Yet another workbench #1: My belt and suspenders design.

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Blog entry by JonasB posted 08-27-2015 10:35 PM 6532 reads 4 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Yet another workbench series Part 2: Wooden Parts 1 »

So I decided I needed to finally build a real woodworking bench for my new workspace. I got all the books by Chris Schwarz, checked all the back issues of woodworking mags and browsed the internet in preparation. Then the first thing I did was break one of Chris Schwarz rules. I decided to design my own rather then duplicate a historical bench. I think I had valid reasons. My workspace is small. I could not fit a long bench. A short bench means planning forces have a bigger impact, so I decided to use canted legs. This also helps with clearance for a face vise. I don’t like the way a straight face vise looks on a canted leg, so my vise is also canted. In addition to aesthetics, I felt this would give me a little more clearance underneath for holding long items vertically. I also wanted the bench to be easy to disassemble, so if I ever move, the bench is not stuck in my old workroom with no way to get out. I wanted the component pieces light enough so that one person can manage them.

I started this project about 6 months ago and finally finished it last week. Like others who have embarked on this journey, I have done it in pieces with vacations, long periods of thinking, and testing ideas mixed in with honey todos stretching out the time. I am still surprised that something that looks so simple took so long. Luckily my homemade solutions work well.

One other thing I did during this project that I have not seen discussed by others is to use the freeware Freeplane mind mapping software. I have been using this software for a variety of projects and have found this flexible approach to moving ideas around invaluable. Each new project, I find new ways to apply it. On this project, I initially used it to capture my design thinking, then to build a materials list as the details solidified, and finally I used it to plan and document my activities long and short term. This really helped avoid some mistakes and make the best use of my time. This is especially important when you have significant time gaps in your work. It is also a good place to capture future improvements or additions you think of in the middle of the project. When finished, it provides a good log of what you did and why in case you want to use some aspect of your work on a future project (if you date your entries, you get a interesting time line). I have no connection with this software, but have used it extensively since I found it.


To get some dimensions, I decided that the top would be layered plywood with maple edging. The edging, chop and misc bits would use maple from a tree I had chain saw milled from my back yard that had been kicking around the garage for about 15 years. To use the plywood efficiently, my get started dimension would be a quarter sheet of plywood with the edges cleaned up and whatever I could cut from my maple horde for edging. This resulted in a size of 51” x 27”. For height, I wanted it slightly shorter then my tablesaw so it could be used as an outfeed table if needed. This turned out to be 35.5” which is also a good working height for me. The legs were splayed at a 15 degree angle (no special reason, just looked good on paper) and their footprint on the floor matched the top dimensions. This eliminated any cantilevered instabilities. Lastly I am too cheap to buy good bench hardware and I like working with metal, so I decided to roll my own face vise hardware. For an end vise, I got a deal on eBay.

My final design for the basic bench consisted of 5 wooden components: two leg assemblies, a lower shelf and a top made up of two sections.

The top consists of two sub-assemblies. The lower top is two 3/4” plywood panels glued together and framed by maple edges. The maple edges form a recess that holds the upper top which is also two 3/4” panels glued together. The upper top is held in place using multiple wood screws at strategic points. The wood screws do not penetrate the upper top more then 3/4” so are no threat to wood working tools. There are a number of benefits for this two part approach:

- It breaks up the weight so that the bench assembliies can be carried by one person.

- Since the top comes off, I can mount the end vise with flat head bolts and still have full access for maintenance if needed.

- If the top gets hacked up, I can use the old top as a guide and make up a new one from half a plywood sheet and effectively have a new bench.

- If I decide I want a solid top, I can replace the plywood top with a 1.5” thick glued up slab of solid wood cut to size and not change anything else.

I decided to make the lower shelf the same length and width as the top. This creates a variety of clamping opportunities since the shelf and the top are on the same plane when any wood is clamped in either vise.

For the face vise I wanted to eliminate having to bend down to put a pin into a parallel guide. I initially decided to try a linear bearing design that locks the vise and clamps the work with racking forces. I bought the hardware, tried it and did not like it. Did not go all the way with installing it, but in testing some prototypes, it looked like the angles could get a little tricky and if you racked too hard, releasing the pressure was not smooth. This is not a definitive analysis of that system. There are a lot of variables and it is quite possible I could have gotten it to work, others have, but I decided I wanted something simpler. I eliminated the cross option because you need to remove a lot of wood to install it and its on the expensive side. I read about and liked the chain mechanism. Seemed simple, easy to implement, and only required a couple of new holes. I decided to keep the linear bearing hardware as a parallel guide and marry it up with the chain system (= belt and suspenders). This turned out to be a good choice. If I ever build another bench, I would use this combination again. The linear bearing was reasonably priced and only required drilling some holes to mount it. Seems a lot simpler then all the cutting and mortising needed for a normal parallel guide with a roller mechanism. There is no place to put a pin, but the chain fixes that. The chop moves smoothly on the linear bearing, the chain clamps well and installation, once I had created the hardware, was fairly straightforward using Forstner bits and a drill press.

My chain system is a hybrid of Tim Muashige’s dogleg vise and the Ancora Yacht Service system based on the pictures and info they provide on the web with my linear bearing additions.

The end vise was purchased and only needed mounting on the end of the table. Because of the canted legs, I had plenty of room under the top and could mount it right up against the edge of the table. I did not want metal clamping wood, so I added a wooden front face and recessed the back of the vise into the table edge framing. I was prepared to do a lot of shiming, but lucked out and my routed out recess was right on.

So here is the design I came up with. The end vise was added later, so does not show here.

-- Jonas

5 comments so far

View Boatman53's profile


1065 posts in 3048 days

#1 posted 08-28-2015 03:34 AM

Thanks for mentioning my company, Jonas. I do sell all the part for the chain mechanism. And I’d be glad to answer any questions.

Nice bench, Jonas

-- Jim, Mid coast, Maine home of the chain leg vise

View htl's profile


5212 posts in 2011 days

#2 posted 08-28-2015 11:36 PM

Very interesting!!!
Came out really nice and just the right size.

-- An Index Of My Model making Blogs

View Nickdarr's profile


75 posts in 2883 days

#3 posted 08-30-2015 02:27 AM

Very nice. I really like the appearance of the canted leg vice.

-- Darren... Hmmmm, I got nothin.

View Dovetale's profile


8 posts in 839 days

#4 posted 05-07-2020 12:55 PM

Jonas, thank you for this article. Your bench is a beauty. I am in the process of building a hybrid Moravian style bench. I love the look of the angled vise and use of the linear bearing and rod. I have ordered a 30mm set. Did you weld the end of the chain to the rod? A few close up photos would be greatly appreciated. Are you still satisfied with the clamping performance of your modified leg vise?

View JonasB's profile


17 posts in 1905 days

#5 posted 05-07-2020 05:22 PM

No welding on either end. Both ends were attached using chain connector links. The bolt on the chop was filed down to chain thickness and drilled so that it fit like a chain link to the connector link. For the end under the table. I first had to hammer the hex head of the screw till it flattened out to the thickness of the chain. I then shaped and drilled it to hold the connector link. The screw is attached to the modified shaft clamp and is used to tighten the chain as needed. I have updated my blog #5 with a picture and minor word changes. Hope this helps.
I am surprised that the chain mechanism gets very little air time in the various wood working forums and magazines. It works great and is very easy to install. I love my chop and it still holds very well, but I will be honest and say it does not get used as much as I expected. Since I don’t have a dead man and rarely work with long pieces, I use the end vise and bench dogs most of the time.

-- Jonas

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