The Workbench #1: Starting to plan

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Blog entry by Tomcat1066 posted 01-07-2008 06:44 PM 1310 reads 0 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of The Workbench series Part 2: The Next Step »

OK, so I’ve run my mouth a few times here, and everyone has been great. This is truly a great community, and so I figured this would be as good a place as any to document every step of my workbench project.

First, a bit of background. I will probably not start this until moving into the new house with it’s 6’x6’ storage room that will be my workshop. It’s going to be…cozy I guess…in that room. I’ve opted to use hand tools primarily (documented in another series of mine). My workbench will need to refect this need.

In his blog, Chris Schwarz points out that different types of tools require different types of benches. A power tool user generally just needs a flat surface. Hand tool users, on the other hand, need more purpose built benches. Now, I haven’t read Chris’ book…yet (ordering it Friday), but some basic design principles he mentions on his blog is dimensions. 24” is the narrowest, and 5’ is the shortest, at least in his opinion. However, I don’t have a 20×20 shop. Hell, I don’t even have a 10×10 either!

His logic on 24” is sound. This is the width of a cabinet, likely to be the deepest piece we ever work on. Now, I don’t plan on building cabinets, at least not yet. However, 20” seems plenty deep for what I want to work on (fine furniture). The 5’ length is another tricky one. At 5’, I will have some difficulty accessing any tail vise I install except from the side of the bench. I have to decide if that’s a problem for me or not. I’m suspecting not, so 5’ sounds possible for me.

The bench needs to be sturdy and heavy since I’ll be using it for planing, cutting, chiseling, and all kinds of other woodworksie-type activities. However, I need to make it cheaply too. I’m just starting out, and I’m not comfortable spending $1000 on wood for a workbench. Luckily, Schwarz actually suggests Southern Yellow Pine for a bench. In particular, IIRC, 2×4’s and such from Lowes and Home Depot. Now, that’s right up my alley!

As for design, I’ll have to wait for the book to get here. I like the looks of the English workbench, but I really shouldn’t settle on a design style just yet. Dimensions are one thing, since I know the size of the space I’ll have to work with. But the design will take into account a lot of factors that I probably don’t even realize just yet.

The only vise system I’ve settled on is a leg vise. It’s inexpensive, and it looks like it’ll do what I want it to do. As for some form of tail vise, I’m honestly lost. I’m hoping the book will help me out there as well.

Obviously, there’s a lot to think about. I fully expect to have to build another workbench at some point in the future that better fits “me”. Unfortunately, right now I’m clueless as to what that would be. Still, it’ll be one hell of a ride finding out!

-- "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!

12 comments so far

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3982 days

#1 posted 01-07-2008 07:02 PM

Sounds good. Keep us posted.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View rpmurphy509's profile


288 posts in 3848 days

#2 posted 01-07-2008 07:21 PM

I think you’re very much on the right road, doing research and thinking about what you’ll personally be using
the bench for. Benches are a very personal item for any worker, specially wood workers. What works very
well for me may not suit your style at all.

I’m trying to imagine a 6’ x 6’ space with a bench in it and the only thing I could think of doing is a
2.5’ deep X 3-4’ long bench possibly anchored to a wall, centered so as to have a bit of room to either
side. The extra depth will kind of off-set the shortness of the bench and give some extra room to maneuver
items in the assembly or working stages. If you anchor it to a wall, you can have the stability of a heavier bench
without the mass, although it’ll still have to be well made to withstand the racking forces of hand-planing etc.

Imagine that storage will be an integral part of the design in such cramped quarters?

-- Still learning everything

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 3868 days

#3 posted 01-07-2008 07:30 PM

What a challenge in a 6×6 space. Good luck with the project.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4154 days

#4 posted 01-07-2008 07:37 PM

where’s those sketchup experts to give a look at this space..

I really like hearing the planning process—all of the factors that need to be considered PRIOR to “just building a bench”.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3790 days

#5 posted 01-07-2008 07:53 PM

Thanks folks.

