Time and again I see people struggling to make in impossible conditions. Doing it on a Black and Decker Workmate, with a workbench as flimsy as a kitchen door is heroic, but stupid. I see benches covered in glue, vices that aren’t square and a bench surfaces at the wrong height and not in itself flat. If you have to hold a job with one hand chances are you’re out of balance, think about it, give yourself a chance, build or buy a decent bench. This came in this morning from Don in Michigan:
Name: Don Hess
Email: [email protected]
I’ve purchased the first 4 DVDs and find them extremely insightful as well as helpful in my becoming a better woodworker. They have definitely convinced me to upgrade my workshop as well as the quality of the tools I own.
The biggest hurdle I face right now is obtaining a proper workbench. I think I know what I want but I could use some expert advice since I want to get it right the first time. Lie-Nielsen offers a bench similar in construction to the one shown in your videos but I’m not sure it is the most preferable to professional woodworkers. Do you,your staff and students find this construction to be preferable to others on the market?
Plymouth, Michigan USA
The bench is absolutely critical as you have realized from seeing our videos. With a decent flat work surface, that holds the job in position, you are able to put your body into the right place to do the job. This is about the height of the work surface relative to your height. It’s also about the weight of the structure so that when you plane or chisel, the job itself stays in one place it doesn’t vibrate or gallop around the workshop like my bench (all my students have better benches than I do). The last thing will you need is a cabinet makers’ end vice with a system of pegs, known in the business as “dogs”, running down at the top of the bench and situated in the movable part of the end vice. This is a system that will hold a job in place while you are working on it.
To work out the height, you want stand upright then bend your arm at the elbow with your arm hanging down vertically. Beneath the point of your elbow place the thumb of your left hand, now extend your fingers as far away from your thumb as you can. The point pointed to by your longest finger is the height of your bench top. Most benches we find are way too low. This height is perfect for planing, and will protect your back, in most general work. On rare occasions you may need to get over the top of the job for vertical paring in which case people keep a small ‘hop-up’, a low box 3-4 inches tall, tucked away under the bench. When they need to get up a little higher they pull the hop-up out and stand on that.
Our students make their own bench as a part of the course here; until they have a bench of their own they will use commercially made benches they are not great and cost about $1000 and really should be turned into firewood – they’re good enough to make breadboards and learning some of the initial techniques, as well as for making your own bench on. All I can do is suggest that you look at the best benches you can find in the catalogues and make a decision for yourself. Email me with an image if it will help. If it were me, I’d buy a cheap bench then use it to make a really good bench.