A Proper Bench for Bob

In Christopher Schwarz’s new book Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use, Chris talks about Thomas Stangeland‘s working on a makeshift bench. My story is quite similar. Although I’ve made my living (if you call that living) as a woodworker for more than 30 years, I’ve never worked on a nice bench on a regular basis. The closest I’ve come was a maple butcher-block slab on a 2 x 4 base with a quick-release vise. Most of the time, it’s been something makeshift and I employ some novel ways of holding work , plane stops stuck down with narrow crown staples, clamps holding clamps holding the work, and I’ve even been known to sit on things to keep them in place. It’s about time I had the bench I’ve always wanted, and I’ve been working off and on drawing one for about a year. I’m close to a final design and I’ll be building it for an upcoming article in Popular Woodworking.

Here is what I have in mind, a combination of features that appeal to me and fit the way I work. It has some similarities to the benches you’ve seen in Popular Woodworking and Woodworking Magazine in the last couple years, with a few twists. Like the Roubo bench, the legs are flush with the front of the 3″-thick top. It also has some details lifted from the Nicholson bench. I’ve moved the apron that is prominent in the Nicholson down and left a gap between it and the top. This will allow me to clamp stuff to the front of the bench, and still reach in to clamp things down to the top.

In the center are four removable, reversible boxes. These will function as tool trays, but when they fill up with junk they can be removed for cleaning, or reversed to fill the area between the two long slabs of the top. I’m hoping this is a viable solution to my love/hate relationship with tool trays. The other advantage of taking them out at times is to provide yet another place to clamp to. I’ll also be able to slide drawer boxes over an end of one of the outer sections to work on them before the bottoms go in.

So let me know what you think. Suggestions are welcome , you can leave a comment here or send me an e-mail. I’m still deciding some issues; I haven’t yet settled on visesĀ  and I’m thinking of adding a shelf at both the bottom rails and at the bottom of the rails across the front. No cabinets though , that’s a separate project I need to get back to. Everyone else in the shop is tired of working around the face frame I made last summer.

Bob Lang

19 thoughts on “A Proper Bench for Bob

  1. Joe Lyddon

    Bob (& Megan,

    The video I saw was in an email, which doesn’t work anymore.

    Was sending the video a mistake and not meant to be done yet?

    It was very good… showing all of the various sections that could be pulled / arranged, setting up clamps easily, showing the pipe holding wood pieces and how you turn them for clamping setups

  2. Joe Lyddon

    Bob, not very long ago, I watched a small video of you and your new bench… I want to watch it some more and connot find it!

    Can you help? It’s got to be around here somewhere!

    Thank you,
    Joe Lyddon

  3. dennis

    man that is one alsome workbench. i hope when you get it done we can get blue prits. i would love to have that in my wood shop. keep up the great work.
    thanks. dennis

  4. Ben Fortson

    I love Sketchup! After using it for 3-years now, I can’t imagine building furniture without it. I really like your bench and I hope you’ll throw in a few Sketchup sketches to illustrate how you plan on utilizing your bench.

    Ben
    North Caorlina

  5. Dirk Oorthuizen

    Hi Bob,

    To start with it looks great! And as some others mentioned a workbench is personal!!
    In holland this would be an almost standard woodworker workbench. Although here the trays are near the rear of the top and not in the middle.
    Most benches here have the trays machined in the top itself, which is ussually 4" thick with a tray of 2 1/2" deep by 5 to 6" wide. in the lentgh the trays slope up on both end to the surface for easy cleaning.
    However they are normaly not separate from the bench.
    As someone stated earlier it does make the top less strong and I personnally like a complete flat even workarea, so I made drawers under the top, but again its personal.

    However if this works for you make it!

    Dirk Oorthuizen
    Holland

  6. Stephen Kirk

    Bob, (yeah, I’m talking to you in two different places) What is the joint which connects the left side of the front apron/rail. I see the lapped dovetail, but there appears to be a circular part there as well. Just curious. Oh, and as for my other post, I didn’t read this article so I didn’t know that the toolboxes were reversible.

    Still, I’m liking your design changes the more I look at them.

