Beginner wanting to build a bench, also some tool questions.

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Forum topic by NoValidTitle posted 01-06-2014 03:43 PM 3286 views 1 time favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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7 posts in 2108 days

01-06-2014 03:43 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

So I’m beginning to shop around for tools to start my woodworking journey. I want do to mostly hand tool work. My 2 exceptions are currently a table saw and cordless drill(debating adding a drill press to that list). So I need to start collecting a ton of tools and I have around $2,500 remaining in my budget.

I want to start out with the essential tools I will need to build a long lasting bench(I’d LOVE a Roubo style). My current workspace is a one car garage. I have a “bench” that is far from ideal. It’s a work surface that has served me for years but isn’t what I need going forward. It’s just some prelaminated plywood 8’x24” with 2×4 braces under it and it’s resting on 2 metal file cabinets. So the problems seems to be that the tool that would make building a nice bench the easiest is a nice bench, haha. So are there any writings out there that take into account good tricks for the home woodworker without a bench to build a bench? Like creative ways to keep wood still and such.

So I guess I have a few questions…

What tools should I go for first if I want to build a bench?

As far as woodworking tools are related I have the following so far:

Table Saw
Cordless drill
Combination Square
Rubber mallet(good enough to start with or should I have a wood one?)

Unfortunately that’s pretty much it in the wood dept.

I know planes will be on that list obviously so what numbers should form a set to build a bench?
Are there recommended readings for building a bench at home?
Would learning sharpening on premium planes be a good or bad idea? I’ve never sharpened anything.


21 replies so far

View sikrap's profile


1121 posts in 3864 days

#1 posted 01-06-2014 05:03 PM

Fine Woodworking issues a magazine a few years ago that was devoted to building benches, IIRC. I’m sure that if you google “work bench plans”, you’ll be inundated with offerings. You are definitely going to need to learn how to sharpen planes and chisels. IMHO, you don’t want to learn this on expensive tools, so I’d hit a few garage sales to buy some planes/chisels to practice on. These would probably also be good to learn how plane parts work, how to adjust them, etc. There are several of us around here that rehab old tools and we’d be happy to help you. As for what tools you should buy to build a bench, it will depend on the bench you want to build. My first bench was a Douglas Fir base with a couple sheets of mdf and a hardboard top and a face vise. I used my table saw, router and corded drill. A good friend of mine built a beautiful bench with a tail vise and he used all hand tools (a scrub plane, #6, #7, and #4 planes, chisels for dovetailing the tail vise, mortise chisels for the mortises, saws for the tenons, etc). Did that help? :))

-- Dave, Colonie, NY

View TaybulSawz's profile


181 posts in 2187 days

#2 posted 01-06-2014 05:24 PM

I think a bench like this…

is the perfect beginners bench. Made from structural FIR lumber with a MDF/Masonite 30” x 72” top banded with some 1 3/4” x 3/4” thick hardwood and a single 10” vise. Plenty of Storage and very solid. You can build it with the tools you listed and do a quality job. A Planer and a Jointer would be nice to make clean up the wood edges a bit but the tablesaw could do that to. Legs should be 3” square. If you hand pick at the Lumber yard you can find some good rift sawn 2×4’s that will be fairly Knot free for the legs and rails. a 1×6 for the Drawers and some plywood for the shelves. Plans are all over the WWW so start looking and start building. You should easily be able to build this for under $$150 including the cost of the vise.

-- Still got all my Fingers!!!

View bondogaposis's profile


5538 posts in 2856 days

#3 posted 01-06-2014 05:32 PM

I built my Roubo on a pair of saw horses. I’d start by building saw horses. I’d get a jack plane, Stanley #5 and a jointer plane, Stanley #7 or #8. Get some chisels too. Build the top first then you can use the top on the sawhorses to build the rest.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 3181 days

#4 posted 01-06-2014 06:13 PM

As much as I love roubo style, I’ve never built one. they’re too small for cabinetry work. But that’s me.

It would be nice to build one but, it would be a bucket (end of the) list project like a QS tool box or a fancy display cabinet for my antique plane collection. Plenty of time for that.

A good set of 34” tall saw horses with two studs and a sheet of 3/4” plywood works fantastic. you need all that room sometimes.

If I had that much money, a roubo bench would not be on the list…. not yet.

If you go to habitat for humanity or look in the paper, you can find old kitchen cabinets that are in fine shape for a garage. I painted my 1960s cabinets gray and bought premade counter tops. The drawers and amount of storage and counter space is really nice to have. take a look at my workshop…. all used left overs.

