Workbench against the wall vs. island assembly bench and mobile workstations

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Forum topic by KevinH posted 09-28-2017 02:32 PM 11105 views 1 time favorited 23 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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126 posts in 4780 days

09-28-2017 02:32 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question workbench mobile

I have a new house that came with an unfinished basement where I am creating a 500 square foot dedicated shop (31X13 ft, plus an additional 10×7ft “el”). One end will be for sizing, jointing and planing. The other “detail” end will be routing, fitting, sanding, etc. You can see the plan on my workshop page.

I’ve had workbenches against the wall before and would consider that for the sander, scroll saw, and bench drill press, but I wonder if mobile workstations for some of these tools would work better. I could roll them out of the way against the wall and pull them out when needed. I could put wall cabinets or shelves in the space above them. I could also get behind them more easily to sweep up the shop and not have so many places that accumulate dust.

Any thoughts or suggestions?

-- Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance. --Kevin in Happy Valley

23 replies so far

View Bill_Steele's profile


748 posts in 2704 days

#1 posted 09-28-2017 07:22 PM

I’ve had a workbench against the wall and I prefer an island workbench. So much better to be able to get to all sides of a project. I think having as much counter-top/bench-top space as possible would be a good thing.

My shop is small and narrow. All of my larger tools are on mobile bases. I think mobile bases offer a big benefit if you have a small work space.

I would also consider designing such that tool/work surfaces are at the same height and can be dual-purposed (e.g. tablesaw surface is at the same height as the planer or jointer and can be used as infeed/outfeed for those tools).

I don’t have the space to have each power tool “staged” and ready to use. I roll them in/out as needed. I have a dust collector that I connect/disconnect to each tool. While this setup is efficient with its use of space and it is workable for me—it is not ideal from a flow or productivity standpoint. I spend what seems like alot of time setting up/staging the equipment just for a simple cut. I often wish that I could have all these tools (e.g. bandsaw, drum sander, planer, jointer) stationary so that I could just walk up – turn on – use it – and turn off.

Just my 2 cents.

View MrRon's profile


5975 posts in 4216 days

#2 posted 09-28-2017 08:09 PM

Lessons learned. I have el shaped workbench that extends for 20 feet along 2 walls of my shop. My shop is 15 years old and that bench has become a storage for everything. It has never been used as a “workbench”. Instead I have a 30×72 bench that is the only one I use. It sits in the middle of my space and although it is accessible on all sides, I have it set up as a hobby bench so the back is fitted with shelves and drawers for small parts. Most of my power tools are on mobile bases. Workshop design will change with age. The type of work you do will also change with age. At my current age of 83, My need for a large workshop (1200 sf) has changed. Since most of my work is of small nature (model making), I don’t need as much space as in earlier years. If I were to do it over again, I would have eliminated the wall bound benches except for tools that require that kind of arrangement, like for a radial arm saw or small tool that doesn’t require access all around. You will find that when you get older, your priorities will change, so it is hard to predict what your needs will be 10,20 or more years down the line. The only things I would definitely recommend is; keep all power tools mobile and have a walk around bench. The object here is to keep floor space as flexible as possible.

A manufacturing facility can design their space around certain tools and have it work efficiently day in and day out. A home shop is a lot different. You have to accommodate for projects of variable size. That requires temporary rearrangement of space to suit the project. The type of project you do will depend a lot on the arrangement of floor space. Probably most shops will be doing mostly small projects, but occasionally a large project will come up.

American workshops are different from European or Asian workshops. We think wide open spaces while those in other countries usually don’t have the luxury of lots of space. Their shops are very compact compared to ours. It takes discipline to work efficiently in a small shop.

View msinc's profile


567 posts in 1476 days

#3 posted 09-28-2017 08:12 PM

An island bench is really nice because as above mentioned you can get to all four sides to work on something, but it does eat up a lot of floor space. It’s also nice to let things hang over the edge if needed. All that said, I wouldn’t do anything too permanent…if you have a wife you might just as well figure on changing it all to suit her needs soon.
In 2000 I built a new house…5900 square feet and three stories. I figured surely to god I can have some of the basement…and I did. Just long enough to set up a nice little shop and then the one who must be obeyed spoke!!!
I enjoyed it while it lasted.

View Dustin's profile


707 posts in 1713 days

#4 posted 09-29-2017 12:48 PM

Since my shop is in my 2 car garage, which is right under our house’s bedrooms, we have a support pole right in the center. If I had the option to have my 4×8 assembly/outfeed table in the center, I would do it in a heartbeat. I’m basically losing one side from which to access my work.

Also, once my next couple of projects are finished, mobile bases for more tools is high up on my priority list. Easy to move out of the way, and preferable to work in the open area rather than crammed against a wall sandwiched between other tools/cabinets/fixtures.

