You can’t discuss handplanes without discussing the workbench.
Do you need a workbench to do work by hand? No, what you need is a way to hold your work while you work on the face, edges and ends of various sized boards. Benches just so happen to fill that need VERY well. The problem with benches is that people convince themselves that they cant build a good bench without a bench, to an extent that’s true but it does not have to be the stumbling block some people make it.
Shown here a set up for jointing my jointer plane, I would not have thought of this had I not worked bench-less for a while.
Some people will suggest that you work on a solid core door that are placed on sawhorses that are weighted down with sand. Work on that for a while and figure out what you want. Others, like myself, suggest that you build yourself a good cheap bench and get to work. I feel that if you have a bench that does not piss you off you will be better at deciding what you want in your eventual “ULTIMATE BENCH”. I don’t think there is a lot of sense in buying or building the ultimate bench first, if I had done this I would have a European bench with a shoulder vise for dovetails…and I would hate it because I like making big projects (dining tables and what not). I would also have built my ultimate bench with a tool well (I hate tool wells with a passion).
I discovered little things like this after I built my first real bench and started working on it. My bench is built strongly on Bob and Dave's good fast and cheap bench and should you go this route I strongly suggest three alterations…
1. No tool well (personal preference I know, but I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to lose stuff in there under a pile of shavings), it complicates construction and reduces weight. Heavy benches are a good thing
2. Lower the big stretchers to give your knees a place to go when you plane across the grain…this will also give you room for a nice shelf for your bench fixtures and planes.
3. Get those dog holes within an inch or two from the front of the bench…you will thank yourself when you start using joinery planes.
A compromise on the build of a simple “starter” bench and get to work idea, and the solid core door idea would be to get the solid core door and the saw horses, but grab and nice 4×10 or 4×12 beam as well. Flatten the beam and attach it to the sawhorses so you can put dog holes in as well as clamp battens to it for cross grain planing. The beam will give you much better purchase to clamp to for edge and end work and the solid core door will give you a nice assembly area. If you lean more towards the sawhorse route grab a couple of Jorgenson stye handscrews, they are lifesavers when it comes to work holding.
Also when we are on the subject of work holding, there is one bench accessory that is really work having:
This saw hook, doubles as a planing stop and mortising clamp. But it does have one flaw, it does not protect my bench top from my saw. To correct this set the larger block back a bit from the edge on the right hand side (if you hare right handed), that way your saw scores your hook not your bench.
Now that we have covered getting our work nice and flat and square, let’s start putting it together…
-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan