Photos by Craig Brake
Dreaming of a new workbench? I made my new bench a study in problem solving.
A workbench is supposed to aid us in our woodworking, helping us create our projects upon them with minimal fuss. My former bench was giving me trouble, so I chose to remedy as many of its issues as I could with a new bench. I took a close look at what was less than perfect about my old workbench situation, then did my best to come up with an appropriate solution for my situation.
It seems so easy, but my old traditional bench vises had to be unscrewed and racking pin moved for clamping different thicknesses. This wasn’t a major issue, but it sure was annoying. A vintage quick-release vise and a new Veritas tail vise solved the issue for me. They are now a joy to use and help me work efficiently.
With my last bench I used holdfasts and round dogs to secure panels, but I found workpieces to be loosening or wandering as I worked on them far too often. A double set of square dog holes was the solution. They helped hold panels exactly where I needed them, and I didn’t have to chase them around my bench at the same time.
A big bench collects clutter. It’s also too far to reach across with a bad back. I tried to keep my new workbench as narrow as was realistic. I ended up making my bench 19-1/2″ deep, and for me that’s perfect. I now have to stop to clear my bench top fairly regularly, but it’s worth it as I generally have a surface that’s often free of unwanted tools.
I find this indispensable when working on chair parts but dreaded installing and uninstalling it when needed. I decided to extend a piece of workbench top specifically for this vise; it gives more space to move around the workpiece as well.
A Roubo bench is rock solid, but I needed a pallet jack – or a team of weightlifters – to move it around the shop. There had to be a solution. I had a mobile base fabricated, with leveling feet and wheels on one end. A wheeled lever lifts the bench much like a trailer, and moves it with ease. Once back on its feet, the bench is solid for any sort of handwork I can throw at it.
I have a bad back, and I struggled to find the proper height for working. I realized there isn’t one, so chose to make the height of my new bench adjustable. This was a big undertaking. The solution for me was a hydraulic lift. A manual hand crank that folds away when not in use adjusts the bench height from 36″ to 43″. The hydraulic lift allowed for some storage in the workbench base.
Moving every few years for my wife’s work means breaking down and setting up my workshop again in a new space. A massive, solid bench limits where it can go. My new bench breaks down into manageable pieces and can be re-assembled easily, as I used bed bolts as the main fasteners for much of the bench. Not that I want a shop in a basement or attic, but I could put the bench there if I need to.
I drew inspiration for this bench from the benches of Ron David, Robert Van Norman and Michael Fortune. Look to the benches of fellow woodworkers and find solutions that may work for you. I also had to look at my specific situation very carefully and do my best to come up with as many solutions to these problems as I could, carefully incorporating them into this one bench. If your workbench is working wonders for you, consider yourself lucky. If your workbench is slowing you down, maybe even hurting your work, find solutions and head back to the drawing board.