Save that money for tools and don’t buy unless you need it or they’re ON SALE.

Patience, grasshopper.

If you go custom, I love Tabulsawz bench above, it would fit nicely in a one car garage. copy someone’s plans.

BTW – a decent miter box should be 2nd on the list….wait, you don’t even have a hammer?

time to go shopping!

View NoValidTitle's profile


7 posts in 2108 days

#5 posted 01-06-2014 06:47 PM

I own a hammer! haha.

The list up there is what I have already. :)

That budget is planned to be used for tools. Lumber is it’s own budget. That being said I don’t have to spend it all at once. I’m just trying to figure out what I will need first so I can get started on a bench and buy more things as I need them. I’m not trying to be a tool collector, I want to be a builder. :) most of my interest is aimed at building furniture.

So far I’ve come up with these things, feel free to tell me I’m wrong:

A set of various sized chisels
Rip & Cross Panel saws
Tenon saw
Dovetail Saw
I was going to go with a set of 3 planes, like a 4 1/2, 5 1/2 and a 7, maybe a block plane too
Marking knife
Nail set
Sharpening stones

That’s off of the top of my head, I should really make a proper list.

had to edit it to add clamps on the end, that’s a big one.

View bondogaposis's profile


5538 posts in 2856 days

#6 posted 01-06-2014 08:01 PM

Yes, put clamps on your list. Then put more clamps on your list. Then put still more clamps on your list. Then put still more clamps because I don’t have enough clamps on your list.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 3181 days

#7 posted 01-06-2014 08:15 PM

“I’m not trying to be a tool collector, I want to be a builder. :) most of my interest is aimed at building furniture.”

we are ALL tool collectors, my friend. Some you use, some you don’t.

and a builder usually builds Houses, you are a woodworker or a future furniture maker.

I like your list with a few changes:

6 pc. Craftsman chisels
a 12” tenon saw, if you must
a coping saw, drywall jab saw, a 12 pt. pull saw, a 26” antique Disston D8 5 pt.
a used 60 1/2 and a 9 1/2 block plane, a # 3, #5, # 7 – but you won’t use them probably
a box of pencils and a good electric pencil sharpener.
scratch awl, center punch, counter sink drill bits, centering drill guide
1,2,3 nail sets, rasps, files, sanding blocks, 2’, 4 ft. levels,
sharpening stones, grinder, sharpening jig,
clamps, yes, lots of clamps.

have fun!

View NoValidTitle's profile


7 posts in 2108 days

#8 posted 01-06-2014 08:40 PM

Yes, sorry a woodworker and future furniture maker is a better way to put it. :)

That’s the thing, I hope to not be a collector in the unused sense. I don’t want to buy things I wont use.

Thanks for that more detailed breakdown. I’ve also started on a couple books from Chris Schwarz. I have a few more books from others on their way as well.

View brtech's profile


1066 posts in 3427 days

#9 posted 01-06-2014 08:42 PM

Building a Roubo style with construction lumber isn’t expensive. It’s the metal parts that make it expensive. So don’t use expensive metal parts. Find a source of SYP, get some 2×10s and 2×12s, cut them down on your TS, and build a Roubo. Use the Lee Valley screw for a tail vise, and the same for a leg vise, or one of these: for a front vise.

Less than $200, good skill builder and a great tool when you are done. You can build it on what you have. Lots of instructions around. Take a look at Jords’ version with videos for good construction ideas.

The Narex chisels seem to be a good first set. Use scary sharp for a while until you know what you don’t like about it before you spend any more money on sharpening.

Is your combination square really square, and accurate? If not, upgrade (Ebay, used, but not abused)

You might consider a japanese double sided pull saw. Another great option is the new Veritas Carcass saws. Sweet, inexpensive, quality saws.

You definitely want a coping saw, and I really think a jig saw is a good investment.

You want used planes and learn how to set them up. Start with the block, #3 and #5. There is an argument that you don’t really need that #7, but if you buy an ugly one on ebay or a flee market and fettle it yourself, the investment is small.

Lots of clamps. When starting out, I’d suggest a trip to HF for the blue handled F clamps in 12” and some Pony (or equivalent) 3/4” pipe clamps (although the HF ones aren’t bad). See if you can persuade an HD employee to cut down the longest black pipe they have into 4’ lengths, and thread both ends. If you have a plumber friend, buying a 21’ stick at a real plumbing supply store is even cheaper. Get some couplers to make longer lengths. Eventually, you will want parallel clamps (Jet or Bessey Revo K), but they are pricey. You can never have too many clamps.

