Workbench Upgrades

When I moved into my house there was a workbench in the basement. This bench was a custom made, one-of-a-kind, piece of crap. But I did’t know that yet.

For the first several years I thought this bench was great. It had a hard plywood top that I wasn’t afraid to get dirty. It had storage drawers and shelves to keep my fasteners and some tools in. Best of all, it was free.

As with any new homeowner, I had many projects around the house to work on (and I guess still do) and the workbench served as my base of operations for most of them.

Two years ago I started woodworking. I started off with the goal of building a Wandel Bandsaw and as I built, side projects would crop up and teach me better ways to accomplish the tasks necessary for the bandsaw. After enough of these projects, I finally came to see the workbench I had been using for what it really was. I started to see the shortcomings, suffering the design flaws.

But why was it so bad? It didn’t wobble when I hammered in a nail, and it didn’t walk across the floor while sanding. But what it did do was make work-holding unnecessarily difficult. When working with sharp tools it is very important that the piece being worked on be secured well enough that both hands are free to control the tool. A slip or shift of the work could very easily result in a serious injury.

I started looking for alternatives. Through the power of YouTube I started gathering examples of what made a highly functional workbench, but it’s a surprisingly contentious issue and everyone has an opinion. The really helpful information came from the long-forgotten medium of books.

Finished Roubo Workbench

Armed with both workbench books from Chris Schwarz, I read about the different styles of benches that have been used in different geographic areas. After consideration (and mostly just his recommendation) I went with the good old Roubo. This bench uses massive legs and a thick top to provide stability. It also has the legs and stretchers connecting them attached flush with the front of the top. Because of this, the bench itself becomes one big work-holding surface.

Building materials were the next issue. Many build their benches from thick hardwoods, at great expense. The top I was shooting for is 6” thick, 8’ long, and 20” wide. Building this from hardwood was going to cost way too much. Luckily, Chris has solved this problem too.

My bench is built from pine. Wet, sappy, big-box pine. I dried it in my shop for 6 months before using it, then did the best I could following the instructions from the books. It worked great. One year later, my bench is still flat and solid. It turns out there is nothing keeping you from flattening the bench more than once, and it only takes 30 minutes.

These days my old bench is still with me but it has been relegated to the machine bench. I couldn’t be happier with my bench and use it almost every day.