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Yet another workbench design

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Val

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I'm starting to think about building a proper workbench, as so far I've been working on some Toughbuilt sawhorses with a sheet of plywood and some 4x2s as supports.
I've been recently working on the mitre saw bench and I'm about to build the router table, so it's time for me to think about the "centrepiece" of the workshop.
These are my designs made using information gathered on the web and a couple of Schwartz's books about workbenches - the books have been really illuminating, as I now see as well the workbench as three dimensional vise. It's basically a split top bench with a front vise, a wagon vise, and a deadman.
Workbench_front.jpg

Workbench_top.jpg

Workbench_side.jpg

Workbench_back.jpg

Workbench_tenons.jpg
I used Sketchup to design it (nice piece of software) and I've adapted (roughly) the vices models from stuff I've found in the 3D Warehouse.
The actual vices I have are the Axminster Trade Quick Release Front Vice (the big one) and the Axminster Trade Tail Vice. For the height I've chosen 93cm as I find it the perfect height to work on small and big stuff without sacrificing my back (I'm 180cm tall). Not a huge amount of plaining going on for me, and it will be at the same height as router table and other surfaces in the workshop. Legs look split but they're actually going to be laminated together, so they will look like one piece, same as the two components of the top - I kept them this way because it's easier when generating a cut list. The workbench will be built using a good quality of poplar/tulipwood, and the "brown" bits in sapele. The wood has been in the workshop for the last 6 months, at a constant 50-65% humidity, but to be fair poplar seems to be quite stable (which helps with the split top).

I would like to have some feedback about the workbench in general but in particular about the following:
  • Depth of the bench (759mm) - I think I should be able to get away with a deeper bench by using a combination of wagon-front vices if I need to clamp smaller pieces (plus the split top). I think it should still be easy to reach the other side as it's not much bigger than a conventional 650mm deep bench. Any experience with this setup?
  • position of the top stretchers - they're on the external side of the legs at the bottom but (for clamping/vices reasons) on the internal side of the legs at the top. I need top stretchers as I like the idea of a split bench. I can also raise the central beam and have it to act as a stop, or remove it and drop a clamp there to fasten small things in the middle.
  • wagon vise: is the off-centre screw going to have the wagon piece to rack too much when clamping? If so, how can I prevent it? I like the idea of an off-centre one as this way I can drop long pieces inside the hole and use the wagon to clamp it against the rest of the bench. The wooden piece for the wagon is going to run inside some rails carved in the top, and it's going to have a chunky metal bit attached to it that will carry it back and forth when turning the handle (see the blueprint for the actual vice here).
  • wagon vise 2: I plan to just insert the end of the screw in a recessed hole and fill it with lithium grease or bees wax - if it has a tight fit is it going to work without wobbling? or is the wobbling actually going to affect anything? Any other options?
  • tenon size: are the tenons correctly dimensioned? Should I use drawbore pins? All legs have same tenon size, and all stretchers all another tenon size as in the picture.
  • hardware: I was thinking of fixing the rear vice jaw with recessed bolts so that I can remove it if damaged and change it with another one. Is it worth it? I was also thinking of doing the same with the wagon vise transversal support bit that I can bolt to the end of the bench, as I may need to remove it for maintenance of the vise.
  • what kind of coating can I add to the bench? I was thinking of staining the removable central beam as well, just for the aesthetics.
  • Any particular pitfalls in this build? any other common issues I'm not foreseeing?
Thank you very much for your feedback!
 

Cabinetman

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You won’t go far wrong with Schwartz, one or two things I would say.
The rear jaw of the vice should be mortised into the underside of the benchtop then you won’t need a removable piece and much more robust, coach bolts hold the vice in place from underneath.
The removable planing stick is a wonderful addition to any bench but don’t remove wood from the cross rails for it, it will be quite tough enough if you take the sections out of the stick instead, and it only needs to be 25 - 30mm thick, unless you particularly want it that way is for other reasons - for tool storage or cramping.

Have a look at Mike Siemsen he has a video entitled the viceless bench, not that he recommends not having one but it just shows what can be done with a well thought out bench for holding timber in all sorts of different ways, he’s American but don’t hold that against him this time.
I think you should listen to what he says about not needing a tail vice and how it engenders a bad planing habit,
I’ve tried one, I found it just wasn’t necessary and I’ve never missed it since. Ian
Ps I use a couple of coats of French polish or sanding sealer on the benchtop it protects it whilst not being slippery.
 

