21st-Century Workbench


This hybrid design holds work any which way you want to.
By Robert W. Lang
Pages: 34-42

From the October 2008 issue #171
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Good design is little more than selective thievery. This workbench is a good example of that. A combination of features from several historic forms, ranging from the Roubo to the Workmate, becomes a new form, suited to being the center of a modern woodworking shop.

I’ve never seen a workbench that I was entirely happy with. I have love/hate relationships with many common features. I like tool trays, but hate the way shavings and other detritus collects in them. I want to be able to clamp work quickly, but speed means nothing if the clamping isn’t solid and secure. Good design is also the art of compromise, finding the happy medium between extremes.

This bench began with the idea of building a reproduction of an English Nicholson bench. The Nicholson was popular in Colonial America, and variations of it appeared in woodworking books until the 1920s. The dominant feature on the Nicholson is a wide front apron, which allows work to be secured to the front of the bench as well as to the top.

The drawback to the extended apron is that it limits the ability to clamp down to the top of the bench from the edge. I narrowed and lowered the apron so I could clamp work to the bench in two directions. I was also intrigued by the knock-down joinery on some of the historic Nicholson benches. While I don’t plan on moving my bench very often, I decided to make it in manageable chunks, to ease the process of making it and assembling it.

The design is based on function in the completed bench, and also on the process of making, moving and maintaining it. The tools I used to make it are basic home-shop equipment – a 10″ hybrid table saw, a 6″-inch jointer and a 12″ “lunchbox” planer. And I didn’t need a bench to build my bench. I made the top first, then placed that on a pair of horses.

Online Extra

To watch a video about Editor Bob Lang’s 21st Century bench, as well as where to find digital content on how to build your own, click here.


From the October 2008 issue #171
Buy this issue now