woodworking workbench

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people often say to me rex i cannot figure out which workbench to build i mean nicholson rubeau moravian these are just words to me they don’t mean anything and when i look at different pictures of these benches they look i don’t know kind of the same kind of different how am i supposed to pick the bench that’s right for me that’s easy you watch this video right now this video is for woodworkers who build at least some furniture using at least some hand tools if that describes you then we’re going to start with two useful bench types that don’t get enough attention the first is the low bench it’s been around for thousands of years and it’s been used by roman craftsmen chinese furniture makers and american farmers these benches are simple and they’re very effective for stuff like sawing and mortising but they’re pretty limited for dovetailing and cabinet work still if you’re experienced and you don’t have a bench at all these low benches are often the best way to get started they’re fast and cheap another forgotten bench is the built-in you might find one of these in your garage when you move into a new house but they have a long history professional craftsmen like the domini family of long island used only built-in benches and they did top quality work i also found some of these on my recent tour of my parents farm where most of the woodworking was done on built-in benches the built-in workbench has some obvious advantages you are attaching it to the building so it’s going to be strong and sturdy you also don’t need a lot of materials because you’re probably just going to make the top and those front legs so not a lot of wood the downsides to a bench like this are you can’t walk around it you can’t move it you usually don’t have access to the ends and if you ever move houses you’re probably not going to take it with you you’ll probably just leave it and build a new one at your new house so i mostly recommend these benches for people who have small or weirdly shaped workspaces if you’re tucked away in some odd little corner of the basement the built-in bench might be your perfect solution now let’s get on to the big players freestanding high workbenches meant for furniture making for decades the workbench was the scandinavian cabinet makers bench also called the european bench or the euro bench this is a refined workbench design backed by centuries of use this bench has a narrow heavy work surface with a tool tray behind it and a pair of specialized vises the shoulder vise in front has no guide bars so it can grip boards perfectly straight with the ends exposed for dovetailing the tail vise includes a big sliding section built into the bench top you can drop dogs into any of these holes and combined with a dog in the bench you can pinch boards the long way for the planing of edges and faces if that’s not impressive enough most scandinavian benches are also knock down designs they’re assembled with these tusk tenons knock out those tusks and the whole bench is quickly disassembled into a stack of parts that’s easy to move with all of these advantages it’s easy to see why the scandinavian bench was so popular for so long but this design is also hiding some downsides those specialized vices are complicated and difficult to build the shoulder vise usually needs a fifth leg for added support and a long steel rod all the way through the bench top that tail vise is impressive but it’s also complicated here’s a real tail vise in the wild and it’s very cool but the mechanism involves all kinds of runners and guide bars just making one of these vices is a real project there are metal tail vices you can buy for this style of bench but they’re pricey and they take time to install the bigger problem is that the tail vise requires the legs to be pushed back out of the way of that sliding section this makes the understructure very complicated with sled feet and enormous stretchers having your legs pushed back from the edge of your bench really limits your work holding because there’s nothing to support extra long boards or extra wide parts like doors if you need to work on one of those large components you’ll need an additional device called a bench slave which i think we should start calling a bench helper that’s a much nicer name here’s a famous painting of scandinavian benches and here’s the helper the bench helper is this whole other thing you have to build and it takes up floor space and it’s another project you have to complete before you can build any damn furniture the other problem with a lot of scandinavian benches is that complicated undercarriage can loosen up over time you’ve got a lot of different joints and tusks going on and there’s a lot to go wrong i’ve looked at many of these benches at antique stores and furniture shops over the years and a lot of them are kind of rickety on the other hand a lot of them are rock solid you can definitely build one of these benches and have it last forever but you really need to know what you’re doing now the scandinavian bench is an excellent bench design but it’s also complicated expensive and pretty difficult to build if you’re feeling a little bit intimidated by this fancy design don’t worry i’ve got the perfect antidote this is the classic english bench which is also known as the nicholson because it appears in peter nicholson’s 1812 book mechanics companion nicholson didn’t invent this bench he just described the standard woodworking bench of his time now after seeing the elegant scandinavian bench you might wonder how this big lumpy thing can possibly be an effective workbench well the secret is in the clever engineering of the top england doesn’t have huge forests of old growth trees so they don’t build slab top benches they use thinner wood to build a box with deep sides and perpendicular cross braces supporting a thin plank top this construction is similar to the modern torsion box and it does the same thing it creates a rigid structure using only lightweight pieces of wood in fact many historical english benches had shockingly thin tops sometimes an inch or even less and these benches were still effective the english bench uses a small amount of wood and it’s simple to build the joinery is basic and a lot of the bench can be knocked together with nails or screws when i built my version of the english joiners bench i used construction adhesive and it worked great the work holding on these benches is also very simple you generally have a single vise in the face position and a planing stop these two devices will handle