MFT-style vs. Trad-style workbench design (is there a middle ground??)

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Calum Bettison

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Hey all,

I'm in a fortunate position where I have acquired more space in my workshop/studio, some of which I plan to fill with a new workbench.

I have a relatively clear idea of the tasks I want to use it for, but I'm looking to the crowd for pointers and experience with regards to the compatibility of different features. I'm concerned I might have conflicting ideals with regards to function.


Requirements of bench:
  • House a router + lift
  • Cross cut timber and sheet stock using track saw and rail
  • Work holding
    • Vise (I won a huge old record vise in an auction for £42 :D)
    • Dog system (clamps/holdfasts etc)
    • Apron with dog holes/clampability?
  • House Festool dust extractor under work surface (dedicated for use with this bench - router fence, track saw, domino, sander etc)
  • Storage drawers
  • Generally hefty construction, I want to be able to bash stuff with a heavy mallet and hand plane boards without strength/stability issues.
  • A truly flat surface (e.g. for checking chair leg lengths)
Non-requirements of bench:
  • Messy work (glue ups, finishing) - I have another bench for this
  • Tool tray on bench top


My main concern at this stage is whether to go for a sheet material top bench or a solid timber bench. Are my requirements conflicting in any way? I have a load of questions whirling round in my mind at the moment:
  • Is it silly to mount a router and lift in a solid wood bench top? My gut instinct says that mounting it in ply or mdf makes more sense. Would solid timber's expansion across the 298mm span of the aluminium insert plate cause issues? Would the seasonal twisting/cupping of timber cause an uneven router table surface?
  • Would I even use an MFT style grid? I've not used one before, but it definitely looks handy. The way Dennis (Hooked on Wood) demonstrates the work holding capabilities of his design makes an MFT style grid seem very appealing. Also the range of accessories compatible with this system looks like it would increase the versatility of the bench going forward. Efficient and accurate cross cutting with a rail hinge and fence is one of the main appeals for me right now. However, I don't want to buy into the world of gimmicky shiny anodised gadgets. I'm only interested if these things have real benefit.
  • Is an MFT grid possible in a solid wood design? If the system relies on a super accurate 96mm grid system, surely the natural expansion and contraction of solid timber would throw this out.
  • Isn't mdf too soft for 'holdfast style' clamps? Ive read that the lateral forces from these clamps stretch/crush the holes and make the fit sloppy for use with dogs. Which makes sense to me.
  • Rail clamps can only fit through 18mm, so anything thicker is a no-go with 'through-bench' dog hole clamping?
  • Does inlaying a sacrificial strip into solid timber workbench top (for tracksaw) seem like a weird idea?
This is just my assumption and guesswork, im not saying in any way that these points are correct.


Im trying to be pragmatic with my approach to the bench design. I totally get the appeal of a solid wood traditional bench, it has bags more charm than MDF. But I dont want to get too drawn into the romantic ideas of shiny OTT roubo benches and the like you see on YouTube, if a modest and practical MDF top would serve my needs better. Especially with regards to material stability. We have an English style bench made of larch (I think) in the communal workshop and the top twists all over the place. Its a beefy beast of a bench but it's far from a flat surface.

On the contrary I want to create something substantial which will stand the test of time, and that I'm proud to use. Maybe having an MFT grid isn't actually needed at all, and I could get away with a few strategically placed dog holes in solid timber.

As a final point - I'm of the school of though that simple is usually best. I'd rather create a simple and effective solution than Frankenstein something together thats overly complicated and asking too much. If my ideal requirements are asking too much then please let me know. But with space still at a premium, I'm all for incorporating functions - if they work well together.

Apologies for the splurge of thoughts here! I'm hoping that people can chime in with their experience or advice if they've been in a similar position.

Thanks in advance for any input!

Calum
 
I think of them as two different things. I have an MFT3 and use it all the time for site work and in the workshop. However it is not a Joiners bench in the traditional way at all. I would not be without it and mine has gone through at least 6 new tops and has been welded a bit, but it is only good for certain things.
I am unable to have a proper sturdy bench due to space restrictions and I do miss it.

