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Workbench Design

As always I’m very grateful to anyone who makes the time to comment on my postings here, and I do my best to respond in a helpful manner. On the back of my last write up on the wooden try squares, Shawn was kind enough to ask a question about my workbench and in particular the vise – so I’ve put together a quick workbench review. There is a bit of a write up here, but just to highlight the benefits they are as follows: No bending down to adjust pins; low cost (especially if you make use of an off-the-shelf vise screw); more-than-acceptable performance. In addition, mine’s a looker, too, thanks to Richard Maguire’s wooden vise screw. Now it’s not perfect, and some folks may have noticed in the videos how the vise can rack (I think I made it worse by making it a touch too big). Along with the vise screw there was some leather enclosed. With this applied to the face of the chop, it grips very nicely indeed.

Being asked about the bench made me reflect on a few other things. One of the primary catalysts for my renewed interest in traditional-style woodworking was thanks to a chance encounter. In late 2012, I saw an episode of “The Woodwrights Shop” where Christopher Schwarz discussed his English tool chest. Within a few days I had discovered how vibrant the woodworking scene was and how the Internet has enabled people to exchange ideas like never before. That Christmas I asked for book vouchers and bought a copy of “Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use.” It was the first time I had read about workbenches in such detail. In most trade manuals, the benches have page or two at the most – and often just a paragraph.

From "Joinery & Carpentry Vol 1" by the New Era Publishing Co 1931.

From “Joinery & Carpentry Vol 1” by the New Era Publishing Co 1931.

I quickly came to the conclusion that I’d want to make a classic Joiner’s Bench. I also knew I’d enjoy building it with limited tools of a pair of sawhorses; it almost felt like being on the jobsite. I posted the process on the WoodTalk Forum,  hosted by The Wood Whisperer  Marc Spagnuolo. It was great fun to build and it was enjoyable (and helpful) to have feedback along the way.

The trump cards with this design are the ability to use standard ready-milled stock from what I might call “B&Q” and what you might call “The Home Center.” It’s a bench that is in no way pretentious, and begs to be used without undue concern for knock here and there. I did not apply any finish – apart from spilling a bit of orange paint down one side; I like the “lived-in” look. I have no fear of nailing things to the benchtop if required, and I enjoy having that freedom. The simple planing stop is a boon, too.

I took the opportunity to put together a short video on my bench and discuss a few further points. I  assumed  interest in a bench build video would be pretty low, but I was startled (and pleased) by the responses. It still seems the workbench is a potent symbol and passion for woodworkers. I had more comments encouraging a build than I had imagined, so I’ll try to get something underway during December. I’ll most likely limit it to two or three videos maximum. The joy of the version I made is it’s simplicity, allowing a woodworker a solid platform on which to make things. For another take on this classic design there is an excellent version in the current issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine although I’m not sure it stands up to the “Gentleman’s Area” rule…..

 — Graham Haydon


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Showing 24 comments
  • evail

    I love that bench! You were right on making something to work on simple and with great options. The size is a great thing for people who have a small workshop. I would love to see a build video and the plans. Great job!!

  • gumpbelly

    Graham, I like how you think. Evidently many other “woodworking writers” don’t have any level of back pain. Those knuckle dragging the top heights are not for anyone over 12 years of age. Your bench is rich with usable features, and without many of the frills others seem to think we “need”.

    Thanks for posting, you have revived this blog single handed since the dispatching of the fine trio of writers they chased off a while ago.

  • adifrot

    So much enjoy your practical approach to woodworking.
    I know how easy it is to get caught up in the finesse of this craft too.
    Your approach to get back to the functionality of the WORK bench is refreshing.
    It is great having a NICE bench, but sometimes we really have to get down and dirty on our work surfaces in order to get the work out of the shop and into the world.
    The finesse is in the end product where it counts.
    Similar to Paul Sellers, I like your style and your sincerity.
    Keep up the great work

  • Paul Johnson

    Perhaps a bit off topic but I am at a decision point and could use some advice:

    I am in the last stages of building a work bench, The top is two 2’5″ hard maple planks joined together with a spline. The legs and undercarriage are an assortment of 4X6 and 4X4 Doug fir. My question is this:

    Should I drill the dog holes next or should I finish the bench (using Waterlox) first and then drill the dog holes?

    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    Best, Paul Johnson

  • GG44

    Have problems logging in to “Comment”, so don’t know if this will show up as a new comment, or an add-on to Shawn. I would like to see a build, but would also like the video to answer some questions. Why does the vise work? It has a single, off-set screw with a spindle to balance and align, but I don’t see what keeps the faces parallel when tightening. Not knowing what the humidity changes are wherever you are, I don’t see what is to keep one of the vise faces from cupping. In the picture it would be the one on the left with vertical end-grain showing. How do you build “x” without an “x”? How are you dimensioning the lumber? How are you flattening the glued up top. The Woodwright’s Shop had an episode on how to afix wood to work on without a vise, i.e., how to build a vise without a vise, so how to build a bench without a bench.

  • Shawn Nichols

    Hey Graham, thanks for the writeup, video, links to the old vice post – I forgot all about it. I surely appreciate it.


  • rootertooter

    Please do a build,I like your ideals on making it to you and to work on not a show piece.

  • Jim McCoy

    Very nice. I would like to see how the bench is built too, especially the details of fitting the vise and planing stop. Great job. I enjoy your blogs a lot.

  • Workrage

    Graham I’m really enjoying your blog. Please keep it coming.

    Is your planing stop just friction fit? Wedged? Or did you add a spring?


  • alpen

    Great, simple, effective bench. Mine is very similar, and I have few complaints either. I do need to add in that planing stop though. Very clever!

  • jurgen01

    I would really like seeing a video of this workbench being built.
    I completely agree with you about not over-stressing about small details. Build the bench and get to work. Amen!
    Many thanks.

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James Hamilton