Episode #20: Workbench Design Considerations

Note: All of my old podcast videos have been moved to my YouTube channel.  You can now watch this video here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_UX9OU47cw&t=25s

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17 thoughts on “Episode #20: Workbench Design Considerations

  1. Great episode! You were darn thorough in spelling things to consider when designing – or buying – a workbench.

    I’m in the process of building my first workbench, which obviously means I am building it without an existing workbench. So I’m really looking forward to how you handle some of the tasks you’re going to run up against.

    Since this is my first workbench and most woodworkers view building your own bench as a “right of passage”, I went the traditional route of hardwood (maple) and a laminated top. It is a lot of work (and hard on my tools) but I am enjoying every minute of it!! Down the road, if I need to build another workbench, I may go with a design closer to what you are doing.

    I’m looking forward to this series. Thank you again for putting these videos together. They are really informative and useful!!

  2. Great start Bob,

    I understand that you are keeping the twin screw. Did you buy or make that?

    Really looking forward to this build.

    • Jeremy,
      I made the twin screw vise a couple of years ago to replace a quick release iron vise. It was surprisingly easy to make. The one on my current bench will be sold with that bench, but I made 4 screws when I built the first one so I’ll be using the other two screws for the twin screw vise on the new bench. I’ll go over how I made the screws in one of the future episodes on the bench.

  3. Great episode, especially the points about work choices. Considering how one actually uses a bench is the most important factor in my mind. Schwarz, like you, uses a lot of words trying to hammer home this point. First and foremost, the bench has to be useful to the work one does. You do a great job of making this point.

    Now, you kept the cat in the bag (mostly) about which of the two prominent styles you might build. One clue leads me to think it’s the design that begins with “H.”

  4. Bob,
    Another excellent episode. I appreciate the fact that you’re building the bench out of readily available home-center materials. For many of us (well, at least me), it’s often economically or logistically infeasible to get our hands on more exotic material. It’s great to see a ‘real’ project being made out of stuff anyone can purchase.

  5. Good episode, thanks for going through all the details.

    I would recommend Christopher Schwartz’s book on workbenches over any other book on workbenches. He takes a similar approach you would find very interesting.

    I’m in a similar design process right now, and it was good to hear someone else going through the same problem set.

    I have struggled mightily with the height issue, and I’m still undecided. I know I need lower than the workbenches I have (MDF built in that came with the garage, and a commercial metal assemble it your self jobbie.)

    Work holding is a much bigger conundrum for me though, what form of vise(s) to use was a big issue, and I would love to hear your thoughts on vices, and how you built yours.

    Thanks again (and I’m off to post a link to this podcast in my blog, this information must be shared).

    • Badger,
      I’ll be talking about work holding and vises in one of the future workbench episodes, but suffice it to say, I’m kind of partial to the wooden twin screw vise and holdfasts ;).

  6. Bob,

    I saw the bench design you’ve worked out, I’m assuming it’s 8′ long or so. I am going to watch the building of your bench with much interest as I am designing my own (the second, which will be built once I move cross country). I though have given myself some constraints that some might find awkward to live with, 5′ – 5′ 6″ in length, 24″ wide (incl the ~6″ tool tray in the middle of it) and 33″ high. I am still working out the design kinks, but I’m leaning towards a mashup between an English Joiner’s bench, the Home Work Bench (from the Chest of Books site: http://chestofbooks.com/home-improvement/woodworking/Carpentry-and-Mechanics-For-Boys/The-Home-Work-Bench-Part-2.html) and a hybrid design oft’ seen where there is a central tool well with both outer parts of the benchtop being laminated hardwood with dog/holdfast holes down both for their length. I need tips and that’s why I’m interested in your build. Also, for my own, it’s how to give the bench the stability and mass that my current one lacks (it wracks about 1″ when I plane and that’s even after making sure things are good and tight and I have 40-50 lb of extra mass to deaden movement).

    Great episode as you brought up much to really think about in my design as well and how to look at what one does at the bench.

  7. Great podcast as usual. In regards to your home center lumber, did you have to do anything to stabilize the wood. In my area the bigger lumber is not kiln dried and I would be concerned with large amounts of movement and shrinkage.

    • Tom,
      The lumber I bought was kiln dried doug fir 4x4s and hem-fir 2x12s, so no drying issues, but it did still sit in my shop for about 2 months before I started working on it. You can use stuff that was not kiln dried as well. I would bring it into the shop and let it sit there for a couple of months to give it time to further dry, shrink and equalize with the shop environment before you do any cutting. Then cut up the parts to rough size, stack and sticker them and let them sit for another couple weeks to a month to finish drying and equalizing with the shop. After that, the lumber should be fine to build the bench with.

  8. Bob,

    In your presentation on the design of the bench you suggested building it high because you can always cut off some of the legs. If you build a bench with a trestle base it might make sense to build it low because it would be easy to add pads on the feet to raise it up.

  9. Hi,

    I am desperately in need of a tool bench since I am not getting into using planes.

    I have 4 legs constructed out of construction grade pine. 2 2X4’s glued together to form each leg. The legs are nice and sturdy. They’ve been sitting around my small workshop for 2 yrs. I think it’s about time I build a top for my bench. I was wondering If I could use kiln dry contruction grade pine for the top.

    gluing up 2 X 12 boards would be a lot easier than laminating a bunch of 2X6’s on edge. Just imagine all the clamps you’d have to use..But… how do you Flatten (joint and plane) the top after the glue dries???? I always thought a wider board was more likely to warp at least in contructing table tops.

    Hem-fir.. can you buy that at Home Depot . MOst of the lumber I’ve seen at my local hardware stores is SPF … I take it that means it could be either spruce/pine or fur. What makes for stronger lumber.. pine or spruce I want to make sure the workbench has enough heft.

    PS… Your podcasts are some of the best I’ve seen on the web. The picture quality is excellent. Keep up the good work. Can’t wait to see your next podcast. I have learned so much from watching all your podcasts. Especially liked the podcast on sharpening saws. That is one task I’d like to master. It’s way too expensive sending saws away to get sharpened. It’s one of those things I think I can handle.

    • Wendy,
      Thank you for the comment. Construction grade pine will work fine for your top. just be sure to support it well with bracing under the top like I did for my bench or make it thick enough to resist sagging. Flattening the glued up top should be no different than flattening a big board. Just think of it as a long, wide board. Use a long plane and plane diagonal from both directions and check with winding sticks and a stratightedge until the top is flat. A long plane helps by planing only the high spots. Hem-fir is what we get in the Home Depots around here. In other areas they carry doug fir and in others SPF (spruce-pine-fir). It’s just what is easily and least expensively available locally. Either will work just fine for a workbench.

  10. You know, you actually swayed me with your podcast. I’m going to build me a bench pretty soon, as soon as my shop is done (right now I work in my balcony, on a small table that starts thrashing around every time I even look at my hand plane). I was planning to build a Roubo, but your design has a whole bunch of features that look really good to me. And the advice at the beginning of the series was as useful as it gets. Thanks and keep up the good work!

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