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Things I realized AFTER I built my workbench

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Forum topic by Billy E posted 05-09-2016 06:18 PM 1495 views 2 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Billy E

162 posts in 1543 days


05-09-2016 06:18 PM

Topic tags/keywords: workbench

I did plenty of researching prior to designing and building my workbench. However, there are plenty of things I realized only AFTER I built my workbench that might have had me doing things a little differently.

1) I use holdfasts a lot. Probably 10x more than the leg or tail vise. Before I had a decent bench for them, I thought holdfasts were a novelty item from old Roubo drawings. I seriously believe I could design a perfectly functional bench with no vise, using holdfasts alone.

2) The common 3/4” bench dog size is too small. I’m sure this is controversial. I bored all my 3/4” holes to 1 1/32” and couldn’t be happier. Of course parts are a little harder to come by, but 1” holdfasts do a much better job than 3/4” versions, and 1” bench dogs hold up when 3/4” dogs flex. I suppose if you use brass dogs and don’t use holdfasts, 3/4” is fine.

3) My 4 1/4” benchtop is fine, but certainly not too thick and I think if I had the time I’d go to 5”. I cringe when I see people trying to use 2” thick benchtops. I’ve been there. I didn’t know what a handicap it was.

4) I’ve used benchtops from hard maple and from syp construction lumber. I’d choose the latter any day.

5) My plan was to put my bench against the wall but that hasn’t worked out. Its in the center of my shop and I routinely use all sides of it.

Anyone else have thoughts?

-- Billy, Florence SC


13 replies so far

View knotscott's profile (online now)

knotscott

7211 posts in 2838 days


#1 posted 05-09-2016 07:02 PM

Curious why you prefer the syp construction lumber over hard maple?

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

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Billy E

162 posts in 1543 days


#2 posted 05-09-2016 08:44 PM


Curious why you prefer the syp construction lumber over hard maple?

- knotscott

There are a few reasons, some more valid than others I think. First, of course I like that syp is much cheaper and allows, with the same budget, to build a much more substantial bench. Second, both of them will get scarred from an errant chisel strike, but the SYP is easier to clean up. Third, SYP, maybe due to being a little bit softer or maybe due to the resin content, has a little bit of a tacky character to it. These are hard to describe and it has a lot to do with feel.

I’ll say that the construction lumber benches (mine included) do not look nearly as impressive as the hardwood benches and I’m sure they both do the job just fine. It’s just a preference thing I guess.

-- Billy, Florence SC

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RD87

16 posts in 265 days


#3 posted 05-10-2016 01:11 AM

Can you expand on you comment about bench thickness? I am currently building a fold-up bench to be attached to my garage wall. I would rather have a regular bench in the middle of my garage, but space is at a premium and I need to put a car in there every so often. In a 1 car garage, a bench that folds up to about 6 inches (including legs and frame pieces along the wall) is my only choice.

It will be about 1 3/4 thick, and I don’t want to make it any thicker due to weight. What issues have you had with thinner benches?

Thanks,
Rob

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Billy E

162 posts in 1543 days


#4 posted 05-10-2016 12:16 PM



Can you expand on you comment about bench thickness? I am currently building a fold-up bench to be attached to my garage wall. I would rather have a regular bench in the middle of my garage, but space is at a premium and I need to put a car in there every so often. In a 1 car garage, a bench that folds up to about 6 inches (including legs and frame pieces along the wall) is my only choice.

It will be about 1 3/4 thick, and I don t want to make it any thicker due to weight. What issues have you had with thinner benches?

Thanks,
Rob

- RD87

Rob,
The lighter the bench, the easier it is to move. In your case, you want one that moves easily. Even more so, you need to be able to fold it up against a wall. My bench top is 4.25” thick, and the legs and stretchers are 4.25” square. It’s 36” tall (I’m 6’5”), 27” wide, and just shy of 9’ long. I thought it would be impossible to move but its not. In fact, I have actually moved it from time to time doing heavy work like traversing a board with a #8 plane. I’d prefer that it be even heavier and not slide at all no matter what I’m doing. I previously had a smaller bench that was 1.5” thick maple top, 6’ long, about 25” wide. Due to its light weight, I couldn’t plane or saw on it at all without bracing it against a wall. You’re in a tough situation in that a bench that moves easily when you want it to is probably going to move when you don’t want it to. By the way, I don’t know how relevant the discussion is if you use mostly power tools. Hand tools require a much more substantial bench.
Billy

-- Billy, Florence SC

View jonmakesthings's profile

jonmakesthings

68 posts in 281 days


#5 posted 05-10-2016 01:47 PM

Hmm thanks for your insight. I want to build a bench before long and these are good to keep in mind. I wish I could put mine somewhere other than against the wall but in my case I just don’t think I have any other option with my shop being so small

-- How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?

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Billy E

162 posts in 1543 days


#6 posted 05-10-2016 02:32 PM

If its not an option, then I’m sure it will work against a wall. You might just find yourself having to reposition your work more often.

-- Billy, Florence SC

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Billy E

162 posts in 1543 days


#7 posted 05-17-2016 11:56 AM

I should add one more:

Everything I read suggested that the sliding deadman was optional and something I might use occasionally. I have found that I use it almost every time I use the leg vise.

