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Thread: Indecision paralysis: workbench edition

  1. #1
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    Question Indecision paralysis: workbench edition

    Hey folks! I was about ready to start converting a slab of red oak into a six-and-a-half-foot long bench, when a realization hit me: I was planning on a six foot bench because that's what would fit.... in my old shop.

    In my new shop, a ten foot bench would fit without trouble, although that's definitely bigger than I need. I'm currently considering a few options, and I'd be interested in input. Unfortunately, I decided to do some research before making a decision, and now I'm stuck. I've gone through Landis' "Workbench Book", both of Schwarz's workbench books, and a whole lot of woodworking magazines and articles/videos on the internet, and now I have too many options to make a decision.

    1) Go with the orginal plan. I've got a slab of red oak, that should wind up around 3"x11"x78" once it's been planed and squared. I have enough bits and pieces around that I'd wind up with something akin to Frank Klausz's bench, with a shoulder vise and a tail vise. I'd add a bit of softer wood behind the red oak to bring it up to 18" depth, give or take.

    2) Build something akin to a Nicholson, 1 1/2" x 18-24" x 96", depending on what lumber I wound up with. I'd probably do a leg vise and a wagon vise in this instance, but it would be longer before I could build it, since I'd have to come up with the money to build it.

    3) Buy new cheap wood (probably douglas fir, since that's what is available cheap near me) and build a laminated top on the order of 3"x18"x96", with a tail vise and some sort of face vise. I like the idea of the shoulder vise, but if I'm not using the oak for the top, I could use some of it as a leg vise. This would probably end up something like a Shaker bench, with storage filling most of the space under the bench top, though leaving 6" or so for dogs and holdfasts. Like the Nicholson, that would have to wait somewhat on buying lumber.


    My current bench is 24"x48", and I'd be comfortable losing six inches at the back, since I hardly ever use that for anything but storing shavings and losing pencils. It's got a leg vise at the front left, and an old metal face vise at the right end.

    Anyway, I'd be interested in opinions! I've already got too many, so why not add more?

  2. #2
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    My opinion which isn't original, work with what you have.

    My only reason for going with a different solution is if your work requires a longer bench.

    My quest toward building a bench has been stumbling for more than a decade. Last week some of the 4X4s that were going to be legs on a bench, started before moving to Washington, were cut to length to be turned into cross braces for leg assemblies for a bench that has been long delayed.

    Don't let the paralysis of analysis keep you from moving forward.

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

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Koepke View Post
    My opinion which isn't original, work with what you have.

    My only reason for going with a different solution is if your work requires a longer bench.

    My quest toward building a bench has been stumbling for more than a decade. Last week some of the 4X4s that were going to be legs on a bench, started before moving to Washington, were cut to length to be turned into cross braces for leg assemblies for a bench that has been long delayed.

    Don't let the paralysis of analysis keep you from moving forward.

    jtk

    Yeah... while the bench I have has served me well, it's just not long enough. Planing a board more than about 45" long is challenging, and I'm likely going to start work on a project that's a little over five feet long pretty soon. I'll manage, but it would be really nice to have a longer bench.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andy McKenzie View Post
    Yeah... while the bench I have has served me well, it's just not long enough. Planing a board more than about 45" long is challenging, and I'm likely going to start work on a project that's a little over five feet long pretty soon. I'll manage, but it would be really nice to have a longer bench.

    Thanks for your thoughts!
    My current bench is only five feet long. It isn't too difficult to edge plane an eight foot long board. Face planing such when it is one by pine is a different story.

    Thicker pieces are not so difficult when they a longer than the bench:

    Thicker is Better.jpg

    That hunk of poplar is two feet longer than the bench.

    It helps to have a five gallon bucket full of cement holding the bench down.

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

  5. #5
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    Yup! As you say, I can edge plane a long board, but face planing thinner boards is the problem. Unfortunately I can't see your image, but I assume it's a thick piece of poplar.

    When I did the math, I figured my bench weighs a couple hundred pounds: the top is four layers of 3/4" plywood, and the frame is made of douglas fir 4x4 and 2x4, with some storage at the bottom for screws, nails, and sharpeners. It's pretty solid, and nothing moves when I'm planing, which is nice. I'd just like more space!

  6. #6
    Boy have I been there when it comes to analysis paralysis and overthinking!

    So, might as well add to the fray.

    I think the best combination is a bench that's long enough for most of the work you do most often and a separate big assembly bench where you can work with sheet goods and larger items. Obviously, that takes up a lot of space however.

    Most everything you can build on a small bench you can build on a big bench, but there can be some small losses in efficiency that add up over a course of a project or many projects. Think about where your tools will be; it's easier to have more tools within easy reach when your bench is a little smaller. I have my most used tools right under the bench, but lesser used tools are a few steps away because my bench is long. Take those steps a hundred times during a project and they add up to wasted time and effort. (not to mention that those few steps seem to be enough for my brain to forget what I needed!)

    It works the other way too; most things you can build on a big bench you can build on a smaller bench. But you may spend more time moving workpieces, clamping and unclamping, rigging up temporary support, etc.

    If the bench is against a wall (not my preference) then 22-24 inches is probably about the deepest you want to go. If it's out in the open, it can be wider, but that means you can't just use a clamp to clamp smaller pieces to the bench, you have to rely more on holdfasts or other hold-downs. Again, the scale of the bench is best matched to the scale of your most common work.

