Site icon The Broken Tradition


Where to start? Much has been said about workbenches… mostly about how great this or that type of workbench is. but seriously… what do you NEED?

A workbench that bounces or “walks” when you use it, is adsorbing your efforts instead of your effort going into the work you are doing, making you work harder.

So the top must be stiff enough to resist flexing, so all of the work effort goes into cutting the mortise and not into bouncing the top. And the legs or substructure must resist moving across the floor when you push and plane on it. (if they flex they also will be making you work harder.)

One of the failings of making a really superb workbench is that when you have spent 80 or more hours designing, building and finishing a really great bench you then don’t want to use it. Like a new car, you don’t want to get a scratch on it! It’s PERFECT! don’t touch it! I’ve seen this a dozen times, guy doing a lot of great work decides to stop and make a great bench and then can’t get himself to use the bench for months.

Years ago I whipped up a bench that I have absolutely NO respect for. I wanted (and still want) one of those really nice Shaker style benches like the one at the Hancock Shaker Village. but I didn’t have the material or the time to make one like that. However my point is that from day one I used it and I have used it for nearly 30 years. It is all scarred up and beat up worn but still flat and strong

The top is 3 layers (the center layer being mostly void) of Cabinet grade Particle Board. You Cannot get cabinet grade at the Big Box Stores, they only carry underlayment grade for putting under floors, it is too soft. If you can’t find Cabinet grade the better sanded plywood (ABX) that they do carry should be good for this job. I made it 28.5 x 96 inches, more than 30 is too wide, less than 28 is inconveniently narrow. It has a back board (in counter top terms, backslash) that is 4″ tall and has a rack for tools fastened to it, and a 3″ drop front to stiffen up that edge.

The Undercarriage is on 4- 3″ x 3″ legs made from hardwood shipping stickers (those square blocks of wood put under shipped items to get the forklift under them) and Plywood panels, all glued and screwed together. Strong, stiff, reliable.

On my bench, and on all of the benches I have made (about 4 over the years in different shops) the top just lifts off from the legs. The top ends up being just about at the limit of what I can lift, and the base are is a little lighter (but not much) but this allows me to move it myself. Cleats under the top align it with the base and prevent it from creeping along the base.

If your shop is your showroom then the investment in an impressive workbench will produce dividends that are hard to quantify. IE visitors thinking of having you make things for them will be impressed and more likely to hire you. If you Really Really want a better workbench, then make one! Just keep in mind that a workbench you do not use is wasted space.

For alternative workbench Ideas… to see what was done in the past I suggest you look at the blog, these benches of the past show signs of hasty construction from what was at hand and are much simpler than most of what you see being promoted.

So, My bench:

this is what it “ideally” looks like 😉


this is what it rally looks like. wow what a mess! you can hardly see it in there!

in summation: I still want that bench like the one at Hancock, but this works! it doesn’t bounce, it doesn’t walk, it just sits there like a good little rock, and THAT is what you need!

So! To start: make a top as flat as you can and a stiff as you can from whatever stuff you can get. put it up on saw horses and get to work! Make legs and a substructure better than the sawhorses as soon as you can but don’t fret about it if you can’t right away.

be well, count your fingers!


PS: I have seen all sorts of bench top structures from solid slabs to torsion boxes, I don’t know/remember who said it but in reference to benches: in the absence of superior timbers use superior construction. I think that is a good guideline.

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