In your situation I would be inclined to build a sturdy heavy bench with the vice setup on it, some dog holes etc. but make it only half of the total available bench size. this will be sturdy enough for planing and hand tool stuff. Then build a similar sized bench with an mft setup on top and storage under for the extractor etc. exactly the same height. These could be clamped together or separated and used in different ways.
This would be versatile and practical.

Ollie
 
MFT and trad workbench are completely different things.
MFT for use with power tools and sheet material and not much use for trad work involving hand tools. Not "multi function" at all!
The trad bench essentials are a vice for holding timber and mass/solidity for hand-tool work. Much more multi functional and one dog is good enough for most purposes!
 
Search (on here) for Derek Cohen's MFT type bench. That absolutely proves you can combine dog holes with a quality hardwood top.

MikeK did a great build of a bench using alloy extrusions but that wasn't meant for hand planing.

Jacob got it that if you want to plane etc you need a heavy bench with good vice(s).

Then depending on space, you need a big flat thing for assembly and clamping up or a way to expand your workbench. Separate or combined. Permanent or pack away top n trestles. It all depends on you and your space.

It used to be that if you were looking for bench ideas you started with Scott Landis' Workbench book.
Nowadays a lot of inspiration can be found on youtube.
 
I built an apron bench a few years ago. Just redwood and an Axminster 9 1/2” vice. I wanted it done asap so I glued and screwed the laminate top. I didn’t drill dog holes and retro drilling them would have definitely encountered a few screws. Instead I just screwed stops, etc to the top, that bench has been utterly thrashed but I spent a bit of time fixing the top and it’s pretty good again.

I seem to be doing more power tool now so built another apron bench (again copied Sellers method). Bit made it a bit of a hybrid. Leg frames and aprons are laminated ply and a small 7” plain screw record vice.Top is Mdf, most of it 1 layer with 20mm holes in mft layout about 20” of the top (where the vice is) is 3 layers thick in case I need to do any heavy mallet work on it (unlikely).
Its easily heavy enough to stay stationary when hand planing but also acts as a small mft.
i was going to incorporate t tracks into the apron but decided not to.
 
Not seen it done, nor sure if it would be feesable, but perhaps worth thinking of having
a narrow solid hefty laminated top for planing, and using the other half the other side of the bench
for the multi function table.. i.e router table or for means where you don't wish to scratch the top up,
provided you have the space.
Could even find it useful to have the tops floating, should you not have space to spin the bench around, but need whichever on one side of the bench/shed.
 
Hey all,

I'm in a fortunate position where I have acquired more space in my workshop/studio, some of which I plan to fill with a new workbench.

I have a relatively clear idea of the tasks I want to use it for, but I'm looking to the crowd for pointers and experience with regards to the compatibility of different features. I'm concerned I might have conflicting ideals with regards to function.


Requirements of bench:
  • House a router + lift
  • Cross cut timber and sheet stock using track saw and rail
  • Work holding
    • Vise (I won a huge old record vise in an auction for £42 :D)
    • Dog system (clamps/holdfasts etc)
    • Apron with dog holes/clampability?
  • House Festool dust extractor under work surface (dedicated for use with this bench - router fence, track saw, domino, sander etc)
  • Storage drawers
  • Generally hefty construction, I want to be able to bash stuff with a heavy mallet and hand plane boards without strength/stability issues.
  • A truly flat surface (e.g. for checking chair leg lengths)
Non-requirements of bench:
  • Messy work (glue ups, finishing) - I have another bench for this
  • Tool tray on bench top


