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Thread: AWB workbench - a few options

  1. #1
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    AWB workbench - a few options

    I have now read Chris S.'s Anarchist Workbench book (great read!!) and am ready to embark on the build.

    Overall, I plan to pretty much replicate what he suggests as his rationale throughout made sense to me based on how I've used my maple butcher block topped existing bench.

    But there are a few areas I have questions about, especially given that I'm currently primarily a machine-based woodworker... but beginning to dabble in hand tools for certain things (but, as an example, I plan to continue to use my jointer to do most surfacing).

    1) Bench size

    Chris recommends 5" thick x 24" wide x 8' long.

    Thickness... I like it.

    Width... I have had a 30 inch depth table for about 10 years now, and have been quite happy with that. I'm tall with long arms and find that reaching things is not an issue, the back of the bench can act as a spot to temporarily place tools/fasteners, and at times when I'm working on something bigger, the extra 6 inches seems handy. Any compelling reasons that 30" is a no-go?

    Length...

    If I orient the table one direction (option A in the pic) a 6 foot long table fits nicely, matches what I've always had, and leaves more open space in that side of my shop (for setting up sawhorses, big assemblies, etc.). But it lops off 2 full feet from Chris's plan.

    Conversely, if I go with the 8 foot bench, it's definitely bigger... and would have to be oriented the other direction in order to fit - thereby mostly eliminating (or breaking up) that open space from above.

    I know Chris mentions in the book to build to suit your space, and he does much more hand tool work than I do (so perhaps his needs are different)... I rarely have needed/wanted more than the 6' bench I have already, and really think the open space will be valuable... Any machine-based woodworkers greatly opposed to shorter than longer bench?

    (note: I plan for the bench to be primarily stationary.. but will likely install retractable casters just in case)
    new workbench option A.JPGnew workbench option B.JPG


    2) Though I have never used one, I plan to install the leg vise as Chris suggests... I can imagine the utility and would like to try to incorporate into my approach. And I would like a tail vise too.

    He's not overly into tail vices, but perhaps again a difference in how we work wood. I feel like a very common current need is to hold various lumber / fixtures / assemblies to the surface of my bench (for which I currently use quick clamps or C-clamps to the surface), so a combination of hold downs / dogs / tail vice / and continuing to clamp at the edge of the bench... seems like a lot of really good options that I would use often.

    For those with a tail vise... like it? use it a lot? any qualms with my rationale?


    3) He likes 1" dog holes... but I feel like I've seen many here say they prefer 3/4". Is there consensus on this, or is it "pick one and go with it"?


    Thanks!

    Bob R.
    - Bob R.
    Collegeville PA (30 minutes west of Philly)

  2. #2
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    You have a bundle of responses in no tine for sure.

    The single most important factor in building your next bench is what you learned working on your last bench.

    5" thick will give you plenty of mass for working with hand tools. 6-8 foot length is a tossup. I am on a four foot bench and look forward to having room for a six footer. If I was wanting to build grandfather clocks I would probably go striaght to an eight footer, length is a function of what you do build and what you want to build, not what some guy wrote in a book.

    The width could be troublesome if you get into a lot of casework. The handy thing about a 22-23" bench width is you can loop 24" inch case work over the tail end pf the bench to plane your dovetails down to flush with no trouble. Since you have the reach, if you don't see making an entertainment center or a bathroom vanity there is no reason for you to not build to 30".

    I will spend what I have to spend to have a magnificent leg vise.

    I would like to have a tail vise, but primarily for working the faces of boards, fog at one end, tail vise at the other. Not a pressing enough problem for me to have one yet, I am getting by with a planing stop and holdfasts.

    I started with 3/4 dog holes and later enlarged them to one inch. No going back for me. I would say don't start out drilling 27 through holes in your top. I like having one near the face vise, two years since I built my weekend warrior bench I only have six holes in the top.

    Given your pics I personally would choose the six footer so I would not have to walk around the eight footer to get to the cabinets on the left wall. And leave off the casters until you are sure you need them now and will need them again soon. A big heavy bench like that is practically a wooden anvil, don't put ballerina shoes under it.

