I have been experimenting more and more with hand tools, and I learned quickly you need a proper workbench to get the most out of hand tools. The last bench I built works really well for power tools and assembly, but it’s not stout enough to handle hand planning. It also lacked the necessary vises and bench dogs needed to secure your work.
So I began my search for the perfect bench to use with hand tools. I’ll tell you right now, perfection is hard to come by for workbenches. Everyone has their own preferences and standards. So, I changed my high standard of perfection to something more reasonable. What do I need for the type of work I was planning to do?
My first stop was LumberJocks of course. There have been quite a few blogs/projects here on workbenches. My next stop was Google. Google is almost always the first place I start when I’m trying to find information. This led me to many great web sites. One in particular was www.workbenchdesign.net/index.html.
My search also led me to Christopher Schwarz who has been building several different benches over the last year or so. His new book “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use”, has a lot of good information on workbench history and design. His blog (www.woodworking-magazine.com/blog/) has a lot of the information that is in his book, but the book makes it much easier to have all of the information in one place. One important thing I came away with from Chris’s book, “don’t reinvent”. Most of the features on workbench have been refined over hundreds of years, don’t try to invent something new. I hope my design isn’t pushing it too far.
Two other books I bought that had a lot of good information were:
The Workbench Book: A Craftsman’s Guide to Workbenches for Every Type of Woodworking
The Workbench: A Complete Guide to Creating Your Perfect Bench
Now with this mountain of information I needed to figure which features I felt I needed in my bench. My project focus will be small to medium size cabinets and tables. I will also be doing more hand cut joinery. I will be hand planing to finish and fit my projects. I may play around with hand planing rough lumber, just for fun.
One bench started to stand out for me, and it was the Scandinavian workbench style or a Frank Klausz workbench. It was the shoulder vise that interested me the most. I liked the idea that there wasn’t a screw under the jaws blocking your work piece. I first saw this style of vise on a Rob Cosman’s DVD. I liked how quick and simple it was to use. It adds a little complexity to the design but I think it’s worth it.
Now I needed to figure out what I wanted for a tail vise. I had read many comments about the traditional tail vise on a Frank Klausz style bench. Many people complained about problems with it sagging and problems keeping it flush with the top of the bench. It was a comment I heard over and over. I thought I would see if there was a different solution for the tail vise. I thought about the twin-screw tail vise, like the one sold by Lee Valley/Veritas. I already have one these on my bench now. I feel it is overly complicated and difficult to get to move smoothly consistently. So I didn’t want to go in that direction again. I thought about just adding a regular steel bench vise to the end. It would allow me to clamp something in the jaws and it can be used with the bench dogs. I was thinking I wanted to do something different and a little more traditional. Then I saw Christopher Schwarz blog on the Wagon Vise, a traditional but little used tail vise. In Chris’s blog he mentioned that Rob Cosman uses a Wagon Vise on his benches now. I had just taken a dovetailing class from Rob, so I thought I would email him and see what he had to say about them. He confirmed what Chris had said, and told me he uses “Wagon” tail vises on his benches. He again commented on how hard it is to keep the traditional tail vise on the same plane as the bench top. The wagon vise also provides greater support for your work piece when it’s clamped up between your dogs.
As I stated at the beginning of this blog, workbench design is a person thing. There is no right or wrong design. I’m no expert by a long shot.
The last element of the bench design was to have a tool tray or not. Some people say they are a great for collecting your shaving and others say they are a most have. At first I thought I don’t need one. Then I was watching a video by David Charlesworth, and he uses a tool try but his are removable. This gives him an easy way of getting a clamp on the backside of the bench top. I thought this sounded like a good idea.
Now I thought I had all of the key features needed to start to put something down on paper. I’ve used 2D CAD programs in the past, but thought it was time to go 3D. Everyone is using SketchUp now and it was the right price (free). I had attempted to teach myself SketchUp a couple times, but never really got anywhere with it. I had to find a resource to help me get started. I’m an IT guy so buying one of the “For Dummies” books doesn’t sit well me :). I broke down and got “Google SketchUp For Dummies” by Aidan Chopra. This was an excellent book for me. It got me going quickly. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m finally getting stuff done. Along with the book, there are video demos on YouTube that go along with the book. You could go pretty far by just watching the videos, but the book does have a lot of information that isn’t covered in the videos.
Being a visual person, the 3D modeling really helped me see what I’m going to build. I encountered many problems with my design, before cutting any lumber. This is only version one of the bench top. I think I still have some tweaking to do. I have quite a few dovetails in my design. I’m hoping it will add strength to the overall bnech top frame. I’m not sure if I’m making it overly complicated for my skill set. We will have to wait and see.
I wasn’t sure how to post a SkatchUp image so I just took a print-screen of it. I hope it looks okay. Let me know if there is a better way to get an image out of SketckUp.