Val

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You won’t go far wrong with Schwartz, one or two things I would say.
The rear jaw of the vice should be mortised into the underside of the benchtop then you won’t need a removable piece and much more robust, coach bolts hold the vice in place from underneath.
The removable planing stick is a wonderful addition to any bench but don’t remove wood from the cross rails for it, it will be quite tough enough if you take the sections out of the stick instead, and it only needs to be 25 - 30mm thick, unless you particularly want it that way is for other reasons - for tool storage or cramping.
[...]
Ps I use a couple of coats of French polish or sanding sealer on the benchtop it protects it whilst not being slippery.
hi Ian, thanks for your advice. Yes, I think I can go without removing wood from the cross rails/top stretchers, just keeping the end of the removable beam thicker as it is now should keep it in place. The reason for it being 69mm thick is because I'm going to dimension all my timber that way, and it's easier if I don't have to rip that as well :D (I'm starting from 69x199x1950mm planed poplar). In addition, it will give me more space to drop a clamp in there and manoeuvre it.

I am not so sure I understand your suggestion about the rear jaw of the front vice: where should I mortise it at the bottom? also: isn't it a bad thing not being able to replace the rear jaw if damaged?

Good idea the sanding sealer (y) I was looking for a protective coat that wouldn't make it slippery and it should do.

I'll give the viceless bench a look as well, it's always good to see other point of views before committing to a design (even though I've already bought the vises)
 

Ttrees

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Hello
Its a nice looking bench, not sure about what's going to be done with the tail vice, i.e if you're copying
Cosman's traveling dog strip, as it's more enclosed looking than what you've drawn up.
To me it looks like things might fall through that, curious why you want that?

More importantly, the design you have made for the base needs a rethink, as those wee stubby tenons won't be as strong as it could be.
Depending if you really don't want to use bed bolts/furniture bolts/barrel nuts/knockdown hardware in you're design, you might opt for through tenon construction instead.

If you're on the fence about this, I strongly strongly recommend, as others have said the same thing a fortnight ago about stubby tenons, that you stick to the old saying as it really applies here.
Keep the wood as long, for as long as possible.
Don't get happy with that chopsaw here, benches are one of those things where just one little thing has a knock on effect on everything else, I do hope it's not too late for saying this.

There are other methods of doing the same with a very similar outcome, but much stronger.
If you want an even level for shelves or asthetics or whatever, then you will likely need hardware aswell as joinery.
Think in terms of force applied to pull the structure together, like dovetails, or wedged tenons, rather than something which is likely to come loose.
Should you rely on the top for keeping things together, that it's likely to expand and pull the base joinery apart, on nearly any bench or table there is room for expansion/contraction.

Here's what I came up with, a bit of a mishmash, but illustrates a stronger way of connecting strechers which meet on a leg at the same height.
Not saying it's anything special or well thought out, but has held up.

Note the opportunity to use dovetails for pulling the structure together was not missed.
SAM_4104.JPG


What I like about it is the low strecher is good for getting a foot under, which I haven't heard before,
You can get quite a bit of leverage from your foot, I could write a list, think at least of drilling or screwing a hefty screw down in that regard.

Down side is it's more difficult to get a broom in there.

It might be worth considering staggering those shorter strechers, so I will post this for fun in an attempt to dissuade one from those stubby tenons.

Yes the paddle collects things like shavings, but also doubles up as a shelf in times of when a bomb hits the place with some unforeseen surprise project.
The design could be improved, but just made with what scrap I had at hand.
Carl Holmgren style of retractable casters.

SAM_4056.JPG


Hope that persuades you to use through joinery

Edit I found a video of a wagon vice build, but believe I've seen it made much simpler elsewhere, and more suited to what Cosman has, i.e the narrow slot for the wagon, but I'll post it anyway.


All the best
Tom
 
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Cabinetman

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hi Ian, thanks for your advice. Yes, I think I can go without removing wood from the cross rails/top stretchers, just keeping the end of the removable beam thicker as it is now should keep it in place. The reason for it being 69mm thick is because I'm going to dimension all my timber that way, and it's easier if I don't have to rip that as well :D (I'm starting from 69x199x1950mm planed poplar). In addition, it will give me more space to drop a clamp in there and manoeuvre it.

