Canadian Woodworking

Work-holding devices for multifunction tables

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Hold just about anything with these essential worktable accessories.

Author: Carl Duguay
Photos: Carl Duguay

Sized for smaller spaces, multifunction worktables (MFTs) have become increasingly popular over the past decade as a complement to, and in many shops a replacement for, a traditional workbench. No matter what kind you use – tra­ditional, multifunction worktable, clamping workbenches or a sheet of plywood laid atop a pair of sawhorses – you need something to keep the material you’re working on from moving about. In this article I look at work-holding accessories for MFTs. This isn’t an exhaustive list, as there are just too many accessories to cover, but rather the ones I’ve used and feel are most helpful for hobbyist woodworkers who make furniture and cabinetry. The accessories listed here can be used on other types of workbenches if they’ve been updated with round dog holes.

MFTs – the modern workbench

Novice and hobbyist woodworkers like MFTs because they’re smaller, lighter and easier to build than conventional workbenches. Professional furniture and cabinet makers appreciate MFTs because of their large work surface and greater flexibility when it comes to assembly work. And they’re also less expensive to build or purchase than a conventional workbench.

MFTs are an excellent choice for tradespeople who work on a jobsite and for woodworkers who have small shops with limited floor space. They’re also especially handy for those who do a lot of work with largish panels (cutting, clamping, routing and sand­ing) and for those who make a lot of angled cuts in solid stock and sheet goods. I’ve been using an MFT for the past year in my shop and wouldn’t consider doing without it.

MFTs typically consist of a replaceable reversible work surface that has a series of 3/4″ or 20mm holes that can accommodate bench dogs, clamps and other hold-downs, and fixtures to secure stock for sawing, sanding, routing, planing, joining and clamping. Probably the most well-known and widely used MFT is the Festool MFT/3 (FestoolCanada.com). While it works superbly with Festool power tools (notably a track saw and router) it makes an excellent worktable on its own. The 19-mm thick MDF (medium-density fibreboard) top is 33″ × 45″ and has a 7 × 11 arrangement of 20mm holes spaced 96mm (about 3-3/4″) apart. The top is encased in an aluminum frame with slots on the sides that you can use to mount various commercially available or user-made jigs and accessories. If you do hand planing and chiselling work on the MFT/3 you’ll need to purchase the optional cross-members, which pretty well eliminate racking. The MFT/3 comes as a basic version (the table alone) or with a guide rail system that’s well worth it in my view for the $100 price difference.

Festool MFT
Festool MFT – Duguay uses the Festool MFT3 for much of his work. As with all multifunction worktables, it offers a wide range of work-holding potential.

The most critical component in making your own MFT is the top because the hole arrangement has to be laid out and drilled precisely. You can either make your own jig or use a commer­cial jig, like the Axminster UJK Parf MK II Guide System (AxminsterTools.com). Check our article on how to build your own MFT (“Multi-function worktable: build the ultimate work surface”). If you loath the idea of constructing the top, there is the Axminister Multifunction Workbench. It’s a viable alternative to the Festool. The 18mm thick Valchromat (high-density fibre­board) top is the same size as the MFT/3 and has the same 20mm hole pattern. It also has a wide frame around the top that makes it easy to support stock vertically. Making a base for it is quite easy; read our guide on building one (“Axminster UJK multifunction workbench”) . Otherwise, Axminster has an optional set of metal adjustable tres­tles to support the top.

Customize the Base
Customize the Base – Duguay made a base for his Axminster Multifunction Workbench. It’s hard to move around, but he rarely needs to relocate it. You could even add storage shelves or drawers under this work surface if you wanted.

For small-scale work, such as box making, pyrography, carving, intarsia and the like, you may be able to get by quite nicely with a smaller worktable, such as the Veritas Worksurface (LeeValley.com). It’s a compact MFT-style worktable with 3/4″ holes that sits atop any work surface (including the dining room table) and is available in three sizes, from 12″ × 15-1/2″ up to 19″ × 29-1/2″. Large rubber feet keep the top from moving about on most surfaces and provide enough space to accommodate bench dogs up to 2-1/2″ long. The top is made of 1-1/2″ Baltic birch plywood and is surrounded by an aluminum frame that has integrated 1/4″- 20 T-slots on both the top and sides of the frame to provide additional options for clamping stock.

Veritas Work Surface
Veritas Work Surface – Smaller than many other MFTs, the Veritas option is great when space is limited. It could even be used on a kitchen or dining table if you wanted.

