So after reading Christopher Schwarz’s book Workbenches: From Design and Theory to Construction and Use, I decided it was time I built myself a “real” workbench.
I’ve had various bench-like structures that I’ve used as assembly tables, clamping areas, clutter storage, etc. My current “bench” is basically a large custom cabinet base with a formica top and an integrated Kreg measuring fence built on it that I use for making cuts on my miter saw. But I’ve never had a traditional workbench.
I’ve been woodworking for nearly 10 years now, and I’ve basically been just a power tool guy to this point. I’ve since built-out a full workshop in my 10’ x 24’ one-car garage, and I essentially now have every portable and stationary power tool necessary for a fully-functioning wood shop. However, I’ve never gotten into doing much hand work. I have a Lie-Nielsen adjustable mouth low angle block plane that I got four or five years ago, and a I have a cheap block plane from a big box store. I also have some other relatively basic and cheap miscellaneous hand tools, but no other planes. Other than playing around at the Lee Valley exhibit at The Woodworking Shows each year, I’ve never used a bench plane or specialty planes in my work. Part of the reason for me never getting into hand tools and joinery was that when I was building my tool collection, I always found that the additional power tool I wanted would be more valuable to me and my work than a $300+ bench plane. Now I’m at the point where I feel like I’ve come close to mastering power tools and their functions, and I want to start getting into doing more work by hand. So I’m going to start building-out my plane collection now, and will soon have a bench to properly use them all.
I’ve built a lot of built-ins, cabinet-style storage units, and other large and relatively boxy things. But I want to start doing more intricate and skillful pieces, and with nicer materials. After reading through Chris’s book, I realized just how much planes and other hand tools can add value and enjoyment to woodworking. In addition to letting you do certain tasks that you can’t do as easily (or at all) with power tools, I realized how much more fulfilling and satisfying working with hand tools can be. Maybe it is corny, but I feel like I will be more intimately involved with a project if I cut, shape and/or smooth pieces by hand. I think doing more by hand will a) improve my overall skills and abilities and b) most likely provide more enjoyment to the hobby.
So after taking into account all of the valuable information and insight the book has, I thoroughly thought about my own workbench wants and needs. Not just my wants and needs now, but my wants and needs going forward. I’m not saying this will be the last bench I ever build, but I don’t want to find myself down the road regretting my choice of style, size or functionality in this bench.
So I’ll be building a Roubo-style bench, with a single screw face vise, and a wagon vise on the end. I like the idea of a leg vise (like in the book), but I personally feel the hassle of bending over to turn the screw or reset the peg in the parallel guide outweighs the value such a vise provides…at least for me and my occasionally half-baked opinions. For my hobbyist needs, I feel a traditional single screw face vise with a large jaw pad (4” high by about 12” wide) will do me well. Due to size constraints in my shop, I’m limited to a top that is 5’ long. But it will be 2’ wide, and roughly 4” thick. So still plenty of beef. The legs will be approximately 5” square. I’ll be doing drawbored mortise and tenon joinery at all joints. The material is going to be Douglas Fir. The only thing I haven’t already decided on is whether my dog holes will be rectangles or circles. I’m leaning towards rectangles, and making my own wooden dogs. I plan on putting a few 3/4” round holes toward the back of the bench, and in the faces of the legs. These holes will be for holdfasts.
So that’s that. My next post will be about my adventures (more like misadventures) in trying to get the material. I finally got the wood today. I don’t have a firm timeline for this project, but I’m guessing it will take me months, considering my only free time is a small bit here and there on the weekends.
-- Andy Panko, Edison NJ