I am not so sure I understand your suggestion about the rear jaw of the front vice: where should I mortise it at the bottom? also: isn't it a bad thing not being able to replace the rear jaw if damaged?

Good idea the sanding sealer (y) I was looking for a protective coat that wouldn't make it slippery and it should do.

I'll give the viceless bench a look as well, it's always good to see other point of views before committing to a design (even though I've already bought the vises)
In my experience the jaws of the vice don’t seem to get damaged at all.
The idea is that you dig a hole in the underside of your bench about an inch in, the same shape and size as the rear cast-iron jaw and also the webs that support it. It’s definitely much easier to install the vice with the bench on its back btw.
 

Phil Pascoe

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The inner jaw on mine is flush but replaceable - it gets used for all manner of things it shouldn't get used for and it does get damaged. I fitted a tail vice and have yet to use it. A couple of coats of blo on mine are adequate to shed glue etc. without being slippery. My centre bar has three heights - one small part flush in the middle so if I need a flat access to the back of the bench without flipping it I have one, one part about 5mm high for small work and the other about 15mm to stop larger heavier things jumping over it. Ensure the gap is wide enough for any of your clamps to drop through and turn 90 degrees. Mine is similar to your design but has (long) rails at the top, about 150mm down - they are not at the same level front to back as it unlikely to rack unless symetrical - the shelves are mounted from the top of one to near the bottom of the other. I didn't fix my top permanently, it's screwed down with coach screws through galvanised angle brackets to make it easier to move if necessary - which is as well as it's been moved four times. I put four heavy washers on each screw when it was built, and removed one each time I shifted it allowing the screw to pull properly dead each time rather than just sit where it had before. The 19mm dog holes are filled with pieces of wine corks to stop rubbish dropping through them, they just push out when the hole is needed.
 

Val

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Hello
Its a nice looking bench, not sure about what's going to be done with the tail vice, i.e if you're copying
Cosman's traveling dog strip, as it's more enclosed looking than what you've drawn up.
To me it looks like things might fall through that, curious why you want that?

More importantly, the design you have made for the base needs a rethink, as those wee stubby tenons won't be as strong as it could be.
Depending if you really don't want to use bed bolts/furniture bolts/barrel nuts/knockdown hardware in you're design, you might opt for through tenon construction instead.
[...]
Hope that persuades you to use through joinery
All the best
Tom
Hi Tom, thank you for your advice and for the pictures! The wagon vise is also going to be used like in this picture, I think it is quite useful:

1634233185721.png

It is true that here the slit for the wagon is narrower, so I could maybe think about a different design for the same functionality where part of the wagon (where the screw is) is buried inside the bench. The wagon needs to necessarily be offset compared to the screw as otherwise I couldn't drop a piece in there.

I suspected the tenons could've been a bit undersized, and I was indeed thinking about a through tenon. I'll give it a try on sketchup and see what happens. In general I'm not against knockdown hardware, and I actually would like to have a bench that - if necessary - I could dismantle and reassemble without having to destroy it. However, I am concerned that this kind of hardware would make the workbench not as strong as it could be with traditional joinery. Am I wrong?

[...]
There are other methods of doing the same with a very similar outcome, but much stronger.
If you want an even level for shelves or asthetics or whatever, then you will likely need hardware aswell as joinery.
Think in terms of force applied to pull the structure together, like dovetails, or wedged tenons, rather than something which is likely to come loose.
Should you rely on the top for keeping things together, that it's likely to expand and pull the base joinery apart, on nearly any bench or table there is room for expansion/contraction.

Here's what I came up with, a bit of a mishmash, but illustrates a stronger way of connecting strechers which meet on a leg at the same height.
Not saying it's anything special or well thought out, but has held up.

Note the opportunity to use dovetails for pulling the structure together was not missed.
[...]
It might be worth considering staggering those shorter strechers, so I will post this for fun in an attempt to dissuade one from those stubby tenons.
Yes, the original idea was to have a shelf under the bench to store all the planes and other heavy stuff that I can't fit in the cabinets - or just to declutter the top when needed!
I had some concerns as well with regard to having the long and short stretchers at the same height. What if I used through tenons on all the leg/stretcher joints and put the short stretchers a bit below the long ones that will actually support the shelf? Would that work?
I was also thinking to use a through dovetail joint for the legs like this, but I don't think I'm good enough yet (or want to wait long enough to be able to do it properly):
1634233908722.png

