Dutch workbenches

The workbench from the Swedish warship Vasa are from a time where we dont have much information about other workbenches in Sweden and Norway. Few, if any, other workbenches are preserved from that time. The «Vasa workbench» are different than the more recent workbenches from Scandinavia. How does it «relate» to workbenches from other countries? There are many similarities between the workbench from Vasa and the well known French Roubo workbench. There was a lot of Dutch craftsmen working on the building of Vasa and some of the tools found in the wreck seems to be of Dutch orgin.

Gerrit van der Sterre have been researching woodworking planes in the Netherlands and published the book «Four centuries of Dutch planes and planemakers» in 2001. His father was a master carpenter and Gerrit also wrote about the workshop, toolchests and workbenches. «We do not know much about the dimensions of benches in earlier times, but their height must have been just as important then as it is now. » (Sterre, 2001)

From Van Der Sterre, Gerrit 2001 Four centuries of dutch planes and planemakers. Primavera. G. J. M. Elbers & J. Polling, Werktuigen machines, hulpmaterieel en gereedschappen in het bouwbedrijf, Culemborg/Antwerpenn/ Keulen 1967, 2e druk,
Workbenches, the upper consists of a plank, or an Oak deal, 3 to 4 inches thick, 14 to 16 inches wide and 11 to 20 feet long. Two under-rails hold the legs together and normaly one of them has two freely sliding posts that can be set closer or wider apart. Many similarities to the bench from Vasa. The lower bench is called a Joiners-bench. It consists of a continous beam, 4 x 4 inches and 14 to 16 feet long, and four legs set far apart to allow the bench to stand solidly. This Joiners-bench allows the edges of deals and planks to be worked. Similar to a «Skottbenk».  From Gerrit van ver Sterre, 2001, «Four centuries of dutch planes and planemakers». Primavera. His source is: G. J. M. Elbers & J. Polling, Werktuigen machines, hulpmaterieel en gereedschappen in het bouwbedrijf, Culemborg/Antwerpenn/ Keulen 1967, 2e druk.

Gerrits father used wrought iron bench stops that where forged with squared shanks so that they fitted into suitably placed mortises in the bench top. At the top end they where flattened and folded over almost at right angles and their leading edges were serrated so that they bit into the end grain of the work that was being planed.

Blad 1, Sterre
Workbench with a leg vice and a sliding deadman. This is a 20th-century workbench and its accessories. The bench have a lot in common with the Vasa bench and also the bench from Eggagården in Norway. From Gerrit van ver Sterre, 2001, «Four centuries of dutch planes and planemakers».

The workbench above have a leg vice and a shelf for tools. Most of the other details are similar to details on the Vasa workbench. The workbench from Eggagården does have a leg vice but not the sliding deadman. The dimensions described on the first drawing in this post are also similar as the Vasa workbench and the bench from Helberg in Bardu. The drawing below are showing other 20th-century Dutch workbenches. The shaped wooden hook are known as «stoothaak» in Dutch. The benches seems to be made from two beams  put on top of trestles. Its functions should be similar as on the bench from Helberg.

A 20th-century workbenches and accessories.
A 20th-century workbenches and accessories. From Gerrit van ver Sterre, 2001, «Four centuries of dutch planes and planemakers».
A planing bench in museu De Timmerwerf, De Lier. From Gerrit van ver Sterre, 2001, "Four centuries of dutch planes and planemakers".
Een schaafbank in museum De Timmerwerf, De Lier. A planing bench in museum De Timmerwerf, De Lier. From Gerrit van ver Sterre, 2001, «Four centuries of dutch planes and planemakers».

As a Norwegian it is very interesting to read about Dutch workbenches. There are many similarities to the older, and less known, Norwegian and Swedish benches. Theese benches are some places are still used by boatbuilders, but are not common among  carpenters and joiners today. Theese workbenches are called «schaafbank» in Dutch and that is similar to the Norwegian «høvelbenk«, Danish «høvlebænk» and Swedish «hyvelbänk«. All translates to «planing bench».  There might be other books about Dutch workbenches that could be interesting to read? Our Dutch readers might fill in about this matter?


Gerrit van der Sterre, 2001, «Four centuries of Dutch planes and planemakers», 2001 

About Roald Renmælmo

Snikkar med fokus på handverkstradisjon og handverktøy. Universitetslektor og PhD stipendiat på NTNU i Trondheim. Eg underviser på tradisjonelt bygghandverk og teknisk bygningsvern og restaurering.

