Thoughts on 5' vs 6' workbench for hand tool/hybrid woodworking?

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Forum topic by SMP posted 10-12-2018 03:44 PM 1133 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2279 posts in 716 days

10-12-2018 03:44 PM

I am going to start building a Nicholson style workbench using the plans from Richard Maguire (the English Woodworker). My goal is to do more hand tool woodworking. In the videos he is building a 12’ bench, and mentions that he wouldn’t recommend building anything shorter than 5’ to be usable. This workbench will replace a cheap craftsman metal and particle board “workbench” that is 4 long. If I shift some stuff around, I can get a 5’ workbench in its place without too much of an issue. If I move the refrigerator that is on the same wall and some other stuff, I should be able to get a 6’ bench in there, but I would be most likely to “hear it” from my wife. So I guess I am wondering if there is much of a difference in actual usability for hand tool woodworking in a 5’ vs 6’ workbench from someone who has used both. What would the 5’ be lacking? Currently I use my table saw as my main worksurface/assembly. Thanks in advance.

10 replies so far

View Holbs's profile


2365 posts in 2840 days

#1 posted 10-12-2018 03:58 PM

In my future, a Roubo split top is a project. Already bought wagon vice :)
I also looked into length of workbenches. Seems 6’-8’ is ideal. 4-5’ would work, but remember when it comes time to hand plane or working on larger projects, consider your body stance on a 4’ piece. You will easily extend past 4’ with your footing. Also, consider your end vice sticking out.
Then you have to think about weight (longer the bench, heavier it is) and racking if too short of a bench.
My joinery bench is a 3’ length top. I could not imagine doing hand tooling on a 4’ or 5’ benchtop.

-- The Carpenter Bee is derived from the Ancient Greek word wood-cutter "xylokopos/ξυλοκὀπος"

View JohnMcClure's profile


1044 posts in 1451 days

#2 posted 10-12-2018 04:39 PM

Mine is 5’. I don’t mind it at all. With what you are used to, 5’ will feel amazing. It’s more important that it fits in your shop than meeting someone else’s arbitrary criteria.

-- I'd rather be a hammer than a nail

View Sylvain's profile


1057 posts in 3310 days

#3 posted 10-12-2018 06:02 PM

If you look at the Paul Sellers video, most of the time he is using only about the left 80 cm of it.
Now he is working mainly with his vise.
I once saw him planing an un-supported flexible batten in his vise. That probably needs extra skill.

Mine is a few cm under 150cm (about 6’).
You need some room at the ends of the bench, so even if you move the refrigerator, don’t use all the length available.

-- Sylvain, Brussels, Belgium, Europe - The more I learn, the more there is to learn

View Planeman40's profile


1502 posts in 3571 days

#4 posted 10-12-2018 06:03 PM

I have an 8 foot long Danish style bench. Truthfully, half the bench just accumulates “stuff” that I have to occasionally take the time to clear off. But there needs to be a place for “stuff”. I suggest you go ahead with your 5 foot bench and make a crude bench/table for “stuff” to go next to the woodworking bench.

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View GoingUp's profile


47 posts in 1058 days

#5 posted 10-12-2018 06:20 PM

What would the 5’ be lacking?


About a foot.

In all seriousness, what do you build? Will the bulk of it be under 5’ long or will you mostly be working above 5’? And what kinda vices are you thinking? Siemsen viceless bench, leg vice, twin screw, face, wagon, shoulder, traditional tail? Some of these will affect leg placement, and legs too close together will get tippy.

Also, I don’t know what this would weigh, but the shorter it is the lighter, and lighter isn’t better in hand tool woodworking work benches. This can be overcome, but something to consider.

View SMP's profile


2279 posts in 716 days

#6 posted 10-12-2018 06:54 PM

Thanks for the input so far all. As for what I build, that depends. I have built a couple large scale projects, a dining hutch near 8’ tall and a baker’s cabinet that’s a bit over 7’ tall. For those projects I used full sheets of MDF on my garage floor as an assembly “bench”. So I am not sure if the extra foot would even help on an 8’ project. Most recently I have been learning/practicing hand cut dovetails, so the goal is to build a moxon type vise, or bench-on-bench. Making smaller boxes, most recent was a dovetailed box to hold the wedding album. In the near future will be building a coffee table and replacement dining table top. As for vise, I think at first I am going to do the Siemsen style of cleat I think its called and a planing stop? Then once I can afford the wood screw, will build the face vise according to the plan as below.

So I guess the questions are, does the extra foot really help much on an 8’ piece that is going to hang off the end anyways. I suppose if thickness planing or jointing 8’ stock. But when I built the hutch I kind of used the almost-done hutch as a sort of bench, making the face frame a little proud, laying the whole hutch on its side and planing to flush. Or maybe since I never had a real bench I have just improvised. And I guess I was worried about it being “tippy”. As I once bought a clamp-on vise for this little Craftsman workbench and it was absolutely ridiculous trying to use, the bench is way to light and tippy.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


16814 posts in 3429 days

#7 posted 10-12-2018 07:33 PM

FWIW, mine is a 6’ bench and it’s not too long or too short.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View SignWave's profile


472 posts in 3846 days

#8 posted 10-12-2018 08:21 PM

My workbench is 82” and it takes up far too much space. My bench is also 31” deep, which is too much, not that you asked. My next bench will be shorter and narrower. At this point, I’m thinking 60-66” x 24” would be about right.

I have a separate assembly table that also acts as outfeed for my table saw. It’s not the same height as my workbench, but I plan on making a replacement that matches the height of my (new) bench while I’m at it. Then I can combine the two for handling the very rare large piece that I imagine making.

Having said this, I wouldn’t want my bench crammed in a confined space. I’d rather have access to at least 3 sides. I’d rather have a smaller bench that I could access from all sides than a larger one with no room to navigate around it.

As recall, Richard Maguire has a castle (or at least a large farm). I have a cramped garage. :)

-- Barry,

View MikeUT's profile


200 posts in 2170 days

#9 posted 10-12-2018 08:44 PM

My hand tool workbench is about 5’2” and the length has never been a problem. If I built one from scratch, I may have made it longer, but my bench top was made around 1900 by my great-great-grandfather. I found it leaning against the wall in my grandfather’s shed and its my favorite family heirloom. You can get away with a shorter bench if you make up for it in mass. I ripped a reclaimed beam to 16/4 for the legs and bottom shelf to give myself extra weight.

+1 on the advice above to make sure you have enough room around the ends to work. 4’ would have more usable space than 6’ if your space is too crowded to work around the ends.

View SMP's profile


2279 posts in 716 days

#10 posted 10-12-2018 09:30 PM

Great pics, those both look nice!, I’m jealous. As for space around the bench, I forgot to mention. There is a upright tool cabinet that is 6’ tall on the left side. On the right side is where my table saw gets parked, but its a Delta contractor saw on casters so I usually move it outside when doing any woodworking. That gives me around 4’ to the right of where the bench will be.

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