-- "Ladies, if your husband says he'll get to it, he'll get to it. No need to remind him about it every 6 months."

View CHS49's profile


6 posts in 1238 days

#5 posted 09-29-2017 02:16 PM

Once you have and use a walk-around bench you will never be without one! Just make sure it has a good vise.

View Loupe's profile


11 posts in 1646 days

#6 posted 09-29-2017 06:15 PM

I am in the process of remodeling a 20×21 room into a shop. Finally after 32 years. I’m at the point of building a miter saw station and storage (I have none) bench. I’m asking you sages if I should build it full length against the wall or split it up. I looked at Norm Abrams project. Looks great but I’m just not sure. I never set up a shop before. Need help. Thanks!

-- Michael

View HorizontalMike's profile


7910 posts in 3886 days

#7 posted 09-29-2017 07:32 PM

Island workbench +10

I have both, but the one against the wall has tools and other crap hanging on pegs on the wall, and that is often in the way.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View MrRon's profile


5975 posts in 4216 days

#8 posted 09-29-2017 07:41 PM

I am in the process of remodeling a 20×21 room into a shop. Finally after 32 years. I’m at the point of building a miter saw station and storage (I have none) bench. I’m asking you sages if I should build it full length against the wall or split it up. I looked at Norm Abrams project. Looks great but I’m just not sure. I never set up a shop before. Need help. Thanks!

- Loupe

My shop is in a stand alone building with garage doors. My radial arm saw and miter saw are located along one wall with 8’ clear on the left side and on the right side, a clear opening 6’ to the right of the RAS and in line with the opening. That is so I can accommodate 2x’s of any length by allowing them to extend out through the door opening. My table saw is also positioned so long lumber can pass through the door opening after leaving the saw.

View TaySC's profile


270 posts in 1306 days

#9 posted 09-30-2017 02:17 AM

Island workbench, no doubt about it.

View KevinH's profile


126 posts in 4780 days

#10 posted 09-30-2017 05:07 PM

Thanks for all the comments. Sounds like an island workbench is a great way to go.

-- Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance. --Kevin in Happy Valley

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1620 days

#11 posted 09-30-2017 05:53 PM

I realize that I am very late to the party and know I’m not dressed correctly … being 100% unplugged, but yes, the island workbench is the way to go. At one time I had my bench up against the wall. That arrangement left a lot to be desired … as already mentioned above. Upon moving the bench to the middle of the shop, I found that having it slightly angled gave me a lot more room. My small shop is but 20×12 …

... for what it’s worth!

View ChipSawdust's profile


18 posts in 1228 days

#12 posted 09-30-2017 07:43 PM

I have a two car gar same sort of deal, but 24×13 without the el you have. An island bench is required, in my book. I have bench space along one wall for showing things, tools, pieces I’ve worked on, etc. But the main 33×72 bench is the center of my shop. My table saw out feeds onto it as well, saving a little space.

For the planer and jointed I have a flip top roll around do bench, which has sanding and grinding tools on the other side. Again, just to save space along the length of the narrow shop.

Eventually I want a reloading bench (which may sound design silly with sawdust around) and other bench space… You can never have too much bench space or storage.

View diverlloyd's profile


4059 posts in 2830 days

#13 posted 09-30-2017 11:24 PM

island is the way to go or make the bench mobile. anything flat that touches a wall is a shelve.

View OleGrump's profile


577 posts in 1317 days

#14 posted 10-04-2017 01:38 PM

Funny how bench placement seems to fall fairly evenly divided. Power toolers usually like their benches centrally located, while hand toolers usually like their benches against the wall. (“Usually” is the word as there are of course multiple exceptions to the generalization) IMHO, another factor may also be what one grew up using, or used while learning. (As an example, the only folks who seem to like a shoulder vise are those who learned on benches equipped with them…...) Pop-pop’s bench was up against the wall, so that’s what we used. Good, because:
In my own present case, the “woodshop” is a one and a half car garage, which also serves to house lawn and garden equipment, (including a riding mower and large rolling grill), general storage in the loft and has to accommodate “The Boss’s” personal vehicle when we’re out of town for any appreciable length of time. My own bench therefore had to be installed along the “rear” wall. (Nicely centered under a window)The lathe is along another wall. Anything else has to roll out of the way when not is use. Of course, if I had MY way, the entire space would be a dedicated sawdust factory.

-- OleGrump

View CHS49's profile


6 posts in 1238 days

#15 posted 10-04-2017 02:05 PM

You can make parts and pieces with a bench against the wall, but if you want to assemble them there is nothing better than a stand-alone bench that you can walk around. The table saw surface doesn’t work very well: The out feed is difficult to work around, it’s tough to use clamps, and glue spills are a pain in the neck.

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