A Few Rules for Building a Workbench
As I built this an English-style workbench (the finish goes on tomorrow), I also developed a list of a dozen or so rules for building workbenches that really work. Allow me to share with you three of the rules that are critical.
Rule No. 1: Always overbuild your workbench. There is a saying in boatbuilding: If it looks fair, it is fair. For workbenches, here’s my maxim: If it looks stout, then make it doubly so. Everything about a workbench takes punishment that is akin to a kitchen chair in a house of 8-year-old boys.
Rule No. 2: Always overbuild your workbench. Use the best joinery that you can. These are times to whip out the through-tenon, the dovetail, whatever you got.
Rule No. 3: You must remain married as you overbuild your workbench. Every project is a strain on my everyday life (my job, plus my freelance work, teaching, plus building on the side). And whenever I build a workbench, I feel soreness in my joints and sorry for my family. If something isn’t quite right on a project, I’ll tear it out and start again. A bench has got to be perfect , like building a highboy, but in a different way.
The leg vise was the most recent handful of sand in my Speedo. Made using 1-1/4″-thick maple, the jaw was a serious piece of woodland ordinance. But when I put it into service, I had some small misgivings. It would clamp like a bulldog, but the jaw would flex more than the other white ash leg vises I’ve built. The maple didn’t crack, creak or show evidence of failure. But whenever I ask myself a question about a project, the act of asking it provides the answer. I had to remake the leg vise to be happy.
So I headed out to the lumber supplier. They wanted $150 for an 8/4 maple board that was 6″ wide and 8′ long. That’s too rich for my blood after Christmas. So I paid a visit to my personal lumber supplier (this feels a lot like drug dealing, not that I know anything about buying narcotics). He has 8/4 overthick white ash. He wants $100 total for eight kiln-dried boards that are 8″ to 13″ wide and 7′ long.
I remake the vise jaw. I remake the parallel guide out of figured oak (which is as dense as petrified wood). The grain blows out when I poke it with holes. (To the firewood pile with you.) Two more parallel guides later, I have one that makes me happy.
On Saturday I install the new vise jaw and add leather facings to the jaw and bench , these leather liners are actually small suede scraps made by Tandy leather and sold by Michael’s craft store. I highly recommend adding the leather. It makes a big difference.
I built the shelf, and added a 3/16″ bead to the shelf’s tongue-and-groove joints using my Clark & Williams beading plane. It’s one of my favorite tools of all time. (Thanks Larry Williams and Don McConnell.) Then some inevitable clean-up. Then I had to scoot home to make dinner for a hungry family. I was expecting some dark looks because of my continued absence. But they were happy to see me. I think that’s because the bench is just about done.