lots of work and allow stock preparation and joinery to be done quickly and efficiently many modern woodworkers make the english bench even more effective by using hold fasts to secure work to the benchtop you also have that wide front apron to handle long or wide pieces grab one end of your board in the vise and support the other end with a peg or hold fast and you can get straight to work no need for additional gizmos these wide aprons are the english bench’s greatest asset but they’re also its biggest downside most of us are used to clamping work directly to the benchtop usually using an f-style clamp like this but with these big aprons that’s just not going to happen luckily there’s a couple different things you can do you can work around the end of the bench where the top is thinner and you can clamp stuff with no trouble or you can use hold fasts to secure your work directly to the bench top these are both great workarounds and i’ve never had this bench keep me from doing anything i needed to do but if you’re used to working on a bench that doesn’t have aprons this is going to be an adjustment and just like the scandinavian bench i’ve seen plenty of rickety flimsy english benches especially the quick ones that were just nailed together if you’re going to build one of these benches it’s a good idea to use beefy construction lumber and add plenty of internal bracing for a rigid structure these benches can pass the test of time but they need to be thoughtfully constructed if the boxy english bench isn’t your thing then it’s time to consider the most fashionable most talked about bench of our time the rubo this bench takes its name from andre rubeau who pictured the bench in his massive multi-volume text on woodworking published in 1774. like nicholson rubeau didn’t invent his bench he just illustrated what was common for his time if you’ve heard a lot about the rubo that’s mostly because of the modern author chris schwarz who’s largely responsible for the bench’s massive popularity chris says that this bench goes way beyond andre rubeau so he mostly refers to it as a timber frame bench that seems like a good name since the bench has heavy components and massive joinery that are more like a building than a piece of furniture many people think that the timber frame bench is the ultimate design these benches are typically made with a thick slab top and big legs joined together by huge mortise and tenon joints the bench’s signature joint is this dovetailed double tenon which is visually impressive but not really necessary the bench has legs flush with the top for easy gripping of long boards and lots of space underneath for shelving or storage that slab top gives you all the mass and stiffness you could ever need but it’s also an open framework and you can clamp your work to it in all sorts of convenient configurations this bench will serve the hand tool purist and the hybrid worker equally well since the work surface is great for hand planing and chiseling as well as pattern routing or biscuit jointing this is my first real woodworking bench and it’s not a roubo i had never heard of rubo when i built it but totally by accident i built this bench in a roughly rouble shape i just didn’t do a great job of constructing it but it’s got all the features it’s got a thick top big timber legs the legs are flush to the bench top and there’s a big shelf underneath even though the bench isn’t especially well constructed i can tell you that this style of bench does work really well you can hold your work a million different ways you can clamp to the bench top you can clamp stuff to the legs the top is really thick so it’s got all the mass you need for pounding and planing and sawing it’s really fantastic and now you’re probably wondering well wait what are the downsides to this bench and the honest answer is there really aren’t any of course the problem is building it even if you don’t go with an expensive hardwood slab for the top you’re still going to need a lot of wood most hobby builders create this bench by laminating construction lumber to make the top and the legs this will make an excellent bench but it will also be relatively expensive and time consuming and you might find those big components awkward to make by yourself especially if you work by hand the timber frame bench might very well be the best design but building one is not easy we’ve covered the most common workbench designs but you might also be wondering about the moravian this bench has seen huge popularity in the last couple of years because it’s a sturdy and capable bench that also comes apart for quick transport the moravian is a brilliant knockdown design most other portable benches are rickety and require a bunch of tools to set up and break down i’ve never worked on one of these personally but moravians are very popular they’re easy to move and no one has a bad word to say about them the only problem is that the moravian bench is especially attractive to beginners and the beginner might find them a little bit challenging to build those angled legs make the joinery a little bit trickier and you’ll need to cut bridal joints through mortise and tenons tusked mortise and tenons and dovetailed half-laps to get this bench together of course lots of new woodworkers have successfully built this bench but i’ve also heard from some people who started on this bench and then stalled out when things got difficult if you want to build one of these you just need to be honest with yourself about your skills if you want to go for it i bet you’ll do great okay now we’ve done a complete survey of all the major bench types but i can still hear people saying rex you’ve covered all these benches but i still don’t know which one to build which one of these is right for me well here are some hypothetical situations to help you choose if you’re a brand new woodworker with limited tools and you need a bench for your very first project i recommend a low bench even a beginner can knock one of these together in a day and they’re very cheap once you have a small bench like this you can practice all of your core woodworking skills and then use your low bench as a platform for building a bigger bench it’s much more convenient than trying to build a full-size bench on the floor once you have a big bench you can still use your low bench for sawing and mortising i still use mine all the time i’ve got a couple of videos on these benches and a set of plans if you’d like to make my most recent version a lightweight traveler if you absolutely must have a portable bench then the moravian is a great choice it’s a real