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Thread: Bench Height and Back Issues

  1. #16
    Join Date
    Dec 2016
    South West Ontario
    Joe, there is a lot very traditional thinking tied to benches. The ‘traditional’ heights are ancient and based on when men were smaller. People are swayed by this when building what is a major project for most.
    My bench is 38” for my 6’ 1” plus 1” work boots. Any shorter and I would ache. Your bench may need to be 47” for comfort.
    Building a rigid bench is harder the higher you go, you need a beefier bit of kit!
    ​You can do a lot with very little! You can do a little more with a lot!

  2. #17
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Johannesburg, South Africa
    Quote Originally Posted by Warren Mickley View Post
    You can watch videos of gurus bending over to make saw cuts. They have the saw right near their cheek. This is bad for the back and the arm. Even when some of these guys make a so called "Moxon vise" they still bend over, cramp the arm and strain the back.

    As a professional hand tool woodworker, if I did stuff like this I would be out of business. You want to stand nearly straight and saw at waist level. Stay away from the contortionist approach. Take care of your body first.
    Great advice, thanks.
    "If you have all your fingers, you can convert to Metric"

  3. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by William Fretwell View Post
    Joe, there is a lot very traditional thinking tied to benches. The ‘traditional’ heights are ancient and based on when men were smaller. People are swayed by this when building what is a major project for most.
    Not only were people considerably shorter back then, but metal bodied planes have totes that are a few inches lower than their traditional wooden bench plane brethren. Those traditional guidelines were developed for shorter people who were also holding handles that were two to three inches higher off the work!

  4. #19
    This all comes back to what I've been saying for a few years about bench builds, well maybe more than a few. First forget what is fashionable, it's fashion and will change just like bell bottoms and side burns did. Second, bigger, thicker, heaver, and more gadgets is not always better and third it will normally take several builds to figure out what drives you barking mad and what works. Build your first benches cheap and fast, go to work on them and when you can no longer put up with what doesn't work build another. After a few cycles you will know what works and what doesn't, with that knowledge build your "good" bench. It doesn't take long to hone in on the best height, size and work holding for you if you pay attention.

    I personally like a simple bench with that is between 870-880mm (~34 1/2") with just a face vise. I'm 1730mm (5'8") with short legs and long body and arms and use both wood stock and metal planes. I use machines to size wood which means the jointers seldom come out to play. If you work differently and are bigger or smaller your size and height bench may/will differ and the only way to find the correct size is to work on it.


  5. #20
    What works for me is to find the bench height that makes the work come out best. I haven’t found anything that comes out best when I’m sitting.
    I have a bench, a table, and a counter at three heights. Marking out and detail stuff comes out best when I work around the height of my navel. Chopping and planing I do lower, around the height of my inseam/first knuckle. Assembling parts works best around my hip bones. That’s what I do but I’m kind of a hack.
    With that said, at 6’4” I have been dealing with back problems and fatigue my whole life and doing some pushups in the morning while walking the dog has made a lot bigger difference than tweaking the ergonomics of my benches.

  6. #21
    Experiment. Get a couple 4x4, 6's and/or 8's and place them under the legs of your current bench lengthwise and see how you make out.

  7. #22
    I'm with Steve Newman on this one. Using a stool works great for me too when cutting dovetails.
    Dave Anderson
    Chester Toolworks LLC
    Chester, NH

  8. #23
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Longview WA
    Blog Entries
    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Anderson NH View Post
    I'm with Steve Newman on this one. Using a stool works great for me too when cutting dovetails.
    +1 on that, sometimes my dovetails are cut from a bucket seat:

    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  9. #24
    Join Date
    Mar 2015
    SE Michigan
    I’ll venture to say that if you sit at a desk all day long, that that is the main source of your problem, not the few hours at a work bench. Look into a sit/stand desk, get a good ergonomic chair, and set up your desk/keyboard/monitor/lighting following proper ergonomic rules. At your height, I’ll bet your leaning over all day if using a standard height desk.

