Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Workbench Adventure

It seems that my workbench plans are not pretty popular. Anyway, I will build what I have planed.

Maybe it is a good idea to give you some more information about my thoughts and considerations.

The Background Story

I've thought about a new workbench for a long time. I made plans, discarded them, made new ones.
I read books and magazine articles. And I have surfed through the Internet. All of you know this process.
At the end I'm faced with the reality. The reality is that we are living in a wonderful apartment, but with a small disadvantage - missing space for a nice workspace.
So it was, that I occupied our basement, which is originally a storage room, and filled it with all my woodworking stuff and a little portion of dust. More and more we are missing storage facilities.
That is one side of the story. The other one is that my heart is telling me that I need something nicer than my MDF top today.

Conclusion is, there is no space for a fancy bench. Neither for a French nor for an English one.
As I really need the storage space, a cabinet based bench is the only way to go for the time being.
That is not bad for me. Frankly spoken I like these kind of benches.

Consideration Of The Aspects

I'm not trying to convince you, but let me try to find out if such a bench has got any disadvantage for me.
So, what are the most frequently mentioned aspects?

Weight - Cabinet benches are too lightweight for hand tool woodworking.

The cabinets weigh 25 kg each (55lbs). I've got 3 cabinets which means 75 kg (165lbs) just for the base cabinets.
I'm thinking about the top but to laminate. Construction lumber will be the choice. If I will do as planned, then the top will be about 45 kg (99lbs). If I will use pre-laminated beech counter tops it will be even heavier.
That will be about 120 kg (264lbs) without the face frame, side panels, drawers, vise, shelf boards, etc.

Accessibility - The cabinets aren't accessible during the work.

Think about it for a moment. Whenever you clamp a larger workpiece at the front vise, it will stand underneath the benchtop and prevent cabinet doors or drawers from opening. What seems to be a nice way of tool storage can become quite annoying during day to day work. 
Yes that's right. Fortunately I've got all my woodworking hand tools in a wall mounted cabinet or in my tool chest. 
Why then cabinets? Because I have got some other tools and a few hand machines like a jig saw, a finishing sander, a cordless drill driver.
On the other side I'm improving. The "thing" I'm actually using as a bench is going from wall to wall. With the new bench I will have the option to access from three sides.

Clamping - The cabinets are reducing your clamping capabilities.

That's right. I've tried to take that into account. Between the bench top and the top of the cabinet I've planned a space. So I will have full clamping capacity and I'm still able to use hold fasts.

Front view (without face frame)

Top view

Additionally I can use this space for my bench hooks, the sharpening and the shooting board.

Sturdiness and Rigidity - Cabinet based benches are not rigid enough for hand tool woodwork.

That's the only point which make me wonder. I haven't found any resource regarding it.
From my experience I know that a cabinet is getting unstable as soon as one wall is missing (e.g. the back panel). The boxes I've planned have got 5 boards and additionally a kick board (hope that is the right term for it. It's the board at the bottom between the two side walls) at the bottom.
Further I've got four resting points for the top and I will fix the top at every point.
Finally there will be a solid wood face frame in front of the boxes. Latest if this is mounted I assume that the whole construction is extremely rigid.

Some Prominent Examples

Some of you asked if I have read Chris Schwarz book on workbenches. Yes I have.
But he has published more than just this book.
Have a look on these Blog posts. It's a report about a nice early American workbench.

Part 1 and Part 2

Another one, but the same style. And finally this one.

You see there are a lot of examples. And it seems to be not unusual. Even if the construction in former times had been frame and panels.


Man, the post reads like a defense. Honestly somehow I'm doing so. The reason is, that I've thought and planned for such a long time. But at points in your life you have to take decisions. My decision is to build it this way. The new bench is needed to organize my little space better and to make me feel better in the shop.

My main concerns is doing woodworking projects and not building benches. So I decided to choose a construction method I'm pretty familiar with, which is easy to do and I can get material pretty easy in every DIY store.

I hope this post makes it more clear which direction I want to go, why I'm doing so and that I have well thought about the disadvantages and constructional challenges.

Every comment is very welcome and every question helps to double check the design ideas. That said I'm pretty thankful for all the doubts and questions which came up in my first part about the new workbench.

One question I have got this time is the following one. As described I will use a Record style quick release vise. I still haven't decided how to mount the rear jaw of the vise. Would you mount it flush with the bench? Thanks in advance for any hint.

A longer one today, with a lot of text and less pictures. I will keep you updated on the build from time to time.

Keep calm!



  1. It does seem that you have thought this out and the workbench should work for you. The only thing I would throw at you is this: do you have the room to build a trestle frame as a base and in fill it with cabinets? This option may eat up too much valuable space but it is one I would look at again.

    1. Hi Ralph,
      I'm sorry to say but the space of my complete workshop is 4 square meters (2,5 x 1,6). I would have to build a knock down frame otherwise I will not be able to move the bench in and into the room.
      But thanks for the hint.

  2. I forgot to add that I like the 'cabinet' style workbenches. There is way too much space there wasted that could be put to good use.

  3. I think this bench will work just fine for you. I went a different way with my bench build: I took a Roubo bench class and worried about where to put the bench when I was done. :o)

    It's worked out, though. There is just the right amount of space in the right places for me.

    1. Hi Brian,
      thanks for encouraging :-)
      If I would have done it that way, I would have to occupy the basement of our neighbors too.
      Maybe we should think about a new apartment.

  4. If you are building the boxes for the cabinets, then make sure to use thicker material all around. 3/4" for the sides and backs and at least 3/4" for the face frame. Overbuild the boxes. Maybe even put four posts as legs at the corners of the boxes, or incorporate these as the corners of the boxes. Just a thought.

    1. As mentioned I will double the outside panel by laminating. And triple them by mounting a solid wood frame and panel side panel. The outsides will be about 2" thick then. The inside panel will be doubled so that they are about 30mm (1 3/16").
      I've already thought about the outside posts and I will take it into consideration again.
      Maybe I will do a mock up if the first box is ready.
      The face frame material is heavy 3/4 (20mm).

  5. Stefan and the end of the day, that is going to be YOUR workbench, so built however you see fit. Only time and experiences with it will tell you if it fits your way of working or not.
    Heck you can always reused the top in a different bench if that one is not meeting your expectations. And remember what the Schwartz said: Disobey me!
    Don't be afraid to do do :-)
    Good luck and keep us posted on your adventures, I enjoy reading you
    Bob, who has been know to disobey a few rules here and there...

    1. Hello Bob,
      thanks for the kind words. Yes, at the end I have to live with what I'm building.
      I try to learn from other experience, but there is not that much information about cabinet workbenches public. Either nobody uses them because they are a mess, or nobody is writing about because they are unpopular.
      I think I've done my homework and just changed the construction method from frame and panel to "modern" cabinets.
      I like to go my own way and as I'm a project manager in real life I know that there is always a hurdle and always more then one way.
      Stefan, who is glad that his writing can entertain some readers.