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"Off the shelf" vs DIY workbenches

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MayKitt

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Thanks for the confidence boost! If I start to source timber now, what am I looking for in terms of quality? Can I just get timber from my local builder's merchant or should I be looking for something of better quality? Are there grades of timber? I'm assuming I'd be using some variety of pine?
 

bp122

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I started to do Woodworking last summer when we got a house with a garage for a workshop.

I was caught up with all the YouTubers building chunky benches out of everything from MDF, Southern yellow pine to maple. I also have Mr. Schwarz's workbench bible and was tempted to start of my woodworking journey by building the "last bench I'll every need"

But reality is, I found a free dining table that someone was throwing out with a 40mm pine top. Screwed a couple of 18mm MDF on top of it because I didn't want to spend time flattening the pine top.

Bolted an old record 52 1/2 vice on it which was bought locally from someone for £25.

I have been using this as my workbench for over a year now. Sure, it racks and creaks and even rocks when I am planing. But I have used some belts and braces (literally) and used some wedges to level it on my garage floor.

It is not even the right height, but I have gotten a fair amount of work done on it over the last year, including planing, chiseling and a whole lot of other DIY tasks.

My point is, for £25 and a few minutes' investment, I got an actual functional workbench which lets me do things which I can't do without a bench.

Now I know what I don't want in a workbench and when I get to building one (after the laundry list is complete for the essential house projects) I can concentrate on what I would need and design it to my specs.

Start off with something you can clamp a vice or holdfasts to and see what else you need as you go along. Your needs will evolve and so will your next iteration of the bench.

The are videos of people adapting their trusty workmate as a decent small workbench as well.
 

thetyreman

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if I were starting again I'd design and build my own bench, as I've grown my needs have changed quite a bit, I honestly think only you can decide what's best for you, it might be worth getting the Christopher Schwarz book on the subject.
 

Tim Britton

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workbenches are subjective, what suits one person doesn't always suit another. Workshops I was in during and after serving my apprenticeship had traditional joiners benches so I tend to default to such things. A bench needs to be at the right height, sturdy so it doesn't move when planing for example but beyond such necessities it's up to the user. Current bench is two sheets of plywood fitted to a base I was given... the previous owner was shorter than me so I had to increase the height a little with shims of OSB board. Still lust after a Roubo style but...
 

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Phil Pascoe

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Personally I prefer a DIY bench that is solid and can accept a standard sheet. My criteria would be
  • Replaceable top or sacrificial surface
  • Perfect flat and level in all directions
  • Bench dogs
  • Record hold downs x2
  • Large Record vice, mines ancient
  • 8x4ft min
  • Same height as surrounding benches
  • Bolted down
  • Loads of draws filled with heavy stuff
  • Power outlets and airline or at least a overhead boom
  • A clamping lip all round
  • Somewhere for a shopvac
Not bothered about what timber it is made from but must be thick. My top is 3" Douglas with a sheet of mdf, legs are 4" square. Rest is a mixture of whatever I had laying about.

Be careful with off the shelf benches as many are woeful. A good bench will cost way over a grand. Plus building your own is fun and rewarding 😇
I agree with most of that - but the OP is starting out - all he need is a bench good enough to build his choice bench on a few years down the line. Incidentally most people would find 4' too wide by at least 2'.
 

novocaine

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buy a bench of this size and rigidity for the same price or less and you have my upmost respect as a bargain hunter. :)
16 lengths of B&Q grade CLS at 2.74 a length
1 bottle of 502 for 3.50 at tool station
enough clamps to start a shop (free, you should have those, it's the law)
1 no. 41/2 jack plane
a reasonble saw
a 1" chisel

and any excuse to post this picture again. :)
The bench by David Rees, on Flickr
 

Ttrees

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These ideas might not be a bad choice for one starting off
Taken from the absolutly huge collection of benches on the site lumberjock$
To find this huge collection of benches, prob over 200, type in to google...
All replies on Work bench smack down.

Edit: I forgot to add that you could find a "solid core" door, or what might be a smooth faced heavy fire door to a layman like myself,
to place on top of those simple sawhorses (with the interesting riser part added)
Two cheap f clamps to secure it to the "trestles" and the top butting up against something like a wall so it can withstand the lateral force of planing timbers.
Maybe another cheapie f clamp or two for clamping a batten for a planing stop, if not against a wall.
If the door, ahem,"top" would be bearing against a wall, then a few boards could also bear against the wall for planing against.

