Chris Schwarz's Blog

A Benefit of an Out-of-flat Workbench

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I’ve been putting off the inevitable chore of flattening my workbench – I have a low spot that is interfering with my ability to handplane thin panels.

But this time, I’m going to allow a high spot to remain high because it has proven to be useful.

Like many French workbenches with the traditional joinery, my bench’s tenons protrude a little as the wet top is shrinking around the joints. Eventually this stops. Yes, stops. After the top gets to its equilibrium moisture, the material is too thick to move much in a season. If you want the scientific explanation, read it here and the sequel here.

Now that your brain has exploded, back to my workbench’s high spot. I’m going to leave these tenons a little proud because they speed me up when planing large panels, such as the tabletop I cleaned up this morning.

If the panel doesn’t have to be tool-room flat (and few panels do), I’ll put any low spots in the panel that the plane cannot reach right over the high spot on the bench. This pushes the low spot upward so my plane’s iron can cut it.

This is an old trick that Robert Wearing demonstrates by throwing a few plane shavings between the benchtop and your panel.

But a bump on the benchtop works just as well.

— Christopher Schwarz

The revised and expanded edition of my first workbench book is in process to come out later this year, but my second workbench book, “The Workbench Design Book” is still available through ShopWoodworking.com.

3 thoughts on “A Benefit of an Out-of-flat Workbench

  1. bearkatwood

    Think it’s about time for a new workbench and put that old mare out to pasture.

  2. stefanrusek

    And on the plus side you can use shavings everywhere else in your bench to simulate a flat bench.

    This weekend I also considered flattening my bench, but then I decided I wanted to keep the “patina” it is developing a little longer.

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