A good workbench can be a helpful and integral part of a woodworkers shop. Workbenches are typically flat surfaces and are rectangular. Most good workbench plans have the following three features in common.
See Tip #9 on mobile or portable workbenches.
- Provide a comfortable height for working.
- Built heavy and sturdy enough so they do not move when in use.
- Provide one or more methods for holding the workpiece in place so that both hands can be used on the tool(s).
Below are 9 essential tips you should know before buying or building a workbench.
1. Know the advantages of various workbench plans.
A. The “straight leg base” has four legs or posts which elevate the workbench to the desired height. You can easily store large objects under the bench design. The drawback to this base is it may not be strong enough to handle the forces that develop during heavy work.
B. The “sled-foot base” is a very popular style. With this design, the legs attach to a sled-foot. The weight of the bench typically rests on two “end paws.” A pair of stretchers usually connects the legs. The wide sled-foot makes the base very stable even on a narrow bench.
C. The “hybrid base” connects the outer legs with a lower rail (creating an “H” pattern). A center stretcher connects these outer legs. This design creates a somewhat strong base, yet is typically much easier to build than a sled-foot base. A four type of base is a “post and panel box”. A post and panel box base is enclosed for storage.
2. Realize the sled-foot base has no end-grain resting on the floor.
Consequently, the legs would be less prone to wicking up moisture and rotting.
3. Be able to correctly identify the parts of a workbench.
The bench top (A) is the flat portion of a workbench. Most good bench tops will be at least 1.5” to 3” thick to create a sturdy, robust working area. A leg vise (B) is a simple robust vice which typically attaches to one of the front legs on a workbench. Woodworkers commonly use it to joint edges. The lower rail (C) connects two pairs of legs to create an “H” pattern. The single center stretcher (D) connects the outer legs to create a stronger base. A leg (E) elevates and supports the workbench. A bench dog hole (F) is simply a hole in the top of a workbench. These holes typical appear in a straight-line perpendicular to the vise. An end vise (G) is typically mounted on the right end of a workbench.
4. Realize there is no standard spacing for dog holes.
While there is no standard, the spacing between dog holes should be in increments that are less than the maximum opening of the vice. This way, you can secure any object without the need for shims.
5. Know how a holdfast works.
The black metal clamp illustrated in the following image is referred to as a holdfast. A holdfast has a shape similar to a shepherd’s crook. Woodworkers use this for clamping wood on a workbench. The shank of the holdfast goes into a hole (bench dog hole). You press it against the workpiece to help secure it to the workbench. You may more securely set the holdfast by tapping the top with a mallet.
6. Know how to use a bench dog or planning stop.
A bench dog or planning stop is a small peg or piece of wood that is inserted into a dog hole. This peg helps clamp or secure the workpiece to the workbench. Most people arrange the dog holes so they are in a line perpendicular to the vise.
7. Be able to identify the parts of a vise.
Many woodworking vises have a pop-up dog (A) on the outer jaw. This allows you to hold a piece of stock on the top of the workbench as show in the figure below. The jaw opening (B) indicates how far the jaws can open. This is the maximum capacity the vise can clamp. The throat depth (C) of a vise is the vertical distance from the top of the screw/slide to the top edge of the jaws. The jaw width (D) is the horizontal distance from one side of the jaws to the other side. With wider jaws, you can distribute the clamping pressure on a workpiece over a greater area. This wider area allows the jaws to more securely hold the workpiece without damaging the surface.
8. Realize that most vises have a 2-degree “toe in”.
Most quality vises incorporate approximately a 2-degree “toe in” design on the outer jaw. This inward tilt of the outer jaws applies the greatest pressure near the top of the jaws where it is needed most. This inward tilt of the outer jaws applies the greatest pressure near the top of the jaws where it is needed most.
9. Consider making your workbench portable.
A mobile or portable workbench leaves room for changes and is especially useful in a small shop. You can easily move a workbench on castors or wheels for cleaning or to clear space for something else.
Workbench plans and dimensions
Below are some simple workbench plans that you can use to build one yourself (i.e., DIY workbench) for your shop or a garage.
Workbench designed for working/welding pieces at 45 or 90 degrees.
Before getting into woodworking, I did a lot of welding. As a welder, I frequently found myself welding pieces at 45 and 90 degree angles. To help speed up the process, I modified my welding table as shown below. I can now clamp pieces flush with the edges and quickly weld objects at either 45 or 90 degrees.
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