Workbench: Done

My extra long “English” workbench is done. The plan came form Christopher Schwarz’s excellent “Workbenches from Design & Theory to Construction & Use.” I lengthened it to accommodate the longer workpieces commonly found in boat building. It is 12 feet long and 2 feet wide.

Although made of common construction lumber (aka rather ugly Douglas fir), and with a thin top compared to some cabinet builders benches, it ends up being rock solid. While contemplating extending the length, I asked Chris if he thought a third set of legs would be needed. He suggested they wouldn’t hurt and pointed out a photo in his book of a bench with three sets of legs. I took a cautious approach and made the center legs a fraction of an inch short. The last thing I wanted was a teeter-tottering bench. Well, there’s no teeter-totter, and not much we can do to make those legs touch the floor. Maybe if I plop my truck engine on the bench? This is what they invented wedges for, isn’t it!

The Gramercy holdfasts from “Tools for Wood Working” work very well. They do need a top thicker than what I used. So, like I did for the dogs, I added doubling blocks under the holdfast locations. They’re great tools at an attractive price.

All of the lumber dimensioning and most all of the fitting and construction was done with hand tools. The only things I used electrons for were:

  • My old $10 hand drill helped with the large holes for the lead screws for the vises. As an aside, this is an amazing drill. It was a “no name” metal bodied $9.95 special in the early 1960s. I’ve used it almost continuously since them for the usual DIY stuff.  It has outlasted two cordless drills and shows no signs of giving up.
  • I used the band saw to nibble away the waste near the curved areas of both vise faces.
  • A semi-retired miniature lathe and some idle mahogany were used for the ends of the vise handles.

Building the bench offered a few really interesting techniques: the use of Miller dowels for fastening the top (no metal to catch a plane while flattening), the use of drawboring to really tighten up a mortise and tenon joint, and the use of a wedged tenon for the parallel guide at the bottom of the face vice. Each technique was easy to learn, thanks to well written instructions, and each produces very strong joints.

Two coats of boiled linseed oil provide enough finish to keep blood from soaking into the top. Don’t ask how I know that.

Once upon a time (dead link now): “approved by the Schwartz.”

Now, back to boat building.

16 Responses to “Workbench: Done”

  1. The woodshop bug Says:

    wow, congratulations, it looks great!

    Have fun using an excellent workbench.

  2. Mike Lingenfelter Says:

    Sweet looking bench Bob. I wish I had the room for a monster bench like that.


  3. The Village Carpenter Says:

    I have workbench envy! Fabulous job, Bob. It’s a beaut and a brute. ; )

  4. bunk Says:

    looks fantastic.
    my shop is large enough and i will be makining mine similar to this .
    maybe it will be half as good

  5. Travis from SmartFlix Says:

    Looks great!

    I’ve been “planning” on building a bench for years (I’ve got two utility benches – flat tops, no overhang, 4×4 construction, just one machnist’s vise). This may give me the inspiration I need to stop fooling around with turning and do some actual dimensional woodworking (first project: the bench!).

  6. Mack from Center Point, TX Says:

    I could put the rest of my shop underneath this bench. I’ve been working off of one of those Woodcraft workbenchs shlepped onto a couple of saw horses, guaranteed to remove the last vestiges of your holiness. I’m trying to decide whether to go with the Nicholson-style or all out with a Shaker workbench.
    Yours looks great, and thanks for that important tip on the BLO.

  7. Stefan Gmoser Says:

    A really nice bench!

    One question, though: You left a comment on Bob Rozaieski’s site ( about installing doubler blocks when using holdfasts. Now, on Tools for Working Wood, the Gramercy Holdfasts are specified for “a workbench top of a 1 3/4″ thick or thicker”.
    How thick is your benchtop? I plan to make mine of fir or spruce, a bit over 2″ thick (60mm to be exact – Yes, I’m from Europe …).
    Do you notice any problems in using holdfast with softwood benchtops. Obviously, The holes will wear out much faster than in hardwood, but will the wear out _too fast_?

    Stefan from Austria

  8. Bob Says:

    Hello Stefan,
    “Construction” grade lumber here is called 2×6 or 2×8 but those are the “before surfacing” measures. It’s actually 1 1/2 by 5 1/2 (or 7 1/2) after surfacing, as we get it in the stores. That makes it marginally too thin for the Gramercy holdfasts. I do have holdfast holes in my sawbench tops which are only 1 1/2 inch thick and they hold, but not strongly. That’s why I used the doubling blocks. They give a lot more area for the holdfasts to grip.

    Knowing that European lumber is dimensioned to what is says on the label, the full 60mm, I think yours will be plenty thick enough to work well. You can always add doublers later if really needed. (Working on your back, under the bench, like changing oil in the car.)

    The Gramercy holdfasts work very well. I did rough them up by sanding radially with 100 grit sandpaper, which gives them much more grip. I don’t see any wear in the holes themselves. I do, however, have one or two holes where the holdfasts have produced a split in the bench top lumber. Yet those are minor and have not reduced their usefulness.

    Enjoy your build!