My main concern at this stage is whether to go for a sheet material top bench or a solid timber bench. Are my requirements conflicting in any way? I have a load of questions whirling round in my mind at the moment:
  • Is it silly to mount a router and lift in a solid wood bench top? My gut instinct says that mounting it in ply or mdf makes more sense. Would solid timber's expansion across the 298mm span of the aluminium insert plate cause issues? Would the seasonal twisting/cupping of timber cause an uneven router table surface?
  • Would I even use an MFT style grid? I've not used one before, but it definitely looks handy. The way Dennis (Hooked on Wood) demonstrates the work holding capabilities of his design makes an MFT style grid seem very appealing. Also the range of accessories compatible with this system looks like it would increase the versatility of the bench going forward. Efficient and accurate cross cutting with a rail hinge and fence is one of the main appeals for me right now. However, I don't want to buy into the world of gimmicky shiny anodised gadgets. I'm only interested if these things have real benefit.
  • Is an MFT grid possible in a solid wood design? If the system relies on a super accurate 96mm grid system, surely the natural expansion and contraction of solid timber would throw this out.
  • Isn't mdf too soft for 'holdfast style' clamps? Ive read that the lateral forces from these clamps stretch/crush the holes and make the fit sloppy for use with dogs. Which makes sense to me.
  • Rail clamps can only fit through 18mm, so anything thicker is a no-go with 'through-bench' dog hole clamping?
  • Does inlaying a sacrificial strip into solid timber workbench top (for tracksaw) seem like a weird idea?
This is just my assumption and guesswork, im not saying in any way that these points are correct.


Im trying to be pragmatic with my approach to the bench design. I totally get the appeal of a solid wood traditional bench, it has bags more charm than MDF. But I dont want to get too drawn into the romantic ideas of shiny OTT roubo benches and the like you see on YouTube, if a modest and practical MDF top would serve my needs better. Especially with regards to material stability. We have an English style bench made of larch (I think) in the communal workshop and the top twists all over the place. Its a beefy beast of a bench but it's far from a flat surface.

On the contrary I want to create something substantial which will stand the test of time, and that I'm proud to use. Maybe having an MFT grid isn't actually needed at all, and I could get away with a few strategically placed dog holes in solid timber.

As a final point - I'm of the school of though that simple is usually best. I'd rather create a simple and effective solution than Frankenstein something together thats overly complicated and asking too much. If my ideal requirements are asking too much then please let me know. But with space still at a premium, I'm all for incorporating functions - if they work well together.

Apologies for the splurge of thoughts here! I'm hoping that people can chime in with their experience or advice if they've been in a similar position.

Thanks in advance for any input!

Calum

Hey all,

I'm in a fortunate position where I have acquired more space in my workshop/studio, some of which I plan to fill with a new workbench.

I have a relatively clear idea of the tasks I want to use it for, but I'm looking to the crowd for pointers and experience with regards to the compatibility of different features. I'm concerned I might have conflicting ideals with regards to function.


Requirements of bench:
  • House a router + lift
  • Cross cut timber and sheet stock using track saw and rail
  • Work holding
    • Vise (I won a huge old record vise in an auction for £42 :D)
    • Dog system (clamps/holdfasts etc)
    • Apron with dog holes/clampability?
  • House Festool dust extractor under work surface (dedicated for use with this bench - router fence, track saw, domino, sander etc)
  • Storage drawers
  • Generally hefty construction, I want to be able to bash stuff with a heavy mallet and hand plane boards without strength/stability issues.
  • A truly flat surface (e.g. for checking chair leg lengths)
Non-requirements of bench:
  • Messy work (glue ups, finishing) - I have another bench for this
  • Tool tray on bench top


