Chris Schwarz's Blog

The Milkman’s Workbench in Use

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The Milkman’s Workbench – a portable bench I built for the June 2013 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine – is about 653 percent better than my first workbench.

Thanks to the clever engineering in the portable bench, it can handle most handwork tasks when clamped to a dining room table or kitchen countertop. My first workbench – a heavy door on sawhorses – could do only a fraction of these task.

To demonstrate its capabilities, I attached the portable bench to my dining room table. This is a worst-case scenario. My dining table is a lightweight trestle table that has little mass. The table is made well with good joints, but I built it for eating – not dovetailing.

If you watch the accompanying video, you’ll see the tabletop move a bit under the pressure of handplaning. From the user’s perspective, you don’t feel this. It just feels like regular handplaning on a pretty sturdy bench.

Likewise, when dovetailing, you can see the table vibrate a bit. Again, this is something exaggerated by the camera and not something you even notice when doing the work.

When you clamp this portable bench to a kitchen countertop or a dining table with four legs (instead of two), it’s as sturdy as an old-school workbench.

While I wouldn’t trade my 350-pound French behemoth bench for the Milkman’s Workbench, I am certain it would be an outstanding bench for an apartment-dweller, a nomadic woodworker or anyone else who doesn’t have room for a dedicated workshop.

Check out the issue in the ShopWoodworking store here that features the plans. You can also read other blog entries about this portable workbench here.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. I call this bench the “Milkman’s Workbench” because the original version that I copied was owned by a milkman in Denmark. The music in the video is from the Black Twig Pickers.

27 thoughts on “The Milkman’s Workbench in Use

  1. Jonasb

    Love this, but of course tweeked it when I built mine. I played with the dimensions till I got the wagon dog centered. My bench is 31 1/8 by 9 7/8 by 1.75 with the wagon vise 6 5/8 wide and the long clamp space just under 2 3/8 deep. Since my wagon vise is a little wider, I put in holes for three dogs. One centered and two on either side, seems like a 2 and 1 triangular clamp up would be more stable. Instead of square, I drilled 3/4 round dog holes to take advantage of other gizimos you can put in dog holes. I put 1/4 1.5″ aluminum angle around the two edges for clamping it down to a table. I cut a 3/8″ lip on either side of the long clamp space, so I can hang various fixture in there.. e.g. a thin sheet of wood to protect the wood being clamped, maybe something with some V-slots for working with round dowels. I did all the thread work using the manual devices you can buy as a set. My bench is maple and the threads came out clean. For the wagon vise, I went metal. Got a fat used lead screw on ebay with associated nut. I buried the nut in a slot on the right edge of the vise secured from turning, I cut a channel in the screw using an angle grinder for the garter which I made out of a piece of brass. I put flush rect. caps screwed to the underside to hold the garter and nut in place. Only metal visible is on the bottom and the screw itself. Overkill but fun.

  2. Haystackholly

    Dear Readers,
    My guess is that Mrs. Chris realizes that there are rewards for being married to a very handy woodworker and is willing to make a trade off for a few shavings in the floor once in a while. I’m sure Mr. Chris has a nice shop and hardly ever is so inconsiderate as to trash the house instead. What would be the point? This is obviously a one time display.
    Holly

  3. ayous

    Hi Chris
    Something’s not right – at least to me – regarding your bench. Sorry no offense here but why in the heck the dog holes are not aligned with the screw of the tail vise? is there an practical explanation because it’s not logical to me…
    Thanks for your reply
    Best
    Ayous

  4. dkemp

    We returned last week from a one month vacation in NC. I worked hard to get my “portable” bench done and was able to take it along with a Rubbermaid container of hand tools with me (a proper tool chest is on this years to do list) . I also rough milled some pine before we left with the plan to build a Shaker style mantle clock solely with the bench and tools I had. It worked wonderfully as I clamped the bench to a patio table in the sun porch and worked away with my planes, chisels, etc to make the clock. Even found time to vist the Woodwright School for a one day session on dovetails and mortise & tenon joints. Awesome experience.

    Anyway I wish I could post a photo to show the set up I had. Could not have done it without the earlier blogs and posts which provided the description and photos that enabled me to get the bench finished to the point of being usable. It is not 100% complete as I need to replace the wagon vise garter, make better dogs, install the hold down angles (I just clamped it to the table) and figure out how to extract and re-install the lag screw which snapped when I put it in and apply a finish of some sort.

    Thanks to all for making this possible, my vacation would not have been complete without my woodworking fix.

    Cheers, Dave

  5. Cindy

    I am the wife form. Can you talk to my boyfriend? I too turned my living room into a shop. I have a perfect situation that allows me to do so. I also needed some feedback on the floor mats. Thank you all for the comments and ideas. A smile comes to my face just as it does whenever I am immersed in woodworking.

