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post #1 of 32 Old 10-26-2019, 09:11 PM Thread Starter
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Beginner - Building a bench should or should not be my first project?

Hi, I'm thinking of taking up woodworking as a hobby. I have a relatively small space to dedicate -- 10x11x8 or so, in my basement. I want to make small furniture, maybe up to and including replacing my kitchen table, down the line once I've learned some things.

My level of experience: I have taken a class where I learned the basics of power-dimensioning, sharpening and using chisels, making dovetail joints, and some basic wood-turning. At one point in the past I did also build a workbench with an MDF top using metal fasteners, but that was mostly just cutting things to length and then screwing them together. So I am very inexperienced, but I have some basic grasp of the mechanics of how things are supposed to work.

That in mind: one of the generic piece of advice you get (from YouTube videos) is to build your own workbench as your first project. As recently as a day ago, I was entertaining this notion. Once I had settled on a plan, I would order S4S boards in maple or birch and build a bench out of that. The benchtop would be face-joined 2x4s, and the frame would be joined using mortise and tenon joints, since that's what most of the tutorials seem to use.

However, I spoke to my father, who has much more experience than me, and he said that while it's not impossible that I would be able to accomplish this, lacking anything to work on would make the job much harder. Also, he told me just because boards are "S4S" from the lumber yard does not mean they are sufficiently flat to face-join. He told me that I would probably have to work pretty hard to get the boards joinable, and then without any flat reference surface, I might have significant trouble gluing up a flat benchtop. Cutting the mortise and tenon joints would also be a challenge with nothing to secure the work-pieces.

Well, my dad's a pretty smart guy, and he is also vastly more experience than me. But I thought I would just double-check what knowledgeable folks on the internet think. Would it be wise for someone with my level of experience to attempt to build their own workbench, bearing in mind that I currently have no work surface to work on? If I should try anyway, could you point me to any resources for bootstrapping from nothing to workbench? Do I start off by building some saw horses or what? Or is something like this simple bench guide the right place to start?

Or should I just buy a workbench from some reputable manufacturer? For example, something like this, use it for a while, and then eventually, once I've gained some experience and learned about my likes and dislikes, build a bench of my own?

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post #2 of 32 Old 10-26-2019, 10:32 PM
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I would advise you to start off with a couple sawhorses and pick up a solid core door from a used building supply, or some 3/4" plywood for the top to start with. That way you will have something to work on, build some smaller projects practicing your joinery, then when you feel confident build the workbench. There are ways of building workbenches that are sturdy and pretty good looking without complex joinery.

Some ideas:
http://absolutelyfreeplans.com/workbenches.html

Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something -Plato

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post #3 of 32 Old 10-27-2019, 02:17 AM
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I am also new to woodworking, with maybe somewhat of a head start experience wise, and think building the work table is really important. I was helping my son with a wood project at his house and was really made aware how the lack of one made everything much more difficult.
I have decided to build this work table
with modifications also found on youtube. Just do a search on the Paulk work table and you'll get a bunch of hits.
Another really useful table, which is the one I built for my son at his house, and might be a great one to get started is from an episode of This Old House. It would be ideal for a small space too as it is a folding work table. Here is that link:
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post #4 of 32 Old 10-27-2019, 08:28 AM
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I like Frank's saw horse and door workbench. That is what I use for assembly when needed.


Your space is just too small to take up permanent space with a dedicated work bench.


George
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post #5 of 32 Old 10-27-2019, 11:29 AM Thread Starter
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So, I sympathize with the idea that the space is small. I too would like to have more, but it's not easy to come by in my neighborhood (Brooklyn). I'd like to unpack the advice to avoid a workbench for a second. Remember, my goal is to do mostly hand-tool woodworking, for two reasons. One, I don't have enough space for the holy trinity of power dimensioning. And two, the hand tool approach seems very romantic and fulfilling. I'm not looking for the fastest route from point A to completed furniture. The fastest route is obviously to go to a furniture store. :)

Bearing that in mind, how do you hand-dimension wood with only a solid core door and some saw horses? What holds the wood while you plane it? How do you cut dovetails and tenons? All of the instructional videos I can find on YouTube make heavy use of bench vises and dogs for tasks like these. A number of the videos mention the importance of a thick, sturdy bench. This was also mentioned in the one class I took.

