Finalizing Workbench Plans

As it’s a rainy day and I’m stuck not being able to do much but think, and seeing as I finished reading Christopher Schwarz’s workbench design book last night, I think now is a fine time to finalize my plans for my workbench.

After all, once the tools are all back to working order and sharp, there won’t be much of anything else to do except to build something.

While I might build a few odds and ends before the bench–things like a quick chisel rack for the monstrosity–I’m still going to need that bench.

So here’s what I’m thinking…

I’ve settled first on a Nicholson bench with the wide aprons and almost torsion box-like design. I happen to think it’s the most aesthetically pleasing workbench out there, but it also requires a minimum of wood. As cash is a little tight right about now, that’s a serious concern.

The bench will be 21″ in width and 31″ in height. Yes, that’s pretty low, but I also have short legs. The height may chance as I play with some numbers, though. I’d rather build it too high than too low. I can chop off an inch or two to the legs. It’s kind of hard to grow them.

As for the length, that’s still something to ponder.

Right now, I have tons of space. I can get a 10′ bench in there if I wanted to. I might have to deal with rain from time to time, but I can fit it in the allotted space and work on it.

But I’m not going to be living here indefinitely. I need something that can be flexible enough to work in this hypothetical shop wherever the hell we move to. That means I can’t plan on having 12′ of wall to put this thing (8′ bench plus two feet on either side to work with).

I’m pretty sure I can make it so I have, say, 10′ of empty wall space, though.

So, at this time, I’m leaning toward a 6′ bench. That will be plenty to let me build most everything I want to build and fit all the parts on the bench. About the only possible piece I can see me building that it won’t fit, at least for now, is a bookcase or something. If I go to do that, I’ll figure something out.

In his first workbench book, Schwarz features a Nicholson with angled legs and a leg vise. I’ve always been intrigued with this setup. Schwarz notes in the second book that the angled legs worked great, especially in conjunction with the vise.

I’m not going to lie, I like it. I like it a lot.

But it adds complications to the design. I’m not great at math, but I do know that if you want a leg for a bench 30″ tall, you can’t just subtract the thickness of the top from the total height and get your leg length.

I don’t remember of Schwarz addressed that or not, so I’ll have to wait until the book gets here tomorrow (in theory) and see. If so, then angled legs it is. If not, then I may end up doing vertical legs.

Of course, that may cause me to rethink my vise options.

You see, while the leg vise might be great regardless of angle, I’m also interested in doing a single-screw face vise as well. I’ve also considered adding this as an end vise.

Hell, I’ve thought about doing a crochet on the front and boring a hole in it for a threaded wooden rod like Schwarz illustrates in his second workbench book. He figures that sort of arrangement is the granddaddy of the shoulder vise and I’m not sure he’s wrong. I liked the look of it a great deal, but that has issues as well.

I haven’t ruled out just doing a couple of wooden screws like the Moxon vise Schwarz shows, either. That whole concept intrigues me because of its simplicity.

I’m still leaning toward a leg vise because it’s just such a simple concept and I can see it working for so many things. Not just planing an edge, but also for things like cutting dovetails or tenons. I may use the similar face vise concept on the end, again due to the simplicity, then build a Moxon vise to clamp to the bench, regardless of leg angles.

That brings me to the top itself.

Schwarz’s design calls for a single layer of 2x material. Some say this isn’t stout enough, some say it is. My understanding is that it jumps when chopping out mortises, which can be a problem. I don’t know that I’ll do a lot of mortise and tenon joinery, but I don’t know that I won’t, either.

To his credit, that’s the one major improvement Schwarz said he’d do to the bench if he were to build it again. He’d beef up the weight so it wouldn’t do that. Since the guy who popularized the bench is saying it, I think I’ll listen.

The problem is that Schwarz doesn’t really say how he’d beef it up. Using beefier legs might help, but it’ll also reduce shelf-space under the bench, which can be useful since there’s never enough space.

What I can do, however, is add another layer of 2xWhatevers to the top. This ought to add a fair bit of weight. If it’s not enough, I have weight plates I can throw on the shelf to help. An extra 260 lbs or so should take care of the problem, right?

Next would be the dog holes, and I’m going with round ones on those. I know there are some great benches that use square dogs, but I personally don’t see any advantage to them. Especially since round dogs and holdfasts can use the same holes, but that’s not necessarily true of square dog holes.

Finally, material. Southern yellow pine.

Yes, that’s precisely what Schwarz says to use, but he’s not wrong. It’s tough, heavy, and after it ages, it hardens like a damn rock. Seriously, I have stories of my own experiences.

It’s also affordable.

So there we go. A mostly completed plan for a bench. No drawings, mind you, but I can deal with that.

Now, to get to a point when I can build the blasted thing.


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