Making Tools: Workbenches (partial)

Warning!!! Stream of Consciousness ramblings about workbenches and how I use them! Proceed with Caution!

I cannot think of anything to say about workbenches that hasn’t already been said, and said better by other people. Tolpin and Schwarz both wrote books specifically about workbenches, they are good books. you should read them too. and just about every text on woodworking from Moxon to Hasluck and beyond has at least something to say about workbenches.

In my mind there are 2 basic requirement for all benches.

  1. they don’t bounce when you pound on them (mortising)
  2. they don’t “walk” or slide on the floor when you push on them (hand planing)

An ideal bench would be solid live oak, 30″ x 30″ x 120″. it isn’t going move at all.

Being able to hold your work on them is secondary since it can be accomplished with other tools (see: clamps, “Moxon vise” etc)

Some people view the workbench as a big clamp/work holding device, they aren’t wrong. But I mostly think of it as a woodworkers’ anvil, if it moves or bounces around it’s a failure.

nearly 25 years ago I slapped together a fast and sketchy workbench to facilitate building the kitchen in my house. it met the top two requirements, and holding devices have evolved on it… but I made the top out of 3 layers of flooring grade particle board, which are showing signs of getting softer. and the base is 3 x 4 pallet stickers and plywood, it sags in the center now (I put shims under it to keep the top nearly flat.)


So 25 years ago, I slapped this together promising myself a really nice shaker type bench in 4 or 5 years… yeah, didn’t happen.

Those Shaker benches look really nice, but how I use a bench does not fit with having the space under the bench filled with drawers. Insead of getting more sophisticated over the years I have gotten more and more archaic. Phasing out the power tools and bringing in more hand tools. more and more how it was done 200, 300, 500 years ago… I’m not yet willing to go all the way to Egyptian bronze age tools though… lol

I have been thinking a lot on this lately what with the shop getting rearranged etc., and I realised that there is an obvious reason for why I always seem to have some difficulty working “at home” as opposed to in shops… it’s the set up. at home I have a bench on the wall “in front of” me while I work. In the shops I had a bench like table behind me against the wall, and a bench in front of me that I worked on… that bench was always a KD affair. Something that can easily be gotten out of the way, frequently by getting hung up on the wall… (ask me about trestles and strongbacks)

the point is that the bench behind me was mostly for keeping my tools off the floor. And the other one I did most of my work on. I did have a vise on the one behind me… but it rarely got used.

I’m seeing now that I keep setting up saw horses to work on, while my back is to my “workbench” which is covered with tools and partial projects.

So maybe this old bench “stays” to keep my tools off the floor and I put another bench in the middle of the room. The “room” (cellar) is 15 feet wide. this old bench takes up 2.5′. leaving 12.5 feet… but the new air ducts on the opposite side take up 4′ of head space, leaving 8′ in the middle… so I think maybe a small bench like Curtis Buchanan‘s little 28″ x 30″ chair making bench might right…

Be well

Stay safe

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