All Replies on Not even a beginner but interested, what can I do without a workbench?

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View Zegoriah's profile

Not even a beginner but interested, what can I do without a workbench?

by Zegoriah
posted 03-14-2012 07:05 PM

27 replies so far

View Bertha's profile


13525 posts in 2689 days

#1 posted 03-14-2012 07:07 PM

Can you squeeze a WorkMate into your area? Not a bad way to get started. You know, you don’t need a fancy workbench to get started. I’m still using mine that I made 10 years ago out of Lowes 2×4s. You can work up to something nice once you know what you like. You’re picking up a great hobby:)

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View RandyM68's profile


693 posts in 2314 days

#2 posted 03-14-2012 07:15 PM

You can build anything that you are capable of, on the floor. A bench is definitely handy, but all you really need is a flat place to sqaure things up on when you assemble it. Try building some small boxes with hand tools and see if it is still fun. Then you can spend all your money on toys, I mean tools, like the rest of us.

-- I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you. I'm sorry,thanks.

View Loren's profile


10381 posts in 3644 days

#3 posted 03-14-2012 07:22 PM

Hand planing is exceptionally difficult without a workbench unfortunately.

Chisel and saw cuts can be made on a Workmate, which is a great
tool to have.

There are some primitive forms of woodworking that don’t rely on
planed boards. You can build rough-hewn work on the ground
using an adze to square your lumber for example. You can build
ladder-back chairs with green wood.

Fine dovetailed boxes and drawers require a workbench as a
reference and working surface.

Could I build a dovetailed box without a workbench? Sure, but
it would be a hassle.

There is a Japanese method of working on the floor where the
plane is pulled towards the worker and the board is held on
another board on the floor with a stop at one end, with
movement of the board controlled by the craftsman’s foot.
You sit on the floor. I can do it, but I’m quite flexible. If
you’re not accustomed to sitting on the floor and possessed
of a flexible spine you’ll find it difficult.

View chrisstef's profile


17381 posts in 3002 days

#4 posted 03-14-2012 07:27 PM

my first few projects were done off of saw horses and a piece of plywood in the driveway. be creative and dont let what you dont have hold you back, work with what ya got.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4929 posts in 3956 days

#5 posted 03-14-2012 07:35 PM

Even an old solid core door can be made to work like a champ when set on horses.
Just don’t get too caught up in the esoteric workshop requirements. Work with what ya got/can get/will fit.
I guess that makes me an old f@rt.


View Don W's profile

Don W

18710 posts in 2563 days

#6 posted 03-14-2012 07:45 PM

Almost all of Andy's work is done from a workmate. He does some absolutely fantastic work.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View KMT's profile


603 posts in 2658 days

#7 posted 03-14-2012 08:02 PM

ditto to the sawhorses or a workmate. I still have my workmate that I started with 30+ years ago.
Just go for it! All you really need is the desire.

-- - Martin

View KMT's profile


603 posts in 2658 days

#8 posted 03-14-2012 08:03 PM

Oh yeah. Welcome to Lumberjocks. You’ll get lots of help and inspiration here. :)

-- - Martin

View waho6o9's profile


8189 posts in 2573 days

#9 posted 03-14-2012 08:07 PM

Welcome to Lumberjocks and you’re going to love your new hobby. It is very satisfying to make your own furniture as opposed to purchasing junk at the store.

Have fun Zegoriah!

View Zegoriah's profile


4 posts in 2260 days

#10 posted 03-14-2012 08:12 PM

Thank you for the replies, I have a couple more questions.

I do have room for a WorkMate. In a lot of what I’ve read the heaviness of the workbench is emphasized, and since I hadn’t seen a WorkMate mentioned I was skeptical it could substitute. Glad to hear it’s workable.

I don’t see any point in buying the cheapest tools even as a rank beginner. A Japanese pull saw, a chisel or two and maybe a mallet is my current shopping list. Can you all recommend some mid-range models which will keep their edge in the hands of a novice and that I won’t want to toss in the garbage as my skills increase? Also, what size chisels do I need to find out if cutting some joints is fulfilling, or makes me want to pull out my hair, or maybe both? Do I need a plane?

No project in mind, I just want to follow along on some of the joinery tutorials on YouTube.

View Zegoriah's profile


4 posts in 2260 days

#11 posted 03-14-2012 08:16 PM

@Don W

Thanks for the link to Andy’s projects. I especially like the gate.

View Don W's profile

Don W

18710 posts in 2563 days

#12 posted 03-14-2012 08:21 PM

If you search LJ’s there are several very small versions of work benches as well. Don’t get me wrong, a good solid work bench is a joy to work off. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Plywood on a 2 x frame will work for most applications. To hand plane it needs to be solid. Attaching it to a wall does that.

Most of my hand tools come from antique shops and flea markets. You can usually find very good and even exception quality tools that just need some tlc.

