Workbench -- Which came first the Chicken or the Egg

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Forum topic by ragman posted 04-16-2009 03:53 AM 1002 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View ragman's profile


12 posts in 2751 days

04-16-2009 03:53 AM

Starting a shop from the ground up, a good workbench seems like a must. However, looking at the Chris Schwarz book on workbenches, videos all over the net, etc… everyone seems to have a bench on which to build their bench. Maybe now you can see where I came up with the title.

Many books / posts talk about having a good “reference surface” when you build your bench. On top of that, it seems like a great place to show off all your skills (mortise & tenon, bench planes, etc…), but the question I have is whether or not it’s a good place to LEARN those skills.

Just starting out with this level of woodworking, I’ve done many home projects, construction, framing, etc… but never been that concerned with this level of detail.

So do I start outfitting my shop by building a bench, or do I do some other projects first to hone my skills?

Then bench seems like a right of passage. I just don’t want to ruin or regret the experience.

Sorry if I was rambling….

11 replies so far

View PurpLev's profile


8523 posts in 3072 days

#1 posted 04-16-2009 04:14 AM

heres another point to consider – since you’re just starting out – how can you tell/know what features you NEED in a work bench? which vice will work best for YOU and YOUR requirements? what is the perfect bench height for YOU? best dimensions? bench style? clamping needs? etc..etc…

of course you will always evolve and come up with new ideas, but the point is – that when you start out, you have the least idea of what you’ll need, nor what really works best, nor what each thing does.

my suggestion to you – don’t get caught up in tring to make YOUR (THE) BENCH today… make something simple, fast, and easily replaceable. something that you can start honing your skills on it, and not be too worried about messing it up (cuts,hammers,chisels…etc) while working with this ‘first quick’ bench, you’ll start realizing what you would like to have in your bench, what works best for you, and also develop the skills to build your ultimate bench later on (M&T)/dovetails/planning/jointing…and the list goes on.

don’t worry, be happy – make something simple and start woodworking

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

View bowyer's profile


340 posts in 2819 days

#2 posted 04-16-2009 04:15 AM

Excellent topic. In the end you want your bench stable and as level as possible with what ever clamping systems built in you feel are useful. Construction is the perfect place to LEARN the joining skills you will use later. This is only my humble opion. I rebuit my bench 6 months later after I realized what I really needed in a bench. I enjoyed it each time since I learned new techniques each time. Good luck and enjoy the experience

-- If at first you don't succeed...Don't try skydiving

View ragman's profile


12 posts in 2751 days

#3 posted 04-16-2009 04:23 AM

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most if not all woodworkers that stick with it end up with multiple versions of their “THE BENCH”, right? I was thinking of taking Chris Shwarz advice and starting out with one made out of Southern Yellow Pine. The wood properties seem right, and it’s cheap, so it’s not a big loss if we have to tear it down or beat it up. Does that seem to make sense?

I was going to use one of the designs online as much for an exercise as anything.

Thanks again for the help!

View PurpLev's profile


8523 posts in 3072 days

#4 posted 04-16-2009 04:31 AM

you got that right ragman… sounds like you’ve got a good bench design to start with, The Schwarz is a good source :o)

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

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 3317 days

#5 posted 04-16-2009 04:38 AM

30 some odd years ago I built my bench and to this day…..............its still a half assed attempt

every new apprentice gets a kick at the can in his/her rendition of what they believe is a truly a well done piece of joinery, to lay the fundementals of simple mathematics in maiking several pieces of wood “fit” in such a way as to support all others…..............called to the “bench”

it would seem that most of those who chose this as their trade, and made the “bench”...................are reluctant to talk about it…................until 25 years pass…............and then they laugh at it!!!.............and if you ask them if they would do it differently…............a smile of content fills their face

I have always, and will remain thinking….........................its not what goes into the bench…......its what comes off it that counts.


-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View Marc5's profile


304 posts in 2765 days

#6 posted 04-16-2009 04:53 AM

Keep it easy and simple to start. I started with a bench consisting of a 3/4” Birch Plywood top and left over cedar 4×4’s from a deck project. I is pretty beat up but I still use it today as an staining bench in my Garage. My current bench is made of Maple & pine with 2 bench vises. It has served me well for a very long time. I recently started really getting into hand tools in the last year and I can see the need for an English style bench with more mass and better vises. I have started thinking about the size, materials, joinery that will be incorporated in the next bench. I may start building it in the fall, we’ll see? I guess I am trying to say is your bench will morph thru the years as your skills improve, and the types of projects you enjoy building. Have fun with it!

-- Marc

View cmaeda's profile


205 posts in 2978 days

#7 posted 04-16-2009 05:53 AM

I didn’t have a work bench for a long time and that was ok. I felt like I didn’t need one. It was only when I started using a lot of hand tools that I felt I really needed a work bench.

View Francisco Luna's profile

Francisco Luna

936 posts in 2817 days

#8 posted 04-16-2009 06:43 AM

I spent a lot of money, time, and efforts doing a nice workbench, those you see at the books…....Hard Maple, nice hardware, nice craftsmanship…..But at the end, the bench was so nice, that I was afraid to use it!
I received a good offer for it, and decided to sell it.
A few days ago, I picked up a bench at Craigslist, sturdy, two vises, heavy top….$180
So, you can sharp your skills on a used bench, that you can sale later, when you feel yourself ready to make a better one.

-- Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day's work. I follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain" Frank Lloyd Wright

View Pete_Jud's profile


424 posts in 3176 days

#9 posted 04-16-2009 07:34 AM

This was simple and is evolving as a great workbench. Replaceable top, and I am adding things all the time. Made with softwood 2×4 and 4×4 with locking casters. Can be moved around the shop to serve as an outfeed table, or just a work bench.

-- Life is to short to own an ugly boat.

View Damian Penney's profile

Damian Penney

1141 posts in 3415 days

#10 posted 04-16-2009 03:16 PM

Starting out you really don’t need a workbench, a solid core door on some saw horses will do in conjunction with some clamps in lieu of vises. For the longest time I used an old kitchen table from Ikea and one of those folding plastic things from Home Depot and got along just fine.

I’m not saying don’t build one, but I think you’d be better served by just banging out some smaller items first.

-- I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6819 posts in 3403 days

#11 posted 04-16-2009 03:26 PM

Hi Ragman

I agree with PurpLev. It’s tough to build a custom anything, without knowing what it will need to accomplish.

I too would start with a basic table and a. hone your skills, and b. find out what you will need, or want in a good bench.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

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