Other choices include the 24″ × 47″ and 24″ × 93″ Dashboard Portable Workbenches (Dashboardpws.com), the 29″ by 41″ Triton Workcentre (Tritontools.com), the 18″ × 29″ Kreg Portable Work Surface (Kregtool.com) and the miniscule 12″ × 14-1/2″ Sjobergs Smart Vise (Affinitytool.com).

If you plan to make the move to an MFT you’ll find most after­market accessories are designed for tables that have 20mm holes. However, both Benchdog Tools (Benchdogs.co.uk) and Lee Valley have accessories for tables with 3/4″ holes.

Bench Dogs

What makes an MFT so versatile is the arrangement of holes drilled into its surface. Bench dogs and the other accessories below inserted into these holes enable you to align stock accurately and securely. The dogs can be made of steel, aluminum, brass or plastic, and come in a variety of lengths and configurations.

Dog Collection
Dog Collection – Here’s a collection of bench dogs Duguay has on hand. From left to right: three Axminster UJK Expanding Dogs with compression rings; two more Axminster dogs, one with a small chamfer along its shaft and one with a large collar; a brass Bench Pup from Veritas; an aluminum Surface Dog, also from Veritas; and an MFT Plug from Benchdog Tools.

There are many different bench dogs on the market, though most share the same basic design. The shaft (the part of the dog above the worktable) will have either a thick collar or a narrow cham­fer to prevent the dog from falling completely through the hole. Dogs with thick collars are sometimes referred to as Parf dogs after their inventor, Peter Parfitt. Chamfer dogs rest on a bevelled lip that keeps the dog self-centred inside the hole. To use cham­fered dogs the holes in your MFT will need to be chamfered. The Axminster MFT benchtop is chamfered while the Festool is not, though you can easily chamfer the holes with a Magnetic Chamfer Drill Attachment from Benchdog Tools or use a chamfer bit in a router to ease the edges of the dog holes. The shafts on bench dogs can range from about 3/8″ to around 3″ in length. The shorter ones are less obtrusive and work well with wedges and stops, while the longer ones are better suited for use with track saw rails and fences and when working with thick stock.

Within Arm’s Reach
Within Arm’s Reach – Duguay keeps his collection of bench dogs nearby for easy access.

The body (the part of the dog inserted into the dog hole) may have a threaded hole for a clamping knob that fastens to the dog from underneath the table for additional stability. This might be necessary if the dog holes are not precisely drilled or because of natural wear and tear over time. This is why I like the Axminster UJK Expanding Dogs and Benchdog Tools Quad Dogs. Both have a unique feature that resolves this issue – dual expanding compres­sion rings in the body of the dog that take up “dog hole slop.” The rings are activated by simply twisting the dog shaft.

Parf Dog
Parf Dog – Dogs with thick collars are sometimes referred to as Parf dogs, after their inventor, Peter Parfitt. (Photo by Lee Valley)

There are also a variety of specialty bench dogs. Lee Valley spring-loaded Prairie Dogs for 3/4″ holes lock flush with the table­top when pressed downward. Push them a second time and they pop back up and lock in the raised position.

Riser-type bench dogs raise material off the table. The Axminster UJK Work Support Dogs are height-adjustable, raising work from 20mm up to 29mm above the tabletop. They’re handy when applying finishes as well as for levelling uneven workpieces. Most woodworkers use a track saw to rip and crosscut panels and sheet goods on their MFT. This usually results in scoring the MFT top. While it doesn’t compromise the tabletop strength (unless you cut too deep) you’ll end up with a rough-looking surface. You can flip over MFT tops to use the other side, but an inexpensive way to keep your MFT tops score-free is with Bench Top Protectors from Benchdog Tools or Anti-Slip Workbench Protection Dogs from Axminster. Place them under the stock you’ll be cutting and ensure the track saw blade protrudes only about 1/8″ below the stock surface.

UJK Anchor Dogs
UJK Anchor Dogs – UJK Anchor Dogs, made by Axminster, sit flush with the tabletop. They have a threaded hole running through the dog that accepts M8 size bolts so you can attach shop-made jigs to the dog. (Photo by Axminster)

If you like to make your own jigs, you’ll want to look at the Axminster UJK Anchor Dogs available in 18mm and 32mm lengths. Similar to Prairie Dogs, they sit flush with the tabletop. However, they have a threaded hole running through the dog that accepts M8 size bolts so you can attach shop-made jigs to the dog.