The space is small for a dedicated workbench, but my impression is also that a dedicated workbench is really the only thing I need, outside tools and consumables, to build most everything I'm trying to build. Is my impression wrong?
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post #6 of 32 Old 10-27-2019, 11:47 AM
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Perhaps what you need to begin with is a workmate, folds away when not needed, I have had and used one often even when I had a professional shop.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_%26_Decker_Workmate
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post #7 of 32 Old 10-27-2019, 12:01 PM
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A workbench does at least two things .....

It supports your work and can secure the workpiece to allow you to drill, shave, plane, sand or saw it without it moving, which would be quite unsafe.


So, it's a convenience as well as a safety issue. However, get a pair of workmates, instead of just one as Frank suggested, will make a work platform of any length for greater support. The cost will be around $100.00 or so and well worth it. I have a pair myself. The built in clamps are really handy.

The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specific. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo that illustrates your issue. (:< D)
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post #8 of 32 Old 10-27-2019, 01:40 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks, that's very helpful. I think I still want a workbench, but having one or two of these will make the process of building it much easier and safer.
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post #9 of 32 Old 10-27-2019, 02:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jags217 View Post
Hi, I'm thinking of taking up woodworking as a hobby. I have a relatively small space to dedicate -- 10x11x8 or so, in my basement. I want to make small furniture, maybe up to and including replacing my kitchen table, down the line once I've learned some things.

My level of experience: I have taken a class where I learned the basics of power-dimensioning, sharpening and using chisels, making dovetail joints, and some basic wood-turning. At one point in the past I did also build a workbench with an MDF top using metal fasteners, but that was mostly just cutting things to length and then screwing them together. So I am very inexperienced, but I have some basic grasp of the mechanics of how things are supposed to work.

That in mind: one of the generic piece of advice you get (from YouTube videos) is to build your own workbench as your first project. As recently as a day ago, I was entertaining this notion. Once I had settled on a plan, I would order S4S boards in maple or birch and build a bench out of that. The benchtop would be face-joined 2x4s, and the frame would be joined using mortise and tenon joints, since that's what most of the tutorials seem to use.

However, I spoke to my father, who has much more experience than me, and he said that while it's not impossible that I would be able to accomplish this, lacking anything to work on would make the job much harder. Also, he told me just because boards are "S4S" from the lumber yard does not mean they are sufficiently flat to face-join. He told me that I would probably have to work pretty hard to get the boards joinable, and then without any flat reference surface, I might have significant trouble gluing up a flat benchtop. Cutting the mortise and tenon joints would also be a challenge with nothing to secure the work-pieces.

Well, my dad's a pretty smart guy, and he is also vastly more experience than me. But I thought I would just double-check what knowledgeable folks on the internet think. Would it be wise for someone with my level of experience to attempt to build their own workbench, bearing in mind that I currently have no work surface to work on? If I should try anyway, could you point me to any resources for bootstrapping from nothing to workbench? Do I start off by building some saw horses or what? Or is something like this simple bench guide the right place to start?

Or should I just buy a workbench from some reputable manufacturer? For example, something like this, use it for a while, and then eventually, once I've gained some experience and learned about my likes and dislikes, build a bench of my own?
As you have very limited space , you might consider a " work mate" type of support that offers clamping and small table to work on. You can then put a 2 x 4 in the center of plywood to form a bigger work area and itsvallmportable. Tom


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post #10 of 32 Old 10-27-2019, 02:42 PM
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Originally Posted by jags217 View Post
Thanks, that's very helpful. I think I still want a workbench, but having one or two of these will make the process of building it much easier and safer.
There are now two types of Workmates, get the original heavier design with the foot rest and adjustable height leg system, the other style is more like a sawhorse with a split top, they have their place but are not as versatile.
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post #11 of 32 Old 10-27-2019, 04:34 PM
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There are so many ways to do this. A couple sheets of MDF or plywood will make a decent top and be flat enough. A base can be built of construction lumber.

You can also buy a pre-laminated butcher block counter. I know Woodcraft and Grizzly sell these fairly reasonable, but this is something to search as it can be a discard from a demo and people will sell them cheap.