By the way, I've bought two sets of these casters a while ago for the workbench and the router table, so I plan to install them :)
 

Val

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The inner jaw on mine is flush but replaceable - it gets used for all manner of things it shouldn't get used for and it does get damaged. I fitted a tail vice and have yet to use it. A couple of coats of blo on mine are adequate to shed glue etc. without being slippery.
[...]
Mine is similar to your design but has (long) rails at the top, about 150mm down - they are not at the same level front to back as it unlikely to rack unless symetrical - the shelves are mounted from the top of one to near the bottom of the other. I didn't fix my top permanently, it's screwed down with coach screws through galvanised angle brackets to make it easier to move if necessary - which is as well as it's been moved four times. I put four heavy washers on each screw when it was built, and removed one each time I shifted it allowing the screw to pull properly dead each time rather than just sit where it had before. The 19mm dog holes are filled with pieces of wine corks to stop rubbish dropping through them, they just push out when the hole is needed.
hi Phil, thank you. I have some boiled linseed oil hanging around and I may try it on some of the "sacrificial trial timber" and see how it reacts to glue. I was also looking into something that could actually protect the top of the bench from being traumatised too much, like a protective coating. Do you have any advice on that?

With regard to the removable legs/knockdown hardware, do you have any pictures of your build? I would be curious to see how you've implemented it.
By the way, I'm going for 20mm diameter dog holes! I plan to build my own dogs and also use some aluminium ones coming from a MFD bench (much cheaper than 19mm traditional dogs here in the UK).
 

Ttrees

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I think there is some company making hardware for those "wagon" vices (I forgot the name)
Maybe Lie Nielsen or someone, I can see if I can find somewhere.
Though you might likely be very familiar with what's out there, more than I am.
It looked solid and simple, should you wish to copy that.

I'm not against the hardware, I've never needed to tighten the screws or anything like that.
I have stood on the lower strechers and not really seen them as being worrying for anything, never heard a creak, although I would think the through tenons are stronger on the strechers above.

Regarding the Roubo, cant say I'm a fan of anything but a floating top

Tom
 

Cabinetman

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On a 65mm top 20mm holes will work with most holdfasts, so that’s good. I can recommend Gramercy ones.
You have I think an assembly table? That’s where the gluing up will likely be done, well at least it’s where I would do it, you can still carry on working whilst the glue dries then.
 

Sgian Dubh

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I think you're missing a tool well, and if you incorporated one that would reduce the number of pieces needed to make up the top to three or four pieces at either edge plus a bit of plywood for the well somewhere towards the centre. I know that many people don't like a tool well, but I like one because once a tool is set in the well it's hard to knock it off the bench, whereas it's all too easy to knock a tool off a completely flat surface. I've heard people say their dislike of a tool well is because it's a place for clutter to collect, comprising both tools, hardware, and rubbish such as chips, screws, sawdust, etc, but the well is easily cleared out with a brush and pan whenever necessary.

I'd also move your end vise, if possible, to the bench's front edge rather than setting it back by about 70 mm, or more. It would be more useful there than set back from edge. Slainte.
 

Fitzroy

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Some thoughts
- why so deep, if the extra depth has no function it’s just extra cost for materials. In my shop I like to work from both sides and that much extra depth would stop me doing this comfortably.
- the top will get bashed, is not be too precious about it, or incorporate a sacrificial one if you want to keep it looking spot on.
- a 69mm wide planing strip will generate lots of force if it warps/cups/bows, it could lock fast or be unable to get back in if it dies so.
 

Phil Pascoe

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With regard to the removable legs/knockdown hardware, do you have any pictures of your build? I would be curious to see how you've implemented it.
My frame is one piece (M&Ts and dowels, because I had only one pair of sash cramps at the time), it's just the two heavy timbers (and 53e) that are removable. The two end rail are level with the top, and the top is screwed down to them with heavy commercially available angles. My theory was that I wasn't so much trying to fix the top down, I was trying to stop it bouncing back up. It has worked well.

I've used s/s, osmo and other things but I've found blo just as good if not better.
 