In fact, all those holes in an MFT top make it easy for small parts, such as small drill bits, screws, nuts, bolts and like, to fall through and onto the floor. MFT Plugs from Benchdog Tools cover the holes while sitting flush with the tabletop. To use these, you’ll need to chamfer the dog holes, which you can do with the Benchdog Tools chamfer tool.

Bench Top Protectors
Bench Top Protectors – Benchdog Tools makes a dog that fits into a dog hole and provides a gap between a workpiece that’s about to be cut to size with a track saw and the bench. (Photo by Benchdog Tools)

With so many bench dogs to choose from, where do you start? I suggest you begin by purchasing a pair of short and long bench dogs. After using them for a while you can determine what sizes suit you best and what additional configurations you could use.

Hold-downs

While bench dogs enable you to align stock, hold-downs (a.k.a. surface clamps) exert downward pressure to keep stock from moving about on the work surface. Akin to the holdfast used on tra­ditional benches, they secure your work firmly to the tabletop.

Toggle clamps are widely used as hold-downs because they’re quick acting and can be adapted for a variety of uses. The most common and useful types are vertical (the handle is positioned up in the locked position), horizontal (the handle is positioned down when locked), and plunger or push-pull (the locking bar operates in a straight-line direction and the handle is typically positioned down).

Toggle Clamps
Toggle Clamps – These clamps can be secured to MFTs with clamping knobs for added stability. Left to right: Bessey vertical clamp; Axminster horizontal clamp; and TSO Products Power-Loc vertical clamp, which uses a locking lug mechanism to hold the clamp in place rather than a clamping knob.

Bessey Auto-Adjust STC Toggle Clamps (Besseytools.com) are among the most well-known and widely used because the clamps have an automatic clamping capacity that adapts to stock of vary­ing thickness. Bessey has a mounting kit (STC-Set for MFT tables) that enables you to use their toggle clamps on MFTs. It consists of a cylindrical plug and bolt that you attach to the toggle clamp and a knob that attaches to the clamp from underneath the table. Lee Valley Toggle Clamp Plates and Seneca Woodworking Clamp Dogs (Senecawoodworking.com) are other options you can use to attach Bessey toggle clamps. The Seneca plates also work with Kreg tog­gle clamps.

A hold-down I particularly like is the Power-Loc Clamp from TSO Products (TSOProducts.com). This is a bench dog that incorporates a unique swiv­elling locking lug mechanism that enables you to secure the clamp (TSO uses Bessey toggle clamps) to the MFT from above the table in seconds using a 5mm hex driver. There’s no need to use a clamp­ing knob, which makes them quick to remove in order to reposition on the work top.

Working Together
Working Together – Here, Duguay is using a toggle hold-down clamp and a bench dog together to keep a workpiece in place while he works on the part.

Ratcheting and lever clamps

Ratcheting and lever clamps are a great supplement to hold-downs, and they have the advantage of being quicker to use. Most have long rails that give you a greater clamping capacity – up to about 3-3/4″ with the Axminster Professional Ratchet Hold-down, a whopping 6-1/2″ with the Bessey Ratcheting Table Clamp KLI20-MFT-SET and 3-1/4″ with the Festool Quick Clamp MFT-HZ 80. I found that the Axminster clamp needs to be secured to the tabletop with a clamping knob. While the Bessey clamp has a threaded hole in the base, I’ve found it holds securely without using a clamping knob. Track clamps, like the Festool Quick Clamp FS-HZ 160 and Screw Clamp FSZ 120 designed for use with track-saw guides, can be used on MFTs as well.

 

Clamp It Down
Clamp It Down – From left to right, an Axminster, Bessey and three Festool clamps. The Festool on the far right is the only version without a ratcheting action.
Clamp Options
Clamp Options – These clamps generally get fixed to the worktable in slightly different ways. Which one you should use depends on your preference and the type of work you’re doing.

In-line clamps

In-line clamps are useful because they hold flat or curved stock securely without the clamp handle getting in the way. I use them for hand planing, sanding and routing – whenever I don’t want an accessory sticking up above the project I’m working on. Both the Bessey Horizontal clamp fixture WNS20-MFT-SET and Festool Clamping Elements MFT-SP provide 4-1/2″ of travel and can be used on stock of just about any thickness. As with the ratchet­ing and lever clamps, they apply a clamping force of about 170 pounds quickly and with little effort. The Bessey Auto-Adjust Inline Toggle Clamp is more suitable for stock 1-1/2″ and thicker. It has only 1″ of travel but exerts a clamping force of up to 250 pounds (STC-IHH15 model).

