Woodworking Bench :

Work benches for craftsfolk

Woodworking Bench Click for detail So, what is a woodworking bench article doing with blacksmithing information? Because blacksmiths make many of their own tools and often work in mixed media (wood and metal). Besides tools (bellows, fixtures, handles) they often make tool totes, do wagon restoration work, build book shelves, tables AND their own benches. As general metal workers they often make foundry patterns as well. A good bench, while designed for one purpose is usually good for many purposes.

This bench is a cross between my "dream" bench and wood benches I had built in the past. My dream bench is a European or Holtzapffel type work bench with extra thick top and hand made front and tail vices, with specially turned steel screws and bronze nuts. In the past I had built work benches for my twin children when they were about six years old and built in benches in my old shop. This bench was quickly designed to suit a musical instrument building project with two young children (thus the two vices). However, as some quick weekend projects go, and grow, this one took a week part time.

2x4 1.5 x 3.5 38.1 x 88.9
2x6 1.5 x 5.5 38.1 x 139.7
1x6 .75 x 5.5 19 x 139.7
2x10 1.5 x 9.25 38.1 x 235
2x12 1.5 x 11.25 38.1 x 285.8
The materials used in this project as in all the wood benches I have built in the past is common framing lumber. In the U.S. lumber is described by its "nominal" size. This nominal was once the actual size but tolerances were added and the saw mills took some of that tolerance. Tolerances changed and mills took ALL the tolerance so that a two inch board is actually one and a half. Lumber over eight inches has a 3/4" tolerance and they take 100% of that as well. So U.S. lumber is considerably less than it used to be.

This chart has the actual size of the lumber given to reduce duplication.

Work benches need to be stable and solid.

For solidity this bench has a 1-1/2" (38.1mm) thick top edge glued and glued and screwed to a 2x4 frame that is also glued and screwed together. The entire front edge is 3" (76.2mm) thick for mounting the vices and the outer corners filled to 5" (127mm) so that they would be flat for clamping. The frame is inset so that clamps can be used all around. The underside has ribs to help support and hold the top flat.

For stability the legs are angled and made from 2x6's. The shelf doubles as a spreader with 2x4 framing and 2x4 diagonals from a rib in the center of the bench. The legs, spreader and diagonals are all bolted together with 1/2-13 x 5" (13mm) machine screws with flat washers and nuts. This bench could easily support a ton.

This is a large bench. It was designed for two to work at as well as support large musical instruments like a harp. The top of the bench is three 2x12's plus a sliding 2x4, plus a .75" facia board covered with a .25" maple face. This results in a depth of 38.25" (972mm) and the back edge extends another 12" (305mm). The width is 72" (1820mm) and it is 36" (910mm) tall.

The Vices:

These are two 9" (230mm) Shop Fox branded vices imported by Woodstock International and sold through a local woodworking store. They are Chinese copies of the old Record style quick action vice with bench dog and fairly well made.

I inlet the front jaw of the vice so that a wood face that continues down the front of the bench would be the back jaw. Instead of spacing the vice on a 1" (25mm) board I bolted it to the 2x6 that is glued to the 2x12 top board. This increased the depth of the vice about 5/8" (16mm). Due to pattern draft the inletting is about 9/16" (14mm) deep at the bottom and 7/16" (11mm) at the top. To square the face of the vice to the bench the back bolting pads had to be recessed about 1/16" (1.6mm).

The vice is held onto the bench by four 3/8" x 3" (10 x 76mm) lag bolts and two #10 wood screws. The 3/4" (19mm) facia board was glued to the front of the bench and the two flat head screws held it tight on the vice. These screws were covered by the 1/4" (6.4 mm) hard maple facia board. The vice installation is permanent.

The finished vice installation with facia boards. The corner of the bench filled flush for clamping.

Gluing the facia board. How many clamps can you count? The vices are also clamping! You will hear it repeated over and over, you can never have enough clamps! The large quick action clamps and the long pipe clamps are one of the best tool investments I have made.

Framing from underneath.

Most of the construction of this bench was done with it upside down on saw horses. The sliding back board (2x4) makes the bench deep enough to support a full sheet of plywood. It also provides a groove to cut those large sheets over. This feature has already been handy for other purposes such as clamp space while gluing and storing tools.

Diagonals are absolutely necessary on a bench (unless you bolt it to a wall), especially when the legs are flat such as these. You can also box in the bench which is more rigid. However, I like an open bench where I can store tools and get to them from any side. The spreader or the diagonal braces can use nut pins to create strong bolted joints.

Nut Pins or Barrel Nuts: I had these left over from another job where I made a few hundred nuts. While they were not a perfect length (2") for the 1.5" lumber they were close enough (1.25" dia, 2" long, 1/2-13 NC). Some builders do the same thing to make a T joint by drilling a hole and using a square nut in the hole. Nut pins are more elegant. (Braces shown from another bench.)

Vice Installation Modifications:

Due to lowering the vice the clamping dogs had to be lengthened 5/8" (16mm). The originals were replaced with .375 x 1.0" Cold Finished steel and the pieced together 8mm Chinese thumb screws with heavy duty 5/16-18 NC thumb screws. The trim on the vice jaw liner recesses the dog and strengthened the liner.


SO. . would I build a (replacement) bench this way again? Maybe, but probably not. However, I have no reasons for this. There is a good chance I would use the same basics but not the overall design. I still want to build that bench with the heavy laminated top. I would like to try a tail (side) vice but have not used these long enough to know what advantages the two side by side have. Some of the materials and hardware used were because I had them on hand.

This was NOT an inexpensive bench. I have not kept close track but it cost close to $400 US. The vices alone cost $160 for the pair. However, there was enough lumber left over to make a small 24 x 36 x 28" tall (610 x 914 x 711 tall) bench as well.

Anchoring Benches:

This bench illustrated above was designed to be free standing, however anchoring benches to a wall and floor makes them very secure. Due to the distance from the work on the front edge of the bench the anchors do not need to be very large, 1/4" (6mm) is fine, but they do need to attach to something substantial. In wood frame construction they need to be attached to studs or the framing. Two wall anchors, one at each corner of the top of the bench do the most good. Another one on at least one leg near where a vice might be mounted is also helpful.

I use small brackets made from 1/8 x 1.25 (3.2 x 32 mm) angle iron and inlet the brackets into the top of the bench. On my shop bench with heavy vice I have a special wall anchor for the machine/bench vice. It is a piece of heavy angle iron with a wall flange that extends under the bench to one of the bolts anchoring the vice.

Benches for use with a leg vice need to be designed for the vice as well as anchored to wall and floor. Leg vices have a fixed or very slightly adjustable height for the bench bracket. Then there needs to be a support at floor level. It also helps a great deal to attach the leg of the vice to the leg of the bench.

References and Links

  • Woodworkers Bench Detail Photo

    Copyright © 2007 Jock Dempsey, www.anvilfire.com

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