The almighty workbench. Every skilled woodworker needs one and every wannabe woodworker dreams of having one. But what exactly goes into a solid, sturdy, beautiful workbench? While hard work may be the first thing that comes to mind (and you’re right about that), precision is more likely the most adequate answer.
Simply put, building a top notch workbench is all a matter of paying painstaking attention to detail and being absolutely certain about the accuracy of your measurements. Still, plenty a woodworker will use any ol’ design they’ve found online or in a dusty workbook to build their workbenches. But as woodworking experts like Popular Woodworking’s Christopher Schwarz point out, personalization is key to designing and building the ideal workbench.
If you’re soon to embark on a workbench build, here are three key measurements to keep in mind as you perfect the design:
Height is, perhaps, the most important of all the measurements you’ll take when planning your workbench. If you neglect to take the proper height into account, you’ll soon find that a mild ache in your back or crick in your neck is more amplified than ever after a few hours at the bench.
To avoid these aches and pains, you should aim to keep the height somewhere near the 36” mark. It may seem like a one-size-fits all measurement, but it’s flexible in either direction depending on your height and the work you’ll do. If you plan to use hand tools and need to have the advantage of height over the piece you’re working on, then you may want your bench to sit a bit lower. But if power tools are your thing and you need to be able to see details, then adding a couple of inches in height will do the trick.
If both hand tools and power tools are part of your day-to-day shop activities, then a good rule of thumb is to have the height of the workbench rest about where your wrists fall naturally at your sides. This will accommodate a few different woodworking activities while still being relatively comfortable.
The depth of your workbench should, ideally, be no longer than your arm can reach across it. In most cases, that number falls around 24”.
If you happen to be the type of woodworker that works with unusually large or wide pieces, then you may want to add a few inches. But for most projects and pieces, two feet should be sufficient.
Unlike height and depth, the length of your workbench is a matter of preference rather than your body’s reaching capabilities, so you can make it as long as you’d like. But keep in mind that the longer the workbench, the thicker the wood should be to maintain its strength and stability.
Tips and Tricks:
- When building your bench, always focus your energy on what’s most important: functionality. Obsessing over aesthetics only takes your attention away from the task at hand.
- Use a design that’s been tested–especially if this is your first bench build. Going fancy the first go-round may result in a workbench that lacks all the basic functionality of a tried and true design.
- Always make sure the bench you’ve designed can hold work pieces in such a way that you can work on the face, edges, and ends with ease.
- Keep in mind that materials can become quite expensive. So, if you’re on a budget, try to keep things simple in design and in choice of wood.
Image Credit: Mike Hunter