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Best Work Bench Design for Hand Tools? Your thoughts.

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Forum topic by ChrisCarr posted 09-10-2012 02:13 PM 2485 views 0 times favorited 28 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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ChrisCarr

196 posts in 1647 days


09-10-2012 02:13 PM

I am looking to get into a lot of hand tool use and want to decided on a good workbench first. I wouldn’t mind buying one but it would have to be under $300, which doesn’t seem likely from what i have seen, so I will likely build one.

I figure the bench has to be very ridgid (mortise and tenon style i guess) and have a solid top. The top i would like to make out of 2-3 glued mdf sheets however since hardwood is too expensive. I have seen pre-made tops but they are at $250, too much for just the top.

Also the easier to build the better, i don’t want a design that has storage doors with raised panels, etc. But i don’t want a poor looking bench either.

I am wondering what is the best style workbench for mostly hand tool use? If you could post links to pictures that would be great.


28 replies so far

View Cole Tallerman's profile

Cole Tallerman

392 posts in 933 days


#1 posted 09-10-2012 02:40 PM

Buy a workbench kit from harbor freight and just use the top. It is make of hardwood and then make a simple, cheap base out of 4×4’s. If your going to be using hand tools then make sure you save some $ for a good vice! Actually, the whole bench looks good except for the legs. I would use the drawers and the top and put a new base on it.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile

Smitty_Cabinetshop

10349 posts in 1366 days


#2 posted 09-10-2012 02:53 PM

Check out this thread on LJs for ideas.

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

View waho6o9's profile

waho6o9

5288 posts in 1325 days


#3 posted 09-10-2012 02:57 PM

+1 for Smitty.

Enter workbench in the, SearchLumberJocks.com,
on the right side of the web page as well.

View crank49's profile

crank49

3522 posts in 1719 days


#4 posted 09-10-2012 03:41 PM

The HF bench top is probably less than 3/4” thick. Just has an edge that makes it look thick. Then You couldn’t get much cheaper than the base that comes with it. Whole thing is a waste of time in my opinion, for anything more than a general purpose table to screw to a wall.

I made my bench top out of two sheets of 3/4”(23/32) cabinet grade sandply. It is not bad material, 7 laminations, exterior glue, no voids or patches. My top is 24×90 and 3 1/2” thick including the replaceable masonite top layer. I banded it with 1×4 maple and it looks great to me. Don’t know anything else that I would have liked better.

I made my legs and stretchers all out of laminated plywood as well. Easy to make tennons and through mortices by leaving gaps in the layers. The whole thing weighs about 300 lbs and is rock solid. Materials were less than $300.

-- Michael :-{| “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” ― A H

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waho6o9

5288 posts in 1325 days


#5 posted 09-10-2012 03:48 PM

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jmos

681 posts in 1118 days


#6 posted 09-10-2012 03:49 PM

For bench styles, Chris Schwarz has two book out that go into great depths on the topic. I particularly like his second book (maroon cover.) You could adapt any of the designs he presents to different (read less expensive) construction methods.

For hand tool use you want heavy, and that is hard to come buy from a purchased bench in the <$300 range.

-- John

View Brett's profile

Brett

636 posts in 1431 days


#7 posted 09-10-2012 04:02 PM

ChrisCarr, are you just starting into woodworking with hand tools, or do you have power tools already (such as a jointer, a planer, a table saw, etc.)? Building a good workbench for hand tools use is not hard, but it’s much harder with hand tools than power tools.

For hand tools, you want a heavy bench with a flat top. I’m building Chris Schwarz’s Roubo bench from SYP, and all the wood costs well under $300. The metal screw for the leg vise is under $40.

I would avoid an MDF top if you want to use hand tools, as MDF is very hard on cutting edges of plane irons and chisels (due in part to the adhesives in MDF).

-- More tools, fewer machines.

View ChrisCarr's profile

ChrisCarr

196 posts in 1647 days


#8 posted 09-12-2012 10:38 PM

Do you guys think laminated construction lumber (white pine) for the frame and multi layer (contact cement bonded ) sanded pine plywood for the top would work? I would use mortise and tenons to connect the legs and stretchers. And I will add a plywood cabinet in the middle.

Would it be heavy and stable enough for hand plane and tool use?

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Brett

636 posts in 1431 days


#9 posted 09-12-2012 10:59 PM

ChrisCarr, “flatness” is more important for the top of a hand-tool workbench than for a power-tool workbench. That’s because you’ll use the bench top as a reference surface to determine whether your boards are flat or if they need to be planed some more. If you can make the top out of plywood and feel confident that it will stay flat to within 1/16” or 1/32”, then go for it. But if it ever warps, you’ll have a harder time making it flat again if the top is made out of plywood. A benchtop made out of solid wood can be planed flat if it ever warps.

“Heaviness” is also more important for a hand-tool workbench. I’ve read comments from knowledgeable workbench experts that a 100-lb bench is far too light. A southern yellow pine Roubo-style workbench with a 4” thick top (for example) will likely weigh over 300 pounds. You’re better off trying to make sure your bench weighs closer to 200 lbs (or more) than 100 lbs if you’ll do a lot of planing.

The important things here are the ends, not the means. Make your bench heavy with a flat top (one that you can keep flat) and you’ll be fine.

-- More tools, fewer machines.

View ChrisCarr's profile

ChrisCarr

196 posts in 1647 days


#10 posted 09-12-2012 11:37 PM

Brett, do you think white pine for a frame is flat enough if the top is something heavy such as hard maple?

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jmos

681 posts in 1118 days


#11 posted 09-12-2012 11:43 PM

I used LVL (laminated veneer lumber) for my top; got the design from Schwarz’s book. Not terribly expensive and easy to come by. It’s 1/8” thick layers of SYP laminated together. You can check my blog for lots of info.

I tend to agree with Brett though, flattening in the future could be dicey with a plywood top. Maybe plywood with a top layer of solid wood (hard or soft) so you can flatten a few times. Also agree on weight; I had a ~100lb bench and it’s now my TS outfeed table; just didn’t cut it for hand tool work. I’d be planing with one foot on the stretcher of the bench to hold it in place. My new bench top alone is over 200lb; much nicer to work on. Now, you don’t have to get all that mass from the wood in the bench, a shelf loaded with cinder blocks can add mass too.

-- John

View Arlin Eastman's profile

Arlin Eastman

2250 posts in 1309 days


#12 posted 09-12-2012 11:44 PM

Chris

I think the very best bench for hand tools is one that also holds all of your hand tools. I made a drawing of one for me in a wheelchair and with wheels, however, it can be modified to be taller then 32”

I will show a picture when my buddy is done with in in a computer drawing.

-- It is always the right time, to do the right thing.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile

Smitty_Cabinetshop

10349 posts in 1366 days


#13 posted 09-12-2012 11:54 PM

I’ve seen benches built that provisioned a torsion-box style of lower shelf that allowed for sand to be filled in to add weight. Are you thinking Roubo, Chris, or some other style? An english workbench isn’t as heavy, but is certainly geared towards hand work. It’s dimension SYP, too, available at the BORG depending on where you are.

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

View rustynails's profile

rustynails

488 posts in 1277 days


#14 posted 09-13-2012 12:06 AM

View ChrisCarr's profile

ChrisCarr

196 posts in 1647 days


#15 posted 09-13-2012 12:21 AM

I like a style similar to this (i am not sure the name lol).....

http://www.lie-nielsen.com/catalog.php?sku=1-B-LNA

I like that style but with cabinets in the center and a plywood or mdf top. That was my idea.

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