My first "real" workbench #1: Benches that I've owned and used

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Blog entry by Kent posted 03-16-2016 01:50 PM 1956 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of My first "real" workbench series Part 2: Okay. So why do I need a bench now? »

This entry is to provide you with some of my background experience. It might help you better understand some of my upcoming design decisions. So let’s go…

I started my journey into woodworking land with a Black and Decker Workmate 300. For all its limitations, it was a good tool. Certainly, at the time (early 1980s), it was far superior to any work that I was capable of producing with my skill set. Over the years this poor thing was used and abused, left outside to experience salty seaside air and winters’ snows. It survived moves to and from Ontario and Nova Scotia, twice each, and another set of moves to and from Germany. I’d accidentally cut part-way through the top and one of the hand cranks, and eventually overloaded the weakened top, breaking the damn thing. So, being a cheap (or was that broke? There is a fine line) bugger, I built up a new top and continued to abuse it until I eventually sold it in 2013. Sometimes I miss its utility; the rest of the time I enjoy that it’s not in my way anymore.

I’ll add another blog entry later to explain why my entries are so short, and I’ll add more to this one. Hopefully, you’ll be able to stay with me long enough for this to get interesting.

Recovering in Ottawa

-- If I knew then what I know now, I'd have made a completely different set of mistakes.

4 comments so far

View Grumpymike's profile


2500 posts in 3596 days

#1 posted 03-16-2016 09:47 PM

Hi Kent,
I still have my old Workmate and it sits nest to my table saw holding a “wing extender” or support for those long board cross cuts. Yes I do use the chop saw, but every now and then …

-- Grumpy old guy, and lookin' good Doin' it. ... Surprise Az.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5381 days

#2 posted 03-17-2016 12:50 PM

I still see old Workmates on job sites! I don’t own one, but I am surprised at how often they pop up.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Kent's profile


746 posts in 3077 days

#3 posted 03-17-2016 12:57 PM

Someday I might get another workmate, but not until I get my dedicated garage shop built. But that’s another story; I digress…

After my initial unsuccessful attempt at “being a woodworker”, I didn’t need, have or even want a bench. Then about 6 years later I bought my first house and the urge to do some renovations prompted me to build a workbench in the workshop. Okay, maybe the label workbench is a little generous. It’s more likely that it was a LOT generous. I attempted to laminate some lower-grade construction grade lumber on edge. In order to hold it together, I opted to hold it together with threaded rod. No glue for this puppy, after all, glue was for kids :-D

Okay. So I used the lowest, cheapest grade wood that I could find. And I didn’t even know enough to look for straighter boards. In fact, I could well have just picked up the stock that someone else had already culled and abandoned. And then I opted to not use glue. That at least means that having zero clamps didn’t make things worse. So I bolted it all together. As bad as all this sounds for a top, it was actually worse than that; I had used 1/4” threaded rod because we all know that steel is stronger than wood, right? In short order, the cheap lumber’s desire to break free and go its own way soon overpowered the wimpy threaded rods.

The supports were 3 triangular brackets that I could nail to some exposed studs. These were at least strong enough to keep the top from hitting the floor despite them not being made much better than the top.

This bench was left in the house when we moved out 7 years later. Predictably, it had gaps at the joint that made it look more like a chisel rack than a workbench. Fortunately, the smaller cracks held a lot of dust and kept it from getting blown back into the air, and the top kept the dust off the shop vac that I could place under it. Overall, this bench was the most useless one that I have ever used, anywhere, ever, period. Never again will I build a bench like that!

Next came the electric workbenches…

-- If I knew then what I know now, I'd have made a completely different set of mistakes.

View Kent's profile


746 posts in 3077 days

#4 posted 03-17-2016 07:12 PM

A couple of years and a couple of moves later I wound up with a 2 car garage to use as a shop. I was still learning a lot, mostly from magazines and PBS (Norm Abrams, Bob Villa & Roy Underhill). I didn’t appreciate Roy’s work and techniques then, although I did find them interesting. Needless to say, I was a “power tool guy”. So I bought a good table saw and a reasonably good radial arm saw, and these became my workbenches. There was also an old Beaver table saw (not one of the good ones) and a couple of stamped steel tables to mount your circular saw or jig saw underneath.

For the most part, workbenches were just assembly tables that collected debris between uses. The venerable workmate was still along for the ride and was the go to bench for any work with handheld tools. Another move and another shop and everything remained the same.

Then I packed everything up and put it all in storage when I moved to Germany for 4 years. No woodwork and no work bench, but damn I had a good time! Moving back to Canada found me with no shop, no space and no tools. Another move and I started to get my tools out of storage and planning to build a garage (wood shop). I do have one of those mostly metal workbenches that the home centres carry, but it’s not really suited to woodworking any more than anything else I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, it was here that I sold the trusty old workmate.

Things were starting to look up. Then “it” happened. I was run down by a SUV while I was walking across the street. Instantly, my priorities changed. 2 years later and my recovery is progressing well enough, albeit slowly. Check out part 2 of this blog (when I write it), to discover how this will affect the workbench that I’m now planning on making.

-- If I knew then what I know now, I'd have made a completely different set of mistakes.

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