Wednesday 9 September 2015

Do I Need A New Workbench?

When I started with woodworking 3 years ago, I didn't had any idea about what workplace I would need.
So I started with what I had. A few box cabinets made from chipboards and a working surface made from MDF.
But now I know it is time to have a working environment which fits my needs much better.
This post will be the beginning of my upcoming project of building a new workbench.
You know what? Feel yourself invited to follow me on this trip.

General Thoughts

As I started my woodworking journey I didn't want to think very much about workbenches and stuff like this. As mentioned above. I had some simple cabinet boxes in my basement.
I had mounted a few layers of MDF boards on top of the cabinets, screwed a woodworking vise onto it and called it done.
And it worked good the last two years.
But with every new project a new requirement raised up. Some dog holes here and there, a planing stop, missing storage space, missing clamping facilities, and so on and so on.
And again and again I feel that my working environment does not fit to my requirements any longer.
So I started to read a while ago. And I read a lot. But now to my real challenge.
The space I've got available for woodworking is about 4 square meters. 
Man, I can tell you that isn't much and I had to find a workbench design which allows a lot of storage.
That said my first thoughts had been why not to build a few new simple cabinets, mounting a nice thick bench top on top, install some drawers and doors and call it done again?
Hm, that would be the pragmatic way, but would it be something nice to be proud of?
With all my investigations done I've found the Shaker Workbench design and thought that this is exactly what I was searching for.
A sturdy workplace with a lot of storage capacity. But honestly I won't like to spend  too much effort into building a bench. But all other designs won't work for my workshop.
Long story short I ended with my research at the design of the Benchcrafted Shaker Bench.
I won't exactly build this bench. But instead I will use some of the design and construction principals.

My Shaker Inspired Bench

The usage of more or less cabinet boxes correspond to my actual bench and my first design considerations.
The available space is about two meters. I would like to have some overhang left and right of the bench so that I've got some clamping capabilities.
To make it easy to calculate I will build three cabinet boxes 50 cm wide. All in all this sums up to 1,50 meter for the bench.
My benchtop will be 1,80 meter. So I'll have 15 cm overhang on both sides. I guess that will be good enough.
And I've got 20 cm left which I will use for some additional storage, maybe for my clamps or material.
After I have build the cabinets I'll build a face frame for the sides and the front.
As vice I'll use a Record style woodworking vice with quick release. 
For the time being I'm completely unsure about the sliding dead man. It looks great and I'm sure that it make sense, but I fear the effort a little bit. 

The cabinet boxes will be made from 15 mm thick birch plywood. As I'm building three boxes the sidewalls will be doubled as soon as I'm screwing the boxes together. The outsides will receive a face frame so that I'll have a similar wall thickness too.

The Bench Top

I think I'll make the bench top from beech. I've thought a while about gluing up the top by myself, but at the moment I tend to buy something what is called a "Treppenstufenplatte" (a step board!?).
This is a laminated board with a thickness of 45mm. You can buy that ready to use in most common lengths. That will save me a complex glue up and a lot of time.

The Face Frame

To make these boxes nice looking I will mount a face frame to the cabinets.
The question at the moment is if I should do one frame for all three cabinets, or individual frames for each? The latter would allow me to dismount the bench if this will be necessary someday.
Beside that I believe that individual frames for each box are easier to build.
On the other side I guess that a complete frames will look better, although it will be more complex to build (not least because of the dimensions).

And Now?

Maybe you will ask yourself why I'm not simply starting to build it. The answer is pretty simple too. I don't know ;-)
Of course I fear the logistic effort. I have to build the cabinets somewhere else (for example in the garage) because of the limited workshop space. 
Then I have to remove all the stuff which is inside the cabinets at the moment. Then removing the old cabinets. Bring the new ones into the shop, mount the face frame and finally the benchtop.
Afterwards I have to adjust my wall paneling to the new bench height. 
And so on and so on.....

Sounds like much effort which will be missed for other projects.

All that said, I was at the wood dealer today. I will get my boards within the next days. All of the plywood will be cut to dimension by the dealer.

Stay tuned, when I will report from the build from time to time.



  1. I don't think you should compromise too much on the workbench. It's the most important 'tool' you'll have in the shop. As for the dead man you can make a portable stand alone board jack.

    1. Hi Ralph,
      Your are totally right regarding the importance of the workbench. I'll have that in mind. Nevertheless my space is pretty limited so I have to do some compromises.
      The idea with the stand alone board jack is pretty good. I think I'll go that way.

  2. I second Ralph here. also your bench needs to be heavy! 45 mm for the top is too thin, I would double that to 90 mm, glue 2 top boards together. I think Chris Schwarz has a video where he built a bench in a weekend and he glued 2 laminated top boards together that he purchased at ikea

    1. Hi there,
      I got your point and will rethink the top. Buying two of these tops is about 300 Euros.
      That's a bit over the top. But you brought me to another idea. Laminating multiple thinner layers. In the German sister magazine of Fine Woodworkig they have done a worbench top like this.
      I've double checked the Schwarz video you mentioned.
      The countertops he is using are 38 mm each. Another idea.
      Thanks for your honest feedback.

  3. Not sure about your bench under structure. If I got this straight, you are going to sit the top on cabinets? If you plan to do much hand tool woodworking you need a stout bench that resist racking. That translate into beefy components rigidly attached, think laminated construction lumber or 4X4 post etc. Have you read Chris books on bench? If not highly recommended. Not a big fan of Shaker bench, I like the bottom open to uses holdfast etc.

    1. Hi Bob,
      thanks for your feedback.
      Of course I've read most of the available material about benches.
      And If I would have a (for me) big workshop, then I would for sure build another type of bench.
      Personally I like the Shaker benches. Not just because they will give me a template.
      I've thought about the open bottom for a while and I guess I've got a solution for this.
      Two aspects which steered me in that direction. 1) I will need a opening for the vise and 2) the use of holdfasts.
      I will provide a drawing within the next days so that you can imagine better what my plans are.