-- Billy, Florence SC

View BinghamtonEd's profile

BinghamtonEd

2281 posts in 1832 days


#8 posted 05-17-2016 12:16 PM



Hmm thanks for your insight. I want to build a bench before long and these are good to keep in mind. I wish I could put mine somewhere other than against the wall but in my case I just don t think I have any other option with my shop being so small

- jonmakesthings

My shop size is pretty small, so I had to position mine against the wall. The biggest complaints I have, in regards to that, is that I can’t clamp the work down and work from both sides, and pieces much wider than my 26” deep benchtop require extra support off the front or side (as opposed to being able to center them on the benchtop). But, even with the downfalls considered, it’s worlds better than not having a decent bench. For what its worth, mine 2” thick (with a wider front apron), laminated douglas fir, with 3/4” dog holes, and the holdfasts work fine.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View rwe2156's profile (online now)

rwe2156

2192 posts in 944 days


#9 posted 05-17-2016 12:24 PM

A couple comments after building 2 benches:

I think every one has their own “style” of working on a bench. My benches are mostly used for stock prep and joinery. Most of the heavy pounding is with mortising and for this I use a power mortiser.

Plus, I think you adapt your style to the bench to some extent. That being said, once you’ve been ww’ing for a while, you have a much better idea what you need in a bench, for example your sliding deadman. I’ve never used one the only application is jointing wide boards and I do most of that on a power jointer. For me, an adjustable bench slave works fine.

Another example, I tend to clamp a piece between bench dogs using an end vise or tail vise to hold stock face down. For jointing the edge of a wide board, I simply clamp one end in the vise and the other with a clamp across the bench top.

Thickness: both my bench tops are 2 1/2” thick. One is SYP the other hard maple. The front apron strip with the dog holes on the maple bench is 4” thick. I think that’s all you need. Over 4” is unnecessary IME.

Dog holes vs. vise: the aggravation of tightening/untightening a bench hook in lieu of a vise? Not for me.

Bench hooks: standard bench hooks have ample holding power I don’t know why one would need 1”.

The one thing I question on the bench I just completed is the tool tray.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

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splatman

558 posts in 862 days


#10 posted 05-17-2016 06:20 PM

Can you expand on you comment about bench thickness? I am currently building a fold-up bench to be attached to my garage wall.
It will be about 1 3/4 thick, and I don t want to make it any thicker due to weight. What issues have you had with thinner benches?

Thanks,
Rob

- RD87

Rob,
In fact, I have actually moved it from time to time doing heavy work like traversing a board with a #8 plane. I d prefer that it be even heavier and not slide at all no matter what I m doing.
Billy

- Billy E

Attaching the bench to the wall (use heavy-duty hinges) means it’s not gonna move no matter how hard you plane.
Thicker is still better because the greater mass is less likely to bounce when using a hammer or mallet.
To find out whether you can lift a 4” top, gather enough lumber to build ½ the top, and pick it up. The wall will bear the other ½ of the top’s weight, even when you fold it up.

Lets say your bench top will be 8’ long by 28” wide. You did not say how long or wide you’re going to build it. A 8’ x 28” x 4” top made of SYP will weigh ~217lbs. So if you can easily lift 109.5lbs, than a 4”-thick top will not be a problem. And a bit of exercise, to boot.
If 109lbs is too much, a system of weights and pulleys can be use to counterbalance the weight. Cannot think at this time how/where to attach the ropes/chains where they will not be in the way.

View jonmakesthings's profile

jonmakesthings

68 posts in 281 days


#11 posted 05-17-2016 08:48 PM


Attaching the bench to the wall (use heavy-duty hinges) means it s not gonna move no matter how hard you plane.
Thicker is still better because the greater mass is less likely to bounce when using a hammer or mallet.

- splatman

Maybe find a way to secure the bench to the ground when its pulled put to prevent bouncing from mallet blows? Some sort of latch bolted into the concrete (if its not a trip hazard of course) that lines up with the legs

-- How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?

View Planeman40's profile

Planeman40

805 posts in 2224 days


#12 posted 05-18-2016 03:54 PM

Back in the mid 1970’s I built the Tage Frid workbench from drawings in the Oct 1, 1976 edition of Fine woodworking (http://www.finewoodworking.com/workshop/article/work-bench.aspx) and love it! It is well thought out. Unfortunately Fine Woodworking does not offer a plan.

I view the bench as a work holding tool and not a pounding and gluing bench and use another assembly table for that. I have come to the conclusion that a mid size bench is best for most of us as workshop space is at a premium. In all of these years I have never found anything this bench couldn’t comfortably handle including firmly holding a large door on edge for planing. I recommend not considering a huge bench as it will consume the usually limited shop space and will just accumulate more junk to have to move when using it.

Planeman

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View OSU55's profile

OSU55

1056 posts in 1452 days


#13 posted 05-18-2016 04:31 PM

RD87 – it wouldn’t be difficult to design a rope and pulley system to lift your bench up against the wall, making the bench weight irrelevant.

I gotta agree with rwe2156 – everyone has their style, and will adapt a style to the equipment/methods used. I see no benefit to holdfasts, but the op loves them.

As for having a thick top just for weight – there are 2 other options: weight the bench (sand, rocks, tools?) or fasten to the floor – easy to do, and to undo if the bench needs moved. Thicker tops allow pounding the hell out of something anywhere on the bench, but if it takes that much pounding it may need a bit of trimming (does depend on what is being built). It’s kinda like forcing things together with super clamps – just building in stress into glue joints that come apart later.

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