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One of the questions that every student asked during my bench-building class last week at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking was: Where should I put my holes?

It sounds like a deeply personal question (one you should discuss with your doctor). And it is indeed a personal question.

Here’s how I feel about my holes. Your holes may vary.

1. I am not a holey man. You should have as few dog holes and holdfast holes in your bench as possible. I have seen benches that looked like they were about 50 percent holes by volume. This is great if you are building a downdraft sanding table. Otherwise, you are just reducing the precious weight of your bench and making more places on your benchtop for screws and hardware to fall into.

2. I keep my holes close. I used handplanes that have fences, such as plows and rabbets, so I like to keep my holes close to the front of the bench – about 2” from the front edge and on 3” centers. If you don’t use planes with fences, skip this advice.

3. I have a favorite hole I use all the time. This hole gets used a lot – for sawing, especially. It is based on the reach of my holdfast’s pad, the size of my bench hook and where I like to saw on my bench. This hole clamps work down on my bench hook for precision work and holds down stiles for mortising right in front of my face vise.

4. I have a few holes on the backside. I have about three of four holes near the back edge of my bench that I use to clamp battens into. These battens help me support my work laterally. It’s a good thing when you are planing across the grain.

Other than those holes, I have a couple others. But we’ll save those for our second date….

Making Holes
Another common question I get is about the best way to make holes in workbenches. I’m partial to a brace with a 14” sweep and an auger bit. But there are faster solutions. Senior Editor Glen D. Huey introduced me to the wonders of using the plunge router, a 3/4”-diameter up-cut spiral bit and an edge guide.

When I have a lot of holes to bore – like on nine benches last week – this is the best way to do it. First plunge as deeply as you can with the router bit. Then finish up the hole with a spade bit.

Oh, one more thing: I like round holes. Until they get a router bit that can rout a square, stepped hole in one plunge, I am going to stick with round holes and round dogs for the most part.

— Christopher Schwarz

Other Bench Building Resources
• Check out Bob Rozaieski’s blog about his construction lumber workbench and how it has held up after a year.

• Want a handmade bench? Last year we made a nice DVD about building an 18th-century French workbench entirely by hand. It’s in our store here.

• You can follow along as my students and I built 10 old-school workbenches last week in this series of six free videos.

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

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Showing 5 comments
  • Steve_OH

    I don’t know of any router bits for making square holes, but there are drills that cut square holes:


  • Joe "the Pro" Sainz

    Nice picture Chris. I’ll see if I can get the engineers working on a square, stepped hole bit. I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

  • esincox

    True Story:
    A few years ago, I had a favorite pair of jeans that I loved to wear. I’d help do the wash just to make sure they were in it when they were dirty so I could wear them again sooner!

    Towards the end, I had a hole in one knee. But I hadn’t given up on them – I was going to try and patch it to get a few more months of wear out of them.

    So we went to Michael’s to try and find a patch. It didn’t jump right out at us, so we split up to search the aisles faster.

    I knew I was close when I starting finding iron-on patches of rainbows and unicorns; I was about to say something when, from the next aisle over, I hear my wife say, in a normal voice, “Oh, this might work…”

    And then, in a much louder voice that carried farther than either of us was comfortable with, she shouted, “HOW BIG IS YOUR HOLE?”


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