Traditional woodworking absolute: A Good Workbench!

Workbench Parts

Workbench Parts

While I’ve been waiting for my wood to dry for my chair job, I’ve been working hard to try to finish up a couple workbenches that I started a couple months ago. They are for different students that have taken classes from us. In fact one of the benches will be going all the way to Puerto Rico. I think most students realize after taking the class that a good bench is an absolute must. The problem is, which comes first, the chicken or the egg? How do you build a bench if you don’t have a bench to build a bench, or even tools to build a bench! Chris Schwarz has written about this and has some really good information from building your own bench from kitchen counter top slabs from Ikea or even just using home center materials. Check out his stuff here on Popular Woodworking and on Lost Art Press.

Bench base ready for assembly

I think one of the things that most people tend to get all wrapped up around is thinking they need something extremely fancy, but you don’t need something super fancy. Some of my nicest furniture was built on an old bench made from Home Center materials. (Of course now I don’t know how I did without the bench I have now!) The benches I am building now are really high dollar and quite fancy with all the bells and whistles! But as I tell most of my students, buy or build the best you can afford.

Fitting Tenons

The benches I am building are made out of solid hard Maple. I start with 12/4 stock for the legs and the top is mostly 4″ thick. This bench is one that I have developed over the years, using some of the things I like about the European Bench design as well as the Roubo Bench Design. I am using the world-class Benchrafted Tail vise and square dog holes. I have incorporated a sliding deadman which is very nice indeed.

Frank’s bench with sliding deadman

I personally like a tool well on the back side of my bench. Most people say, “Well, it gets full of junk”. Absolutely! So I have to clean it out once every couple months! But why do I still like the tool well? It acts as a GREAT guard rail. It keeps my tools from rolling off on the ground when I am working on my bench. Most of us have tools out on the bench and we also have a project with big boards that we are often pushing around. With a tool well I never have to worry about a chisel rolling off the backside of my bench. I have my bench in the middle of my shop so I can work all around it and I don’t want to be picking up tools on the back side of the bench. However, if you have your bench up against a wall there is no need for a tool well. That’s just my thoughts on it.

I have a Record 53 front vise on my personal bench and I am using the Jorgensen 10″ vise for the front vises on the benches I am building. These were rated No. 1 in Fine Woodworking a while back as among the best quick release front vises being made now. I think Record used to be the best but they don’t make them anymore; sometimes you can find them on eBay. The 53 or the 52 1/2 are good options.

One of these days I am going to put together an article and possibly a video on building a bench that most of us can afford, whether you build it yourself or have someone who has a bench build it for you. In the mean time I’d better get back to building other people’s benches!

If money is not too much a concern and you would like us to build you a bench, leave a comment or send an email and we can build the bench of your dreams! Here are a few examples of previous benches we have built. If you want to build your own bench here at the school you can sign up for a class right here. Jonathan is in the middle of milling all the wood for the next bench class coming up in just about a week. So I think it’s a bit late to get in that class, but we’ll have one again next year.

Base assembled

Frank Strazza

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