Pineapple

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I'm starting to think about building a proper workbench, as so far I've been working on some Toughbuilt sawhorses with a sheet of plywood and some 4x2s as supports.
I've been recently working on the mitre saw bench and I'm about to build the router table, so it's time for me to think about the "centrepiece" of the workshop.
These are my designs made using information gathered on the web and a couple of Schwartz's books about workbenches - the books have been really illuminating, as I now see as well the workbench as three dimensional vise. It's basically a split top bench with a front vise, a wagon vise, and a deadman.
I used Sketchup to design it (nice piece of software) and I've adapted (roughly) the vices models from stuff I've found in the 3D Warehouse.
The actual vices I have are the Axminster Trade Quick Release Front Vice (the big one) and the Axminster Trade Tail Vice. For the height I've chosen 93cm as I find it the perfect height to work on small and big stuff without sacrificing my back (I'm 180cm tall). Not a huge amount of plaining going on for me, and it will be at the same height as router table and other surfaces in the workshop. Legs look split but they're actually going to be laminated together, so they will look like one piece, same as the two components of the top - I kept them this way because it's easier when generating a cut list. The workbench will be built using a good quality of poplar/tulipwood, and the "brown" bits in sapele. The wood has been in the workshop for the last 6 months, at a constant 50-65% humidity, but to be fair poplar seems to be quite stable (which helps with the split top).

I would like to have some feedback about the workbench in general but in particular about the following:
  • Depth of the bench (759mm) - I think I should be able to get away with a deeper bench by using a combination of wagon-front vices if I need to clamp smaller pieces (plus the split top). I think it should still be easy to reach the other side as it's not much bigger than a conventional 650mm deep bench. Any experience with this setup?
  • position of the top stretchers - they're on the external side of the legs at the bottom but (for clamping/vices reasons) on the internal side of the legs at the top. I need top stretchers as I like the idea of a split bench. I can also raise the central beam and have it to act as a stop, or remove it and drop a clamp there to fasten small things in the middle.
  • wagon vise: is the off-centre screw going to have the wagon piece to rack too much when clamping? If so, how can I prevent it? I like the idea of an off-centre one as this way I can drop long pieces inside the hole and use the wagon to clamp it against the rest of the bench. The wooden piece for the wagon is going to run inside some rails carved in the top, and it's going to have a chunky metal bit attached to it that will carry it back and forth when turning the handle (see the blueprint for the actual vice here).
  • wagon vise 2: I plan to just insert the end of the screw in a recessed hole and fill it with lithium grease or bees wax - if it has a tight fit is it going to work without wobbling? or is the wobbling actually going to affect anything? Any other options?
  • tenon size: are the tenons correctly dimensioned? Should I use drawbore pins? All legs have same tenon size, and all stretchers all another tenon size as in the picture.
  • hardware: I was thinking of fixing the rear vice jaw with recessed bolts so that I can remove it if damaged and change it with another one. Is it worth it? I was also thinking of doing the same with the wagon vise transversal support bit that I can bolt to the end of the bench, as I may need to remove it for maintenance of the vise.
  • what kind of coating can I add to the bench? I was thinking of staining the removable central beam as well, just for the aesthetics.
  • Any particular pitfalls in this build? any other common issues I'm not foreseeing?
Thank you very much for your feedback!
Regarding Vice Lubrication. - Any Grease or Beeswax plus Sawdust = A Very Sticky Paste; which will make operation of your vices much harder work. - Aternatively, a Dry Lubricant, such as Graphite Powder or WD40 Anti Friction Dry PTFE Lubricant Spray would work much better.
Regarding you question about Knock-Down design mods. - Have you considered converting your (very good) basic bench design to use the Leg-Elements of the "Moravian Workbench" ? - It is "Flat-Packable", whilst also being a Solid Bench when fully (2 Minutes) assembled.
Using the moravian legs would make it possible to put the entire bench into the back of an estate-car or van for any on-site-work.
 

thetyreman

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I would add a tool well on the far side and make the top not as deep, otherwise it's good.
 

Sgian Dubh

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I didn't say it was sad that you needed one.
You can't, because it isn't.

Actually, I don't 'need' one, I just much prefer to have one, given a choice. My personal workbench has one, and I wouldn't choose to have it any other way, but I've worked on plenty of benches in workshops that were simply flat surfaces and I've disliked every one.

I suppose there's really no right or wrong in bench preference, i.e., flat or with tool well, and it's down to user preference. Slainte.
 

johnnyb

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I'm not a Paul sellars fan( cannae stand him) but his joiners bench is a great design. pragmatic size timbers no discernable racking. Paul sellars most definitely did not invent it though.
I see that giant hardwood benches are a showpiece but mostly unnecessary.
 

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