By Christopher Schwarz
One of the best things about working with hand tools is you don’t need much shop space – often a corner of a bedroom provides enough space. And a complete tool kit fits in a box the size of blanket chest.
As a result, many apartment-dwellers work with hand tools because they are compact, relatively quiet and fairly easy to clean up after. But there is one huge thing missing from the above – a good workbench.
Woodworking is much easier with a solid workbench that is equipped with vises and bench dogs. Good workbenches are usually massive and enormous, and they might not fit in tight quarters. A big bench can also be intimidating to build for a beginning woodworker. And small commercial benches are generally too spindly for real woodwork.
Enter the “Milkman’s Workbench” – a small, full-featured benchtop that clamps to any solid surface – a dining table, dresser or kitchen island. And it’s not just for the apartment-dweller. This is a great bench for traveling, demonstrating at woodworking clubs or even for working in the living space of your home if you have a shop without HVAC.
It offers a lot of features for such a small thing. You can dovetail boards more than 19″ wide in its twin-screw vise area. You can pinch boards almost 24″ long between dogs, and you have a decent worksurface for chopping. Best of all, you can attach it to something sturdy using only two F-style clamps, do your business then put the bench away in a closet or under a bed.
I first saw a commercial version of this bench on an Australian auction site. Then I had a student, Jonas Jensen, whose father owned one. He had bought it from the town’s milkman. I purchased the original from Jonas’ father, studied its construction and worked with it for months. I concluded it was nearly perfect.
The version in this article is almost identical to the original with only slight changes to make it easier to clamp to your work surface.
There’s little joinery in this bench. The corners of the frame are joined by bridle joints that are pinned with 3⁄8″ dowels. The frame is screwed to the benchtop it surrounds. The benchtop is just glued together with edge joints.
The only tricky part of the bench is the wagon vise. It’s a block of wood that slides in two grooves plowed into the internal surfaces of the bench.
All the vises are powered by 11⁄4″-diameter threaded wood screws, which I made with a lathe and a threading kit from Beall Tool Co. (see “Make Threaded Wooden Screws” on page 34 for details on the system). You don’t have to invest in a threading system to make this bench. You can purchase three veneer-press screws for less than $20 each and use those instead of the wooden screws. You can also simplify construction by installing round dogs instead of square ones.
The place to begin your bench is at the lumberyard.
Video: See “The Milkman’s Workbench” in action when clamped to the author’s dining room table.
Blog: Read about how the author made the dogs for his portable bench.
Video: See the Beall threading system in action in our free video.
To Buy: Make your own bench screws using the Beall Tool Company 1-1⁄4″ – 5 Big Threader Kit recommended by the author.
Blog: Read about portable benches from servicemen.
In Our Store: “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use” and “The Workbench Design Book,” both by Christopher Schwarz.
From the June 2013 issue #204
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