The Workbench

A solid workbench is the heart of any workshop and is a worthy investment whether you buy one or build it yourself. A good workbench is a large-scale cramping device that enables you to hold a piece of timber or project securely while working, whether it is gripped vertically, horizontally or tilted. A decent bench should be heavy, rock solid and should not suffer from vibration when using a mallet.

Basic Criteria

A traditional cabinet-maker’s workbench is usually made from beech, although other close-grained hardwoods, such as maple or birch, are more stable. If building your own bench you can economize by making a framework of softwood, where members are a minimum of 75 x 75 mm (3 x 3 in) PAR. The top, however, should be hardwood for strength, durability and above all weight, and should be at least 51 mm (2 in) thick. It is important that the top of your workbench is dead flat, clean and free of damage. Check it periodically with a long straightedge and, if necessary, true up the surface with a bench plane, the longer the better.

Adding a lower shelf increases rigidity and provides storage space; a drawer is also handy. It is common to enclose the space beneath the top as cupboards, with doors at the front or the end. You can also incorporate a simple slotted rack along the back for storing hand tools, such as saws and chisels. A carpenter’s bench has a recessed tool well running lengthways along the top, so tools do not interfere with timber or projects placed on the bench surface. A bench too low can be raised on wooden blocks fixed under each leg.


Most benches have two vices for cramping. The face, or front, vice is usually placed on the left side of the bench if you are right-handed. The end, or tail vice, is situated at the opposite end. Both are used for cramping work in the conventional way. The tail vice can also be used in conjunction with a pair of bench dogs. These are square, or shaped, movable pegs used for gripping a work piece flat on the surface of the bench while you work on it. They enable you to plane, use a router or carve, or can be used for cramping up boards when gluing edge to edge. Dogs are inserted in two rows of evenly-spaced mortises cut into the top of the bench. If there are no holes for dogs in the top of the bench, consider fitting a bench stop. This simple device is used to prevent timber moving when planing, and is recessed below the surface when not required.

Vices on shop-bought benches tend to be of continental pattern and from hardwood, while English pattern, bolt-on, cast-iron vices are more popular when building a bench. A quick-release vice is preferable, enabling you to open or close the jaws rapidly before tightening. Inner faces of metal vices should be lined with hardwood to prevent marking the work piece and damaging tools.

Holding Tools

A simple, yet very useful, holding device is the bench hook. This tool enables you to grip a piece of wood securely while cutting it with a back saw. A holdfast can be fitted anywhere on the bench top, the lower lip meaning it can be held in a vice or against the edge of the bench. Usually made from cast metal, it fits into a collar recessed into the surface and enables timber to be held securely for carving or other work.

Portable Benches

Auxiliary benches can take the form of portable mini-benches, folding trestles or carpenters sawhorses, all of which can be erected and dismantled as necessary. They all enable you to work outside, whether cutting up sheet materials or using power tools. Horizontal slats can be moved in and out to grip the workpiece. A folding bench that is attached to, and drops down from, a wall provides useful assembly space and may be essential in a garage workshop.

Word Discription :

Bench hook A small rectangular work board with stops on top and underneath, held against the edge of the bench. It enables small pieces of wood to be gripped while sawing.

Holdfast A metal arm inserted in a collar in the bench top for holding timber flat. It may have a threaded screw adjuster or simply be tapped in place with a hammer.

PAR (planed all round) A term referring to softwoods that are planed on all four sides. Winding sticks A pair of identical hardwood strips with parallel edges. Placed at opposite ends of a board, they are used to check for twist by sighting along one strip and aligning it with the other. Coloured edges make this easier.

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