Workbench Size?

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I'm starting the layout for my new shop, and I've got plenty of room -- basically 26' long x 22' deep. I'm thinking of building an 8' x 3' or 8' x 4' workbench for the center of the room. Is this ridiculously huge? A quick Google search shows that the widest commercial tops measure 30" (with the most common length of 6' followed by 8', and some as long as 10').
Is there an ergonomic reason for the 30" rule? My reasoning for such a large bench is that 1) I can lay a full sheet of plywood down on it, and 2) you can never be too rich, too thin, or have too much flat work surface.
This would be my primary bench, for planing and assembling, and I strongly suspect it might also accumulate piles of tools, bottles of glue and the occasional wood scrap.
I plan to put another (slightly higher and much narrower) L-shaped bench along one wall for finer work.
Any recommendations for height? I'm 6'-4" (and yes, I have "The Workbench Book," but I figured its worth getting additional input from the wrecking crew).
You can see the proposed layout of the shop here:
http://44clarence.com/layout.gif (15K)
Constructive criticism always welcome.
Darin
P.S. I don't actually -own- any of the tools shown in the layout yet, but I suspect I may acquire them all at some point. The shop is going down in the basement of a newly-built detached garage in Minneapolis, with radiant floor heat piped in under ground from our house boiler. Well, technically speaking, the garage doesn't completely exist yet either -- it's framed and roofed, but lacks doors, trim and siding. The foundation was poured into insulating concrete forms. December photos of the partially-built garage can be found here:
http://44clarence.com/photos/2003-12-23%20Garage /
And further down in this batch, you can see some very early photos of the shop space:
http://44clarence.com/photos/2003-12-05%20Garage /
The shop hasn't progressed much since then, as I stopped construction for the winter once we hit 20 below 0, and now I'm working on the garage on my own in my spare time. The boss says I need to get her garage done before I can start on my shop :-)
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The Workbench Book mentioned is a good one. A bench should be large and more importantly heavy. The size is only important as to what projects you build. If I had to do mine again, I'd leave out the built in "tool tray" which collects sawdust, tools, screws, bits. wood scraps and other things like an open sewer. The height matches the height of the table saw. A quality vise is important. Mine is a #9.5 quick release Record and I love it.
On Mon, 17 May 2004 23:43:15 GMT, Darin

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I pretty much agree with the Phish, except I never put on the tool tray. I was considering one, but I may reconsider. Mine is 36" X 64" and has the same vise. I'm also 6'4" and set the bench height at 36". I'm happy with that. I place my cabinet saw on a platform to raise it's hight so the table also acts as an outfeed table. Good luck.
Art L.
Phisherman wrote:

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30" is a comfortable reach length. Especially if you have to do it frequently.
I do have to opine that while the ability to lay a whole sheet of plywood on the work bench may seem like a good idea one has to ask what do you do with it then, outside of painting it that is?
I think I would rather have the room available so I could cut down full sheets of plywood into manageable sizes then put them on a smaller work bench without having to do it outside in the snow.
Just a thought.
--
Mike G.
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After my first post I thrashed the idea of a really big work bench around some more and I'm afraid I came up with some further anti thoughts.
Space taken up by such a bench would be better used as a place to set up take down glue up table and a take down rotating finishing table. Jobs that I prefer to keep off my work bench since it leaves the work bench free for other things rather then tying it up with the two rather static and messy procedures.
A few more thoughts
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Mike G.
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And a few more:
Flattening a 4' wide surface will be a chore since you'll have to do a lot of planing while reaching 2' from the edge. The leverage will not be favorable for planing, imo.
You'll probably use one side of the bench 95% of the time. It'll start to get battered and you'll want to plane it down a bit to reveal a fresh surface. With a 4' wide bench, you'll need to plane a lot of real estate that probably is still in nice condition.
Cheers, Mike
btw: I built a tool well into my ~26" wide bench and I'm glad I did.
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I guess it can all be summed up as that the size of work benches are fairly standard because it works and has worked for, well, a long long time.
However we should probably point out to the original poster that no one is saying it is a stupid idea and that it can't work. We're just pointing out some of the possible drawbacks we can see after dealing with workbenches of our own..
Who knows maybe you have a style of work that will accommodate what you are describing.
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Mike G.
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Actually, you folks have all been a great help. I've pretty much decided to scale back my bench to a somewhat more normal size, based on people's insightful comments and observations. (I think your comment about standards being what they are because they work well is an excellent one, by the way.)
Probably the smart thing for me to do would be to build a simple pine bench out of 2x4s or 2x6s laid on end and face glued and topped with a piece of disposable melamine or MDF. I'd use it for a few years as my "temporary" bench and see how it works out, size-wise. The only problem is "temporary" has a way of graduating to "permanent," no matter how sub-optimal it may be :-)
Darin (the Original Poster)
Mike G wrote:

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Good luck on the bench.Darin. .
As far as the 2x4/2x6 pine construction goes it's pretty much what I built my present workbench out of. It's been about ten or fifteen years now and I may consider replacing it again in another ten or so. I'll probably use pine then too.
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Mike G.
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In case you haven't seen it, Bob Keys has an excellent webpage (or two) devoted to a bench made from construction grade lumber. http://www.terraclavis.com/bws/beginners.htm
I built my bench based on that design. I knew very little about fine woodworking when I started the project but I learned as I went and a lot of valuable lessons were learned in the process.

