 pages of notes as I read the book! (Yes, I take notes on the books I review, just as I read every page and don't just skim them.) This book has that much knowledge to convey, and more. And if the text weren't sufficient, the book has four appendices, including an especially valuable one that answers all the commonly asked questions. Like, what wood is best for a workbench? Answer as I read it, anything, as long as it's not white pine. Turn to this appendix if you are looking for quick advice and are overeager to get your building project underway. But better yet, take a more contemplative approach: read, no, study the whole book. Your resulting workbench will suit you much better for your effort.

To sum up, this book is the most complete treatment of workbench experience available. It is comprehensive. It is incisive. It is open-minded. It is often charming. It is even, at times, humorous. If you have any interest at all in building or equipping a workbench, you want this book. In fact, you need it.

Chris has invested a major part of his life building the wealth of experiences that will save you much angst. He deserves a small reward in return. Buy the book. You'll not only have a finely produced volume of your very own, but I guarantee you your money will be well spent. Highly recommended.

Find out more and purchase The Anarchist's Workbench
at Highland Woodworking

J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes. He can be reached by email at nreid@fcc.net.

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