Keep in mind that the ability to clamp a glue-up from both sides of a bench,
or to a bench on both sides, can be the difference between success and
failure, so don't put too much faith in "bigger is better" when it comes to
You will be much happier if you can quantify the type of projects you will
normally do and size your workbench accordingly.
Swing's right (again). I use my bench for lots of things, but as a big
clamping assembly, it needs to be the 'right' size. Since much of my work
is largish cabinets and furniture, mine is 30" wide, and works for me. If
I needed a smaller bench, I'd have to build a second one.
Of course, I'd have to have more room in the shop, too.
Just as a point of reference, I'm guessing that what you call wide, I call
deep... as in 6' long and 30" deep?
IMHO, the first 2 considerations for most home woodworkers is space available
for the bench and budget..
Some folks like the bench accessible on both sides, some want the bench against
a wall... depends a lot on space and what you build, I think...
My bench is 72" x 30" and made that size because I thought that having it in the
middle of the garage and accessible from both sides would work well...
In reality, I only work from one side, the side towards my power tools, and the
last 6" or 8" of the other side is just a shit collector... it got so bad that I
had to put a 2x6" on the back to keep stuff from falling off the other side..
In the new shop, knowing my work habits, both benches will be against walls with
cabinets over the back... I know it won't really work, but the fiction is that
if the cabinet makes the bench a bit less deep and I have a handy place to put
things, the bench won't get cluttered... (yeah, right)
OTOH, If my arms were a foot longer, or I did a lot of sheet good work, I might
want a 48" deep table... *g*
Good question, but more is data is required.
Is it accessible from both sides or up against a wall?
What will it be used for? traditional hand-work between dogs? or assembly?
FWIW, I have a traditional bench which, whose primary purpose is traditional
handwork. It's 24" wide. I just about never use the full width . I would
probably go for 22 if I were to di it again.
I have two.
The main one is gigantic and heavy, 3 feet by 7 feet. Probably weighs
close to 400 lbs with the iron from the vises and the stuff on the
shelves. I use it on all four sides. Each side has a special use.
The face-vise side, the tail-vise side, the long no-vise side, and the
side with the face vise on edge (good for a wide planing stop). I have
to lean over a bit to plane down the middle of a long board across the
width of the table (if it happens to be part of an assembly, otherwise
I just approach boards from the back, along the face of the bench) but
frankly leaning over is not much work when I am handplaning anyway,
since it is exercise to begin with.
The other one is for assembly and finishing. It's top is just a
solid-core door 6'8x30" and is dead flat. Easy to access both sides of
something when you need to act fast while the glue is setting.
When I was growing up my highschool had 5' x 9' butcher block benches
with a wood vise on every corner. Those were the best benches I ever
worked on. My bench is 10' x 30" made out of fir tounge & grove
flooring with hardboard on top. I wish it were a little flatter! How
wide of a planer or wide belt sander can you gain access to?
Andrew Williams wrote:
I flattened the top by building it in 4 sections and running them
through my router planing jig. After all 4 were completed I connected
them with threaded rods and then handplaned the surface to as flat as I
could get it.
Mine is against the wall and is 30" wide. I use the back section to hold
some small drawers and a couple of parts bins. That brings the usable space
down to about 22" or so and is sufficient for most everything I've done.
Wider would be a PITA to reach over to get things hung on the wall over the
Have posted a drawing of a bench base that you can easily build
2x4s, 2x6s, ply and some all thread, washers and nuts in
A woodworking bench has two main functions - to act as a versatile
clamp and as a flat reference surface/assembly surface/ solid surface
to pound/ hack and hew on things sitting on it.
On the other hand, a layout /assembly bench, while sharing the
bench's flat reference surface / assembly surface, doesn't need to
a a versatile giant clamp. It may also be used as a finishing
Then there's the "hybrid" which has some of the features of both but,
as is often the case with multi-function things, does neither
as well as a dedicated bench.
That said, it's ironic that it's much easier to build a real
bench - IF you already have a real woodworking bench. You can make
a real woodworking bench using a hybrid bench - and most of us who've
made a real woodworking bench built it on a hybrid.
As for "the bigger the better" - that was the advice a cabinet maker
friend suggested when I first got into woodworking. Of course, he
makes ply and face frame stuff and works with 4x8 sheet goods
SO - my first bench was 4' 3" x 7' 6", including the 2x6 apron.
2 layers of glued and screwed 1 1/8" ply with replacable 1/4"
top layer which got waxed regularly to keep glue - and finishes -
sticking to it.
But a big bench has lots of hidden disadvantages. First, you have to
walk around it to get to other things in the shop. Second, being a
large flat surface - above floor level - it collects crap at an
rate. Third, it encourages not finishing things. My old bench has
of one of my sons' projects occupying most of it. One of those
projects is cose to two years old and the other is going on 6 months.
(though the pictures on this page illustrate my point, this is just
on the many configurations of crap that has accumulated on this
Fourth - the tool you need to get immediately - while you're holding
some parts together - will invariably be on the far side of the bench
relative to where you're standing. Unless you've got orangutan arms,
that's a problem.
AS for something on which to assembly a piece - well if you think
it, not much you're going to make is much deeper (front to back) than
24" and seldom wider than 6 feet. And you can always through a sheet
of 4x8 ply or MDF on a real woodworking bench if needed.
For a first quick and dirty I'd go with 3x6 and put on a face and end
When you get to making a real woodworking bench - get, and study,
both Scott Landis's book as well as Sam Allen's book on workbenches.
Hope this helps and enjoy woodworking.
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