Home is where the workbench is

Some time ago, I promised a post on workbenches.  Shortly after, it seemed there were a thousand and one posts on workbenches.  Rather than contribute, I hid in a corner and sucked my thumb.  (Well, maybe not, but my silence was rather immature.)  The problem is, there are just as many thoughts and publications on what constitutes a good workbench.

You see, there are those who feel the historical work bench is the best one.  Then, there are those who feel that a workbench is a piece of shop equipment, and expect it to be dented, dinged, abused, cut, spilled on, and otherwise almost destroyed – and therefore a cheap or rebuildable option is preferred.  Some say hardwoods are best, some say plywood, some say softwood.  Those who work with metal argue for a metal table, those who work with wood argue for a wood table, those who work with leather argue for a stone table, those who work with food argue for a clean table.

I say they are all right.

(I know, not helping.)  Here’s the point, though.  The workbench is merely the location you do your work.  It does  not have to be some altar you sacrifice your blood and handiwork up to the crafty gods.  It does not have to be some sterilized hermetically sealed chamber that no life can exist in save you.  It does not have to be immaculate, spotless, original, sturdy, weak, or even real.  It does, however, have to support your work.

I’ve watched several videos on building a workbench.  From professional woodworkers to those who might be able to spell wood if given three letters.  It all comes down to what you want from a workbench.  Doesn’t need to be fancy, doesn’t need to be impressive.  Doesn’t need to be someone else’s.  Does need to be yours.

Sure, you could build one like Moog from Mighty Car Mods fame does…  His video is quick, informative, and takes advantage of the material in the raw form you might purchase it in from whatever supplier you use.  Since he’s in Australia (and I’m not), the measurements are going to be 1) in metric, and 2) based on local rules.  For example, the plywood he is using measures 60 centimeters, or just shy of 2 feet imperial.  I’m sure I could find plywood that wide here, but most of the stuff I find is in sheets of 4 feet by 8 feet (121.92 centimeters by 243.84 centimeters).  Some pre-reduction is required.

Or, you could watch any number of videos on YouTube that deal with making a bench.  Matthias Wendel, of woodgears.ca, has this option.  There’s a decent cheap bench built by YouTube user BullittMcQueen.  Shop Built gives us this version (on the pricier end at $200, but still cheap) made from plywood and MDF.  Steve Ramsey, of Wood Working for Mere Mortals presents another version here.  (I’ve also seen him use the bed of a pickup truck in a pinch.)  Check out some of the other ideas at the end of his video.

You could jump in feet first and build a larger bench, like the Roubo bench built by the Renaissance Wood Worker, Shannon Rogers.  Marc Spagnuolo, the Wood Whisperer, has a plan and video series to build a similar version, but a membership is required to view them.  (Single project memberships in the WoodWhisperer Guild, called “a la carte” memberships, start at $25, if you are wondering.  You get far more than just a quick video how to and a set of drawings.
Worth the investment, if you want to make it.)  You could build something along the lines of many offerings from Norm Abrams, of the New Yankee Workshop.

Or, you can go scrounging.

cutting the 2x stock...
One workbench idea

I’ve used a small sheet of plywood placed on top of my washer as a workbench.  I’ve used a portable workbench before.  I’ve used a rolling office chair with the back removed as a temporary saw bench for power tools.  (Be very careful with this: the rolling wheels will let this chair go where ever it wants to unless you block at least one wheel.  Not to mention sawdust cleanup.)  Most recently, I’ve used a bar stool as a bench.  Simply clamp my wood to the top, put one foot on the bottom rung, and cut the ends off.  It took a little ingenuity to use the stool to assemble the project, but I found clamping one board down to the seat of the stool solved a lot of issues.  (And predrilling my holes solved others.)

I’ve used the dining room table, the floor, and even my lap.  I do leather working on a portable bench that came from the back of a cheap dresser drawer: I salvaged one piece and tossed the rest, laying the bench across a table or my lap.  (I also have a “poundo” board to help absorb some of the vibrations from stamping and punching… not all, but it doesn’t destroy my knees this way.)

The point is: use what you have.  Use what you feel comfortable with.  Sure, i could link to a thousand and one different plans or videos (or both).  But in the end, you’d spend your time watching how to make someone else’s workbench, instead of making or using one of your own.  As long as you don’t cut or destroy anything that cannot withstand the process, do your work wherever you can.

The small shop of a hobby wood worker
The small shop of a hobby wood worker

Personally, I have a workbench that disassembles for storage.  During winter months, I use a temporary solution indoors (not just the office chair).  You might find that early table project of mine to be a decent workbench.  (I’d add more cross bracing on the legs, personally.  And make the top narrower and shorter.  But that’s me.)  But whatever you do, do it.  And don’t let anybody push you into a corner to make you feel you need their workbench.  You are the one who has to use it, not them.  If you want to splash paint on it, go ahead.  It shows you use it.


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