Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shop Girl: Old bench, meet my new bench

Every woodworker needs a good bench, and fortunately, it's not hard to cobble together a flat surface on which to work. Case in point: My current bench is made from a re-purposed sink cabinet, made available during a remodel of a bathroom. The top consists of two 2'x4' sheets of MDF, covered with tempered hardboard:

The hardboard is screwed in, so it can be replaced. That way, I don't have to worry too much about glue spills or nicks in the surface. I'm pretty careful when I work, though, so I've only replaced it twice in the decade or so that I've used the bench.

There are two rows of 3/4" holes, called "dogholes," and they are used for clamping and holding work. Normally, I have the holes filled with dowels ("dogs"), which can be tapped out so that I can use something called a "hold fast," shown here clamping a paddle blank to the surface so that I can plane the blade:

Over the years, the bench has evolved to fit my needs as a woodworker. I've learned, for example, that I like having lots of clamps close to hand during tricky glue-ups, and so I've added places for them:

There are also tools that I use pretty frequently, so I use an open shelf to store them within reach:

The bench has served my needs well, but I've always wanted to try my hand at building a nice one. Many woodworkers, in fact, consider it something of a right of passage to build a custom bench. I've put it off for a long time though, since, considering the cost of wood and the amount of time involved, it's something of a commitment. Once you've built one, you probably aren't going to want to build another any time soon. 

This is one instance in which procrastination has serve me well, however, since the bench I would have built ten years ago is not one I'd want to build today. There are many, many bench types out there, all of which are well-suited to one type of woodworking, but not as suitable for another. What the delay has enabled me to do is discovered what kind of bench would serve me best.

I've spent much of the time during that years-long delay reading and thinking about the benches that others have built. Fortunately, there are a lot of sources out there, most of which both show you the benches and provide diagrams showing how to build them. The design I've settled on is based originally on one by Ian Kirby (as illustrated in The Workbench Book, by Scott Landis), later modified by Niall Barrett (The Workbench, by Lon Scheinling). I've modified my own design further still, and I'll share what those features are as I go through the build in the upcoming weeks. 

In the meantime, here is a photo of my new bench-in-waiting:


  1. My Dad's hobby during his working years was serious woodworking. He had quite an elaborate shop. When he retired his hobby became his 2nd career - he built custom furniture for others. However, I never had much interest when I was living at home. Now I have the interest and no Dad. I am very grateful that you are willing to share all this info. with your readers - great instruction, great motivation. :)


  2. Will have to check out those books!

  3. Lindy--Time for you to get into the game!

    Deborah--Watch out--they are inspiring. You'll get a hankering to build a bench.


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