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To (ol) well or not to (ol) well? That is the question

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Steve Maskery

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Ok, I know I'm likely to be opening a can of worms that will make any sharpening thread seem as benign as "How do you do?", but here goes.

I made what I thought was my lifetime bench about 20-odd years ago. It has served me well.
But.

I bought a load of beech from Harry Adcock's. The place is a housing estate, now, I believe.

There was something a bit odd while I was there. I was being served by a very charming yard-hand, but something was not right. I didn't know what, and I have always been a bit too naïve for my own good. I bought the wood, I built my bench.

The first summer of my new bench's life, I came down to see my workshop alive with flying woodworm. They were everywhere. The bar steward who served me knew what he was selling, I am sure. It made sense of the nod and wink to his colleague.

I treated it so it didn't get any worse and I have no more recurrence. Until last year. I cam down one day to find several crawling over the surface. That was the end of that day's work, off to the store, buy some woodwork killer and splash it on like it was Brut. I don't want another episode this year.

As well as that, I was nearly 2" taller then than I am now. I'm shrinking, just not in the right direction. My bench now seems uncomfortably high at 900mm.

So for both those reasons, it's time for a new one.

In an ideal world, I would make it out of maple, with a Benchcrafted wagon vice and Croix de St Pierre leg vice, finished with the oil of pressed Himalayan Violets. But the days of generous disposable income are well and truly over, so I want to make as good a bench a I can out of pine (either Vths or possibly southern yellow pine, I'll have to see what the price difference is) and re-use my existing 52½ and my tail vice.

But my dilemma is, should I have a tool well or not?

Answers on a postcard, please :)
 

Steve Maskery

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Perhaps I should point out that I have never had a bench with a tool well. I can see their advantages of stopping tools from getting underneath the workpiece, but I can also see that they may be nothing more than a magnet for detritus. I really am in two minds.

What are your experiences of them? Deity or Devil?
 

AndyT

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If you are a really tidy, methodical person who uses a tool then puts it away, no.

If you accept that you will build up a bit of mess until you have to tidy, yes.

I'm in the latter group.
 

Lons

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Hey Steve

My little ancient ex education bench has a well or at least had. I used it for years like that until I got fed up of the accumulation and searching for tools among the shavings so I filled it in.

Why don't you make it with a well but incorporate a removable infill section so you can have the best of both worlds. Not difficult for a man with your jig design and making expertise.
 

Steve Maskery

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Me too, Andy, me too.
If you've seen any of my videos you will know my that workshop is not exactly clinical :)
But I am better - much better, actually - at keeping my bench clear than I used to be. The floor is the next challenge...
I remember Pete Maddex coming over and commenting that he'd never realised that my bench actually had a proper flat surface on it...

Lons, that has actually occurred to me. It needs a bit of consideration. I do have a couple of thoughts on that. I shall mull.
 

richarnold

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Over a 40 year career Have worked on many benches and they all had tool wells, but two years ago I made the last bench that hopefully I will ever need. This is a very traditional Nicholson type bench made of redwood softwood and has no tool well. I wish I had never worked with a tool well and I don't miss it at all. It has disciplined me to be much tidier in my working practices. I smile at the end of each working day as I sweep it clean, ready for a fresh start in the morning
 

samhay

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Will the bench be pushed against a wall or will there be room to work on it from both (long) sides?
If against a wall, then a shelf above the bench may work much better.

Another (perhaps not very good) reason to include a tool well is to reduce the amount of timber in the top, which then makes the build cheaper.
 

Steve Maskery

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That s all very helpful. Thanks, chaps. Not actually what I was expecting.

I'll tell you what I am considering. My exiting bench is a Roubo style, one solid top on a frame of two end frames joined by a pair of stretchers. No apron.

It is fairly rigid, but now I am on a wooden floor, not as rigid as it used to be on a concrete floor. Aprons provide excellent rigidity, they just get in the way of using clamps, which I do a lot.

I'm considering having an apron of the rear side (I'm fortunate enough to be able to work on both the front and rear sides of my bench). I'm thinking that a removable tool well would give me the best of both worlds, increasing my clamping options whilst also providing well space when I need it.

I have worked out how a well bottom could be made to fill in the space if desired.
 

woodbloke66

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Steve Maskery":26731hz2 said:
But my dilemma is, should I have a tool well or not?

Answers on a postcard, please :)
A very Marmitey question Steve, but here's my 2 Euro's worth, fwiw :D

Folk love 'em or hate 'em, end of story! For me, I think there just about the best thing you can have on a woodworker's bench for the following reasons:

1. You can install a pair of powerful, adjustable LED lamps in the well. Mine came from Ax and will traverse up and down and can't be removed , thus giving a really concentrated light source over the job in hand.
2. I don't store any tools in the well with the exception of stuff like gauges which have a particular 'set' that I don't want altered. These then stay in the well and don't get put back onto the 'Tool Wall' until I've finished with them.
3. I keep a big, square old KG5 'baccy tin full of my 'go to' drill bits in the well; very handy!
4. A tool well is invaluable for storing all the tiny odds n'sods that accumulate for almost any job you care to name (hinges, screws etc etc). I simply keep them in another rectangular 'baccy tin. By keeping them in the tin ensures that they don't go missing in the 'shop and I know exactly where everything should be. If they were kept loose on top of the bench, you can bet your life that they'd end up sooner or later on the 'shop floor!
5. On my tool well, I have a removable base. This means that once it's removed, I can drop a large F clamp through the rectangular hole and cramp a job to the bench top from both sides which has proved to be a life saver at times.
6. The well is only about 150mm wide so doesn't pinch too much off the effective width of the working surface.
7. The tool well is a great place to keep your 'Star Trek' mug for all your pencils etc etc.

