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It seems that some of the most useful devices are too simple to think of, and this little box is an excellent example of that. I first saw  bench blocks about 20 years ago on a cabinetmaker’s bench, promptly said “doh!”,  smacked myself in the forehead and made a set of my own. They ‘re dirt simple – an open-ended plywood box about 4″ x 8″ x 12″, glued and nailed together. Of course if you want to drag out the process,  you can make them out of solid wood, shoot the ends to length and hold them together with cut nails or houndstooth dovetails. Then you can go online and debate what’s the best finish to use on something like this. Or you can grab a scrap of plywood and a pneumatic nail gun and be up and running in about 5 minutes.

In the photos, I’m making a template and I need to use the jigsaw and the router to make some precise openings in a piece of 1/2″ thick plywood. The block is clamped to the edge of my workbench, then I clamp the work on top of the block. This holds the work securely and brings it up to a convenient height. Without the block, I would be holding the work off the end of the bench. That is harder to clamp in most situations and I would need to bend down to see what is happening. That cantilevered method means an awkward body position, and for me that leads to either a stiff back or chips and dust flying in my face.

I’m only using one block for this operation, but I have a pair of them. For a bigger workpiece, I can place a block on each end and work within the space between the two blocks. The boost in height not only keeps me comfortable and allows me to see the action, it also keeps the saw blade or router bit well above the top of the bench.

The blocks also come in handy when used in conjunction with my vise. For dovetailing, I set a block on the bench behind the vise, and place the end of the work upright in the vise flush with the top of the block. That makes a stable platform to mark one half of the joint from the other, and if I want to cheat and use a router to hog out the waste, the top of the block provides a flat surface for the router base to stay level, without balancing it on the narrow edge of a board.

These can be used in any orientation, if I want to put the work even higher and they can be used on the ground as a short step to see the thermostat that’s placed just a bit too high on our shop wall.

–Robert W. Lang



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Showing 4 comments
  • Floydflame

    I see that your workbench has dog holes. How about using them with your beautiful twin screw bench vise to hold it on the bench. Fewer clamps to get in the way.

    Can I use this project to practice my dovetails???


    They look useful, so I put together a pair as described but with screws and glue and hardwood plugs to protect tool edges. Some scrap 3/4 birch ply and 3″ maple hardwood flooring for the sides make the boxes 4& 1/2″ high. Had to stop myself as I reached for the
    linseed oil/varnish mix…

  • Tom H

    Most of my jigs and fixtures – well, actually ALL of my jigs and fixtures are made from leftovers and scrap. I try to keep them simple. This is another example of a simple device made from scrap that will save lots of time, has multiple uses, will help prevent a sore back, and which works wonderfully. And it was completed without any handcut, half blind dovetails or expensive hardware sourced from a woodworking boutique.

  • CessnapilotBarry

    I’m always surprised that simple appliances like this don’t get more coverage. Easily and cheaply made for specific tasks, they can be far more useful than the time and material investment suggests.

    Maybe a series of short articles on spot-built, dead simple appliances could be helpful?

    If you hadn’t included the comments about solid wood and houndstooth dovetails, I guarantee you would have seen versions all over the ‘net that included micro-adjust levelers, replaceable phenolic inserts, and custom brass hardware!


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