11 tankar på “Dutch workbenches

  1. Hi Roald,

    In some ways I might be considered one of these Dutch readers. I am seeing this in Holland, I can read and speak a fair bit of Dutch and all my formal woodwork training was done at the Dutch furniture making college and I have been woodworking here now 17 years. If van der Sterre says it than he must know it but as for me I have not known the word schaafbank to refer to anything other than a machine used to flatten and straighten wood surfaces, known in English as planer. What you name Hyvelbänk is what the Dutch call werkbank. This is one of mine which is quite typical and old [IMG]http://i30.photobucket.com/albums/c325/ernestdubois/Workbench/P6140028_zpsb6abd0b7.jpg[/IMG] In fact to be specific this one is a timmer werkbank, distinguished by the sheer dimensions, 8 or 9 meters in length, it is not separate from the structure of the workplace, it has no integrated tool rest, the clamping mechanisms, to include leg vices and bankstooten, simple work surface of two thick long planks of pine, probably North American, connected with tung and groove over the length and batons nailed underneath.

    I think nothing could be more difficult than finding good historical references to Dutch work benches since for the last 70 years, already after a period of long decline, the craft of woodworking in most fields, has been systematically, consciously, gutted in Holland. But good luck on your search.


    1. Hi Ernest
      I do consider you as one of the Dutch readers. There are others but they have not been very active in commenting on the blog yet.

      It is the bench on the last photo in this post that is called schaafbank in the book by Sterre. In the English text he translate it to «planing bench». I will add his Dutch text to the photo. Sterre use the word werkbank as a more common word in his book. It is very common that new sorts of tools get names from older tools in crafts. I do know that schaafbenk means the same as a planer (machine).

      As a Norwegian with limited English knowledge and no Dutch knowledge I do know that it is a risk to write about theese things. I am very glad that you have commented and added some interesting photos of your werkbenk. In some boat building workshops in Norway they uses similar benches. I even remember a shorter version we had in a small carpenters workshop at our farm when I grew up. That one had a blacksmith vice so it could be used also for some iron work.

      Regards Roald

      1. Yes, language as a part of the various cultural distinctions within Europe are sometimes matters to contend with when ideas get thrown out into the bigger world. I don’t comment from a critical point of view towards your intentions. I’m glad for the contribution you along with the Frenchman François Calame are making in expanding knowledge across Europe of carpentry and related customs and practices.



    2. Hi Ernest
      Could I ask your permission to use the pictures of your «werkbank» to write a blog post about it? I find it very interesting. I would also need some more data of the dimensions, like height and width. Your bench are a very good ansver to my question in my post. I promise to use the term «werkbank» if you think that is the correct term.

      Regards Roald

      1. It’s ok Roald, use whatever you like, just tell me the measures you’ll need. If you like there is a contact form on the message board at the front page of Working With Axes. Maybe it’s a bit more versatile for contact.


  2. Hi Roald,

    One way or another maybe this message will reach you out on your island.

    Today on a visit to the city, in an old book shop I saw, in an old Dutch book on carpentry for the first time a drawing of what you have called, Skottbenk or Strykbänk, anyway used to clamp a deel and straighten or shape otherwise the edge. It’s the closest help middle I have seen for an aid strictly used in planing. The book states that at the time even it was outdated. It is called Strijkpooten. Not being as scholarly minded as you, of course I failed to garner further bibliographic information, unfortunately, but I am about kicking myself for not forking out the 80€ at the time and taking that book. It’s a good one.



    1. Hi Ernest
      This was very interesting for me.

      Sterre does mention a book where he found a drawing of a «Strijk-bank». That could be another book than the one you mention? The autor and the title are: G. J. M. Elbers & J. Polling, Werktuigen machines, hulpmaterieel en gereedschappen in het bouwbedrijf, Culemborg/Antwerpenn/ Keulen 1967, 2e druk.

      The title of the book would be very useful for doing more research about this. If you go back to the shop again it would be very nice if you get the title. I did a search on google with the word «Strijkpooten» and found this book:


      Could that be the same?

      Thank you very much for your research.

      Regards Roald

      1. Ok I’m sorry that I have not paid so much attention. However the book in the connection you give is the one, I am pretty certain. Did you try downloading? When I go back to that shop I’ll be going away with more than the title from that book, if you know what I mean.



  3. Hi Ernest
    I had some trouble with the download but did manage it today. The book seems very interesting and does have some drawings of «Strijkpooten» or «skottbenk» as it is in Norwegian. Thank you again for your information. The book are 100 years old and have a lot of interesting information. I have to use google translate to understand the text. I can see that some of the terms are not translated correct but I can understand some of it. I did also find the term «schaafbank» in the text. It is not only Gerrit van der Sterre that use that term.

    Kind regards Roald

    1. Hi Roald,

      There is an earlier edition of the book, but in the one you have seen it says that even in the time of writing, lets call it 191o, the strijjkpooten was out dated. I look through the table of content and see descriptions similar to work I have scheduled to do and think this book will be worth the price, I could never read a book off the computer screen.

      If I can help with translation you can send what you want to me anytime.



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