For me, a tool well on the bench is an absolute essential. Some pics on the 'morrow if of any interest - Rob
 

Orraloon

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My previous bench had a well as I remembered them from school woodwork days. However without teacher around to keep me tidy and disciplined it tended to overflow with all sorts of clutter. More a pain in the @&$# than a help. Sure a well is good for your square and pencil but it's all those things thats just a smidgen too high that really annoy. Anyhow no well on my current bench and not missing it at all.
Regards
John
 

colinc

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Hi,

I built a Split Roubo style bench last year from pine and absolutely love it. I am not a tidy worker but I have a tool cabinet behind me and the bench in front so it encourages me to put my tools away.

It is heavy and rigid, and I like being able to put clamps both in the gap and from front and back edges.

I did splash out on Benchcrafted vice gear for the leg vice but built my own take on the wagon vice which saved a packet. The leg vice is impressive though and I don’t regret the spend.

You could use a cheaper vice screw in combination with the Benchcrafted criss-cross which is good value. I have a spare Veritas screw if you want it? (Am not far away).

Regards,

Colin
 

Phil Pascoe

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When we moved house I kept the two 275mm x 70mm African mahogany boards from the top of my bench, as I could not get the base out from where it was without major work. It transpired that I had to make it narrower anyway for wheelchair access, so I built a narrower frame using the same top pieces but with a Roubo type reversible strip down the middle. This is useful as a stop when working across the bench or using holdfasts, turns over to leave the top flat, or lifts out completely to allow cramps to be used in the middle of the top. It also did away with the well, which I'd always had ............ and haven't missed for one single moment.
 

novocaine

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rather have a nice wide plane to work on then a tool well.
but that's my preference and is historically based on doing a lot of mixed work on one bench, a flat top means I can chuck a sheet of steel over it and weld all day long, whip it off and turn to making sawdust, drop a full sheet of something man made on and set to work making other dust.

I have had push pull draws under a bench for tools in use (took some discipline to remove them back to their homes once finished) which I liked. Acted like a tool well but with a flat top (flatish) and kept all the tools away from the work. got filled with sawdust though, so had to be taken out and cleaned regularly.
 

MikeG.

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My bench is an old school bench with a big well running along the middle. Eventually, I got so fed up with the lack of space that I filled half the well in.....and that compromise works extremely well for me. I wouldn't begin to suggest that others should copy. We all work in our own way. I have a shelf behind my bench (which stands against a wall) so in-use tools get placed there, and so at a pinch I guess I could do away with the remainder of my well. However, I do find it useful. If I'm doing a repetitive process which involves 3 chisels, as I was yesterday, the two which I'm not actually holding just get placed in the well where's there's no chance of me knocking them off the bench with a clumsy swing of the workpiece. I've generally 2 or 3 pencils on the go at any one time, and they end up in the well.Here's an image picked at random to show it in action:





The big lesson I would pass on is the shelf behind the bench, rather than the tool well. Having that shelf is more important to me.
 

Pete Maddex

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I filled my tool well in as well, I found that you couldn't stand something with legs on without at least one going in to the tool well, which was a nightmare on a dry run and even worse for a glue up.

I don't like glue ups clamped on the bench top as it stops you working.

Pete
 

MikeG.

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Pete Maddex":30868u0e said:
I filled my tool well in as well, I found that you couldn't stand something with legs on without at least one going in to the tool well, which was a nightmare on a dry run and even worse for a glue up.

I don't like glue ups clamped on the bench top as it stops you working......

I don't glue up on the bench. That happens on an assembly table across the other side of the room, or on horses. Although of course, glue on the fingers does get wiped on the underside of the bench overhang by the vice. That's compulsory.
 

lurker

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I have a tool well and as others say it's just a pita.

Surely your recent infestation is due to the time it was in storage, not the original.
Assume the brut treatment has done its job and assuming the bench is not falling apart why bother with a new one? Just shorten the legs.
 

Just4Fun

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Do you do much hand planing? I find the worst thing about a tool well is the way it fills up with shavings when I do a lot of planing. Even worse I can't just sweep it out because there can be little things buried in the shavings and I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
For other work such as cutting joinery I find a tool well to be useful.
 

Steve Maskery

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lurker":3bskyvyz said:
I have a tool well and as others say it's just a pita.
Surely your recent infestation is due to the time it was in storage, not the original.
I assume so too.
lurker":3bskyvyz said:
Assume the brut treatment has done its job and assuming the bench is not falling apart why bother with a new one? Just shorten the legs.
Unfortunately it has sled feet, it's not as straightforward as cutting an inch off.
 
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