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Building A Workbench With A Simple Vise

Izzy Swan

If you are planning to build your first workbench/table, this may be for you. You may have designed and planned for some time this great work station. But before executing that dream, read on.

There are many mistakes that woodworkers will make when taking on this challenge. Here are some of them. And the video below is of Izzy Swan showing you how to make yourself an easy workbench with even a hand made, simple vise added on the side.

1. They have too many woodworking vises on the bench

A new bench would be great with a vise on each corner right? Actually, that isn’t a good idea. You may think that it would be good because you don’t have to constantly move to the one side with the vise. But while it is your choice to have as many vises on the worktable as you choose, especially if you are going to spend time building the vises, one on each end – or just one period is plenty. The time you spend on building the other vises can be spent on other things.

If you have a face vise and a tail vise, that is sufficent. Or again, just a face vise will be enough as well.

2. Adding too many dogs or hold fast holes in the bench

When you do have a second vise or a tail vise, you definitely do better to have a row of dogs or hold fast holes close to the front of the bench top. Eight hold fast holes will work great. Sometimes you will see someone new build a work bench and it looks like someone took a machine gun to the top because they have so many holes in it.

It doesn’t make the bench weak to have the holes, but it isn’t necessary to have a pegboard table top. Start out with just the few, and add them if you need more later. You can’t take the holes out if there are too many, but you can add them if you have to.

3. Worrying too much about the type of wood to build the bench out of

You can build the work bench/table out of about any wood. Whatever lumber is used, it needs to be dry, heavy, easy to attain and cheap. If you build a workbench the same quality as a cabinet that goes in a mansion, it won’t look like that after a few uses. And years down the road you will realize that all that doesn’t matter because a workbench gets so much abuse.

4. Worrying too much about standard height of your workbench

The height of the workbench doesn’t need to be a certain height that others have it. The height needs to be set for you and your comfort level. If you are extremely uncertain as to the height best for you, make it tall enough and cut the legs if it is too tall. Over time you will also adapt to the height, so keep that in mind.

5. Turning the work bench into a technological prodigy

If you put too much time and thought into how you will wow others with crazy tricks your bench can perform, you will never get it finished. If you add all types of extensions, adjustable knobs and hinged shelves, etc.. it will take forever to get the bench done. Sure, in time you can add a few things to it that will dazzle your friends, but get it built first then figure out what you will need as time passes.

6. Don’t build the work bench/table to deep

Many a workbench has been built a full sheet of plywood or other sheet good in width – at 48 inches. If it is this deep, it may be less useful than if you went at least a little narrower. As a rule of thumb, the top of the bench needs to be less deep for things like case work. Reaching from each side to get to the middle, especially of a tall project is easier if you don’t go with such a wide top.

7. Using the incorrect materials in building the bench or table.

Laminating the top is not necessary unless you are making the top out of 2×4’s turned on edge. If you already have a large sheet for the top or a slab of wood of some sort, there is no sense to rip it down and rejoin it together. It will look nice at first – but within just a little use, your workbench will become just that – a place to beat on, scratch up, and wrestle with your work (at times.)

8. Worrying how you will prevent the wood from expanding and contracting and keeping the surface flat.

Wood is going to move, so obsessing about this will waste energy and time in designing and building the table. The bench will start out flat and that is what matters. Over time, when the wood moves, you can fix the problem.

In general your bench will be exactly flat along the front twelve inches of length on the top. Give it a few years, the wood will completely dry (unless it was old materials when you started) and the expansion and contraction won’t be much at all.

9. Making your bench the best on the planet.

It’s true, woodworkers usually love to tinker with what they have. Once we get an idea, sometimes it is hard to get it out of our head until it has been accomplished. This is normal. But keep this question in mind. Do you want a great work table or are you trying to be better than the woodworkers for the last 1000 years? Why not just build the bench and add on as you go? Maybe that could be your first project? If not you will end up spending all your time on the bench and not on your projects – for which the bench is for!

10. Making it too elegant.

Some want their work table to be a site. That’s fine if you are making a piece of furniture, but you need to focus on the tools of the bench and function over the beauty. Make the woodworking vices better, put energy into how stable and stout it is. Make the time that goes into it count on the function. If you have a little tear out on the bench even when you first build it – are you going to rip the top off and start all over again? What about if there is a knot or check in the top? Remember, there will be more where that came from! Just give it a few projects and you will start to realize it is useless to worry about a scartch on the table.

I am not saying just throw the thing together with no concern about being proud of your accomplishment. But focus on the important areas of the work bench. Everything else is secondary.

Updated: November 27, 2016 — 11:59 pm
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