In Shop Blog, Workbenches

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Of all the projects I’ve built in the four and a half years I’ve been with Popular Woodworking, the 21st Century Workbench has been my favorite, and it’s been a favorite with readers as well. I’ve received many e-mails from readers who are building there own version, or getting ready to build one. It’s been discussed on online forums and the SketchUp model is among the most popular in our collectionon Google’s 3D Warehouse.I thought it would be a good idea to answer the most often asked questions, and report on how the bench is faring after six months in the shop. The number one question is “What would you do differently now that you’ve used it for a while”? The answer to that one is “I would have built it 15 or 20 years ago”. The honeymoon isn’t over and this bench has improved my woodworking and my attitude about the way I work. I was used to working on makeshift benches and often resorted to less than ideal ways of holding work, like holding down a cabinet door flat on the bench with one hand while I planed its edges with the other. Those days are thankfully gone.

I designed in a lot of methods to hold work securely, and almost every time I work on the bench I learn another trick or two. The ability to remove the tool trays in the center of the bench has proven more useful than I thought and I can quickly secure my work to the top or front of the bench using hold-downs, holdfasts or clamps. The only annoying issue that has come up is a bit of shrinkage in the top and legs. The dog holes are now slightly small, and the brass bench dogs started sticking when the heat came on this fall. Mike Wenzloff shared a cool trick with me, and the dogs are now a bit smaller.

One area of concern among readers is the mounting of the blocks that hold the screws for the Veritas twin-screw vise. These blocks are more than two-inches thick and are simply glued to the bottom of the bench top. The concern is that the pressure exerted by the vise will break the glue joint. As the project neared completion, Chris Schwarz expressed this same notion to me, and suggested that I bolt the two pieces of wood together. I’m convinced it will be OK, the edges were well prepared, the joint was clamped overnight and it was about a week before the vise was mounted. My thinking is that the joint is as strong as the wood itself, and I wouldn’t be concerned about the vise splitting a piece of solid wood the same size.

So far, so good, and if the blocks ever do fail, I will bolt them back on and take the boss out to lunch, while I eat some crow pad thai. If you missed the original article, you can buy the back issue, or find it on the new 2008 back issue CD. There is also a short video about using the bench here. And last but not least, there is a 60-minute long DVD that follows the construction of the bench. On the DVD are a PDF version of the original article, a set of detailed construction drawings, and a copy of the SketchUp model. You can get the DVD by clicking here and if you have any questions or comments, you can leave a comment here on the blog, or you can reach me by E-mail.

–Robert W. Lang

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Showing 3 comments
  • Martin Shupe


    Before I saw your bench design, I asked Chris S. once about a split top bench, referencing the Lee Valley plans. He said he didn’t like them due to the difficulty in maintaining a flat surface across the entire top.

    Have you had any difficulties keeping the two halves of the top in the same plane?

    Perhaps it is Chris’ turn to eat Pad Thai?

  • Bob Lang

    Ah yes. First pull out the metal spring and head to a stationary disc sander. You can put the brass dog in the space between the disc and the table and carefully roll it on the abrasive. Work on the downhill side and watch your fingers. In less than a minute the dog is uniformly (more or less) reduced in size and will now fit an undersized hole.

    Bob Lang

  • Wilbur Pan

    So what was Mike Wenzloff’s trick?


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