Building a Top-Notch Workbench- for under $250 #2: More on what I want from this bench and why...

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Blog entry by Kenny posted 02-19-2012 05:24 AM 7957 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Overview: What this bench will be, what it won't be, and why... Part 2 of Building a Top-Notch Workbench- for under $250 series Part 3: Why I'm going to make a separate "power-tool workstation" »

I have worked on a tiny bench for way too long now. My current bench is apprx. 22” x 28”, has one vise that is too small with a chop that is too big, and it the most frustrating piece of equipment in my shop, bar none. It’s so small that I knock everything off of it while working, I can’t handplane long boards on it, the list of this bench’s shortcomings is just endless. With one exception, it is very sturdy and it doesn’t rack much at all or move while planing on it. How is this possible? I lagged it to my concrete floor.

This new bench, to more correctly describe it’s design than I had in my earlier post, will be a sort of mix of the Roubo and Holtzapffel designs, with some of my own ideas as well. The main reason I am looking at this type of bench is, first, it’s simplicity and extremely robust construction. The second, is that this design allows for a much wider range of work-holding options than a bench with a deep apron and legs inset from the edge of the top.
And as a last point, it is my opinion that a bench that relies on it simply being massive for it’s strength will hold-up better over time than a bench that relies on tight joinery alone. Especially when it’s built from a relatively soft wood as I will be doing.

I also want a bench that is heavy and sturdy enough that it won’t move while planing, but doesn’t need to be bolted down like my current bench so that I can move it if I need to. This will be a major plus and the end of a long-running headache!

Now, onto work-holding, vises and other amenities.
I decided I wanted wooden vise screws after trying a set on an old bench I saw a while back. It worked very fast and held very, very tight. It also had a better “feel” to it than any metal screw vise I had used before. I was instantly in love.
I had initially wanted to use Lake Erie Tool Works wooden screws for the vises, and then I saw the price. Nope. Just way more money than I can afford. To buy just the basic kits for my planned set-up, at $120 a piece, I’d be at $600 right there, more than doubling my projected total cost just on vise hardware! I had to find another way.
One option was to simply use pipe clamps. But they’re just not what I want for this bench, and definitely won’t make for a “Top-Notch” bench by any stretch. So, what else is there?
Then I found the Beall Wood Threader, perfect! Granted, it only cuts a 1-1/2” diameter thread with 5tpi, but if I use a solid hardwood, I’m pretty sure I’ll be fine. Anyway, if I have the threader, I can simply replace a screw should I ever have an issue. And at less than $100, it fit the budget too.

Because my bench will reside in the center of one area in my shop, and such will not be against a wall, I plan to make the best of this and set up each side with a different type of vise.
One side will use a large twin-screw vise, which will be used for dovetailing, cutting tenons and other end-grain work. The other side will use a leg-vise, sliding deadman and a removable crochet, which is a good set-up for edge jointing long stock and other tasks which need a similar work-holding arrangement.
The end-vise will be another, slightly smaller, twin-screw.

That pretty much wraps up what the bench will be. Once I get materials ans start the actual work, I’ll apdate again.

-- Kenny

3 comments so far

View Dallas's profile


64 posts in 2958 days

#1 posted 02-19-2012 05:49 AM

My bench base is made of soft wood. I was worried the whole thing might slide with heavy planing. Two things helped solve this problem. 1) A removable bottom shelf that rests on cleats – you can drop weight on the shelf (dumbbells, other tools, your kid brother). 2) Place all 4 legs on the edges of anti-fatigue mats – I bought two 7 foot lengths from Home Depot, and they are a dream to stand on.

The two didn’t become the eyesores like I expected they would be.

-- If a tree falls in the neighbor's woods, and no one is there to hear it...can you take it home, mill it and turn it into a coffee table without your neighbor making a sound?

View hhhopks's profile


651 posts in 2371 days

#2 posted 02-19-2012 01:37 PM

Good luck.
I think it is possible. You will need to keep your eyes on CL/paper/GS/ES….to get the good deals.

The bench that I am building may be close to that, but I have not total things out lately. I got all the materials, vises, and major hardware but something may pop up. I am comfortable of claiming the cost to date is around $250.
I did find some very good deals. Here is what I got so far:

  1. Two 3-1/4×12x85 laminated hard maple for the top (bowling alley floor in 2×4s for $75???).
  2. 5×5x30 oak legs (old timber from heavy construction to keep equipment off the ground, 6×6x144, $20????)
  3. Quick release End vise ($25 estate sale, requires cleanup).
  4. Front vise qr ($75 on sale new).
  5. Maple/Walnut pieces (CL $???).
  6. Salavage some long bolts/nuts from work (metal scrap bin $0.00).
  7. A lot of glue.
  8. Locking wheels/hinges (Wheel are from Ebay $50-60?). It is supposed to be a mobile WB.

With that said, I didn’t include the cost of my time and I am 2 years behind schedule and I am still not done : )
If this is a real work project, I would of gotten fired.

-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

View Kenny 's profile


260 posts in 2442 days

#3 posted 02-19-2012 04:51 PM

Thanks for the support. This too has been a “project in the making” for a long time now. Or, as Charles Neil would say, I’ve been “fixin to” make this bench for long while now.

There is one more piece of the puzzle I would like to purchase before I get too deeply embedded in the construction phase, and that is Christopher Schwarz’s Workbench’s: from design and theory, to construction and use. Though I may add his Workbench Design book to the list also.

Though is all honesty, I doubt my ideas or plans will change much regardless. I have a pretty detailed idea of what I want both drawn on paper and in my head, and in my eyes, there is little that could be done to improve upon it at this point.
I have spent countless hours over the past year or more researching different benches, looking at different types of vises and other work-holding accessories, and thinking about how I work, what I build, what I aspire to build, and tools I use now and those I want to but in the future.
I have took much of this into consideration and come up with what I feel is the best bench for me, personally. It may not work for everyone, but I think it could suit a large majority of woodworkers who use a combination of hand and power tools.


-- Kenny

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