Thursday, September 02, 2010

Bench thoughts

So the workbench part of my brain still refuses to be idle, although the rest of me manages it all too well. Even as I was cleaning up the saw till door frames, I bethought me that it was a good example of why I should really be brave and try a workbench height as low as The Schwarz suggests.

I admit, I'm reluctant. 31", for such it would be if we follow the "knuckle joint of the pinkie" rule, seems so very low. But as I worked the far stile of the doors by holding the plane in front of me like a tea tray and swept it along, with nothing like the level of control I'd have wished for and barely any downward pressure at all, it occurred to me that if I could get above it a bit more, it'd have made my life considerably easier. And my shoulders would have thanked me too. So I'm practically decided I'll go for it.


I'm still vacillating on the matter of the tail vice, but I finally made up my mind that, however cool, the flip stop option was not for me. I love the idea, but it would have meant top stretchers, which I'm really trying to avoid. Eventually it dawned on me that any horizontal surface in the workshop always ends up with "stuff" on it anyway, so chances are I'd never be able to get to the flip-stop to actually flip it...

Meanwhile I'm just about getting straight in my head the order of events once I get started. Alas, the first one will be dealing with some light surface rust on machine tables. Sigh. Really it's a miracle it's not worse, as nothing was actually put in a long-term storage condition. More like the Marie Celeste where everything in the workshop was left as-is at the moment I left it. Heigh ho.

Anyway, I'll leave you with a workbench-related quote from 2001, from a writer who was, as I understand it, building his first bench at the time. 38" tall and with the stretchers bolted because "Workbenches, you see, are subject to a lot of racking back and forth. A plain old mortise-and-tenon joint just won’t hack it."

"With the bench complete, I was pleased with the price and the time it took, which was about 30 hours. However, I’m now itching to build a cabinet beneath the bench and to add a leg jack for planing the edges of long boards. Maybe I’ll get to that next issue, or maybe I’ll let a future granddaughter take care of those details."

Or maybe he went on to build another bench. Or twenty...


  1. I think there has been a tendency for people to build their benches higher in recent times but that's probably because of an increase in the use of power tools. For hand-tool use, particularly planing, I think you need to be over the tool.

    My bench is 32 1/4" high, which is the height of where my hand joins my wrist, with my arms hanging down, if that's any help. I find that perfect.

    Cheers ;-)

    Paul Chapman

  2. Sorry about the "country" look. In my area the term "country" is more of a caricature of the country style. My assumption, my bad.

    I posted a review on Schwarz's English-style workbench--that's the bench I've decided to go with. He's got the height of the bench in the drawings at 35" high. I'm going to shoot just under that by an inch or so. I'm 5'8" and that height seems to work good for me.

  3. Thanks, chaps; more data is a Good Thing. I will read the runes again and probably change my mind - again ;) Heck, if worst comes to worst, I can get a lot of large M&T practice making another base!

  4. In the WorkBench book by Tauton press someone built a very small bench (2 feet by 2 feet) up against a beam in the building to which they attached an emert vice. This alowed them to do the twisty turny things with the vice while not pretending it is a face vise. I know it may sound like heresy but maybe an emert is too much vice for a five foot bench? Lee Valley now has so many ways to hold a board just using 3/4 inch holes. Maybe the important thing about your five foot bench is that it needs to be very heavy and be at the right height? Work holding can be solved dozens of ways.

    Rick in Oakville Canada (formerly A Canadian lurker)

  5. Rick, no longer anon - excellent. I think it's more than possible that an Emmert is altogether too much vice for a 5ft bench, yes. But as I have to build *something* to put the thing on, might as well see what's it like. And if worst comes to worst, it's not as though one ever says "Darn, I've got too much available bench top to put stuff on" ;)


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