  7. Phil

    Ok. Call me loony but when I saw the drawing of your bench I thought WOW–what a great idea–a router mortising jig right in the center of the bench. So, tool boxes. OK. Still think a router mortising jig would be neat. Many thanks.

  8. Rob Porcaro

    Bob,

    The bench overall looks like a very practical design without taking a year to build. A few comments:
    My shins hurt looking at the lower front strecher. My preference would be to raise it up enough to allow a foot to freely plant under the bench. It would make it easier to sweep under the bench too. You know, like every few years, if needed.
    The tool tray idea is really clever! Probably will need to make the sides of the tray boxes out of solid wood so the height will move with the seasons along with changes in the top thickness. When you flip over the boxes this should make the bottoms nice and flush with the work surface. Maybe.
    Is that a sage-kama joint attaching the lower front and rear rails to the legs? Here’s a link for an example of what I mean:
    http://www.davidfay.com/full.php?image=95.fall.hf.detail.jpg&title=NarraBedWithExposedJoinery.gif
    It looks preet big and mean but would you still need to secure it to the floor? Maybe put some high friction material on the bottom of the legs, which has worked well for my bench.
    Good luck with the bench. Life is short and wood is good. Build the damn thing.

  9. Craig Stevens

    Bob,

    I like the design of your bench (with exception to the tool tray, personal decision there). I hate to even comment on the design, because you’ve obliviously designed it for how you work, which is why you should build your own bench in the first place.

    But, if it were my bench I would consider putting a tray at the bottom of your bench for storage. And I might replace the face clamp with a twin vise for easier dovetailing.

    Again, each bench is personal.

    I really like your design for the gap between the "apron" and the top. It would seem to give you the best of both worlds. I like the English style bench, but the apron getting in the way of clamping, always turned me away from the design. Great solution.

    Craig Stevens

  10. Joe Steltenpohl

    If you look at Samson’s bench (on his given link), he connects the legs to the bottom horizontal rail with a bolt and a nice looking round brass threaded insert. I didn’t use the nice brass in my bench but I really like to be able to re-tighten over time. Keeps the bench from becoming wobbly and would avoid the ankle busters sticking beyond the base.
    Also, if all four bottom rails are in the same plane, you would have the option of adding a shelf in the future.
    Looking forward to your progress.

  11. Mike McGrath

    Bob, I see an added feature begging to be installed: Through one of your reverseable box openings a down draft sanding box. This could sit proud of the table and socket into one of the box openings for hose access. It would be a stable platform with the additional table surface for staging parts.

  12. Daren Dugan

    I like the looks of it. I’m in the middle of building my bench, just about have the base done. I too am adding tool trays, and I’d really like to see how you are making yours. The removable option hadn’t occurred to me, but the part about making them flush had.

    Do you have a design I could look at? Or a good description of what you where thinking?

    Thanks!

    daren

  13. Samson

    Just goes to show how much of a personal preference thing benches are.

    As far as vises, I’ve been very happy with my Record 52 1/2 quick release front vise (still available in the Annat version which is very good – I have one of these on my second bench)and the German welded tail vise (smaller version)LN sells. There is a great potential article by itself – installing and building the welded tail vise. A link to a pick of mine for what it’s worth:

    http://home-and-garden.webshots.com/photo/2181467870032524639iyeKXf

  14. Bob Lang

    I think it’s a personal thing. I like having lots of tools at hand, but I don’t like them on the bench surface. For me, it’s too easy to knock something expensive off the bench and on to the floor. I readily admit to being a slob when I work and I’m hoping that the ability to remove the trays to dump the trash will help with that.

    As I’ve planned it, the thick top components will bolt to the base assembly so they can be removed. They are sized to be able to run them across our jointer and through the planer for flattening when needed.

    Bob Lang

  15. Samson

    I’d ditch the tool trays altogether. I agree with Chris about "hamster beds." What are they good for? I put tools down all over my bench all the time, and never have them roll around even when pounding or planing? If constraining them really worries you, build a little tray that sits on top of the bench (like a silverware tray for tools). In short, I see no big upside (maybe the extra clamping aspect?), but plenty of down side (mess, lost tools, lost strong bench surface, less easy to flatten top, etc.)to the trays. FWIW

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