  6. sean3047

    I think I’ve got you beat on ‘worst case scenario’ Chris.

    I’ve been building (i.e. flattening and truing the pieces for) the top for my Roubo on a blow-moulded plastic trestle table, braced against a corner of my two-foot tall retaining wall in the backyard, with a scrap of pine clamped to the top as a planing step.

    The fact that the table is only 1.5m long, and I’m building a 2.2m long benchtop doesn’t make things easier either.

  7. Brandon Ryder

    I noticed you’re working over a rug. I too do woodworking in my living room, but unfortunately I have carpet. I’ve been vacuuming with a shop vac after every project, but I was inspired recently to perhaps put down some of those interlocking rubber mats. I could create an area under and around the bench that is reasonably easy to sweep and keep clean. However, I don’t know which mats would be the best to use.

    Does anyone know a good mat that could go down on carpet to create a working area that could be swept?

    I think this sorta thing goes hand in hand with the milkman’s workbench since someone might need to use it in an apartment or some other rental that doesn’t have a hard floor surface.

    1. amckenzie4

      I bought a pack of interlocking rubber mats at a BJ’s Wholesale Club; I think there are 9 pieces, and I paid around $25. I put them down in my spare room with a bench on top of them, and they were enough to protect the hardwood floor from both the bench and the occasional dropped tool. They’re easy to sweep and vacuum, too.

      I don’t see why they wouldn’t work on a carpet just as well. It’s possible they’re the same type that Harbor Freight sells… I found those later, and they look pretty much the same.

  8. B Jackson

    As for using the bench as an appliance, I like the approach taken by Ilkka Sivonen, your Finnish reader (posted 24 April 2013) using wedges in place of the screws. My workbench will have a home-made wagon vice along with dog holes, so I will clamp the appliance to the bench top with the built-in system. All good ideas, so thanks again.

  9. B Jackson

    Chris (and Jonas),

    This is a really nice bench, which I will build as a dovetailing appliance for a workbench I just designed and will build this fall. Regards to your father, too, Jonas. Even if we have never met.

    1. Jonas Jensen

      I am glad that you liked the bench.
      I am sure glad that I didn’t decide to buy it from my father, but sent it Chris’ way instead. If I had bought it, it would just have spent the next 40 years hanging on the wall. So thumbs up to Chris for revitalising the design and getting the bench known for the benefit of a lot of woodworkers.
      Brgds
      Jonas

  10. mdr

    My mother grew up on a farm N. of Edmonton, Alberta in the 30s and 40s. Their cash income during the (long and cold) winter was from her father’s cabinet making. He’d move his workbench into their kitchen in the winter; she fondly remembers the scent of freshly planed wood throughout their house.

    Sounds nice, but doesn’t fit our lifestyle in suburban California.

  11. timc1.0

    Funny, Chris, with your sense of humor, you didn’t suggest using this bench in a cubicle at the office. The desktop in the cube farm would be a perfectly stout surface to which this bench could be clamped. It could be stashed in the desk drawer when it’s time to leave for the day. (read: & go home to my regular shop.) They won’t mind a few shavings on the floor will they?

  12. 7-Thumbs

    You’re a brave man; what punishment did your wife invoke for doing this in the dining room? Or, did you do it on the sly while she was out and cleanup before she got home?

    1. pmac

      Well if he did it on the sly, video taping it and then posting it on the web would get him my nomination for a Darwin award. (And that’s only if he dies ( rules of the award) from the injuries sustained by her beating him with his own bench.)

  13. Howard N. Rosenberg

    Mighty cool.

    It looks like it would’ve been used by an itinerant woodworker, no?

    I’ve been wanting to reorganize my shop and ditch my bench to base everything on 1ft x 2ft x 3ft cubes to rearrange for different projects requiring different work heights. Seems as though a clamp-able bench top and this device would let me build all the case goods I could conceive.

    Thanks for showing us this video.

    Also – the music is great – do you know the performers were?

    Howard

    1. David RandallDavid Randall

      Agreed Jonas,

      This is a very elegant version of your father’s bench, with a nice solution for clamping it to different surfaces.

      Mine uses steel screws and dimensional lumber, but it’s the most useful addition to my workbench I’ve ever made, as well as being portable. I was a bit iffy about using this clamped on decent table, so made a stout, knockdown base for it that I can take apart and reassemble quickly.

      Thanks for providing the photographs and dimensions in the first place!

    2. ayous

      Hi Jonas
      Since the original bench was in your family, I was just wondering why the dog holes aren’t aligned with the tail vise screw, is there any reason? Thanks

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