I think it’s fair to say that every woodworker needs a workbench.
While my portable, collapsible bench has served me well so far and would get you out of a tight spot in an emergency, it isn’t really up to par when it comes to “proper woodworking”.
This is in part down to the fact that it has no vice and second because it is just not beefy enough to be a solid support when carrying out tasks such as planing stock.
So, I needed a workbench. Naturally, having no substantial knowledge about workbenches, I didn’t know what features I wanted or indeed what style or size it should be. So I began by doing a lot of research on the internet. And I mean A LOT!!
After reading countless forums and watching a number of Youtube videos, my conclusion was this:
The answer to the question “What makes a good workbench” is as varied as the answers to the question “What makes a good car”.
For different people with differing objectives, preferences and expectations, the answer will be totally different.
I decided that I needed some help. A book that was recommended time and again (on various forums and YouTube channels) was Chris Schwarz’s book on workbenches: Workbenches from Design & Theory to Construction & Use.
After buying the book and reading it cover to cover, I was much more informed and prepared to tackle my workbench build…… Or so I thought.
The book is great and introduces the reader to the kind of thought processes that should be undertaken when looking to build your own ideal workbench. The book then translates this theory into application by giving designs and build instructions for two workbenches that are ideal for the modern woodworker who uses hand tools. There are a good many principles that I have learned from this book and I would highly recommend it to anyone.
I eagerly set off with my intention to build a Roubo Style bench as detailed in Chris’s book. However I swiftly came across my first major problem.
Wood is expensive.
OK, not ALL wood is expensive, but the kind of woods I had read about in my research (Douglas Fir, Southern Yellow Pine, beech etc) were way above my budget, especially when you are looking to build a workbench with a 4″ thick top and 5″ x 5″ legs!
If I am honest I didn’t have a set budget, but I knew that whatever it was, £500+ for the wood alone was way above it. So at this point I began looking at alternatives, maybe I could use construction grade timber or rough sawn. In the UK the difference between Planed All Round (PAR) or rough sawn can make quite a difference.
It was at this point that I came across a series of videos on YouTube by Paul Sellers. Paul has produced an 11 video series on building a workbench.
The workbench would comfortably be described to be what is popularised as an “English Style” workbench, a descendant of the “Nicholson Workbench” a design from the 19th Century. Paul states that he has been working on benches of this design for decades, so they clearly can stand the test of time! What is refreshing about Paul’s approach is that he is building a stout, functional workbench yet looking to do it in an affordable manner. He also pitches his videos at the novice woodworker or for those who have yet to build their first bench.
For more details on Paul’s video series, please see here.
Another excellent bench build that I found on the internet was by Bob Rozaieski. Interestingly, Bob has a similar design to Paul, but with a few features either added or removed. To see more details about Bob’s bench build, click Here.
I like both benches for one very simple reason, they require much less wood than the Roubo style to achieve a great workbench. The wide aprons on the benches add a huge amount of stability and rigidity to the design meaning that the bench top can be less “beefy” than in the case of a Roubo style bench.
Like Bob, I decided to run with a design that did not have a tool well. I am a messy person when circumstances allow and I think that any tool well I have will literally end up overflowing with tools. So removing that temptation will hopefully force me to keep a tidier shop.
Another feature that I liked about Bob’s design was the long stretchers between both sets of legs, allowing for a shelf to be added and adding a bit more stability to the bench. However, unlike Bob, I decided to have the Aprons positioned so they sit flush with the bench top, rather than sitting underneath. I would rather gain some additional width on the bench this way rather than having to add more laminations to my two bench tops. Unlike Bob, I was not dealing with 12″ wide boards to make the bench. Mine would be made of laminated 3″x 2″ Timber.
After picking and choosing the features I liked and disliked, I had the following Design to work with:
The bench is 6′ long, 29″ wide and around 36-38″ in height. Many of the hand tool experts would suggest building the bench lower, but I honestly don’t like stooping at all, I much prefer a higher working surface. The legs will be housed in the aprons, which will also sit on a half lap style joint to make the outer face of the apron flush with the front face of the legs. The longer stretchers will allow for a shelf to be added while adding to the stability of the bench. The central space between the bench top halves will allow for either tools storage or for a planing stop insert to be added. A quick release vice will be added to the front left side of the bench for work holding.
Now that the design had been settled, the next step was to buy the wood!
Thanks for reading.