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

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Forum topic by Zegoriah posted 03-14-2012 07:05 PM 1557 views 0 times favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4 posts in 2228 days

03-14-2012 07:05 PM

Topic tags/keywords: beginner workbench no workbench dovetail joinery question

I want to give woodworking a try without spending a bunch on something that I really don’t know much about. My only experience in woodworking is a year or two of shop class in Junior High a couple of decades ago. My main interest is furniture and while I could use a bookcase, the end product at this point is of minimal importance.

The local community college does not have any courses in woodworking. I don’t have a workbench or even room for one. That will change, but it will be several months before my garage is cleared out. Primarily for space reasons, but also because I admire a lot of the furniture made by woodworkers who emphasize hand tools, I’d like to start there.

Any alternatives to a workbench? If not, what can I make without one?

Dovetail joints seem pretty key in making furniture. Is this, or some other type of joinery, a good place to start?

27 replies so far

View Bertha's profile


13521 posts in 2657 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 2282 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


10252 posts in 3612 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


17305 posts in 2970 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

4901 posts in 3924 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

18685 posts in 2531 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 2626 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 2626 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


8162 posts in 2541 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 2228 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 2228 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

18685 posts in 2531 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 3725 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


2232 posts in 2279 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 2282 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.

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