    I made my bench about 8' long because I had the space and often work on larger items. But don't make it so long that you don't have enough room around it to work.

    IMO, if you have a front vise, make the inner jaw flush with the front of the bench. I don't buy the idea of having "hand" room behind the workpiece clamped in a vise. In the rare case when you might want that, just drop a piece of scrap in the vise behind the workpiece. It's far more likely (again, IMO) that you will want to clamp a long board to the front of the bench while it's in the vise and now you are hunting for the scrap every time you do it.

    In the end, just take your best stab. You will find ways to work around any minor shortcomings soon enough. Don't assume this bench will be your last bench. Even if you nail it on the first try, the type of work you do my very well change over the years and you'll end up wanting something different. Good luck and have fun!
    --Certainty is the refuge of a small mind--

  7. #7
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    Ah, the joy of so many options. Aren't you glad we have the internet for things like this?

    Almost every tool lives in the Dutch-style toolchest immediately behind me when I'm at the bench. I do have a tool rack on my current bench, where I hang chisels and saws I'm currently using, but everything gets put away at the end of the day so I can clear the debris off my bench without hitting the sharp bits with my hands.

    The bench will be free standing: I've done both, now, and I definitely like being able to walk around to work on something from the back if I want. I'll absolutely be building a lower assembly bench: I've actually got a sheet of plywood on sawhorses right now for the cabinets I'm building for a friend. Especially on the bench I have now, it's just too small for large assemblies.

    Thanks for adding your thoughts!

  8. #8
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    Unfortunately I can't see your image, but I assume it's a thick piece of poplar.
    Yes, it is 4"X10-1/2"X7'. A fun dance moving it around the shop.

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

  9. #9
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    Nice! That's a big chunk of wood, alright!

  10. #10
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    What's the longest piece of lumber you can comfortably handle in your shop?

    I typically work less than 40", max.

    The longest assembled piece I can maneuver out the basement bulkhead is 6 feet- allowing for clearance under the overhead casing.

    If the bench will be hard against a wall, will it just become a "landing strip" for tools?
    (I've met some woodworkers who are tidy, I'm not.)

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Matthews View Post
    What's the longest piece of lumber you can comfortably handle in your shop?

    I typically work less than 40", max.

    The longest assembled piece I can maneuver out the basement bulkhead is 6 feet- allowing for clearance under the overhead casing.

    If the bench will be hard against a wall, will it just become a "landing strip" for tools?
    (I've met some woodworkers who are tidy, I'm not.)
    I can work with a 10' board easily. 12' would be a stretch, and I doubt I could manage anything longer. It's a basement shop, but fortunately in a relatively new house, so the ceiling is nearly 8' up. The real limitation is width of a finished piece... the stairway up is only about 3' across, and there's a door about the same size at the top. We moved in about a year ago, and "good space for a shop, or cheap enough I can build one" was a non-negotiable entry on the feature list. (The garage is also insulated, and can be heated, although not cheaply, which makes working out there possible, if necessary.)

    The bench will be free standing: I like having open space in front of me while I work, and since I have the option that's what I'm doing. There's a tool rack on my current bench, and I'll be building some kind of rack on the new bench, but mostly my tools get put away. At our last house my permanent space was about 70" x 70", with a ceiling under 7'. I could expand while I was working, but everything, including lumber, needed to fit back into that space when I was done. I learned to keep my tools put away in that shop, since there really wasn't an alternative.

  12. #12
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    Longer is better, but my current bench is about the length of your slab and it works well. Only a couple of times have I exceeded the length with a workpiece and it wasn't too much of a hassle to rig up a way to support it.

    Depends on the scale of your work. If you think you might build a lot of dining tables or entry doors then build a ten footer ��

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Hazelwood View Post
    Longer is better, but my current bench is about the length of your slab and it works well. Only a couple of times have I exceeded the length with a workpiece and it wasn't too much of a hassle to rig up a way to support it.

    Depends on the scale of your work. If you think you might build a lot of dining tables or entry doors then build a ten footer ��
    Thanks! Part of the problem is that I'm not sure what I'm going to end up making. This is the first time in a decade I've had access to electricity in my shop, so I've almost entirely made smaller things. Now that I have space (and power tools for long rip cuts), I have no idea what I need. 8-)

  14. #14
    My bench is currently about 6' x 2'. To be very honest, there's been nothing I've done on it that caused a problem other than assembly. I am currently pondering making a longer bench, but ONLY because I'm unhappy with the work holding on my current one and have a larger space (and I have found I like to leave things on my bench). You'll build more than a couple benches in life. My advise is to build what you planned, and use it
    ~mike

    scope creep

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by mike stenson View Post
    My bench is currently about 6' x 2'. To be very honest, there's been nothing I've done on it that caused a problem other than assembly. I am currently pondering making a longer bench, but ONLY because I'm unhappy with the work holding on my current one and have a larger space (and I have found I like to leave things on my bench). You'll build more than a couple benches in life. My advise is to build what you planned, and use it
    Thanks, Mike! That's definitely encouraging. And I suppose if I decide I really want a bigger bench I can find space for a third.

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