Another option is bowling alley lane. Many years ago I acquired a 10' section and it made a very nice bench.

And yet another option is a bench of laminated plywood. Paul Sellers has a nice video on this. Which brings up that if you're interested in hand tool work, he's one of the best teachers out there. A bit anal at times, but very good at layout, measuring, marking, etc.

Either way you go, building a bench will get your feet wet and start you out with getting some joinery done.

Good Luck!!
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post #12 of 32 Old 10-27-2019, 06:25 PM
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A bench has a top and a base.....

As stated above there are many ways to get there.
Let's start with the top. It should be heavy, thick and flat. You can laminate 2X's as many have done. The issue there is getting them all smooth and flat, typically with a hand plane or a router in a sled. If that has an appeal, then there you go.
Another approach is to use a solid core slab door which is very heavy and flat enough for a bench top. Putting a piece of particle board on top as a work surface will get you a top in under 10 minutes.

A different approach is to make a torsion box top using 1 X's for the grid and gluing them on a sheet of particle board or plywood. Once the grid is established, a second identical sheet of material is glued on top of that forming the out skin. Now you have something that is reasonably heavy, very stiff and if the initial sheet was glued on a flat surface, the rest will be flat also. I used this method for my 10 ft X 30" wide outfeed and assembly table.

https://kingsfinewoodworking.com/pro...feed-workbench


https://diywoodworkvids.com/ultimate...age-solutions/


As far as the base goes, there are several methods for that as well.

All my work/assembly tables use either 2 or 3 legal size file cabinets as supports under slab doors. I have about 5 of them. The file cabinets are from a used office supply source, about $75.00 per each.





Of course, a traditional 2X leg and stretcher stand would be a great choice.

Finally, a modular cabinet system with drawers for tools and doors for small machines like battery saws, and drills or routers would be easy to build and very strong when they are screwed or bolted together. Also very heavy and easy to attach casters on the bottom.
https://www.walmart.com/ip/Sjobergs-...EaAgQAEALw_wcB

https://makezine.com/projects/french...bench-storage/


https://www.popularwoodworking.com/p...te-tool-stand/


You can either enjoy the journey or cut to the chase with these approaches.
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The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specific. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo that illustrates your issue. (:< D)

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post #13 of 32 Old 10-27-2019, 07:32 PM
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In setting up my shop, I needed a combo outfeed table and workbench in order to build my other fixtures such as a bench/storage hutch and miter saw bench. I found one from Jay Bates made from one sheet of plywood. I decided to build it and I was shocked at how strong and stable it is. Sure, I want to build a work bench but this is fantastic and inexpensive way of getting something in place now.

https://jayscustomcreations.com/2016...et-of-plywood/

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post #14 of 32 Old 10-29-2019, 05:32 AM
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I think the original question is a very good one.A bench is a fairly fundamental need for any woodworking and you won't get far without one.To build the "ultimate" bench as a first project may not be the wisest way forward as we all have different approaches to woodworking and one man's perfect bench is another man's old fashioned anachronism.One of the basic requirements is that the bench shouldn't slide around the workshop as you carry out your various tasks.Traditionally this meant heavy construction and the Workmate mentioned earlier relies on the weight of the user to hold it down.


We do have alternatives to the old timers as it is possible to use masonry drills to attach supports to brick walls and we can use a lighter form of construction if the weight of the building is holding the bench in place.We also have a greater choice of vices,holdfasts and clamps to hold the job in place.My advice for the OP is get hold of some boards say an inch thick and six inches wide and screw them down to some 3X2's (with the screw heads a sensible distance below the surface)Use a similar but wider board for an apron and hang a Record 52 1/2 vice (look on ebay) in there.Simple legs or even oil drums will keep it off the ground and you can start making stuff.You might need to brace it against a wall to keep it in place.After a while,you will have a better idea of where your woodwork is taking you and you will have a good bench to make it on-which can always be dismantled and modified to suit new requirements.
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post #15 of 32 Old 10-30-2019, 10:31 AM Thread Starter
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Hey all, thanks for the advice everyone came out to give. I decided to build my workbench myself after all. I intend to use pine to reduce costs and make the work easier. My intention is to use the plans mentioned in my first post, since they're very simple.