As for storage within the bench, that will probably be minimal. I actually plan on using the wall behind the bench more for storage purposes as much as possible. It’s easier to reach across the bench and grab something rather than bend over an open a cabinet or drawer.

There will probably be some kind of a shelf or somethings similar on the bottom that will likely house the few power tools I’ve got. There will probably be some small drawers for odds and ends as well. I’m really not sure about that yet though.

The only issue I have with a 30” bench is the reach. Still, there’s plenty left to be considered. I appreciate all your suggestions and thoughts!

-- "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 mikeH's profile


98 posts in 4285 days

#6 posted 01-07-2008 08:19 PM

well i guess i have no room to complain, my wood pile take up more room than that (sorry)
i usually don’t write much, no time. i got chris’s book for xmas and i am about quater of the way through it.
great book so far, i have learned alot so far. after reading some of his book, you will most likely change your mind on the 5 foot part. best of luck.
i am also planning to build one myself. i think that i will use a shoulder vise and a wagon wheel screw

-- mjhaines

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3790 days

#7 posted 01-07-2008 09:37 PM


Now I’m curious. What direction will I likely change my mind? All 6 feet? Or smaller?

-- "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 gizmodyne's profile


1779 posts in 4084 days

#8 posted 01-08-2008 04:20 AM

What kind of work are you planning to do?

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3790 days

#9 posted 01-08-2008 04:25 AM


I plan on making furniture. It will be one hell of a challenge with my shop, but it’ll be even sweeter when I pull it off :D

-- "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 Eric's profile


875 posts in 3778 days

#10 posted 01-19-2008 04:15 PM

I’m planning my bench as well. It’ll mostly be a Roubo-style bench with a leg vise, but I’m also going to put in some planing stops like Ian Kirby has on his bench. (I’m going all hand tools as well.)

Looking forward to following your progress!

-- Eric at

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 3781 days

#11 posted 01-20-2008 01:50 AM

I designed and built a 5’ by 24” woodworking bench last year. SYP (Southern Yellow Pine) base and White Oak top. Some observations from what I “learned” from the experience:
1. Most people think of a woodworking bench as a table with vises added to it. When designing it, it is better to think in the reverse. The bench is actually a support for the vises covered with a top. The style, size, and function of the vises will end up being the primary factors in designing the top and base (thickness, skirt dimensions, placement of cross braces, placement of dog holes, dimensions of and between the legs, clearance between the base cross supports and the top structure, etc). I would advise buying the vise hardware first, so you have known dimensions to work from.
2. In the US, if you build the base out of pine, and your lumber source is construction lumber (i.e. Lowes, local builder’s supply) it is best to consider starting with 2×8 lumber. Around here, anything narrower is SPF (Spruce, Pine, Fir family), which is not as good as SYP in strength or workability. It will split and splinter much easier than SYP.
3. If you want a tail vise, be prepared to really do some searching for a design. I started with a picture of one made by Tag Frid and modified it. My only “hardware” was a screw assy from Lee Valley. Those I know who used the tail vise hardware that includes the metal slides to prevent rack and twist had great difficulty in getting it all to work correctly. The support structure for a tail vise will need to be hard wood. Pine is too soft to handle the stress.
4. If you are planning on using bench dogs, decide if you want square or round. If square, decide on store bought or making them yourself. If storebought, buy first so you know the correct dimensions. Square dog holes are best put in at a slight angle toward the pressure side. That means the ones in the table will be opposite inclination of the ones in the moveable (i.e. vise) portion. They are most easily cut before gluing the top together, as you can use a dado blade or router to cut the slots into the board edge.

It was a very rewarding experience for me, I learned a lot and developed new skills. The bench is a joy to use and it gets used frequently. Good luck.!! You can see pictures of my bench as I built it at
look at the folder Wood Bench

-- Go

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3790 days

#12 posted 01-20-2008 02:42 AM

Thanks Gofor! Nice bench you’ve got there!

-- "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!

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