Workbench build #2: Torsion or Torture?

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Blog entry by curliejones posted 10-28-2016 12:57 PM 1129 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Rockler heavy duty front vise Part 2 of Workbench build series Part 3: Question about 21st century workbench. »

I’m doing research for my first woodworking bench build and Have a question or two that some fellow LJs may be able to answer. I’ve looked at so many different styles of benches and I understand the advice to build for your personal style. I don’t yet have a hand tool style since I’m just now converting from power tools. I have a modest collection of hand tools, enough to get me started and I’ve learned to refurb and sharpen chisels and planes. I just need to make up my mind and build a first bench, work it, and see if I’ll build another down the line that suits my “style” as I develop one.

I finished building a new shop almost two years ago and have been catching up on the house, garden, and landscape projects that were ignored during that year. My work in the shop has been organizing, building a few jigs and fixtures, one huge bookcase, and refurbishing hand tools when I found them waiting for me at flea markets, auctions, etc.

The loft in my shop is stacked with hand selected #2 SYP , stickered and clamped about a month ago to acclimate to the shop environment. I plan to build a 2 ft x 6 ft bench. I want the legs on the floor and will devise a method to move it by adding some “flip down” casters, not unlike what Schwartz did to Megan’s bench.

Perhaps this gives you a picture of my current state as I begin the bench build.

I found opportunities to buy a couple of vises over the last couple years and just recently bought a third, certainly not out of necessity. It was simply “there” and at $20, I had to bring it home and deal with the confusion of choosing later.

Q#1 – Purists, please do not cringe. I plan to build a 2 ft wide, 6 ft long bench with a solid wood top. I’m leaning toward a tool well, but have not yet decided if it will be in the top middle (think Paul Sellers) or just along the back long side (opposite where the face vise is located). OK drumroll…....... the question is….. Is it ever, or at all necessary to access the underside of the bench from the ends???? I’ll have a face vise that will obstruct that access on one end and a tail vise obstructing half the other end. The reason I ask is this: I see no reason (other than practice) to do a complicated build (mortise and tenon joinery) on the bench base. Why not have the ends as two separate torsion boxes, but construct them so that the front and rear stretchers have a tenon that enters the framing of the box? This makes the ends a solid surface and prohibits reaching through from the bench ends, but is that really an issue?
Q#2 – I had things all set with two vises stored. One is a Wilton 79A quick release and the other is a 10” Eclipse. I simply could not resist buying the Rockler 7” quick release face vise when it was offered for $20. Problem is, now I have to decide which 2 to use without the practical experience of having used woodworking vises. The Wilton and Eclipse are both massive; the Rocker is quite a different style. I know that any and all combinations would work, but from anyone’s practical experience, please offer a method to choose the placement as I plan the bench. My bench top will need to be about 3” thick to have the vises mounted under the overhang (outside the profile of the bench base). This will also necessitate the bench base to be almost 3.5 ft long (and very heavy) to allow for the vise length beneath the top. I do not see a problem with strength or weight with a substantial frame then layered with plywood both sides.

In summary, any reason that the lower frame ends cannot be solid surfaces? How to choose two of the three vises?

-- Like Guy Clark sez - "Sometimes I use my head, Sometimes I get a bigger hammer"

2 comments so far

View Douglas's profile


424 posts in 3335 days

#1 posted 11-25-2016 03:40 PM

Hi Curlie,

Sorry to be replying a little late on this. But regarding Q#1 – you don’t want to use a torsion box on any part of a workbench. You need mass on a bench, and a TB is hollow. Every mallet blow will bounce, and you won’t get the force into your work. Make the top solid. And as for “I see no reason (other than practice) to do a complicated build (mortise and tenon joinery) on the bench base”, there is one: it will make your bench strong and solid, and heavy. Take the time to make your bench this way, and you’ll be glad you did down the road.

Good luck!

-- Douglas in Chicago -

View curliejones's profile


188 posts in 3041 days

#2 posted 12-12-2016 12:10 PM

Good advice, Douglas! Thanks. I built one bench prior to this that will be used as an outfeed/assembly table. I believe that my use of the term “torsion box” threw folks off because lots of the time they are used to reduce mass. The previous bench build (not designed as a chopping, sawing bench) has end frames for the base that are doubled 2×4s and 5/8” exterior plywood glued and screwed onto both sides. They are every bit as heavy, if not heavier than what I ended up doing for this bench. The solid plywood ends do block access to the underside of the bench from the ends. Here’s a brief summary (and pics)

of what went into the base for the current bench.

I engineered M & T into the long stretcher, double shouldered as it were. I simply made the tenon on the long front stretcher (2 layers of 2x) from the same thickness of lumber as the middle layer of the leg. The short side stretchers, however are simply lapped into tight-fitting dados cut into two layers of the legs. They will have another 2x layer added with the shelf. Rather than drawbored, I simply made sure all my joints were tight-fitting, glued, and pinned with steel screws. Legs finished up at 4.2 in. x 5.2 in., 3 layers of lumber. The odd sizes were because I used construction lumber and, although carefully selected, still had some planing and jointing to straighten it to my satisfaction. The main assembly is done and now I’m planning a half-depth bottom shelf, removable boxes for the tool well (21st century workbench style), dog and holdfast holes, finishing, etc. It’s rock solid and weighty even with two vises left to mount. The tops are 3.125 thick so I’m hoping that I get no “bounce” on either the apron-supported side (English) or the side with tenon thru the top and a long stretcher. Oddly, I came across a similar build here on LJ yesterday while researching holdfast hole placement. He did have a long stretcher on both sides and not a split top with a tool well. Thanks for reading my posts to all of you and Happy Holidays from the Gulf South.

-- Like Guy Clark sez - "Sometimes I use my head, Sometimes I get a bigger hammer"

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