In the opposite direction of reducing costs, I'm looking for a vise that will mount flush with the face of the bench. So far I've seen a few different options. Sjobergs and Rockler have vises that screw into the bottom of the bench and use the bench face as one of the clamping surfaces. They seem pretty decent, and probably the easiest options from an installation perspective. The Veritas twin screw requires a tall skirt on the bench, which I think I don't want. The Lie Nielsen twin screw looks the prettiest to me. However, it seems to want a 4" thick bench top, and seems to have the most challenging installation of the three.

I think my plan right now is to start with the Rockler, and someday once I'm more confident in my skills, install the Lie Nielsen instead. Thoughts?
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post #16 of 32 Old 10-30-2019, 01:04 PM
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Originally Posted by jags217 View Post
I'd like to unpack the advice to avoid a workbench for a second. Remember, my goal is to do mostly hand-tool woodworking, for two reasons. One, I don't have enough space for the holy trinity of power dimensioning. And two, the hand tool approach seems very romantic and fulfilling.
Hand-tooled woodworking is a fun endeavor, certainly more inviting that a table saw can ever be. It has certainly taught me patience. Have fun with it, and plan for your projects to take months.

On benches: A bench is a tool for your hobby. I got lucky. Way before I even began traditional woodworking, I built an 8'x3' with a 3/4" plywood top, 2x4 supports, and 4x4 legs. This served as my general purpose garage bench for whatever work I needed. It ain't pretty like so many benches, but it's sturdy. It doesn't wobble or shake in any direction, and work doesn't bounce when hammered/malleted. Sturdy is important; you'll figure that out as you venture further in. Sturdy = easier project building. But that doesn't mean you have to build a bench immediately. Your primary goal is to start woodworking, building fun projects. You can build your bench in increments between your other projects. And you don't need an 8' bench. You could go with a 5' that would fit your space.
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post #17 of 32 Old 10-30-2019, 02:49 PM
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I'd also like to add, in my post above I said a bench is a tool.

... But it is also a worthy project in and of itself. Depending on the plans, you can get a lot of early woodworking experience from building your bench. Practice with your tools on dimensioning (cutting), joints, smoothing/finishing.

A bench isn't going to be some high-quality showpiece inside your house, but you will be proud of it. My bench has cuts, dents, gouges, dirt, metal filings, grease and oil, holes from installing and removing vices, etc. from many years of use. When I look at it, I'm proud it's not pristine.

Sorry, I went to lunch after my original post and got to thinking more about the subject.
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post #18 of 32 Old 10-31-2019, 09:05 AM
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I'd also like to add, in my post above I said a bench is a tool.

... But it is also a worthy project in and of itself. Depending on the plans, you can get a lot of early woodworking experience from building your bench. Practice with your tools on dimensioning (cutting), joints, smoothing/finishing.

A bench isn't going to be some high-quality showpiece inside your house, but you will be proud of it. My bench has cuts, dents, gouges, dirt, metal filings, grease and oil, holes from installing and removing vices, etc. from many years of use. When I look at it, I'm proud it's not pristine.

Sorry, I went to lunch after my original post and got to thinking more about the subject.
Well said Oppossum: I want to add: a well built workbench will be dinged, banged, and sometimes abused but a well built one will last a lifetime. Excuse the mess but this bench was built sometime around late 1940’s to early 1950’s. The vises still work but do have some slack in them, but the bench still serves a purpose. Name:  B4A5C534-7BE1-4914-8E48-57B681E2E748_1572523313397.jpg
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post #19 of 32 Old 10-31-2019, 09:29 AM
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Well said Oppossum: I want to add: a well built workbench will be dinged, banged, and sometimes abused but a well built one will last a lifetime. Excuse the mess but this bench was built sometime around late 1940’s to early 1950’s. The vises still work but do have some slack in them, but the bench still serves a purpose. Attachment 380169
I'm just gonna say it. That bench turns me on.
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post #20 of 32 Old 10-31-2019, 06:21 PM
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I'm just gonna say it. That bench turns me on.
Oppossum, I’ll make your day. Hanging over that workbench is a a 150 year old log out of a log farmhouse. It still has the dovetail on one end. Name:  698497E7-2B21-4209-8BB0-B849C8893713_1572556860389.jpg
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