    M2c

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    Awesome post, thank you Scott!! VERY helpful and appreciated.


    (Btw, I picked up Ash for the top, and poplar for the base today from local semi-retired sawyer. I have everything cut to rough length and will start surfacing tomorrow)
    - Bob R.
    Collegeville PA (30 minutes west of Philly)

  4. #4
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    I've built two work benches.
    My current is 6x2. Wish I had another 6 inches of width. Don't think I could fit another 2 feet of length. I use 3/4 inch dog holes, my Benchtop is 3 1/4 inches thick. It's made of laminated 2x4's. I use 5/8 Holdfasts and they work great.
    I've counterbored most of my dog holes from the bottom up to help with grip, and they hold very firmly. I am assuming 1 inch holes would accommodate bigger accessories, which would probably hold better, but in my shop it would be overkill.


    I like the first option. In my shop with option b, I'd be bumping into the corner of the bench all the time.
    I have two face vises and a leg Vise. I am probably going to take one of the face vises off and do a tail vise. I find myself wishing for the sliding dog more and more. I can use my face vise, but it's limited capacity and racking don't make it ideal. I think a twin screw on the end would be perfect for my situation.

    Keep in mind, I have been a "self taught" power tool woodworker for 30ish years and currently doing more and more hand tool work.
    Last edited by Todd Trebuna; 12-30-2020 at 10:14 AM.

  5. #5
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    I'll offer a few opinions based on my experience, which is no where near as extensive as others on this forum.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Riefer View Post
    1) Bench size

    Chris recommends 5" thick x 24" wide x 8' long.
    ......
    Any compelling reasons that 30" is a no-go?
    .....
    Any machine-based woodworkers greatly opposed to shorter than longer bench?
    Even providing additional mass, I can't imagine what significant benefit a 5" thick top gives vs a 4" top, or even a 3.5" top, considering such a short span between the supporting legs.

    I know that some woodworkers prefer a narrower bench to allow a carcase to straddle the bench to faciltate some joinery tasks. So, I would say your choice may be driven somewhat by the work you envision doing.

    Shorter vs longer bench - As long as you have other assembly table or space, shorter is fine. You will be able to work long sheet goods and longer boards with 6'.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Riefer View Post
    2) ....
    For those with a tail vise... like it? use it a lot? any qualms with my rationale?
    I am more machine than hand tool, although I find myself using more and more hand tools as I try new things. I use my tail vise more than my face vice primarily because it is smaller and quck release. Defintely recommend having both face and tail vices.
    Last edited by Brian Tymchak; 12-30-2020 at 12:06 PM. Reason: Fix quotes, clarify comments
    Brian

    "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger or more complicated...it takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." - E.F. Schumacher

  6. #6
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    Thanks Todd! Very helpful to have another point of view :-)


    Yesterday, I picked up a large lumber order (at least large compared to my usual orders).

    I have lots (and lots) of Ash boards to surface and prepare today for the top. Planning to go around 5" thick x 24+" wide x 6' long.

    And I will be using mainly poplar for the base, and a bit of black walnut from my own supply mixed in for some "flair". Legs will be in the range of 4-5" thick, and connecting members will be close to 2"x4".

    I have decided on the leg vice and wagon / tail vice (benchcrafted).

    Have not yet decided if I want to build cabinets under the bench or just leave the shelf as open... probably open for now.

    I'm going to follow a mix of Chris S. and the Wood Whisperer plans, along with my own decisions along the way.

    I've never had nice hand planes, so smoothing the top out is a good excuse... Lee Valley low angle jack plane is what I've selected based on advice from local woodworkers.


    Off to do so much lumber prep.. hopefully I'll remember to empty the dust bin rather than overfilling like I did a couple weeks ago :-)
    - Bob R.
    Collegeville PA (30 minutes west of Philly)

  7. #7
    After reading Chris's book I feel that if you asked him about bench dimensions he would tell you to go with what your space, work, and body size require. It's the easiest answer but also the most correct!