Make your own mallet. Its a good project for a beginner and there is nothing more satisfying than using a tool you built. Again, search this site, lots and lots of examples.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View 8iowa's profile


1580 posts in 3757 days

#13 posted 03-14-2012 08:24 PM

I “renewed” my woodworking experience in the early 60’s in a one bedroom apartment with inexpensive hardware store tools. I used the dining room table. A local lumber yard planed my wood to thickness. Two of my early projects are still in use.

That said, a workbench is your most valuable, and dog-gone most essential tool. With a few clamps you can make almost any surface do.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View Grumpymike's profile


2238 posts in 2311 days

#14 posted 03-14-2012 08:34 PM

My first project, many years after highschool woodshop, was a bracket clock kit that came mail order.
Sanded and sanded, glued it up and used rubber bands for clamps, sanded some more and I didn’t know much about finishes then, so I rubbed in J&J paste wax like mom put on the floor using 400 grit; six coats.
30+ years later that clock sits on my desk at my office. Next month when I retire it will have a place of prominence in our home.
As I recall I paid less than $20 for the kit.
I was living in an RV trailer at the time so I did all the work at the picnic table and holding it in my lap.
“Workbench? we don’t need no stinkin’ workbench.”
Enjoy ... Mike in KC

-- Grumpy old guy, and lookin' good Doin' it. ... Surprise Az.

View RandyM68's profile


693 posts in 2314 days

#15 posted 03-14-2012 08:56 PM

I know using dimensional lumber is frowned upon here, but it’s good to practice on. It’s cheap and is already planed square. Take an 8’ pine 1×6 and cut it in half. Practice on dovetailing it back together. I should look like crap at first, so cut an inch off of each board and try again. And again, and again. By the time you have used up your four dollar board, you will either be getting the hang of it, or you will get frustrated and quit. Just be patient, if you try to do it fast, you will just mess up. Speed and skill come with practice. Take your time and enjoy yourself. You’ll get there.

-- I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you. I'm sorry,thanks.

View Zegoriah's profile


4 posts in 2260 days

#16 posted 03-14-2012 09:03 PM


I like it, that’s my plan.

View grego's profile


73 posts in 2577 days

#17 posted 03-14-2012 10:23 PM

Just got my copy of the Woodright’s Apprentice by Roy Underhill. In the first chapter he mentions a craftsman who needed to work in a place that didn’t have a workbench. He pulled up some floorboards, stood in the hole, and used the surrounding floor as his working surface.

Just another idea to consider! :-)

(His first chapter also has a design for a foldaway workbench)

View Martyroc's profile


2712 posts in 2302 days

#18 posted 03-15-2012 12:09 AM

I agree with Randy, I used dimensional lumber in the start if my wood working career, and still do on some projects now, it’s cheap and is great for parts you don’t see.

In the beginning I needed all the tools, there was no Internet when I started and no place to go for advice after acquiring so many tools I found there were only a few I truly needed. Hammer,good sharp chisels, hand plane, and a lot of patience. I have pretty much every tool I have ever wanted or thought I needed, and use them because I have them. After I use something I inevitably say to myself how I could have done that with a hand plane instead of the power plane, and it took longer to get it off the shelf out of the box and plugged in and set, the hand plane would have saved me 10 minutes.

Welcome to LJ’s, were all a little off, but the advice and help is priceless, some of us guys are not so bad when you get to know us ;-)

-- Martin ....always count the number of fingers you have before, and after using the saw.

View RandyM68's profile


693 posts in 2314 days

#19 posted 03-15-2012 12:29 AM

I bought a double edged pull saw from Harbor freight recently. It has rip teeth on one side, crosscut on the other. I can’t say how long it will stay sharp, but right now it is still sharp as hell. It may be too flexible for dovetails. but as a general purpose saw it seems to cut very fast. It was only 10 bucks on sale, 15 at regular price. You can also buy a miter box with a backsaw included for another 15 bucks at Home depot. You can cut 45 degree angles and bevels with it, and use the saw for dovetails and other fine work. You can sometimes find good tool bargains in thrift stores. Just be careful in pawn shops, you can find good deals, but a lot of them will try to charge more than retail on a new one. Never offer to pay what they are asking, find out their bottom line is. They usually try to double their money if they can, but will often take a lot less. I wish I would have known this years ago, it would have saved me a lot of money.

-- I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you. I'm sorry,thanks.

View Viktor's profile


464 posts in 3414 days

#20 posted 03-15-2012 12:37 AM

You can do anything without a workbench. I don’t have one, not even workmate or sawhorses. I work on the floor or use wooden beam.
Look at this guy’s work: That Double Bed was done in the kitchen of his rented apartment.

