‘Bench Bull:’ The Jack of All Bench Jigs, Part 1

DSCN2907Perhaps the most important instrument for the hand-tool oriented woodworker is a sturdy workbench. A reliable bench is fundamental for the success of sawing, chiseling, planing, grooving, drilling and more. The heavier the bench the better, and a bench with plenty of holdfast holes is the best. But there are many situations where you will benefit from a small elevated clamping platform installed over your workbench – mainly when you need to have a workpiece closer to your shoulders and eyes. It’s also useful to have a “bench on bench” for clamping small workpieces that are too cumbersome to clamp on the main bench using a stationary vise or holdfasts.

The Moxon Vise (Benchcrafted, Lie Nielsen, Texas Heritage, Tools for Working Wood, Lake Erie Toolworks…or make your own) is a good examples of an auxiliary clamping platform. So is the “Portable Workbench” that I built and wrote about for American Woodworker in 2014.

This is the Portable Workbench that I built a few years ago and was feature in American Woodworker #171, April/May 2014

This is the “Portable Workbench” that I built a few years ago; it is feature in American Woodworker #171, April/May 2014.

Last year I built yet another “Bench on Bench” contraption that helped us tremendously with our 9th-grade box-making project. But I think it’s more than for just boxes – it can become your bench to take on a journey, a bench for the space-deprived woodworker (such as in a one-bedroom apartment or a college dorm), and is an inexpensive gateway bench to be gifted to friends and the children in your life.

The advantages of this jig are:

1. It can be clamped onto any flat surface such as a tabletop or a countertop, or you can put it in a  bench vise to serve as a platform to work on other objects.

2. It allows you to comfortably clamp small workpieces for planing, ripping and crosscutting in a vertical or horizontal configuration.

3. It allows you to clamp narrow pieces by positioning two clamps from the jig’s inner face to facilitate grooving, dadoing and rabbeting. This is particularly important in cases where your bench does not have holdfast holes drilled into it. (See pictures)

Without holdfast capabilities it is difficult to clamp thin and narrow work piece from the edge of a bench for wide chamfering, grooving and rabbeting. The clamps that hold the piece down will be in your way and the work piece will hang too far out in space and might  break or flex. To overcome these situations we use our Bench bulls.

Without holdfast capabilities, it is difficult to clamp a thin and narrow workpiece from the edge of a bench for wide chamfering, grooving and rabbeting. The clamps that hold the piece down will be in your way and the workpiece will hang too far out in space and might break or flex. To overcome these situations, we use our “Bench Bulls.”

DSCN2894 (1)

But, before I start let’s name the jig. I thought a good name would be “Bench Bull” because of its “horns” and its steadfast functions, but another great name is: “Bench Mule.” As you can see, the jury is still out, but for now lets call it The Bench Bull. 

A Bench Bull is inexpensive to build and requires as few as four F-style clamps to allow it to fully function. 

In this entry I will show how to make use of a simple Bench Bull, and in following entries, I will show how to build a deluxe version that incorporates two pipe clamps or holdfasts.  

The simplest way to build one is to cut a 2×4 board into a few segments and sandwich them together (see the drawings below). This can be done with a handsaw – and it’s a good activity to teach kids so that each of them will end up with a jig. If you have more time and lumber, and access to heavier tools, you can build the Bench Bull from hardwood, or cut it out from a massive beam.

Bench Bull 2 Bench Bull 1

The Bench Bull shape resembles an “H.” It should include a few holes (or gaps if you build it from 2×4 segments) in between the horns of the “H” to allow for convenient clamping along the back of the jig – in addition to the use of the horns. 

See the pictures below to understand the Bench Bull’s full scope of advantages – and stay tuned. In my next entry, I’ll show additional Bench Bull designs. 

DSCN2898 DSCN2899

DSCN2900DSCN2901DSCN2903

A simple shop made T- square is all you need to keep a workpiece put for planning

A simple shop-made T- square is all you need to keep a workpiece put for planing.

The Bench Bull allows you to clamp narrow pieces by positioning two clamps from the jig’s inner face to facilitate effectively grooving, dadoing and rabbeting. This is particularly important in cases where your bench does not have hold fast holes drilled into it.