My main concern at this stage is whether to go for a sheet material top bench or a solid timber bench. Are my requirements conflicting in any way? I have a load of questions whirling round in my mind at the moment:
  • Is it silly to mount a router and lift in a solid wood bench top? My gut instinct says that mounting it in ply or mdf makes more sense. Would solid timber's expansion across the 298mm span of the aluminium insert plate cause issues? Would the seasonal twisting/cupping of timber cause an uneven router table surface?
  • Would I even use an MFT style grid? I've not used one before, but it definitely looks handy. The way Dennis (Hooked on Wood) demonstrates the work holding capabilities of his design makes an MFT style grid seem very appealing. Also the range of accessories compatible with this system looks like it would increase the versatility of the bench going forward. Efficient and accurate cross cutting with a rail hinge and fence is one of the main appeals for me right now. However, I don't want to buy into the world of gimmicky shiny anodised gadgets. I'm only interested if these things have real benefit.
  • Is an MFT grid possible in a solid wood design? If the system relies on a super accurate 96mm grid system, surely the natural expansion and contraction of solid timber would throw this out.
  • Isn't mdf too soft for 'holdfast style' clamps? Ive read that the lateral forces from these clamps stretch/crush the holes and make the fit sloppy for use with dogs. Which makes sense to me.
  • Rail clamps can only fit through 18mm, so anything thicker is a no-go with 'through-bench' dog hole clamping?
  • Does inlaying a sacrificial strip into solid timber workbench top (for tracksaw) seem like a weird idea?
This is just my assumption and guesswork, im not saying in any way that these points are correct.


Im trying to be pragmatic with my approach to the bench design. I totally get the appeal of a solid wood traditional bench, it has bags more charm than MDF. But I dont want to get too drawn into the romantic ideas of shiny OTT roubo benches and the like you see on YouTube, if a modest and practical MDF top would serve my needs better. Especially with regards to material stability. We have an English style bench made of larch (I think) in the communal workshop and the top twists all over the place. Its a beefy beast of a bench but it's far from a flat surface.

On the contrary I want to create something substantial which will stand the test of time, and that I'm proud to use. Maybe having an MFT grid isn't actually needed at all, and I could get away with a few strategically placed dog holes in solid timber.

As a final point - I'm of the school of though that simple is usually best. I'd rather create a simple and effective solution than Frankenstein something together thats overly complicated and asking too much. If my ideal requirements are asking too much then please let me know. But with space still at a premium, I'm all for incorporating functions - if they work well together.

Apologies for the splurge of thoughts here! I'm hoping that people can chime in with their experience or advice if they've been in a similar position.

Thanks in advance for any input!

Calum
Have a look a the Woodgrafter. The Woodgrafter Workbench – The Woodgrafter

He has produced a nice looking and solid hybrid bench, that might suit your needs,
 
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The big old traditional work benchs were made like furniture and well suited to the mallet wielding highly skilled wood bashing brigade but now where we use more power tools and other means then the bench has evolved, it can be multipurpose / modular and multifunctional like having 20mm holes and microjig slots. It is a good idea to make the MFT style tops as inserts and think of them as a consumable, the bench that stands out for me is the one from hooked on wood made by dennis and the plans are available

Also look at

this one is on wheels and so can be moved to where it is needed, maybe an outfeed table.
 
I can't contribute much to the debate but I have hardly ever seen holdfasts in use,although I quite like them myself.People earning a crust tend to stick with what they know,so traditional cramps are just about universal.I tried-and failed-to get a handful of oldtimers interested in using the Trend mini mach vacuum clamp table and also a bobbin sander.Their reaction-"we've never needed one" even after they saw them in use.Probably just stuck in their ways and when the matter of a CNC router was introduced they became very quiet indeed.I suspect hobbyists may be more open to changes.

As for our heroes "Ultimate Workbench" its a joke surely?Wheels are a huge hindrance if you are pushing a plane and all those grooves are a splendid way to prevent a 1/2"X4 screw from being picked up.
 
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My bench fulfils most of your requirements. I’m at work but will send some photos through later along with a list of its strengths and weaknesses!
 
I built a version of the fine woodworking New Fangled Workbench (which sat atop my old workmate), which had inserts for powertools. That worked quite well until I over egged the mallet work on a weaker part of the top and had to build another bench in fairly short order.
 
Hey all,

I'm in a fortunate position where I have acquired more space in my workshop/studio, some of which I plan to fill with a new workbench.

