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Importance of Workbench in Hand planing?

14563 Views 9 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  DavidFisher
So, I have a mechanical background and I understand a good deal about rigid setups when machining on a milling machine and good rigid toolpost setups on a lathe and that the mass of the machine can play a major role in how well the finish is…less chatter marks, better finish, less deflection. So do you think the Work bench and its rgidity is equally important. The reason why I ask is ( let me ramble a moment) almost a "What came first, the chicken or the egg" type of a question. I purchased a #4 Groz plane a few months back, got it out of the box thinking this is going to be really cool, I'm going to make some shavings, smooth the top of this box out UHH! Not so, I fiddled with it for a little while and put it back up. Then I got interested in it again, took it out and did my best to put a good edge on it….Low and behold I got a nice big curl out of the mouth of it…And I WAS HOOKED! I keep trying with various degrees of satisfactiion, but I think part of my problem is that my workbench is basically a 1-1/2" piece solid pine table top the neighbor gave me sitting on top of the steel frame that my Sears table saw came crated in. I keep eyeballing the new Stanley Sweetheart planes, teasing my wife about wanting a Lie Nielsen plane, even pouring over the Lee Valley catalog and the Veritas planes. So now that I've rambled, let me ask my questions.

1.) I think I already know the answer, but do I need a better workbench to do handplaning on? Is the mass and rigidity of the bench just as important as it is in metalworking
2.) Would my money be better spent first getting or building a good workbench and then getting a better plane?
3.) The biggest problem with a nicer bench is that my bench now is out on a little porch in from of my workshop. I guess I need to post a workshop tour. Eventually I plan on covering the porch…maybe it's nothing a good coat of marine varnish won't cure.

Well better get to the paying job UHH!
Thanks for your comments!
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Oh, man, the Workbench is just as critical as the plane.

I used to work on an old door on a 2×4 frame. It was a great outfeed and assembly table. I did great on it with my router.

But, for hand planing, I'd push that sucker all over the shop. Most of my energy was wasted in the racking and scooting of the bench.

There are plenty of workbench plans out there - you will find lots of the. Just remember - mass is your friend!

I would lay down the money (it's not all that expensive) to build a good bench. Southern Yellow Pine construction lumber is a great choice for most - if not all - of the bench.

Here's a shot of mine…

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I'm going to agree with TampaTom and add a little. Not only is it important to keep the wood from moving all over when you are planing, but you also want the wood to be held in such a way so that you have full access to the surface being planed. I don't have a bench at the moment, but I do have a setup where I can clamp the wood so it will not move for the most part. The biggest obstacle I face is the clamps holding down the wood interfere with the stroke of the plane and makes for mixed results.

i dont have a real/nice workbench - it's a wooden desk made of poplar or something similar that i reinforced with 2×4s to prevent racking and added mass. the top is a panel of 3/4 MDF over the already laminated desk top. My floor is uneven too, so i find that placing it on a thick carpet helps keep it from walking.

i did all that reinforcement when i started using hand planes. i do hope to one day build a real bench, probably the new fangled workbench from FWW. But yeah, that sucker has to be rigid. storing heavy equipment on a lower shelf like Tom does would definitely help. my point is, it doesnt need to be a REAL bench - there's no reason a door on supports can't work, it just needs to be done right.
1.yes, a good workbench (this is such a general term though) is essential! you can make a great working bench for <$200, do a search here on LJ, also check out Chris Schwartz blogs on popular woodworking.
2.invest in a good workbench first - it'll service you in more than just hand planing. when you work in the proper posture, and have a good stable work area - just like machining, the results show it.

as far as planes - you can get great planes on eBay, craigslist, and other markets such as used Stanleys which once tuned up performs great. might be faster to accumulate a good collection of workable tools then to get each one of the LN, or LV planes (those are great, but do cost more).

These guys all are right about the bench… its just as important as the plane…. there is one ( no two) thing I disagree about, and that is that the bench is probably more important! :) If you have a good bench you have not just an easier time working its more comfortable and you are not so tired at the end of the day. It like walking in sand, (or in snow up one of the alps) its harder because every step you take the sand/snow asorbs energy that should be going into the piece being worked on. and not just for planing, hammering and clamping for everything.

The second thing that I would do if I were a woodworker and getting into working on projects, is get an Ulmia work bench. Yeah, they are really expensive, but they are better than anything you can build. Its great quality, sturdy (made of solid beech, has built inbench hooks, which you use ALL the time as a profi cabinetmaker, has drawers and different accessories you can buy for it too when needed. It has great vises/clamps which work wonderfully, a dust/tool area on the back which is great, come in different lenghts depending on how big of one you need and the company has been around for forever and I personally can not think of or have seen a cabinetmaker outside of Germany with out one of these benches. They are simply the best. NO I am not a rep for the company, but I have worked in England, where they did not have them at the shop where I worked and I missed it sorely!

You have to calculate your time too when considering the time to build a bench, say the materials cost a few hundred for a good bench, you need a good bench to make a goodbench! not to mention a ton of time! There is an old expresion in germany "I can not afford a Cheap one!"

So at that emotional outbreak over a workbench… you have to decide!
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Thank you very much for the comments. I think I'll save up for a good bench first and then start looking for a couple of handplanes. I'm a little hesitant about getting them off of ebay because someone mentioned that some of them have cracks at the throat….I'd just be a little afraid I'd get junk not being able to see it up close. I think I'll buy that book by Garrett on handplanes and study up a little too.

Thanks for the good info!
Most of the ebay sellers are quite honest. Ebay kicks them off if they're not. Don't deal with any with less than 99.5% positive.
Bench. And the joy of making one for yourself. It can be a super duper one you see made here by others or a simpler one that suffices but lets you upgrade later as your skills improve. But consider researching and making it yourself. It will become the hub or your attention in the shop. When you've made it, it takes on a sort of 'my bench and me' kind of feeling.
Thank you Mr. 3finger. I'll have to give some of those a try. I don't have a useable bench at the moment, but sometime in the future that will change. My problem is I have to clamp my work pieces to a saw horse type stand for planing.
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