Adding another few of the larger heavy duty f clamps from Lidl also, will enable you to hold all kinds of stuff, instead of needing a vice straight away.
Should be enough to get you started from scratch.
Make a good enough second bench when you grow out of it.
Be compact enough to store away if you happen to stumble across a nice bench or make one later on, and are tight for space.

Screenshot-2020-10-29 All Replies on Work bench smack down LumberJocks com ~ woodworking commu...png

Here is another idea for a knockdown bench I thought was interesting
Screenshot from 2020-10-10 07-40-38.png
Screenshot from 2020-10-10 07-41-01.png


All the best
Tom
 
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Terry - Somerset

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Lots of good advice although I tend towards buy a reasonable, but not overly expensive new one - eg: Rutlands . Lots of reasons:
  • you get to start woodworking quickly
  • you only really understand what you need when you understand better what you want to do
  • you may have constraints over space and weight - eg: 8x4 bench will fill a shed, a 100mm top not needed for making boxes!
  • cost is not a mile away from buying wood and vices to build your own if you use hardwood (eg: beech)
  • ideally you need a bench to build a bench (somewhat TIC)
7 years ago I bought a Rutlands basic (now £350). I added drawers for storage and increased the height for comfortable working. I now understand its weaknesses - eg: vices rack, top is approx 30mm thick so hold-downs limited. At some point I may improve it further with a tail vice and extra reinforcement underneath the top to increase effective thickness.
 

sometimewoodworker

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Thanks for the confidence boost! If I start to source timber now, what am I looking for in terms of quality? Can I just get timber from my local builder's merchant or should I be looking for something of better quality? Are there grades of timber? I'm assuming I'd be using some variety of pine?
You still haven’t defined what you want to do.

assuming that your bench is going to be in one place universal is weight, mass and rigidity. The substructure can be anything, the top will depend on your use. A soft wood is a poor choice for any bench. You want a reasonably hard wood that has a sensible MOR (Modulus of Rupture) and MOE (Modulus of Elasticity)

Absolutely there are different grades of timber, a good place to start or continue learning is Shannon's Lumber Industry Update podcast.

My personal bench is a laminated plywood base with a torsion box chipboard top, it probably weighs in at over 200 kg with all the stuff in the drawers, but is mobile.

Don’t confuse softwood with soft wood or hardwood with hard wood. Balsa is a hardwood that is one of the softest at 0.4 kN (90lbf) while European Yew is a very hard softwood at 6.76 kN (1,520lbf) Information on the numbers .

The wood you choose should also not splinter easily
 

Trainee neophyte

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Whilst you are waiting to make a decision on a bench, bang together a couple of trestles. A cut down sheet of ply on top and you have have a work surface. Link the two trestles together with a couple of notched beams of some variety, and you have something bench-ish. You can now make stuff!

I don't (yet) have a bench, so I do everything on trestles or a rickety folding portable workbench thing. It's a temporary solution, but as I do do all my work outside it makes it all portable.

Another very cheap solution while you wait to make your mind up would be Rex Kruger's Roman bench.

That way you can agonise over your perfect bench for years, while still making things on a bench.
 

SVB

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Rob Cosman did a YouTube video called $100 bench iirc. Maybe worth a watch.
 

johnnyb

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every bench at places I've worked have been knackered. screw hole on screw hole. far from flat. dodgy vices etc. what id take from thet is a screw in a piece of wood is the best and most versatile planing stop. the best vice just need to hold the thing etc. don't be to precious. one thing I do think is a separate assembly bench is a god send. and this does need to be pretty flat and out of twist. even if its a forlorn hope for shed woodworkers. but the interplay between bench and assembly is very important.
ps I do understand the need to overtmake a project. and treating your bench like that is great but tends to over emphasise its furniture qualities. ie best to make a beautiful bench then deliberately smash a corner in it and drill a hole or two.! that tells your brain what it's for.
the last bench I made used inch brass bar to make bed bolt joints very very strong but able to be taken apart easily.
 

Knotty Norm

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Plenty of ex school benches about, dealers tend to have the emir ones around the £300 quid mark.
Last lot i had we sold for £45 each just to move them, couldnt buy the wood for that!
Good point. I had one of these at one point, put a couple of 3 inch (in those days!) runners below the feet to get it to my height, and it was the best value bench I ever had - to this day.
 