I have a relatively clear idea of the tasks I want to use it for, but I'm looking to the crowd for pointers and experience with regards to the compatibility of different features. I'm concerned I might have conflicting ideals with regards to function.


Requirements of bench:
  • House a router + lift
  • Cross cut timber and sheet stock using track saw and rail
  • Work holding
    • Vise (I won a huge old record vise in an auction for £42 :D)
    • Dog system (clamps/holdfasts etc)
    • Apron with dog holes/clampability?
  • House Festool dust extractor under work surface (dedicated for use with this bench - router fence, track saw, domino, sander etc)
  • Storage drawers
  • Generally hefty construction, I want to be able to bash stuff with a heavy mallet and hand plane boards without strength/stability issues.
  • A truly flat surface (e.g. for checking chair leg lengths)
Non-requirements of bench:
  • Messy work (glue ups, finishing) - I have another bench for this
  • Tool tray on bench top


My main concern at this stage is whether to go for a sheet material top bench or a solid timber bench. Are my requirements conflicting in any way? I have a load of questions whirling round in my mind at the moment:
  • Is it silly to mount a router and lift in a solid wood bench top? My gut instinct says that mounting it in ply or mdf makes more sense. Would solid timber's expansion across the 298mm span of the aluminium insert plate cause issues? Would the seasonal twisting/cupping of timber cause an uneven router table surface?
  • Would I even use an MFT style grid? I've not used one before, but it definitely looks handy. The way Dennis (Hooked on Wood) demonstrates the work holding capabilities of his design makes an MFT style grid seem very appealing. Also the range of accessories compatible with this system looks like it would increase the versatility of the bench going forward. Efficient and accurate cross cutting with a rail hinge and fence is one of the main appeals for me right now. However, I don't want to buy into the world of gimmicky shiny anodised gadgets. I'm only interested if these things have real benefit.
  • Is an MFT grid possible in a solid wood design? If the system relies on a super accurate 96mm grid system, surely the natural expansion and contraction of solid timber would throw this out.
  • Isn't mdf too soft for 'holdfast style' clamps? Ive read that the lateral forces from these clamps stretch/crush the holes and make the fit sloppy for use with dogs. Which makes sense to me.
  • Rail clamps can only fit through 18mm, so anything thicker is a no-go with 'through-bench' dog hole clamping?
  • Does inlaying a sacrificial strip into solid timber workbench top (for tracksaw) seem like a weird idea?
This is just my assumption and guesswork, im not saying in any way that these points are correct.


Im trying to be pragmatic with my approach to the bench design. I totally get the appeal of a solid wood traditional bench, it has bags more charm than MDF. But I dont want to get too drawn into the romantic ideas of shiny OTT roubo benches and the like you see on YouTube, if a modest and practical MDF top would serve my needs better. Especially with regards to material stability. We have an English style bench made of larch (I think) in the communal workshop and the top twists all over the place. Its a beefy beast of a bench but it's far from a flat surface.

On the contrary I want to create something substantial which will stand the test of time, and that I'm proud to use. Maybe having an MFT grid isn't actually needed at all, and I could get away with a few strategically placed dog holes in solid timber.

As a final point - I'm of the school of though that simple is usually best. I'd rather create a simple and effective solution than Frankenstein something together thats overly complicated and asking too much. If my ideal requirements are asking too much then please let me know. But with space still at a premium, I'm all for incorporating functions - if they work well together.

Apologies for the splurge of thoughts here! I'm hoping that people can chime in with their experience or advice if they've been in a similar position.

Thanks in advance for any input!

Calum
Just build a traditional joiners bench but without the tool well(more pain than help) and apron(can’t clamp anything as the apron’s in the way), with a Record 52 1/2 vice, simple but very effective.
 
This is my bench.

It’s a bit too big and still needs some drawers installing underneath but is okay otherwise.

I fitted a router insert at one end with a big triton router fitted underneath. The insert is just a simple Lexan homemade job, I just clamp a mdf fence on to the bench top as required.