Well, if it works well, there's no need to replace it. Mine is perfectly fine so I don't see myself replacing it. I may, however, eventually build a fancy yuppie bench for indoor use.
Cheers and good luck! Mike

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I built mine using the plans from one of the magazines I picked up at the bookstore. "Build your bench in a weekend for less than $200" or some such. Construction lumber base, and three layers of cabinet grade plywood, glued and screwed together. I spent more time messing with mounting a face vise than anything else. I learned a whole lot about mortise & tenons, working with $2 2x4s than I knew before. I still haven't wrapped the maple skirt boards around the table. This was 2.5 years ago.
When I need a 'special clamp', I grab a scrap, some drywall screws, and the big yellow drill motor, and there's a stop block where I want it. Need a dog hole somewhere unplanned? Find the spade bit. This table's a tool, not an heirloom. Heirlooms are what I'm trying to build. $30 worth of plywood and 30 minutes, and there's a new top on it, heavier and stiffer than before.
I'd do it this way again in a heart beat. But the joinery would be neater, and it wouldn't take me near as long. And I'd add another vise. But this works just fine.
Patriarch, who worries (ok, knows) that it isn't the tools that are sub-optimal....
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reaching across becomes a problem. at 4' wide what you have is an assembly table. personal opinion is that with all the room in the world I would make my bench ~30" wide, very heavy and at a height that was good to work at. I would then build an assembly table wider and lighter and at the same height as my XXX favorite tool.
BRuce
Darin wrote:

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BRuce

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Been there.
By bench is 6'8" x 25", but I have a melamine outfeed table on by saw which serves as an assembly/finishing space.
I am very pleased with this arrangement, but if I could do it again, I would:
1. make the bench a little more narrow... may be 21" or 22" I just don't use the extra width. 2. add the tool tray. I was recently chopping dovetails and was astounded at the number of hand tools I had on the bend for that exercise... 1 holdfast, 3 or 4 chisels, square, dovetail marking gauge, saw, marking knife... it got messy.
At this width it was allot of work to flatten the top. Since the subassemblies went over the jointer I was pretty good the long way but I had to remove about an 1/8" cumulative cup from the top by hand... that was allot of work. I shudder at the thought of flattening a top 3-4' wide.
An assembly table needs to be big and flat, but not beefy like a bench. I like the melamine because I can be as sloppy as I like with finishing. dried glue and finish pop right off with a cabinet scraper. I suppose Formica would be even better. I'm nearly as keen on dribbling all over my good bench.
For me, the compromise of having a substantial outfeed table do double-duty as an assembly/finishing space works well *for me*.
YMMV
-Steve
<BRuce> wrote in message

surface.
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Darin wrote:

The real question is how the dimensions relate to what you do. If you are going to need to get at all sides of a project sitting on the bench then going around a long bench is going to get old very quickly. On the other hand a bench that is too small to handle your typical project size is also going to prove annoying.
If you typically do work that is the size of a full sheet of plywood then that might be a reasonable size for your bench. If you only need to lay the sheet flat to cut it then building a panel saw and sizing the bench for the project rather than that one kind of cutting would be a better bet.

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--John
Reply to jclarke at ae tee tee global dot net
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Yep. If it's too wide it can be a problem to reach across it. My bench is 24" wide and it seems to be just about right. I can easily reach across it, and I rarely find myself wishing I had more width.
Of course a lot depends on the types of projects you do.
One other consideration for bench size is this: A large bench will likely become "storage space" rather than a working bench. I know even on my 5' x 2' bench, I tend to accumulate stuff. On the small bench I'mm forced to clear the surface to work. On a larger bench I'd probably just wind up pushing things off to the side.
Obviously, YMMV, but it's something top think about if you aren't a neat freak.

The usual advice for power tool users is the same height as other work surfaces. For a handtool-user it's about palm height when standing with your arms at your sides and hand outstretched, palm-down.
Chuck Vance
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Biggest mistake in my first garshop was a 4x8 bench placed in a corner, 30" and beyond to the wall was a total waste of space plus the vertical wall space behind it was a loss since you can't reach it

10').
surface.
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surface.
Unplanned at first, I ended up pushing my bench against a wall. The 30" depth makes it easier to reach the wall mounted cabinets mounted above it. If yours stays in the middle of the shop, likely not an issue. My bench length ended up about 80". I'm thinking about whacking it back to 72". YMMV
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I have two 26"x6' benches (rather than a single large bench). A lesson I learned from my Dad (who sold material handling equipment for a looong time): use one bench as a 'tool' bench and one bench as a 'work' bench. The tool bench is where the tools, hardware and other stuff lands. The work bench is where the cutting, gluing, clamping and assembly happens.
During a project the tool bench becomes cluttered. (I'm not good about putting tools away mid-project, expecially when there going to get used again). However, I can still work on the work bench. Works for me.

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wrote:

The standard office desk is 60"x30" You can do some exciting things with those one inch arborite desktops and you can buy them for as low as $5. Or even free. I made a vacuum sanding top for my workbench with one of the tops. drilled the holes a and routed channels for the air flow then slapped a 1/4 inch back on it. It works great. You can make bending jig table tops with these old desk tops. I even picked up a steel one for metalwork. Free.
I have six 'desk' tops for my workbench. One for paint and staining with holes for pins to keep the work up off the bench. Arborite cleans up nice as well.
These tops store easily and give my small shop much more versitility.
JJ
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you forgot to mention that a piece (5x5) of Russian /baltic birch cut exactly in half is 30 x 60 .. what a coincidence. I used it to make some temp benches and they have outlasted the perminent ones....

10').
you
1/4 inch

holes
well.
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