Workbench #1: Entering the Design Phase

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Blog entry by HungryTermite posted 01-22-2010 04:48 AM 2213 reads 3 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Workbench series Part 2: The internet is great »

I just finished “Workbenches” by Chris Schwarz. I really enjoyed the book and it gave me a boost of motivation to get started on my workbench project. I enjoyed his writing style, his humor, as well as the little bit of history that was sprinkled in. I saw the quote somewhere years ago that “A man that does not know the history of his trade is continually forced to reinvent the wheel”. I tend to believe that.

My current workbench is a folding table from costco. Its wobbly, almost impossible to clamp things to, and its not very stiff. Mostly it ends up covered with tools while I work on the concrete floor of the garage or on my table saw top. The only problem with that is I find the stamped steel extensions on the table saw difficult to clamp to and then I can’t use the saw when it’s covered with stuff.

So, I consider finishing this book as step 1 in my quest for a workbench. This will be my 1st workbench so I have been looking all over for ideas, plans, designs, tips, tricks, etc. I really like the design and simplicity of the french bench in his book, based on a design from Roubo. I mostly use power tools at the moment but I really want to start learning how to do some things by hand. What I like about this bench is how open it is and how solid it seems, plus the simple looking joinery. I don’t think I like the idea of a leg vise (even though I have never tried one) so I have a feeling I am going to put a more standard face vise on the front. I am probably going to build one on my own, rather than buy one. I havent decided if I will have an end vise yet. Most likely I will design one in but not install it unless I find myself wishing I had one. I really like the way the Veritas twin screw vise looks, so I might check that one out, or I might just make my own.

Why make my own vises? I like to make my own stuff and McMaster Carr is a short drive away. I’m an engineer by trade and I really can’t help thinking that for a lot of items, I can do something just as good for less money and get something that is perfectly customized the way I want it to be. I also tend to think I can tweak things to get a better design and sometimes I am right and sometimes I am not, but all this tinkering makes me a better engineer at work so why not. Besides, I don’t mind spending the time on that sort of thing and if I can save some money I can buy better wood for the next project, or a new tool.

I plan to make the whole bench out of Douglas Fir or possibly the top out of Douglas Fir and the base out of Hem Fir. The only question I have to settle on there is whether I am going to make do with the green construction stuff at Home Depot, which looks full of knots and other problems but is really cheap, or do I go with the nice clear kiln dried stuff at the lumber yard. The wood at the lumberyard looks great and would be easy to use because its so clear but it costs 4 times as much. We’ll see. I am still a ways away from having to buy any lumber.

Step 2 for this project will be to fire up the CAD software and start playing around with some designs…

-- Good Judgement Comes From Experience. Experience Comes From Bad Judgement.

7 comments so far

View Maveric777's profile


2693 posts in 3042 days

#1 posted 01-22-2010 04:57 AM

Wish I had sat down and planed as well as you are when it comes to my work bench. I just had it one day with my old cheap wobbly kitchen table and drove my happy (actually not happy ) butt down to the big box store and started buying lumber. Now I am having to back track… and as you stated “Reinvent The Wheel” so to speak.

I do like your thinking on building your own vice. I want a big one at the end of my bench but they are pretty steep (at least the ones I was looking at). I will need to look into that…

Goos luck in your workbench quest…

-- Dan ~ Texarkana, Tx.

View PurpLev's profile


8534 posts in 3614 days

#2 posted 01-22-2010 05:07 AM

sounds like a great start. the roubo is indeed a great design, and very practical. and my choice of workbench these days.

making your own vises is very doable esp. if you have mcmaster around the corner. from my experience a leg vise provides much much better holding power and support for work pieces compared to “regular” vises – I’ve had both, and I find the leg vise superb.

good luck, and looking forward to seeing some designs and progress.

for the base, you could use the lumber from HD, but for the top you might be better off getting it from the lumberyard as you won’t have to deal with knots and sap, especially since you’ll be dealing with large laminations.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View HungryTermite's profile


90 posts in 3015 days

#3 posted 01-22-2010 06:15 AM

Thats to both of you for the positive comments.

Using wood from both places makes some sense. I could build the top while the green wood dries out a bit and then I could put the top on some saw horses so I can build the base.

The leg vise does look interesting and I can see how it would hold very well. Maybe I will reserve judgement for a while since the reason I don’t think I would like it is because it looks “strange” since I had never seen one before.

-- Good Judgement Comes From Experience. Experience Comes From Bad Judgement.

View Ecocandle's profile


1013 posts in 3031 days

#4 posted 01-22-2010 07:49 AM

I built my own workbench from plans designed by Asa Christiana of Fine Woodworking magazine. I altered them slightly, making it a bit wider than the original design. I love my workbench and I think I am going to build my own router table. The satisfactin I get from using it is incredible. I have my own design ideas for the router table, we will see how it turns out. I hope you will share you workbench building stories as they unfold.

I look forward to seeing it. I am sure you will love your workbench too.

-- Brian Meeks,

View hunter71's profile


3158 posts in 3152 days

#5 posted 01-22-2010 02:11 PM

I picked up the cherry for my new bench from the saw mill on Monday. They should be dry by late summer for a bench. I use almost all rough cut lumber due to the mill being 2 miles from my house. Of course the downside is drying time, but the ability to look through my lumber and pick my needs out for pennies on the dollar work for me. Besides I always have more than I need cut. Example. This cherry bench 18×60” needed 9 full cut 2×4’s and leg material, that might be white Oak. I got all I needed plus 10+ 1×10x10,1×6x10’s, and 1×4x10’s to make several other projects for $50. I also traded out some electrical work at the mill, but even figuring that in the price would only be $100 or so. I will be watching your progress , send pictures.

-- A childs smile is payment enough.

View Eagle1's profile


2066 posts in 3030 days

#6 posted 01-22-2010 04:46 PM

I built my own workbench. I also built my own router table, I didn’t build the top I purchased it from Woodcraft, it’s a Pinnacle top. I think doing it yourself for workbenches you can build it to your needs at that time. And as your needs change so can your bench..

-- Tim, Missouri ....Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the heck happened

View DoctorDan's profile


281 posts in 2980 days

#7 posted 03-05-2010 12:33 PM

I’ll keep an eye on this thread. McMaster Carr seems like a good resource, I wish I had something similar local.
Looking forward to your progress.

-- Daniel -

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