    I'll chime in on the topic of under-bench storage. I'd start with a large platform mounted to the stretchers and see what you wind up stowing down there. If it only collects sawdust then I'd look into building a separate cabinet unit that slides onto the platform.

    And consider only making the cabinet half the width of the area in order to give your knees somewhere to go for seated tasks.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Tymchak View Post
    I'll offer a few opinions based on my experience, which is no where near as extensive as others on this forum.

    Even providing additional mass, I can't imagine what significant benefit a 5" thick top gives vs a 4" top, or even a 3.5" top, considering such a short span between the supporting legs.

    I know that some woodworkers prefer a narrower bench to allow a carcase to straddle the bench to faciltate some joinery tasks. So, I would say your choice may be driven somewhat by the work you envision doing.

    Shorter vs longer bench - As long as you have other assembly table or space, shorter is fine. You will be able to work long sheet goods and longer boards with 6'.

    I am more machine than hand tool, although I find myself using more and more hand tools as I try new things. I use my tail vise more than my face vice primarily because it is smaller and quck release. Defintely recommend having both face and tail vices.


    Thanks Brian! I think I'll be like you, using the tail vise a lot. Just pulled the trigger on the benchcrafted "benchmaker's package" which includes the leg and wagon vise. NICE.


    I got mostly through my material prep for the top today, and am going to be a bit short with the Ash that I brought home. It's looking very nice, but I'll need more lumber. I think I will pick a contrasting color and make a feature of it. Probably black walnut since I plan to use some on-hand walnut for a similar accent in the legs (but don't have anything long enough for the top, so I'll get a few boards locally).
    - Bob R.
    Collegeville PA (30 minutes west of Philly)

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    Quote Originally Posted by David M Peters View Post
    After reading Chris's book I feel that if you asked him about bench dimensions he would tell you to go with what your space, work, and body size require. It's the easiest answer but also the most correct!

    I'll chime in on the topic of under-bench storage. I'd start with a large platform mounted to the stretchers and see what you wind up stowing down there. If it only collects sawdust then I'd look into building a separate cabinet unit that slides onto the platform.

    And consider only making the cabinet half the width of the area in order to give your knees somewhere to go for seated tasks.


    I agree, and that's what I'm going to do.

    Actually.. my dad has always wanted a traditional, wooden tool chest... like a Gerstner... perhaps I'll build something like this for under my bench, and then build a copy for a present for him once I've learned the ropes. That could sit nicely on a shelf under the bench.
    - Bob R.
    Collegeville PA (30 minutes west of Philly)

  10. #10
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    Update...

    I ended up watching the split top bench build series at the Wood Whisperer and really appreciated Marc's teaching style as well as some key features of the bench (the "benchcrafted" design)... so I'm basically following those plans with some adjustments as I go.

    So far, my 15 year old son has helped me do the top laminations for two of the three segments. The first segment is the front that will interact with both vises, and the other two will be joined together to form the back (I'm keeping them as 2 segments temporarily to help with handling/jointing/planing).

    I was able to joint the underside of the front lamination yesterday and am very happy with the results. I am excited to see how it looks after planing the top side (but will wait until the other laminations can be planed at the same time to ensure consistent thickness on all of them).

    Most that build a bench will likely use 8/4 stock for the top... I wasn't able to find that locally and wanted to get started, so I'm using 4/4 and 5/4... which meant a lot more lumber prep, and a lot more glue up stress... but in the end, and after using every clamp I own, it should be very solid nonetheless.


    For this bench, aside from my time, I am also investing in some upgrades that will help me produce better results AND contribute to future projects. I've never owned decent hand planes, a precision straight edge, or a nice chisel... So, the mailman will be delivering a nice block plane, jack plane, shoulder plane, 38" veritas straight edge, and my first better-than-hardware-store chisel (3/8" bevel edge Narex). I also ordered a sharpening stone and am watching vids/learning.


    I remember reading someplace that building a bench doesn't really teach you skills that are used often in other projects... And, so far, I couldn't disagree with that more. So much practice with precision milling of lumber, orienting grain and performing a large glue up. Countless upcoming steps in the build involve precise measurements, router and chisel techniques. Flattening the top at the end will be a good thing to know (I'm going to use router sled approach as I've always wanted to try that).

