My journey in workbench design #1: What kind of bench do I need?

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Blog entry by Mike Lingenfelter posted 12-04-2007 03:33 AM 13749 reads 2 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of My journey in workbench design series Part 2: Final Sketchup Images »

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

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 ( 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
Scott Landis

The Workbench: A Complete Guide to Creating Your Perfect Bench
Lon Schleining

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.

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7 comments so far

View rpmurphy509's profile


288 posts in 3821 days

#1 posted 12-04-2007 05:11 AM

I’m torn between buying and building a bench for my shop.
It may be a bit much for my limited skill set to design and build
one from scratch, but perhaps getting a solid plan elsewhere
and modifying as needed would do well for me.

I like your design. Will there be a tail vise?

-- Still learning everything

View toolemera's profile


7 posts in 3821 days

#2 posted 12-04-2007 08:49 AM

One suggestion. Decide on what kind of bench you want based upon what kind of work you expect to use it for. that’s a good deal of what Chris’s book discusses. Are you working with flat sheet goods, small or large stock, lots of dovetails and delicate M&T, pounding big stuff or what? I do a lot of restoration work so my old commercial fire door table gets the most use and the old Ulmia bench often just holds the tools I am using at the door bench.

I find that I rarely use the end vise. Mostly I use the front vise on both benches. But then I don’t do a ton of work on long stock… mostly I work on small pieces that need to be shaped in some fashion.

The bench that you show works best for cutting lots of joints. That’s the purpose of the left hand vise in this design… to hold stock vertically for shaping.


-- Gary Roberts, Dedham MA,

View cajunpen's profile


14575 posts in 4032 days

#3 posted 12-04-2007 12:05 PM

I debated back and forth for a couple of months about building or buying a workbench. I ended up ordering this one – it is supposed to be delivered today (12/4/07). It looks like it will be pretty sturdy and has both the tail vise and a 7” front vise. I ordered it from Jacobsen Workbenches. I’ve got to work tonight, but I’m off Wednesday and Thursday – guess I’ll make space for it and put it together.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

-- Bill - "Suit yourself and let the rest be pleased."

View Mike Lingenfelter's profile

Mike Lingenfelter

503 posts in 4081 days

#4 posted 12-04-2007 04:46 PM

rpmurphy509 – The drawing is somewhat incomplete. I haven’t drawn in the vises yet and I may not on my plans. It depends on how much time I want to spend. I’m still a little slow on SketchUp. The tail vise will be a “Wagon” style vise.

Gary – I’m building the bench to primaryly do hand tool work. Not much in the way of sheet goods. I find sheet goods a real pain to work with, in a small one-man shop. I agree the tail vise might not get a lot of use. It’s one reason I went with the “Wagon” style. I gave up the clamping of a regular tail vise, to just being able to clamp between the dogs when I needed it.

Bill – I considered buying a pre-built bench. I looked a some in the stores. I just wasn’t sold on them. Let me know what you think of yours when you get it it.

View Karson's profile


35111 posts in 4367 days

#5 posted 12-04-2007 04:55 PM

Great start. It will be nice to see the plan come to completion.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 3963 days

#6 posted 12-05-2007 07:01 AM

You can do it! I like what I see so far and would love to drop by and check out the process (and help?) when you get going on the build! Looks like you even have some chisel (and other) slots cut into the back wall of the tool well.

I remember running across the workbenchdesign site a while back and don’t think I’d ever remembered it! I’ll have to bookmark it for the future!

Great blog entry!

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Mike Lingenfelter's profile

Mike Lingenfelter

503 posts in 4081 days

#7 posted 12-05-2007 07:08 AM

I did add some slots for tools in the back of the tool well. I saw that on another bench and thought I would add it to mine.

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