Yet another thread on workbenches

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Forum topic by Greg In Maryland posted 09-22-2011 11:45 PM 1525 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Greg In Maryland

553 posts in 3027 days

09-22-2011 11:45 PM

Topic tags/keywords: workbench

Ok, so I am about to begin the lamination process for my 1st attempt at a real work bench with dog holes, vises and flat. The previous piece of plywood on sawhorses does not count. I’ve read as much as I could on the subject: Schwartz, Landis, Popular Woodworking, Wood Magazine, Fine Woodworking, Shopnotes, Woodsmith, American Woodworker, Woodworker’s Journal, etc. and I have come to the realization that for me, most of the benches are way too low. Based on my height (fortunately, not weight) they mostly seem to advocate a bench near 34 to 36 inches high. That just seems too low to me and I have visions of significant back aches under that scenario. Instead, I am looking at something around 38 to 39 inches.

What I really need is a bench that will assist me in creating joinery and final stock preparation, not a bench for working on rough stock. I just don’t see how creating tenons, mortices, rabbets, dados, tongue and grooves, dovetails, benefit from a lower bench. Isn’t a Moxon vise just a way to temporarily increase the bench height?

Here’s where I am coming from. I have power tools. I have hand tools. I use both. I am content in letting my jointer and planer do what they do best, make noise, make wood chips, fill up my dust collector and smooth rough lumber. I hope that by the time a piece of wood gets to my bench, it will only need minor finishing with a bench plane, smoother or scraper, not significant work with a scrub plane, a jack plane, or jointer. I realize that the significant trade off is that smoothing rough lumber will be quite difficult on a high bench. I will be forced to use my upper body to plane, not my entire body. Been there and done that, but I don’t think that I will suddenly turn into a Ray Underhill disciple and get rid of my planer and jointer.

Anyways, how do other Lumberjocks separate the stock preparation and joinery phases on their workbenches? Do you suffer though a short bench for everything or move to a higher bench for joinery? Or am I completely missing the boat on this?



7 replies so far

View HorizontalMike's profile


7758 posts in 2943 days

#1 posted 09-22-2011 11:59 PM

My recent workbench was built at a fraction over 34in in order to serve multipurpose life between assembly/fabrication, and as an outfeed table for my TS. I am just average height at 5ft 9in so 34in is probably relatively higher for me than what you probably need. Actually, when making my workbench base, I actually had to stand on my workout bench on occasion while working on the M&T joints.

That said, I do understand the occasional need for a taller bench in order to ease the lower back pains. IMO, if you have all of your infeed/outfeed needs addressed then build it to your desired height. I guess it all depends on how much floor space you have in your shop and your other needs. You could always cut the legs down later if it works out as too tall.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15369 posts in 2647 days

#2 posted 09-23-2011 12:07 AM

I have a bench that is as high as my table saw, about 34” or so. Why? It seemed to be a good reference point when I built the bench; everything I did was just ‘used to’ working at that height. Since then, when cutting and chiseling out dozens of dovetails, it did seem at times I was bent over alot. I’ve even considered one of those secondary jointer’s mini-bench things that would bring the work closer to my eyes. But I’ve not done much more than think about it; it’s not a huge issue / pain / inconvenience. I did do lots of material prep, and know that the bench height was right for that. Just as reaching across a wider panel was a pain, having the work too high would have been no fun at all. No strength when I’d need it.

That said, it’s obvious that taking material off of legs that prove to be too long is easier than adding length back. You’ve got an interesting point, one that I think is valid based on the way you plan on using your new bench. So make it taller and try it. If all works well, you’re done. If not, take a couple inches off at a time until you are pleased (as Mike suggests). Makes sense to me.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View Belg1960's profile


1072 posts in 3094 days

#3 posted 09-23-2011 02:37 AM

I was just watching a video about making dovetails by Frank Klausz, in it he says that his ideal bench height is when he holds his hands at his side and bends them at a right angle what ever that measurement is to the floor is what he made his bench at. Sorry for the runon sentence.

-- ***Pat*** Rookie woodworker looking for an education!!!

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3677 days

#4 posted 09-23-2011 02:48 AM

I made my bench at 32.5 which would allow me to use handplanes comfortably on it. I find that using hand planes, scrapers, and chiseling mortises and dovetails is easier that way as you do not put too much effort having to keep your elbows up above the workbench – if I had made it a few inches higher I would run into serious fatiguing, plus it would still not be high enough for router and power tool usage (for my taste). for routing purposes I would want to raise it at least another 10-20 inches to be really comfortable. I dont use much power tools on the workbench at the moment, so this is not an issue, but I am planning on making an extention bench that will raise work pieces by another 10-20 inches higher.

I am glad I went “lower” as most of the work I do requires me to look down and have my arms over the work piece – and I use a jointer and planer when I mill my lumber as well.

Click for details

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3187 days

#5 posted 09-23-2011 04:13 AM

I will have everything at 34” eventually, for the exact same reason Smitty said. It’s comfortable since it’s what i’m used to. But there is no reason why you couldn’t make one taller, especially if you don’t do prep work on boards or if you need your work closer to your eyes. I was thinking that if I ever did something like carving, I’d want something a little taller.

For me, there will also be times when I will need the uniform height to allow long boards to come off my table saw, so not only will my out feed table be that high, but so will the main workbench just beyond that. In a smallish shop, it’s something you have to think about. Might not be a problem for you.

-- jay,

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2719 days

#6 posted 09-23-2011 05:44 AM

I think this is a very personal choice depending on you and your situation. I am 6’4” tall and very near sighted so I need my work higher than a short guy who is far sighted. My bench, tablesaw, etc are 39” and work well FOR ME.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View maljr1980's profile


171 posts in 2485 days

#7 posted 09-25-2011 04:54 AM

i seem to blessed, my work bench at work is a 3/4” 5×10 sheet of mdf attached to 4” wooden I beams, and it sits on top of an Aerdon hydraulic scissor lift platform :) so i can raise it from a 12” working height up to a 48” height or so

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