For those starting out in woodwork I would recommend as one of your first projects that you build yourself a workbench. The reason, do you want to build all of your future projects on the floor? You may already have an existing workbench and it may even be eminently suitable for woodwork purposes and if that is the case you may not wish to read further. If you do not, then here are some tips that I can offer to help make sure your workbench will be a useful and long-lived part of your workshop.
The design of your bench will be dictated by a number of factors including the space you have available and the amount of funds you want to invest. Remember that a sound and sturdy workbench will have a direct impact on the quality of the woodwork projects that you build in years to come so using quality materials including the timber and fittings will be of ultimate importance. Once you have determined your work area and budget you will need to find a woodwork plan that meets your criteria. As a guide, a workbench height is usually between 800mm (32in) and 850mm (34in) although you will undoubtedly be able to modify your chosen plan to suit your individual requirements. I would also recommend that when scanning through plans that you look for a bench design that incorporates a ‘tool well’. This enables large pieces of work to be rotated around your table without tools being knocked Onto the floor. Of course a draw or shelf under the bench will achieve the same. You should use a plan which is concise, easy to follow and leaves no questions unanswered when it comes to the preparation, construction, assembly and finish of your bench. The paramount thing you must ensure is that after assembly and positioning, your worktop is level.
Once you have constructed your bench you should begin fitting it out with well-machined vices. Most woodwork specific benches will have both side and end vices fitted but, if you purchase and fit vices at different times, the most important is the main woodworkers vice. When it comes to these, bigger is better, and the more money you can spend to ensure large capacity and quality construction, the more versatile you will find it for projects in the future. The vice should be set as close as possible to one of the legs of the underframe to prevent any flexing of the worktop. You should also ensure that it is properly set into the bench so that when the vice cheeks are applied that no metal is showing and the top of the vice is flush with the top of the bench.
Temporary work benches can be used if you do not have the time, a future requirement for a permanent bench or if you are doing on-site work. Simple folding benches or saw horses, which you may have purchased to assist with the workbench construction, can be used or an existing table which has a strong design. All that is required then is to take a sheet of manufactured board 25mm (1in) thick and cut to a size about 150mm (6in) larger than your table (or benches or horses) all the way around. Fit some soft material to the underside if you don’t want to scratch the surface. On the working edge, place another strip of the same material, about 300-400mm (12-16in) and the same length as the base and glue it into place. If you are using horses or folding benches, you may need to place cross beams underneath to stop any drooping of your work surface. When done, clamp the work top to the base.
Your workbench should be well maintained to provide good, long-lasting use. A few basic tips for workbench maintenance are:
Support your workpieces off the bench with padded strips or rubber mats,
Place a layer of hardwood over your work surface which can be drilled and hammered and then replaced when it becomes damaged,
Clean the work surface regularly,
Only use clamps to secure pieces to your workbench,
Use scrap material under workpieces when drilling,
On occasion, check the surface level of your work bench with a spirit level and straight edge in case the wood has warped. Adjust with chocks as required or plane your bench.
Armed with these few simple tips, your woodwork bench should provide you with years of use.
About the Author:
Although it can be daunting, woodworking will provide you with years of enjoyment if you persevere and hone your skills. To take the headache out of your initial and future projects, ensure you get hold of detailed, step by step woodworking plans.
For the novice and professional alike, expensive and costly mistakes will be avoided by using a woodworking resource that covers every aspect of your chosen project.