bench that really travels will myers is the authority on these benches and he’s got a whole website with details plans and a dvd will provides a lot of support for people building these benches so you’re even more likely to be successful especially if you’ve already built a few pieces of furniture but what if you’re in the middle what if you’ve done a few projects and you’ve got basic tools but you’re also low on time and money then i suggest an english bench the english planck bench is the shortest cheapest path to a sturdy effective workbench you can build the whole thing from a small stack of cheap construction lumber the joinery on these benches is very simple lots of historical ones are made with nothing more complicated than a half lap and some nails modern screws and adhesives make these benches even easier and there are tons of good examples if you want to build one mike simpson builds one of these benches in his excellent dvd the naked woodworker don’t worry no one gets naked mike also shows you how to restore some flea market tools so his dvd is really a thorough guide to getting started in woodwork another good source is richard mcguire who used to be a professional bench builder before he branched out into online courses i recently bought and watched his entire course on building the english bench and it’s outstanding i recommend it very highly of course i also have my own version of this bench there’s a free video on youtube and i have an inexpensive set of plans i like to think that my version is the easiest to build but i’m totally biased so i’ll let other people decide if you feel a bit more confident then the rubeau or timber frame bench is probably the best choice the design is simple and brilliant and has no shortcomings that i can see i recommend building this bench if you’ve made a few pieces of furniture and you have some help if you have a couple of power tools like a good table saw that will make the bench much easier to build likewise you can get some help from a friend a second pair of hands will make a big difference and will make this build more reasonable if you’re working with hand tools chris schwarz is the undisputed authority on this bench and he writes about it in two of his books including the recent anarchists workbench which is shockingly available as a free pdf from chris’s company lost art press the book gives you complete instructions for building this bench through inexpensive construction lumber and it’s also a great read finally if you’re a fan of ultra high-end cabinet makers like frank klaus tayfrid or james krenov then you might want to go all the way and build the scandinavian cabinet makers bench this form was so popular for so long that there are tons of resources on building it do a bit of googling and you’ll find diagrams plans and old articles from magazines like fine woodworking you can also check out rob cosman’s youtube channel where he has instructions for making a stripped-down and more affordable version of this bench he uses laminated mdf for the top which keeps costs down and gives you a flat surface that won’t move i hope this video helped you pick a workbench design and i really recommend that you base your workbench on a traditional design don’t just make something up these tried and true workbenches have been tested over centuries and they all really work but let me leave you with one other final thought stop agonizing over which workbench you’re going to build we live in a culture that is always telling us how different and how special we are and that attitude leads us to ask insane questions like which woodworking bench best represents me and my incredible unique specialness questions like that are an enormous waste of time and they keep us from making thanks imagine if you had lived 100 or 200 years ago and you needed a workbench if you were lucky you would have been able to look at another bench and build a copy of it and that bench wouldn’t have been an english bench or a french bench it would have just been a workbench because there only would have been one style of bench wherever you lived in the world you would have built it got on with using it and probably never given it another thought and that option is still available to us today what i think you should do is no matter what skill level you’re at pick a bench that you think you can build and build it right away as soon as possible start that bench today and then when it’s done use it for a year or two and you might never build another bench you might decide that that first one is just fine but if you do build a second one i guarantee you that second bench is going to be amazing because experience and testing those are the things that lead us to making great stuff like great workbenches imagining and constantly fretting over details that’s not what gets us there another thing i’d like to suggest is that you well probably turn off youtube videos like this one and instead do some reading i find reading about topics like this much more valuable than videos and i know that’s ironic since i make videos but the books on this subject are great let me recommend scott landis’s workbench book he wrote it way back in the 80s and it is still the definitive survey of workbenches from all around the world and scott’s book genuinely has good ideas on every single page i’m not kidding and in addition to scott our best author on this subject is definitely chris schwarz he has written no fewer than three complete books on workbenches and they are all fantastic i’ve read them all multiple times and this video would have been impossible without chris’s work he has informed so much of what i know and what i think about workbenches of course i will link to those books and all the videos and dvds and everything else i’ve talked about down in the description and i never want to leave without mentioning my patrons on patreon a video like this even though i didn’t build something this was still a huge undertaking it required tons of research compiling lots of footage and photographs and you might have noticed all of those fancy 3d graphics well i pay a professional 3d designer to make those for every video and i would never be able to afford his salary without my patrons on patreon they make all this stuff possible if you’d like to be one of those people go on over to patreon.com rex krueger and check out all the rewards i have for the people who make this content possible i’ll be back next week with another woodworking video and i really hope you’ll join me thanks so much for watching …

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