I started woodworking in my early 20s (many year ago). Prior to this the only real exposure to woodworking I had was building remote controlled model aircroft out of balsa. I started by taking a year long rough carpentry course at a local community college. What does this have to do with workbenchs you wonder.. I believe a well designed workbench starts with your experience with workbenches. Thinking back I have had the oppourtunity to use a few workbenches and there are a few things I discovered before starting my design.
1. Workbenches need to be rigid – the more rigid the better. when you are planing a peice of wood by hand or cutting dovetails by hand if the bench moves (even slightly) it will make throw off the accuracy of what you are doing.
2. Workbenches need to deaden blows – when you are chopping a mortise or cutting dovetails you don’t want your work to jump or move which will happen if your bench cannot ‘cushion’ the blow of the mallet. Generally this is done by adding weight in the form of a slab top.(I would love to hear other opinions regarding this)
3. Workbenches should be flat – After finishing the bench I would argue that almost flat should be close enough.
So armed with these basics I started looking at other peoples benches, I am partial to shaker design so thats where I started. I quickly realized that most (if not all) shaker benches(the originals at least) were FAR to big for my tiny shop (by tiny I mean less than 200 square feet). So I began collecting all the articles I could about benches and started picking out smaller ones and elements of the larger ones that I felt could translate into a smaller space. The one article that I felt really helped came out of FWW about an extra small bench being as good as a larger one. (if you are really interested let me know and I’ll see if I can dig it out). For those people out there who are thinking about a bench a 6ft top (length) would be more then sufficient.
Once I decided on the elements I wanted included based on the pictures and articles I had seen I needed to decide on size. To be honest I decided the size of the base by planning it around a full sheet of plywood (48”).
Before I go on let me say that if I were to do this again the best way to approach the design is to treat the top and the base as 2 seperate projects. Starting with the base; decide on what you want it look like in terms of storage and height. Then think about what needs to go into the top: this may include vises, bench dogs, chip clearing and any other item that may project into the area of the base.
Here are a few things which I would highly recommend thinking about while designing your own bench:
1. bench dogs – use the round ones they are superior. (and way easier to install)
2. bench dogs must be accessible from the bottom, don’t place them in the middle of the bench otherwise clearing sawdust from them is nigh on impossible.
3. top drawer/ bench top clearance. Be sure you have at least 3.5 inches of clearance between them.
4. Often things hang below the top level of the bench whether that be clamps or wood or bench dogs, these things all get in the way of drawer/door opening – think about it.
5. Purchase all the hardware first understand completely how it works before you start building.(e.g. tail vise harware)
6. think of the bench as a way to improve your skills, don’t try anything completely new (i.e. don’t try handcut dovetails for the first time on your bench, you will either have to waste alot of lumber or look at a poorly made joint for a long time.
So thats the basics, of how I started and finished the design, I must admit the design is the best and hardest part of this project. There is lots I left out like bench height, backsplash, wood selection and lighting. Anyone with questions is welcome to email me directly and I will try to answer them as best I can.
Cheers for now,
Up next building:step 1
-- Derek Tay, Venerate the Tree Design