 

Inline Clamps
Inline Clamps – Here are three examples of inline clamps. The Bessey inline toggle clamp on the right works slightly differently than the other two.
In Action
In Action – In use, a head is secured in a dog hole on one side of the workpiece, while the clamping mechanism is inserted into a dog hole on the other side of the workpiece. Lever action then applies pressure to the workpiece.

Wedges

Wedges are useful because they enable you to secure stock without the risk of marring your work. They can also be used where traditional clamps might get in the way, such as when sanding or routing. You can cobble together your own wedge clamping system or go with the UJK Cam & Wedge Set from Axminster Tools. It consists of a cam clamp, a backstop predrilled with three dog holes that enable you to position the clamp at 90° or 45°, a pair of steel dogs, two wedges and a spacer. Depending on the width of stock you’re working on, you may need to make a few extra spacers. It’s one of the most fre­quently used MFT accessories in my shop.

Simple Wedges
Simple Wedges – Shop-made wedges can be used with bench dogs to hold workpieces in place. You can also purchase a set.

Fences and stops

Fences and stops are a great way to position stock to make pre­cise repetitive cuts with a track saw or router. They’re also useful as a planing stop when hand planing. You can make your own fence system using a length of 20mm × 40mm T-slot aluminum track (#20QE2040-BLACK from Fazstore.ca) and a pair of Fence Dogs from Benchdog Tools. The dogs attach to a track fence by means of T-nuts that enable the fence to be quickly repositioned. If you want a fence with Imperial or metric markings, Benchdog Tools has a variety in different lengths. Axminster’s UJK Parf System Fence & Stop Kit gives you a 3/8″ thick × 23-1/2″ long straight edge with an integrated stop that can be positioned anywhere along the fence. The TDS-10 Dog Stops from TSO Products are 10″ long and give you 4″ of adjustable positioning when inserted in two adjacent dog holes. I use them to position sheet goods for repetitive cuts. Because they’re only 1/2″ thick I can use them to hold stock thicker than 1/2″ against low-profile bench dogs when sanding.

A Strong Fence
A Strong Fence – Though they can also be used with power tools, fences often get tasked with keeping a workpiece stationary when working with a hand tool.
Fancy Fences
Fancy Fences – Stops on some fences will further increase their functionality and accuracy. (Photo by Benchdog Tools)

Parallel guides

Parallel guides are typically used in conjunction with a track saw to make repetitive cuts of the exact same size. The guides consist of two tracks with end stops that provide a physical ref­erence to ensure that multiple cuts are identical. There are a variety of guide systems on the market that come in various track lengths. The Festool Side Fences FS-PA give a maximum cut capacity of about 25-1/2″. If you generally work with nar­rower or wider stock, the TPG Parallel Guide System from TSO Products is available in 20″, 30″ and 50″ track lengths. Guides are worth considering if you do a lot of panel work or process a lot of sheet goods because they’ll appreciably speed up your processing time. Otherwise you can get along quite nicely using an accessory like the TSO Dog Stops.

Stop Right There
Stop Right There – Stops are great for providing an adjustable reference point for when there are many repetitive operations to be made. (Photo by TSO Products)
Parallel Guides
Parallel Guides – Though these work slightly differently than the Festool guides, this system from TSO Products will also work to provide you with equally sized workpieces. (Photo by TSO Products)
Repetitive Cuts
Repetitive Cuts – The Festool guides reference off either ends of the workpiece to give the user multiple cuts at the same dimension. (Photo by Festool)

RALI Press Evolution

Holding wide stock vertically on an MFT can be a bit of a challenge, more so on the Festool than the Axminster, which has a series of dog holes on the wide front and back skirt. The folks at Tersa Knives (TersaKnives.com) brought the RALI Press Evolution clamping accessory to my attention. It’s designed to be screwed to the front face of a conventional work­bench. However, you can also attach it to a length of board and secure the board on your MFT with hold-down clamps. The RALI Press is available in 730mm, 1100mm and 1460mm lengths. The 730mm (28.7″) version that I tried is quick and easy to use and holds stock firmly in place, either verti­cally or horizontally. You pull the two clamping blocks forward and slide them along the rail to engage your stock, then exert clamping pressure (up to 2,000 PSI) by turning an articulating lever. It’s a great bit of kit that goes a long way to enhancing the versatility of the MFT.

RALI Press Evolution
RALI Press Evolution – Tersa makes an add-on set of clamping rails that work well when clamping boards vertically.

Published:
Last modified: June 4, 2024

Carl Duguay - [email protected]

Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.


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