  10. #25
    Join Date
    Apr 2015
    Bay of Plenty, New Zealand
    When I was growing up I was too short for the workbench so made a platform to stand on along the whole length of the bench. If you leave some gaps between the planks then all the shavings for fall away and you are not stepping around in the middle of it. For different tasks I had two other ones with different heights. It also helps to keep your feet warm and wood is not as hard on your feet as concrete.

  11. #26
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Dickinson, Texas
    Blog Entries
    I would make leg extensions with 3/4" dowel pins in the top, drill 3/4" holes in the legs and raise the bench to a comfortable height.

  12. #27
    First, sorry bout your back pain... its horrible, it can take the fun out of anything!!

    I had horrible back pain for years, so bad, I would give up ww for long stretches, just hated feeling miserable, pills, etc. After years of injections, pills and docs, I went Gluten Free for other reasons, guess what, its been 4 years, zero back pain. Go figure, huh. Not suggesting that is the answer for you, but wanted to share, as nothing beats getting rid of the problem. Of course at my age, if I bend over all day, I can experience a bit of soreness which rarely lasts and I dont even pop a Tylenol, but regardless, even though the worst pain is behind me, I am still cognizant about bending over excessively, we never forget.

    At only 6'3", I have all my tops at about 40", even my TS and router table. I also own two Noden benches, and really like em, cause its not just about the height of the top, its about the height of what you are working on. When I am working on taller projects, I lower the Noden bench, what a relief that is. I have work benches as well, they are about 36" for hand planning. So I pick and choose the height based on the task. You got some great advise here. I would agree with others, raise your bench even if temp. to determine if it will give you some relief. If so, then find a way to make that heigh permanent... I know, it requires being on the floor alot, and that sucks at your height...maybe find someone to help you!!

    Sure hope you find a solution!

  13. #28
    I built my first bench the way you are supposed to for hand tool work, close to the height of your palms allowing my back to get into hand planing. I spent much time at the bench building dressers and after a few months my back started to really hurt. I thought I was just getting old until I stumbled on a video from Paul Sellers about bench height. So I built some "shoes" for my bench and elevated it about 4 or 5 inches. Back pain went away in a few days. No noticeable problems with hand planing other than my forearms were a little sore for a few days.

  14. #29
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    twomiles from the "peak of Ohio
    A few numbers about my bench....

    I am 5'11" tall. Top of the bench is 33-1/2", and comes up to my wrist....

    Top of my shop stool is 24"...

    Then figure how thick a board is while sitting on my bench's top.

    I tend to keep the baseline of dovetails just a hair above the tops of the wooden jaws in my end vise. I have a goose neck light I can sit right over the doesn't like the lamp's effect on the colours it sees.

    maybe set the height of the OP's bench top to about the height of his wrist. Read the book of Sloyd about how to stand and push a plane. I try to use my back leg to push with, and move my legs instead of bending my back...instead of planting my feet, and leaning forward as the plane goes along.
    Computer Desk Hutch, top shelf jointed.jpg
    However, when something like this needs done, I clamp the edge as high as I can. Board length here is 49", plane is 24".....took 3 to start the No.8, second near the middle of the length, last to get to the end....Plane weighs in at just under 10 pounds....Much easier to stand me up, back up a couple steps, and have another go at it....wood is Ash.

    On shorter stuff,
    Computer desk drawers, 31 front clean up.JPG
    I tend to stand right about the middle, maybe a tad towards the starting end..
    Computer Desk Drawers, 1 side grooved.JPG
    Step forward with the left leg, pushing with the right leg, elbow of the right arm is level. Complete the cut, step back and then repeat as needed.
    Computer Desk Drawers, 8 sides grooved.JPG
    Afternoon's work...had 4 drawer front to groove, as well...

  15. #30
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
    Definitely two benches for different tasks.

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