  9. Stefan Gmoser Says:

    Bob, thank you very much for your fast and friendly answer! And yes, I _do_ plan to enjoy the build!


  10. Justin Ashley Says:

    Bob, I know this is an old post, but please forgive me.

    I can’t find any other English-style benches with dogs close to the front besides Schwarz’s (which your bench is modeled after), and not a word has been written about this…

    How do you raise the dogs up out of their holes, when those big wide aprons hinder you from the under-side of the bench? I seem to be drawn to this style of workbench and really want my dogs close to the front for using fenced planes, but this is the one detail that barely exists and is not written about at all…

    And second, would building the top two boards thick make construction easier, and also a better bench in the end? Seems like it would add welcome weight (well maybe not at 12′ long 😉 ) and eliminate the need for those pesky doubling blocks under the bench. Same question with the front apron – or do you even use hold-fasts in the apron much at all?

    Any thoughts would be a huge help.
    Many thanks,

  11. Bob Says:

    Hi Justin,
    Those dog holes can get pretty close to the front edge (minus the apron thickness). I aligned mine to center on the tail vise I decided to use. Lee Valley has a brand new sliding tail vise that looks great for getting the dogs closer to the front edge.

    Raising dogs does involve reaching behind the apron, but I don’t find that a problem. I once heard a rather hefty woodworker complain about having to bend down to adjust the pin on his leg vise. Well, if he got a bit more exercise, he might not be carrying so much excess weight. I don’t see that as a big problem.

    Yes, the aprons are incredibly useful. Doing boat building, where there’s a lot of work on the edges of boards, finds stuff held against the front apron almost as much as held against the top of the bench. Using holdfasts on the thinner apron has never been a problem. They hold well enough because the forces applied to board edges are much different than those used with boards atop the bench. For apron work, I usually use two Grammercy holdfasts, in holes of matching heights, one near each end of the work. Their work holding the weight, as well as holding the board against the apron, ends up being very stable. I’ve never had a board held against the apron slip. That might be different for shorter workpieces found in furniture making, but you could also use the leg vise to help hold those.

    I think doubling thickness for the entire width of the top is more work than it’s worth. Unless you’re planning a very short bench, it will be heavy enough without tha weight of 2 or 3 more boards.

    Enjoy building your new bench!

  12. Justin Ashley Says:

    I had actually planned on the Veritas quick tail vise as you mentioned, for the purpose of moving the dog holes further up. I’ve got a leg-vise now, and adjusting the parallel bar isn’t a big deal. My biggest concern was reaching up (way up maybe?) under those aprons to raise the dogs. I just didn’t know if there was an easier way. I’m sure it’s not terribly bad, I had just anticipated this to be worse the closer the dogs get to the front. I might be worrying too much about this.

    I was thinking that doubling the thickness would actually save some work. I’d figured this would save having to add the doubling blocks for the hold-fasts, and given I’ll be using round dogs, it’d just be a matter of drilling through the thickness instead of building more construction. I think I get what you’re saying about the hold-fasts working in the thinner aprons. The weight pressing sideways on the stem is actually helping to wedge the hold-fast a’skew in the hole, thus simulating more force being placed on the hold-fast. Right? This sounds like what’s going on…

    Oh, and one last question. I’ve got a leg vise now, and it rocks my socks off. How do you like having yours on the angle? If you had it to do over again, would you angle it or make it vertical? Thanks again Bob!

  13. Bob Says:

    Justin said, “The weight pressing sideways on the stem is actually helping to wedge the hold-fast a’skew in the hole, thus simulating more force being placed on the hold-fast. Right? This sounds like what’s going on…”


    Now, if reaching under to push up the dogs really gets to be a problem, make some dogs with a lip on top that keeps then from going all the way into the holes. You can then lift them up with the lip.

    On the leg vise… Leg vises do indeed rock. The angled vise has pros and cons. On the pro side, it looks really neat with the angled legs on this bench. The angled overhang gives more gripping surface, good for hanging on tightly to the tip of something. For example, if you’re a furniture builder (I’m not) that vise would be great for getting more grip on large panels that might extend all the way to the floor. On the con side, it’s easy to clamp something off-center and see the vise cant to one side. Yet, I suspect that would be the case with an absloutely vertical vise. My only regret is wishing I had made it of ash or something beefier than the home store lumber. I can flex it pretty easily.

    My two bits of vise advice: make it beefier than a single piece of home store lumber, and add leather lining to both gripping faces. The leather makes an incredible improvement in gripping power.

    Keep havin’ fun!

  14. John Says:

    My grandfather was a trained boatwright who apprenticed in Ontario before WWI. Later in life he had his own work shop and did wood work for friends, family and his church. His bench was English style, quite long, fixed to the wall and had a deep apron. As far as I can recollect, he did not have dog holes or a tail vise. I believe he did use holdfasts and there was a massive leg vise on the left end. He produced a lot of very fine work. Indeed the church with his wood work is consider architecturally important in Sacramento County.

  15. Bob Says:

    Thanks for the memories John.
    Have you considered posting some “tribute” photos of your grandfather’s work? There are a lot of photo sites (i.e. Flikr) where you could post an album of his work. … and tell us more about him.

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