At the other end I have a record 52 1/2 with pop up bench stops added to the jaws that line up with dog holes in the bench top to clamp panels up and stop them moving about when face planing.

There’s a 200 mm beech apron all round with dog holes for edge planing long pieces. I’ve a pair of holdfasts that fit the dog holes, I use them loads. The dog holes in the end of the bench are handy for rigging up planing stops and whatnot.

The bench top is three sheets of 25mm mdf. I drizzled thin CA glue down the inside of the dog holes so they wouldn’t get mashed by the holdfasts and they’ve been fine so far. The legs and frame are just PSE redwood bolted to the top so I can dismantle it in case we move.

What I like about it:
- It’s solid. Zero wobble and zero bounce no matter how much abuse it gets.
- It’s flat as a pancake and all the edges are square to the top
- It stays flat and doesn’t need planing
- it’s a doddle to clamp stuff to it
- It doesn’t have a tool tray
- I love the vice
- The router table has been handy (occasionally)
- It was cheap(ish)
- It was quick and easy to make

What I’m less keen on:
- It’s too big. I’m going to cut the end with the router table off. It will then be short enough to position crossways in my workshop to make better use of the space.
- I don’t use the router table that much so won’t miss it when it’s gone. I’ll make a smaller one that clamps to the apron that can be packed away when it’s not being used.
- It needs some drawers underneath.

Although the bench suits me, I should point out I’m very much not at the fine furniture end of things, mainly just a house renovation and simple furniture.

IMG_4859.jpeg

IMG_4858.jpeg

IMG_4856.jpeg

IMG_4855.jpeg
 
Well here's my penny's worth.
I've built too many benches in my woodbutchery life and seen some wonders and horror story benches.
One has to work out what type of work you want the bench to do,
100 % handwork,or 100% powertool use. Or like most here a bit of both.
There is a lass on utube in America that built what I think is an ideal one for you.
A split top ROUBO, 1 half being good for hand work and the remaining section was a torsion box with holes for mft holding system.

If I find that video,I'll post the link here for everyone.
Hth, Karl
 
The basic trad bench is a bit like an anvil. Whatever other work you hope to do it starts with rough metal/wood on an anvil/bench. It is as essential as a saw, plane, hammer, spanner, etc.


Screenshot 2023-11-16 at 23.10.09.png
 
The basic trad bench is a bit like an anvil. Whatever other work you hope to do it starts with rough metal/wood on an anvil/bench. It is as essential as a saw, plane, hammer, spanner, etc.


View attachment 170038
I agree with you 100% Jacob. The bench is a work bench on which to create the components that make up the project.

But today it seems more about creating the bench itself, rather than using the bench as, as you say 'The Anvil'

Prior to posting, and on looking at this thread I googled 19th century, 18th century,17th century cabinetmakers, and all showed the work bench as a simple yet sturdy table on which to work. The latter century incorporated a vice, but that was the extent
 
I have a sturdy workbench but wanted the convenience of dog-holes to use with a track-saw and also for work-holding during sanding and routing so I simply fixed an MFT style top to my existing workbench.
The disadvantages are the dog holes are blind so I can’t use clamps that slot through and hook under the top. Also, I needed to raise the top by 5mm as 18mm thick MDF isn‘t quite enough to stop the dogs bottoming out on the bench top below - next time I’ll use thicker MDF or more likely make it thicker by glueing an 18mm and 9mm sheet together. I also cannot use accessories that require access to the underside.
If you can live with those limitations, it works well.
 
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Scott Walsh did a bench with an mft grid on it by laminating two 18mm plywood sheets together. To make it work with hold down clamps he put a 3/4" chamfer on the backside of the board.
Potentially a good compromise...


I'm thinking about doing this style for my bench, well the worktop. The bench is going to be made from 2x4 and mortice and tenon joints.

Here's the link to Tamar 3x3's combo bench:
 
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