Mal-110

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As Previously mentioned, take a look at Rob Cosman's $100 bench. All the wood is available and can be made using few tools and little experience. The method of construction is really simple yet provides a very strong bench. As it uses plywood and MDF its not as pretty as some others.
I purchased my second bench having built my first, which remains in the workshop. I added extra feet to an Axminster bench bought in the sale and put a tool tray on the back, it was a good buy.
 

Beanwood

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Mine came from a second hand shop - it was outside for a few weeks, so looked fairly ropey. It had a vice on it already, and came for a bargain price (Something like £15?). It's old and worn, so I'm not precious about putting a few more screw holes in it, or cutting a second hole in the side for another vice that I was given.

I've also just invested in a cheap MR MDF MFT top from the Eby that I put on trestles as an assembly table. Works a treat, and as it takes down to be stored away, stays clean, tidy and uncluttered.

If and when I find time and inclination to build a new bench, I will have developed some more skills, and a bench on which to do it!!
 

Paul Narramore

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I started a thread back in February

Workbench design

asking about workbench design. I got lots of helpful suggestions but I'm still dithering! I want to check out ready-made benches just to compare cost and design against a DIY bench. I've done some research and come up with a few, including Sjoberg Nordic Plus 1450, Axminster 1700 and 1500 and the Sealey AP1520. They vary in price and quality quite a bit.

Just starting to tot-up the cost of a DIY bench (including vices) and it soon gets into the price range of these, especially with a hardwood top. Has anyone found other ready-mades? I've watched the Paul Sellers YouTube videos and there is a fair amount of work to get a DIY bench constructed. Any thoughts on the sturdiness and design of the off the shelf ones I've found or maybe others you know about? Any thoughts about DIY vs ready-made?

Any comments would be appreciated.
I would respectfully suggest that if you are still dithering after nine months, you don't really want a workbench at all. When we moved two years ago, one of the very first things I did was to build a workbench. A long kitchen worktop offcut from Wickes and lots of square timber. It's as solid as a rock and has a heft engineering vice, woodworking vice and an industrial pillar drill. What are you waiting for?
 

t8hants

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When I built mine, I went to the demo yard and came back with some 6x4 fake old beams from a much missed pub, a chunk of 3x12 with nails in one side, but clean on the other, ex church. The 3x12 I hand planed flat on one edge and face, made a complete cock up on one of the set of leg joints so had to get some more fake old beam. I cursed, I sweated, bled slightly,but learned a lot. As has been said, I have discovered its short comings and might replace it, but its mine, I made it and has also been said, its a tool not an example of bench porn.
 

Jelly

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Good point. I had one of these at one point, put a couple of 3 inch (in those days!) runners below the feet to get it to my height, and it was the best value bench I ever had - to this day.
Ditto, I donated my old school bench to a charity which makes craft skills more accessible to the community because I had space issues.

Still regret it... Especially when I'm using it in their workshops!

My current bench is built from roof truss offcuts (and secured with nail plates) with a top made of laminate redwood (rejects from door casings) and it's actually a pretty awesome bench, but more suited to mechanical tasks because that's what it was built for.
 

novocaine

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I think the biggest issue with anyone starting out now is the access to information. 10 years ago (ok 20) unless you bought a magazine or 2 and did a bit of digging you'd be pressed to find out about the latest innovations in bench design, the desire for hardwood and how important it is/isn't, the need for an MFT/XYZ/ABC style top and how having the largest record vice you can find is a must. you'd have maybe done a quick look round, figured a bench is a bench and made it from what you have, now you get hit from so many different angles on what the best bench is, how to make it in just 4 easy videos with only 4k of tools and another bench to lean on, why iroko is better for legs than pine and that you must use only slow grown larch from the outer edges of some forest you've never heard off.

it's a bench. bolt, clamp, glue, screw and nail a load of bits of timber together and get on with it already. :)
 

MayKitt

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Thanks for all the replies and you are right, I need to get going! I'll check out the book and video suggestions though.

The first projects that I have lined up are a door for the wood store on my wood-fired oven so it's an external door that needs to look good but need not be finessed too much. The next is a small door for a cupboard in the house which I want to look good with a framed panel design. After those, it's going to be sorting the organization of tools in the workshop so maybe boxes/stands for different tools.

Wood from my local builder's merchant? Any advice on the grade of timber?
 
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