The Bench Bull allows you to clamp narrow pieces by positioning two clamps from the jig’s inner face to facilitate effectively grooving, dadoing and rabbeting. This is particularly important in cases where your bench does not have holdfast holes drilled into it.

DSCN2905DSCN2904— Yoav Liberman

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Yoav Liberman

About Yoav Liberman

Yoav S. Liberman is a woodworker and a teacher. His pieces have been featured in several woodworking books, most recently in Robin Wood’s CORES Recycled. Yoav teaches woodworking at the Rudolf Steiner School in Manhattan, and also frequently guest teaches in craft schools across the country.  Between 2003 and 2011 Yoav  headed the woodworking program at Harvard University's Eliot House. Yoav’s articles have appeared in American Woodworker and Woodwork Magazine. He frequently contributes woodworking web content to a number of digital publications   Yoav has a degree in architecture and later held two competitive residency programs: at The Worcester Center for Crafts in Massachusetts, and the Windgate Foundation Fellowship at Purchase College, New York. He lives in Chestnut Ridge NY.

30 thoughts on “‘Bench Bull:’ The Jack of All Bench Jigs, Part 1

  1. madmac99

    Bench Bully Beast
    This is my version of the Bench Bully that I just finished today. Made from laminated white oak stair newel post blanks, it’s 34 inches long x 3 ½ inches wide by 12 inches high with 1 ½ x 2 ½ inch mortise and tenon joints and it weighs a ton. All holes are ¾ inch diameter thru holes. I added the t-track today which were the only things I bought besides the two 44 inch long newel posts and I got them almost next to nothing from my local millwright.
    Plan on getting a lot of use out of it once the weather warms up. Photos available.
    Mac McConnell

  2. mbbrogan

    Great jig, I made one yesterday and love the versatility of it. Made a number of dog holes for Veritas surface clamps, also added two anchors for Leigh cam-action clamps. Will probably add the planing stop also. It is so simple, but works so well. I am amazed I have not seen this before. Great article, thank you.

    1. Yoav LibermanYoav Liberman Post author

      The plow plane in the picture is an esoteric and not that handy Stanley # 13-030 (Made in England). It is made mostly from aluminum extrusion and its adjustment mechanism is cumbersome. This was my first plow plane. I believe that Garrett Wade used to carry it and that you might buy it used on eBay.

  3. johnbrownmd

    nice idea but I am more impressed with the fact that your school if placing emphasis on woodworking. In 1960 when I was looking at high end boarding schools to attend one of them had a significant emphasis on woodworking and all students (juniors) built a desk for there dorm room to use their senior year. I liked the concept but did not get in.

  4. lzimlich

    I am curious about the lever/toggle bar clamps you use to secure stock to your bench bull. I’ve not seen these before. Would you please tell us something about them? Thanks.

    1. Yoav LibermanYoav Liberman Post author

      Sure.. These are COLT.BATAVIA.NY
      I saw my first Colt clamp in an antique store in Cincinnati a few years ago. What attracted me to it was the clamp’s fascinating cam mechanism — so I had no choice but to buy it. For a while I followed an eBay search for “Colt Batavia Clamp” which yielded a few more specimens. I believe that the Colt clamp company stopped making them decades ago but I am sure that some would pop up from time to time on eBay and in flea markets. Although the cam mechanism is a joy to use I am not so confident about its longevity. Its achilles heel, literally, is a small heel at the top of a moving piston that presses down on the swivel head. There is a lot of pressure on that small surface and I am afraid it is prone to faster erosion than a good quality acme screw such as the one found in quality clamps. That said, I love my Colt clamps and I will show and write about them in a near future blog.

    1. Yoav LibermanYoav Liberman Post author

      Sketch two shows an optional edge planing plate to be mounted via a few holes and dowels onto the Bench bull top. The “V” notch (on the edge planing jig) will embrace thin stock for edge jointing, grooving and beading.

      1. KirbyKrieger

        Thanks (I’d wondered as well).

        What are the three holes in the Bench Bull for? Holdfasts?

        I’d be tempted to put a planing stop in the Bull, coming up through the top at the base of one of the horns, and running along the side of the “neck” below that horn.

