The Workbench #1: Initial Thoughts

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Blog entry by Wayne Precht posted 01-30-2009 09:24 PM 985 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of The Workbench series Part 2: The Top »

I have what’s probably a typical shop for the hobbyist furniture maker: a largish room in the unfinished half of a basement of a middling sized house. It’s not huge, but not really tight either. Like everyone in this position, space is at a premium. So in considering my latest workbench evolution, I had to decide exactly what size made the most sense.

My current workbench has some advantages, it’s 10’ long, it’s built solidly and sits under a west facing window. Unfortunately, it has some downsides as well. It can’t be easily moved, the top isn’t dead flat. In fact, it’s 3 2”x10” spruce planks screwed side by side to a frame. The height of the surface is good for power tool usage (all I was doing when I made it). But too high for comfortable hand planing. Also it doesn’t resist side to side racking under heavy planing as much as I would like. In essence it’s too wide (hard to reach the tools hanging in the window bay), you can’t clamp to the back side and it’s too high and weak to use hand planes.

So, I began to consider replacing it. As always, horizontal space seems to be at a huge premium in my shop (something I am sure everyone can relate to). This was drawn to my attention by the now permanent residence of a I-Beam and Box set that I built about 2 years ago based on Bob Lang’s article in Woodworking Magazine (Issue #4?). It’s a system of two 5”x5”x8’ I-Beams made from 3/4” plywood and two frame boxes that are 12”x18”x24”. The boxes are constructed to be useful on any axis and the system therefore is a quite flexible thing. I had built it to allow me to break down lumber and sheet goods in the driveway before trying to haul them into my basement shop. And also for use in whatever occasional needs my home improvement activities demanded. Well, they never seem to leave and I found myself using a 18”x30” piece of maple plywood over the I-Beams as a ghetto bench top.

And that got me to thinking. Perhaps a new workbench instead of replacing the old one. The old one still serves fine as a place to setup bench top power tools and material, but being able to get behind the impromptu bench showed that that was a more valuable trait than I had realized. Also, I rarely found the bench too short even though it wasn’t even 3’ long.

-- --- Wayne.

2 comments so far

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1 post in 4482 days

#1 posted 02-08-2009 03:53 AM

What is the best material to use on the top of a work surface?

-- Sheila, Mississippi

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Wayne Precht

58 posts in 5003 days

#2 posted 02-10-2009 09:52 PM

Sort of depends on what you plan on using it for and how you feel about it. I have seen lots of folks build benches like they are fine furniture. They smooth the top to mirror finish and add several layers of a hard finish like poly. Some of the people that do this are dabblers. They mess around in the shop as an end, not a means. I see nothing wrong with that, certainly there are days when that’s really what I am doing. But my main impetus is making things. Nicer things than I can afford to buy, if they were even for sale. So, to me, the bench is a tool and is to be used. Respectfully, like all decent tools, but used all the same.

Part of this is probably cost. If this top were 12/4 hard maple and ran me several hundred dollars in the rough, as it would, I would have a different attitude about use and abuse. Certainly, I think nothing of drilling into the top of my old bench (3 2×10s). I probably won’t treat this new bench quite that cavalierly. For one thing, I won’t be able to unscrew the banged up 2×10 and run it through my planer to smooth it up again.

So, to make a short story very very long, I will most likely finish this top with a homemade oil/varnish blend. With the idea being to give the top modest protection, but not a slick, hard surface. For one thing, a hard surface will encourage items to slide around on it.

-- --- Wayne.

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