View JayT's profile


6292 posts in 2716 days

#10 posted 01-06-2014 08:42 PM

Building a bench without a bench to build on. Paul Sellers covers exactly that in his Workbench blog series. Whether you build that exact bench or not, he demonstrates a lot of good techniques and ideas to make a very good bench on a budget with hand tools. Budget in for a decent vise or two while you are at it.

My list of tools to start out would be similar to reedwoods. Stretch your dollars as best as possible by buying good quality tools that won’t need to be replaced, not cheap tools that will need upgraded soon. Start with some basics and then save the rest to add tools as you need them for projects and your skill grows.

Chisel Set—a 4pc Narex set gets really good reviews for the money
Planes—if you are going to be doing all hand tool work, start with a smoother (#3, #4 or#4-1/2), jack (#5), jointer (#6 or #7) and a good block plane, such as a 9-1/2, 18 or 60-1/2. If you stay with mostly hand tools, you will want to add a router plane, such as a 71 or 71-1/2 to that very soon, as well as a spokeshave.
Sharpening equipment-oil stones, water stones, diamond plates or sandpaper will all work. Pick one system and go. Also invest in a honing guide—the Eclipse style ones are inexpensive and work just fine.
More clamps
Saws—a crosscut saw of some kind to start. You can do rips on the table saw, but having a crosscut to break down pieces would be handy.
Rasps—invest a little bit here and get a couple good, hand stitched rasps of different sizes, not the Nicholson’s from the BORG. A little rasping can do wonders for a project.
Scrapers—a couple of card scrapers and a burnisher
Oh, and get some more clamps.
Machinist square—a 4 inch model is a handy size. Combo squares are OK, but having one good fixed square is invaluable

After that, you will be able to make a lot of your own smaller tools. Marking knife, awl, marking gauge, mallets, and more are great small projects to get started with. Gives you a chance to practice and use your new tools, plus working with a tool you have made yourself is very rewarding.

Edit: You mentioned Chris Schwarz. Make sure to check out his bench books, as well as “Coarse, Medium, Fine” for some help with plane selection and usage.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View 12strings's profile


434 posts in 2889 days

#11 posted 01-06-2014 09:52 PM

It’s quite a bit of a jump from a #3 that someone recomended to a 4 1/2 smoother you listed…I hope you have tried the various sized smoother so you know (1) what fits your hand, and (2) how wide of a blade you want.

You don’t actually need a smoothing plane to make a bench, since flatness is more a concern than being tear-out free.

-- I'm strictly hand-tool only...unless the power tool is faster and easier!

View NoValidTitle's profile


7 posts in 2108 days

#12 posted 01-06-2014 10:11 PM

Yeah that list isn’t set in stone yet so your feedback is very much welcome. Thanks for all of the info so far. I’m definitely going to check out that Paul Sellers series…. and more clamps.

View Armandhammer's profile


235 posts in 2131 days

#13 posted 01-06-2014 11:14 PM

I really like the looks of that bench. Being that I need a smaller one for my spare bedroom workshop…that looks perfect Kills two birds with one stone…bench and storage.

View Nicholas Hall's profile

Nicholas Hall

352 posts in 2611 days

#14 posted 01-07-2014 02:21 AM

+1 on Paul Sellers

There is no shame in a planer, jointer, and bandsaw however. By all means master the art of handtools, there is tremendous value and joy in doing so. But I would strongly suggest that you attempt to build a coffee table using only inexpensive hand tools and rough cut lumber before you spend all $2500 on Veritas hand tools. If you love every second of it, by all means buy only hand tools. If you start feeling like the old masters had a good idea when they relegated the hundreds of hours of labor intensive stock preparation to unpaid apprentices, while retaining the fine work for themselves, you’ll want to keep $1,500 for a modest bandsaw, jointer, and planer.

Just my 2 cents

-- Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. -Groucho Marx

View richardwootton's profile


1701 posts in 2460 days

#15 posted 01-07-2014 02:36 AM

A&H have you checked out Mosquito’s small bench he uses in his spare room in his apartment? I’m building one similar to it and will be posting pictures of the build once it warms up a bit and I can get back in the shop without freezing to death.

-- Richard, Hot Springs, Ar -- Galoot In Training

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