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One of the biggest obstacles to beginning woodworkers is carving out a space to work in, and building a bench to work on.

Recently, I built a pair of portable workbenches that are closely based on a now-disappeared commercial bench from the 20th century. These small-scale benches clamp to almost any surface, from a kitchen island to a dining table, and provide a lot of workholding.

• There’s a twin-screw vise that can hold an entire case side for dovetailing.
• A wagon vise and dog system that holds work up to 23” long for planing.
• A work surface for chopping and paring.
• The wagon vise’s jaws also hold tenons for sawing and planing.

All you need to hold the bench to a surface is a pair of F-style clamps.

The plans for this bench will be published in the next issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. But if you have a generous heart and would like to get a jump on this project, read on.

Recently, I’ve been in touch with a serviceman – an Air Force aircraft maintainer – who is trying very hard to get into hand-tool woodworking but doesn’t have the space or workbench for the craft. He sent me an e-mail asking if I could make one of these benches for him to purchase. Unfortunately, my shop schedule is booked up until the fall, and I don’t want him to have to wait that long.

If you have the time or interest in making one of these benches for one of the hardworking members of our active military, I’d like to talk to you about it. I can provide the full plans for the project, plus I’d be happy to loan you my thread-cutting kit from Beall Tools to make the screws. All you’d have to provide is about $25 worth of maple and a couple days in your shop.

If you are seriously interested, please send me a message at

Update: We’ve had several dozen woodworkers volunteer to help. Thanks to everyone, and I’ll post a follow-up to this story in the coming weeks.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 19 comments
  • stanley02

    I am active duty and love woodworking, any help as you stated chris, I would be overjoyed, I am in the early stages of trying to find the right features for the bench I want to build, it is a shaker style , the top will be four in thick made from hard maple, pecan, walnut, and ambrosia maple, I would love to get my hands on one of those benchcrafted leg vise kits, but so expensive, I have the perfect piece of spalted maple for the legvise, for the tail vise I was thinking about the veritas twin screw, any thoughts from anyone would be appreciated, thanks so much and god bless

    SFC Bell

  • minug

    I bought the April issue but no plans for this vise as promised????

  • Rob-0

    Will the Sketchup plan be available sooner than the next issue?

  • JackRich

    This is probably stating the obvious Chris, but you’ve tapped into a significant portion of population that have very restricted room, not a lot of money, but are keen as mustard in wanting to re-awaken or begin making wooden objects. I’m looking forward to the magazine article about the portable work bench.


    OK. Seriously, when will the plans be available?

  • Jonas Jensen

    What a great idea.
    Maybe somebody on a technical college has a class that could make a mini production as a project?
    I could actually use a milkmans bench right now, I am trying to build a sea chest onboard the ship, so the workholding is a bit of a problem.
    It will be made out of pallet wood (single use pallets here in Nigeria are made out of exotic hardwood).

  • wallace

    Thanks for the PIC and the Lead. My grand daughter is a Special Needs Teacher in the Amarillo ISD. She – and other teachers – could certainly benefit from having such a device. I work with the Amarillo Senior Citizens Center and can see multiple uses for the classes we teach seniors. As a Wheelchair pilot,I too can see the use of such a Movable Work Surface for a variety of projects. I eagerly await the PLANS!


  • rockyferraro

    Great Idea Chris!

    There is just something about this bench that speaks to me and I look forward to making this when the plans come out.
    Also from working in tight quarters myself I can think of many uses for this type of bench.



  • tdh36185

    This is an excellent idea, I wish I had more shop time (or any shop time) in the near future to help out.

  • wfariss

    Do you know exactly what month the plans for this bench will be published in Popular Woodworking Magazine?


  • BLZeebub

    If any of the aforementioned fail to follow through, you can sign me up to make one or two. Heck, I’d like one myself.

    I’ll even buy my own Beall setup as I’ve been putting it off and this is reason enough to jump.


  • nannyone

    What a great way of saying Thank You to a deserving serviceman. As an Air Force maintenance vet myself I know how hard it is to be able to have any kind of productive hobby when you live in very tight quarters and you are constantly on the move. Thank you Chris you are a real American.

  • aaronowe

    Great idea. I know he would love any of those items. I know I would! (Active duty AF man myself). Good on you guys fore hooking this fella up.

  • indymac24

    I’d love to build that for the serviceman! I live in Indy and can get started right away. Send me the particulars asap.

  • Tim

    I would like to build that portable bench, but I know I’d screw it up in some way. Could this vet use a St. Roy tool box (it’s the drop-front tool box from episode 2103)? I’ve made a couple of them and would be willing to make one for this veteran. Free of charge.

  • colleystudio

    I have been trying to think of a way to reach out to our vets with woodworking. This is a terrific idea!

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