        1. Yoav LibermanYoav Liberman Post author

          Placing a planing stop is a good idea. One easy way to do this is to screw a plate of wood onto the front vertical edge of the horn. The screws should pass through elongated holes in the plate which will allow you to raze or retrieve the plate up or down as needed. To raze the plate untighten the screws, raze the plate and re-tighten the screws. To lower the plate just revers the process.

          1. DaveS2

            If one uses hanger bolts (lag screw on one end, machine thread on the other), wing nuts can be used to clamp the stop in the desired position, avoiding the need for a tool for this.

  5. lmalohn@msn.com

    I would like to know where you purchased the steel clamps that have a cam on the top? I have looked at the normal stores and can’t find anything like your clamps. They seem like you can put a lot of pressure by just engaging the cam. Also, when is part 2 going to be out? Your jig is great and I am looking forward to the second series. Thanks for the information.
    Larry

    1. Yoav LibermanYoav Liberman Post author

      Larry, I purchased my small COLT.BATAVIA.NY clamps on eBay.
      I saw my first Colt clamp in an antique store in Cincinnati a few years ago. What attracted me to it was the clamp’s fascinating cam mechanism — so I had no choice but to buy it. For a while I followed an eBay search for “Colt Batavia Clamp” which yielded a few more specimens. I believe that the Colt clamp company stopped making them decades ago but I am sure that some would pop up from time to time on eBay and in flea markets. Although the cam mechanism is a joy to use I am not so confident about its longevity. Its achilles heel, literally, is a small heel at the top of a moving piston that presses down on the swivel head. There is a lot of pressure on that small surface and I am afraid it is prone to faster erosion than a good quality acme screw such as the one found in quality clamps. That said, I love my Colt clamps and I will show and write about them in a near future blog. As for your second question. I hope to publish part 2 today or tomorrow.

  6. BLZeebub

    Great item! I just might whip one of those out this weekend. However, for planing the small stuff I flip my #8 upside down on a jig/holder I built years ago that jacks everything up and allows me to adjust the blade too. I move the work-piece instead of the plane. You can check it out here…
    lumberjocks.com/jcees/blog/4145

    1. Yoav LibermanYoav Liberman Post author

      Your planning jig is pretty cool! I too use a plane in the upside down configuration (clamped in a vise or held in my hand) to plane stuff and to sharpen pencils — the kids love watching me do this. Yet I think that you will find that using the Bench bull as a planning platform can be advantages. Try it and let us know what you think.

  7. chinsdale

    Yoav,
    Thank you for this article. As a fledgling woodworker I have been struggling with the whole Moxon vise dilemma but the Bench Bull has given me an excellent low cost “first step” until I figure out what I truly need/want.

    BTW the name Bench Bull is a keeper 🙂

    1. Yoav LibermanYoav Liberman Post author

      It is my pleasure and I am happy I’m able to help. Perhaps you would like to wait until the Bench Bull rodeo is over before building yours. I am going to show another design and a few more drawings.

  8. Shawn Nichols

    But why is it a “goof” activity to teach kids? I think it’s a good activity…

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

    In all seriousness, I really like this project. With a nephew heading to college soon this might be a good thing to outfit him with.

    Thanks Yoav.

  9. elithian

    It is a nice idea that opens the door to even more expansive thought when it comes to making bench jigs! I will be making one in the near future.

  10. rhline

    Interesting idea. I may build one of these, but perhaps using 2 x 6’s rather than 2 x 4’s. A wider surface would seem handier.

    My big question is – What or whose is the rabbet or plow plane your using. I’ve never seen one like it, even a google search failed to show it.

    1. Yoav LibermanYoav Liberman Post author

      Using 2×6 is a great idea! I recommend that you keep a 1-3/8″ or more gap between the 2×6 segments (for the rear clamping option) as it will allow you use a 3/4″” black pipe clamps. The plow plane in the picture is an esoteric and not that handy Stanley # 13-030 (Made in England). It is made mostly from aluminum extrusion and its adjustment mechanism is cumbersome. This was my first plow plane. I believe that Garrett Wade used to carry it and that you might buy it used on eBay.

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