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Thread: Workbench height and width

  1. #1

    Workbench height and width

    There are already some discussions on this topic, but I still didn't figure what to make of them.

    I'm finishing Christopher Schwarz's book on Workbenches, and planning to build a Roubo workbench - my first bench.

    I'm 6' 3" (well, 190 cm since I live in Europe), and mostly use hand tools (my workshop is a 10'x10' cellar also used to store various house stuff, my only machines are: bench grinder, drill press, small metalworking lathe). I use wooden hand planes.
    According to Schwarz's book (pinkie rule), my workbench height would be around 34", and maybe 3" less because of wooden planes.
    On the other hand, Paul Sellers recommends 38" for an average person, for a 6' 4" guy they built a 44" workbench. He also says it doesn't matter if metal or wooden planes are being used.
    Jim Tolpin suggests using 4 hand-spans for the height (40" in my case), which mostly corresponds with Paul Sellers' advice.
    At the moment I'm thinking about going for 40". Although the logic of being able to cut the legs down later escapes me a bit... If the legs are cut down, the stretchers are going to become lower, leaving no space for my feet. Or should I plan for this possibility and make the stretchers are bit higher?

    As for workbench width, Schwarz suggests 24" or even a bit smaller, but Jim suggests 3 hand-spans (30" in my case). I understand this is based on reach. Is there a benefit to have a wider bench, though? According to Schwarz, 24" is wide enough for any work, anyway.

    For the length, due to my space limitations, I will have to settle for 5', which I understand is shorter than what is normally mentioned as the minimum length (6-8').

    Thanks in advance for nice advice

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    bloomington il
    Posts
    138
    I have a 5' long 24" wide bench in about the same size shop. The 5' length has not been a problem for me I could go to 4 1/2 and be ok most the time. But the 24" when I use the bench for glue ups I could use a bit more with. Most my of problems are with the small size of the shop when working on bigger builds I have to much stuff in the room. My next bench will be 5' long and wider than 24" maybe 28".

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2019
    Location
    Tucson, Aridzona
    Posts
    161
    I am about your height (192). FWIW, my current bench is 35 5/8" and this is a comfortable enough planing height for me. It's not comfortable for close work, but the height is good to sit and work. My top is 24" x 65(ish)" that I built for a smaller shop. My next bench will be closer to 30" wide, since I can easily reach.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2019
    Location
    Central Florida
    Posts
    44
    Im 64 and built my bench 41 x 65 x 24 (including the tool well) thinking I could cut the legs if I wanted. I have a counter behind the bench that is 36 which I used to build the bench but I still opted for the taller bench height. Id make it 40 if I had it to do over.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    Location
    Minnesota
    Posts
    255
    My bench is 35.5H x 66L x 26.5W.

    I'm 6' 1" with long arms. Next bench will be 2 or 3 inches higher. Same length and depth.

  6. #6
    It will depend on your preferred working style as well as your height, arm length, torso type, and other things. You probably won't know what height you really wanted it to be until after you have used it for a while. My first hand tool bench was a Frid style Scandinavian type, and I think I built it to the plan Frid provided. It turned out to be too high for me, despite the fact that I am at least a few inches taller than Frid. I probably have longer arms though. The second one I built about an inch and a half shorter, and it works much better.

    Some folks apparently have a planing and chiseling technique different than me because they prefer workbenches far taller than I could ever use, even adjusting for my height. If it works for them, great.

    I'd say if possible, allow for adjusting the height of the bench after it is completed either by having legs that can be taken down a couple inches or have blocks added under them.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    South Coastal Massachusetts
    Posts
    5,461
    If you're mostly planing, belt height is about right. If you're chopping and sawing more, higher is better.

    I like to cut boards at roughly elbow height.
    Easier to see and handle, there.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Dickinson, Texas
    Posts
    6,833
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    1
    Standing at the bench, the bench should be knuckles high.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Location
    Perth, Australia
    Posts
    6,908
    Quote Originally Posted by Gene Pavlovsky View Post
    There are already some discussions on this topic, but I still didn't figure what to make of them.

    I'm finishing Christopher Schwarz's book on Workbenches, and planning to build a Roubo workbench - my first bench.

    I'm 6' 3" (well, 190 cm since I live in Europe), and mostly use hand tools (my workshop is a 10'x10' cellar also used to store various house stuff, my only machines are: bench grinder, drill press, small metalworking lathe). I use wooden hand planes.
    According to Schwarz's book (pinkie rule), my workbench height would be around 34", and maybe 3" less because of wooden planes.
    On the other hand, Paul Sellers recommends 38" for an average person, for a 6' 4" guy they built a 44" workbench. He also says it doesn't matter if metal or wooden planes are being used.
    Jim Tolpin suggests using 4 hand-spans for the height (40" in my case), which mostly corresponds with Paul Sellers' advice.
    At the moment I'm thinking about going for 40". Although the logic of being able to cut the legs down later escapes me a bit... If the legs are cut down, the stretchers are going to become lower, leaving no space for my feet. Or should I plan for this possibility and make the stretchers are bit higher?