View doninvegas's profile


334 posts in 2903 days

#21 posted 03-15-2012 12:37 AM

Welcome Z.
Like Martin I stated out before internet and just winged it. My first bench was a solid core door and some 2×4’s. I still have it and use it every day. In fact when I built my little shop I built another one. I started by going to Lowe’s and picking up some cheap ($99) tools. Bench top table saw, a little 9” band saw, table top router table with router (I still have and use it). You can do a lot with a circular saw and a jig saw too. Don’t be intimidated by the lack of tools. You can get some inexpensive chisels and planes at Lowe’s or HD as well as your wood. And like others have said get what you need not what you want. Enjoy your journey.

-- "Courage is being scared to death -- but saddling up anyway."

View dakremer's profile


2672 posts in 3087 days

#22 posted 03-15-2012 01:45 AM

I first got into woodworking because I wanted to make furniture as well. I made my first sofa (with out much woodworking experience at all) on the floor of my apartment livingroom!! It was messy…lots of vacuuming, but thats what I had to work with at the time. Doesnt take much to start the hobby, but as you start loving it more and more, you’ll start spending more and more money on it :) :) and its worth it! :)

-- Hey you dang woodchucks, quit chucking my wood!!!!

View Woodknack's profile


11610 posts in 2376 days

#23 posted 03-15-2012 02:03 AM

Cabinetmaking (furniture) tends to require more tools than many other types of woodworking but you can build a surprising number of things with some basics. If you want to be a handtool woodworker, you’ll need a bench of some sort sooner rather than later but powertools are more forgiving if you have a flat work surface. Start out with things like benches, small cabinets, shelves, stools, side tables, etc. and don’t be afraid to use dimensional lumber. S2S (surfaced 2 sides) is commonly available and will save you from buying a planer in the short term. A good hand plane or two or three will save you from buying a jointer although they can be frustrating to use without a heavy bench. Sheet goods (plywood, mdf) are easy to work and don’t require planing. Circular saws are very versatile and are a good stop gap until you have room for a tablesaw. A tracksaw or good edge guide is invaluable. You don’t need many chisels, a 3/8 & 3/4 will probably be the most common sizes you use. A set with 1/4, 3/8, 1/2, 3/4, 1” shouldn’t set you back much. Definitely pick up a mortising chisel or two as you need them. When it comes to hand saws, bow saws are superior to most other types in many situations… the blade is always under tension and can be pushed or pulled. Definitely make your own mallet, it is a simple and satisfying project that can be completed with few tools.

-- Rick M,

View Martyroc's profile


2712 posts in 2302 days

#24 posted 03-15-2012 02:04 AM

Sorry I never commented on the workbench, the original post, got sidetracked as I read further down. I agree with several posters here, use the floor or whatever you can. I built a tremendous wall unit 24” deep , 7’ tall and 10’ wide. This was all done in my one bedroom apartment when I had just been married for 4 years. I used a dining room table, (Still n the dining room/living room at the time) we picked up at Ikea cheap, I, The table took a bit of a beating but like I said it was cheap, I had to refinish the table when I was done or the wife would have beat me to death, and used the hallway floor leading to my apartment for most of the assembly.

If you have the desire everything else you can improvise.

-- Martin ....always count the number of fingers you have before, and after using the saw.

View woodtools's profile


21 posts in 2285 days

#25 posted 03-15-2012 02:10 AM

So many great memories in all of the responses. After 30+ years in the craft and I am still learning on every project. In regards to tools, you can pick up some great quality secondhand tools at swap meets, garage sales, etc. Some of mine have become collectors choices and I use them all the time.

I recently had this “getting started” conversation with a friend after sharing some pics of recent projects. The caution I offered him was do not take on some of the hardest joinery techniques, thinking that is where you should start. This approach can become frustrating fast as the wood grains, especially when using hand tools, does not always do what you want it too. I am pretty confident that anyone with any experience will tell you they had a lot more fun after they learned how to read the grain!!

All that said, follow your passions, take on some easy projects to start, devlop your style and you will find great rewards!

View patron's profile


13603 posts in 3337 days

#26 posted 03-15-2012 02:30 AM

here is a beginner workbench
from harbor freight
for $159
you might get it cheaper with a coupon

might need some skirting after a bit to keep it solid
but should get you going

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View William's profile


9949 posts in 2838 days

#27 posted 03-15-2012 02:37 AM

Depends on what you mean by a “workbench”.
My main work surface is a table I picked up from someone’s roadside garbage. When the top of the table was damaged beyond use, I threw a piece of partical board on top of it and screwed it down. When that piece was shot, I threw another piece of particle board down and screwed it down. You get the idea.
I like my work surface just fine and have no plans or desire to build a “proper” workbench. The thing I like best about my workbench is the fact of what it is.
I’ll give you an example.
Recently, I was working on a project that I could not clamp safely for what I was doing. It would eventually have to have mounting holes in the bottom of it anyway. So, I went ahead and drilled the mounting holes and bolted it with lag bolts to my work table. Now I wouldn’t want to do that if I had a fancy work bench that I had a lot of money or work tied up in.

Worst case scenerio, my table/workench starts falling apart. I can find another one in the garbage or buy a better one at the local salvation army for dirt cheap.


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