New Workbench #1: The search for the perfect Bench

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Blog entry by SanJoe posted 01-01-2009 08:31 AM 17162 reads 1 time favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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Its time to replace my old workbench. I’ve been using a bench I built years ago from a Norm Abrams design. I had just purchased my old 1906 Home after watching too many series of This Old House and thought, ” I could do that”. I watched Norm work on a number of old houses and knew at the time, the only way I could afford a large home that was exactly like I wanted would be to buy an old house in need of work and then renovate it to exactly what I would like to see. This was so long ago, that Bob Villa was still the host! During those shows, I was always impressed with Norm Abrams and his abilities to renovate and work in wood. Shortly thereafter, Norm started his own series “New Yankee Workshop”. I quickly purchased the New Yankee Workshop Plan Book and started to build a workbench based on the plans in that book. It worked out well when I needed it. I’ve had it for about 16 years now. Its served me well, but it has its short comings and I just need a new Workbench.

Here is a picture of the old bench
My Old Workbench

As you can see, it is still in pretty good shape, and well used. It has an interesting vise that I essentially built from Hard Rock Maple and a screw vise that I believe I purchased from the internet a long time ago..

Vise Close up from the old workbench

There are a number of things that I don’t like about it, besides the limited functionality of the vise. The tool tray is always full of tools and clutter. I don’t know about you guys, but mine always looks like the photo below. So, I am considering not putting in a tool tray, as I will just clutter it up!

Cluttered Workbench Tool Tray

As you can see from the picture below, I need to finsih some of the doors from my old house and I cant get them on the bench and use the vise to secure them. So, I obviously need a longer bench, as I have 13 doors to finish in my house! So, the new bench will need to be longer…

Workbench is just too short for doors!

5 comments so far

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 3465 days

#1 posted 01-01-2009 09:35 AM

Mate you dont need to ditch the tool tray, you need to get a trash can! Build some under bench storage on your next workbench and put all your small tools in there. I like the small end vice, it looks handy for holding stock for planning and could just be the solution im looking for. How does it perform for you? Look forward to the project.

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3819 days

#2 posted 01-01-2009 02:41 PM

If you haven’t read it already, I highly suggest Chris Schwarz’s book Workbenches: From Design and Theory to Construction and Use. He really talks about the pros and cons of a great many workbench features. Like you, he finds that tool trays tend to attract clutter, though I believe he refers to them as rats nests or something similar. Really, most folks I’ve talked to who’ve read it agree that it seems to be the seminal text on workbenches.

That wagon vise you’ve got on your bench currently is actually pretty good for a lot of things, but I wouldn’t want that as my only vise. Perhaps adding a face vise of some type in the mean time will make your bench a bit more functional for you until you have a chance to build you a new bench.

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 3751 days

#3 posted 01-01-2009 03:23 PM

Chris also has a really enjoyable blog. He are his entries on benches:,category,Workbenches.aspx

View dsb1829's profile


367 posts in 3650 days

#4 posted 01-02-2009 03:14 AM

That style of end vise (wagon vise) has one distasteful trait, it makes the effective length of work 6-8in shorter than the bench you install it on. I really like the design and implementation otherwise.

I chose a quick release vise on my new bench. It allows me to work material that is 8-10in longer than the benchtop. Twin screw vises are also a decent option for stretching the workholding capacity of your bench.

With my current bench I was able to produce 101.5” length with 8’ sheet mdf as the main surface. Check my blog for the series, it is still in the build phase but is coming along nicely.

-- Doug, woodworking in Alabama

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 3897 days

#5 posted 01-26-2009 07:16 PM

I like your old bench. Before you take it to the dump let me know, I may have a good home for it :)

But I can’t wait to see what you come up with for the new bench.

-- Happy woodworking!

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