    Having fun so far!!! :-)



    Edit: When it comes time, later this week, to plane the huge laminations... My plan is to screw my lunchbox planer to my existing, heavy, work table... then screw down infeed and outfeed support blocks so that the planer doesn't have to handle the weight without a lot of help. Since there's a bunch of glue squeeze out, I may blow through my knives so I might put an old set on for the first couple light passes and then swap in sharper knives for final passes.
    Last edited by Bob Riefer; 01-03-2021 at 1:46 PM.
    - Bob R.
    Collegeville PA (30 minutes west of Philly)

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Riefer View Post

    Edit: .... Since there's a bunch of glue squeeze out, I may blow through my knives so I might put an old set on for the first couple light passes and then swap in sharper knives for final passes.
    Worth it to get a paint scraper and scrape off what you can before running thru jointer/planer.
    Brian

    "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger or more complicated...it takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." - E.F. Schumacher

  12. #12
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    As another data point, I built my first workbench (roubo mostly following the anarchist book) and I have a leg vise and a fancy twin linked screw end vise. I thought I'd mostly use the end vise, but in reality I use the leg vise for 90% of my work. The biggest use of the end vise has been applying pressure for big glue-ups (and cutting dovetails). Still glad I have it, but the leg vise is the business!

  13. #13
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    Mine is 25 inches wide and I'm probably going to slice a little off it after using it for 10 years. For what it's worth I'll probably build a new one later this year and it will 10-12' long instead of 8', but I do a lot of handwork and use it as the assembly table at the same time. If you have multiple surfaces for assembly and holding components you could get by with smaller.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aaron Liebling View Post
    As another data point, I built my first workbench (roubo mostly following the anarchist book) and I have a leg vise and a fancy twin linked screw end vise. I thought I'd mostly use the end vise, but in reality I use the leg vise for 90% of my work. The biggest use of the end vise has been applying pressure for big glue-ups (and cutting dovetails). Still glad I have it, but the leg vise is the business!
    Good data point, thank you!!!

    I ended up picking the "both" option :-) The Benchcrafted Leg Vise and their Tail Vise. Important to note that the Tail Vise is what Chris S. calls a "Wagon Vise" (and BC's own marketing copy at that link mentions the same), and had the most features that made sense in my mind.

    The "twin screw" you mention, I think is most like the Moxon Vise that Benchcrafted offers (and other companies have their version too). Since the Tail Vise that I selected can be used for dovetails, and since I was out of budget for this effort, I'm going to hold off on considering the Moxon for the foreseeable future.
    - Bob R.
    Collegeville PA (30 minutes west of Philly)

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Crawford View Post
    Mine is 25 inches wide and I'm probably going to slice a little off it after using it for 10 years. For what it's worth I'll probably build a new one later this year and it will 10-12' long instead of 8', but I do a lot of handwork and use it as the assembly table at the same time. If you have multiple surfaces for assembly and holding components you could get by with smaller.

    Very helpful, thank you! Mine will net out almost exactly around 24" and it's a BEAST (sooooo heavy).

    I will have several other surfaces to choose from during assembly too, so I think you're right. I'll have this new workbench, my old butcher block table (will be moved to my "finishing room"), my 4x4 outfeed on my table saw, mobile shop cart, and good ol' sawhorses / floor / balanced on my leg while I hop around the shop :-)


    ------

    Yesterday's progress...
    - Glued the two parts of the back table portion together to reach final dimension
    - Surfaced and trued up the dog hole strip (will be glued to front table portion later)
    - Glued up pieces for my end cap (where the wagon vise will be installed)


    Today's work to do...
    - All the table top components need one last pass through the jointer (to take care of the last joint from the two-part glue up above)
    - Then I can begin work on the front table component so that it can accept the wagon vise install


    Things are turning out nicely so far, but man do I wish my lumber was as nice and straight and easy to work as Marc S.'s... or that my tools and shop were like his. But I'm making do, learning, producing a nice table, and having fun.
    - Bob R.
    Collegeville PA (30 minutes west of Philly)

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