    As for workbench width, Schwarz suggests 24" or even a bit smaller, but Jim suggests 3 hand-spans (30" in my case). I understand this is based on reach. Is there a benefit to have a wider bench, though? According to Schwarz, 24" is wide enough for any work, anyway.

    For the length, due to my space limitations, I will have to settle for 5', which I understand is shorter than what is normally mentioned as the minimum length (6-8').

    Thanks in advance for nice advice
    Hi Gene

    Christopher Schwarz has done a lot of good for those with interests in woodworking, including raising awareness about work benches. However his drive for a low bench, in his book, is misguided. There are so many variables to take into account in deciding the height of a bench, and his pinky test is over simplistic. I followed this as well when I built my current bench 7 years ago, and have since raised it 100mm (4).

    I am 178cm, and numbers for me will mean something different for you. Choose a height for the bench that suits the majority of the work you will do there. If this is hand planing, then decide what a comfortable height is for you. Keep in mind that one also should bend the knees when moving forward, and this drops the height a little, but essentially comfortable is when you can hold the handle of a plane with your fore arm parallel to the bench top.

    One of the bench fixtures that Chris wrote about and popularised, the Moxon dovetail vise, has indeed been a game changer. This enables work to be raised up higher for sawing and chiseling than a face vise would otherwise permit. This is one way to increase the bench height (and demonstrates that one side does not fit all). Another is a bench-on-a-bench (for detail work).

    The ideal width for my bench is 22, however this suits me as I work from one side only and can reach across it. You will have longer arms, and may choose to work from both sides.

    Regards from Perth

    Derek

  10. #10
    Im 6 6 and my bench is 42-1/4 tall and 23-1/2 wide. The new bench Im building will be 42-1/2 tall and 26 inches wide. My arms are long enough that I can easily handle a 26 inch wide bench and Ive had a few times where I wished Id had an extra inch or two on my current bench. I mostly use wooden planes that are a couple inches taller than metal ones.

    All these knuckle/wrist/thumb/belt guidelines only work within a relatively narrow height range. The more important factor is how much stress your spine and back muscles are under. Theres a massive difference between someone 510 bending over at a 45 degree angle and a 66 person bending over at the same 45 degree angle.

    I would suggest stacking some lumber on your kitchen table, take the iron out of your plane, and see what height works best. Dome some imaginary mortises, some sawing, etc. When in doubt, leave some extra length on the legs below the stretchers. Its easier to make a bench shorter than it is to make it taller.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Location
    Perth, Australia
    Posts
    6,908
    Quote Originally Posted by chris carter View Post
    .....
    All these knuckle/wrist/thumb/belt guidelines only work within a relatively narrow height range. The more important factor is how much stress your spine and back muscles are under. There’s a massive difference between someone 5’10” bending over at a 45 degree angle and a 6’6” person bending over at the same 45 degree angle.

    I would suggest stacking some lumber on your kitchen table, take the iron out of your plane, and see what height works best. Dome some imaginary mortises, some sawing, etc. When in doubt, leave some extra length on the legs below the stretchers. It’s easier to make a bench shorter than it is to make it taller.
    Chris, I cannot see why there should be different strains on the body at different heights, given that the bend is the same in each case. It is all relative (although not everyone has the same length arms/legs/body at the same height).

    Your suggestion of standing on blocks at a table of known height to experiment with various tasks is exactly what I did in my own case.

    I mentioned earlier my rule of a parallel forearm for planing. The details are here: http://www.inthewoodshop.com/ToolRev...omPlanes3.html

    Regards from Perth

    Derek

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Apr 2015
    Location
    New England area
    Posts
    234
    If your intention is to build furniture and your bench has to do double duty as an assembly table, you can throw width rules out the window, and perhaps even the height rules to some extent or make the bench adjustable for height. Lots of ingenious devices and solutions for this out there.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Apr 2019
    Location
    Madison, Wisconsin
    Posts
    78
    Quote Originally Posted by Derek Cohen View Post
    Chris, I cannot see why there should be different strains on the body at different heights, given that the bend is the same in each case. It is all relative (although not everyone has the same length arms/legs/body at the same height).
    Hi Derek,

    Without getting too much into the math, if everything is indeed proportional, the stress on the lower back should be a little worse than proportional to height squared.

    Best regards,
    Michael Bulatowicz

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Nov 2015
    Location
    Heidelberg, Germany
    Posts
    173
    Hi Gene,

    I read that same book and thought long about what dimensions I should use for my Roubo. Now I cant remember what I chose, but Ill try measure my bench. Im almost as long as you (192 cm). I do remember that I chose to build a bench that is good for planing, that is, I went on the low side for my length. For sawing joinery and detail work I have to either bend over, prop the work up or sit down. A moxon or bench-on-bench might be in the future for such work.

    I use wooden handplanes as well, and do all dimensioning by hand.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Mar 2015
    Location
    SE Michigan
    Posts
    2,296
    I agree with Derek that CSs guidelines are a bit too short. Im 58 and built my bench to 34 tall. Im planning to add about 3 to the height. But everybodys body proportions are different, so I find the rule of thumb height recommendations are just a good starting point.

    I find though, that I prefer a bit of a downward slope to my forearm to the plane tote. Plane totes lean down toward the iron and a slight angle to the forearm matches that angle well.

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