There are many proprietary workbenches on the market, ranging from simple, plain work surfaces to the craftsman’s bench which incorporates a variety of holding devices and storage facilities. These do, however, tend to be expensive and you may prefer to save money by making a bench yourself.
Whether you buy or make a workbench, the frame must be rigid and the top flat, solid and free of bounce so your work is adequately supported. For woodworking, the bench should be freestanding to enable you to pull it out to the middle of the workshop or garage when handling large pieces of timber. When a bench is to be used solely for metalwork or as a mounting for a workshop machine, it is better to fix it permanently against a wall to ensure the structure is stable.
DIMENSIONS The height of the bench should be about 760-840mm or at about the same height as your knuckles are from the floor when you are standing with your arms held straight at your sides. This height will enable you to work comfortably – and safely – when hammering, sawing, Chiselling or doing other jobs: it is also convenient for intricate jobs since you can sit down to work. The bench top should be about 1200-1500mm long and up to 900mm wide, or as space in the workshop allows.
Traditionally workbenches are made with a sturdy. table-like framework, using 75 x 50mm timber for the main construction. Hardwood is commonly used, but pine and other softwoods are suitable. The end frames are usually made with glued and dowelled joints and are securely fixed to the long rails with mortised and draw-bolted joints. Many proprietary benches have tops of solid or three-layer laminated hardwood and they are between 460 and 760mm wide.
Some benches come fitted with shelves and cupboards; on others it is possible to fit your own storage facilities. However, these do make it difficult to sit comfortably at the bench.
DUAL-PURPOSE WOOD AND METALWORK BENCH This type has a swing-over flap at each end; with wood and mctalworking vices mounted on each flap, you can quickly convert the bench to either craft.
MULTI-PURPOSE BENCHES These are fitted with front and end vices to give extremely versatile systems of clamping. The front vice is used like a conventional woodworker’s vice to hold timber horizontally for planing, sawing, cutting mortises and drilling; the end vice is designed to take large and small timbers and is usually used for holding wood vertically when shaping, forming tenons etc. The end vice has a series of holes which match with other holes in the fixed part of the bench and these provide a third method of holding timber – a bench dog system. Square steel pegs, or dogs, fit into the holes and, when the end vice is tightened, enable large timbers and assemblies to be securely held.
Some benches have vice clamps, which are used in the same way as bench holdfasts to hold down timber on the worktop, and a deadman – a device which is secured in the end vice and used in conjunction with the vice clamp to hold long lengths of timber, doors and frames up to 3m. There is a special type of workbench, basically made of metal with a plywood top. The bench incorporates three vices and holes for bench dogs so a large number of different holding tasks can be accomplished.
If space is restricted, it is a good idea to choose a foldaway. portable bench such as the Workmate.
Although you will not be able to make your own workbench for less than the price of the most basic Workmate, a home-made bench can have the advantage of storage facilities and a larger work surface, as well as being made to your own requirements. We will tell you how to make a workbench later in the Course but, if you do not want to go to the expense, you can easily make a work surface to fix to a wall or to sit on top of an old table.
A good way to make a tough worktop is to use two pieces of 18mm chipboard screwed together from the underside. When the surface becomes worn, it is a simple matter to remove the screws and refix the top piece upside down. For a metalwork or mechanic’s bench, a laminate-covered top is useful because it is easily cleaned: alternatively the top can be covered with thick linoleum, vinyl or sheet metal to protect the surface from oil, grease and scuffing.
Make the top piece slightly narrower than the bottom to form a shallow tool well at the back of the bench. This is handy for keeping small tools -such as pencils, squares and rules – out of the way when they are not in use. The well should have triangular fillets at each end so sawdust and wood shavings can be easily swept out; fix a batten at the back to prevent anything falling off. 4b
If the structure is to be fixed to a wall, screw a sturdy supporting framework, made from 50 x 50 mm timber, to the underside. Use halving joints to make the framework and include cross-pieces for extra strength. Legs, made from 75 x 75 mm timber should be fixed to the front two corners of the main frame using wood dowels and angle brackets. Fix the back bearer of the frame to the wall with screws and wallplugs and brace the legs with 50 x 38mm timbers. fixed with mortise and tenon joints.
If the worktop is to be mounted on an old table, screw through the underside of the table into it. Ideally your worktop and table should be the same size, but in any case the work surface should not overlap the top of the table.