Workbenches on the cheap

I’ve recently been reminded of why I need a new workbench. I’ve got a couple of workbenches which done ok until now, but they are sub optimal. I’ve been renovating a couple of hand planes which I’ll talk about in a future post, but having completed the work I wanted to try them out. In my summer workshop, the bench consists of some construction 2 x 4s for legs and a worktop I rescued during spring cleanup. It has a vise underneath but it’s not ideal, and at the moment there are no bench dogs to hold the work down. A bench dog is a wooden peg (either square or round and there is a lot of debate about which is better) you put through the bench top to push against in order to hold down work. They are designed so the top of the dog doesn’t stick up higher than the work piece allowing you to run a tool  over the edge of the board without having to adjust the work piece. It’s easily remedied with some 3/4″ holes placed along it’s length, but they’re only any good if they’ve got something to push against. The vise would have to be adapted to have a dog on the top of it so I can clamp work flat on the worktop.

My other workbench which is all I have in my winter workshop is a Black and Decker Workmate, similar to this:


These are great for a job site bench or a kid or perhaps an assembly table. However it is far too low for my back, the work surface isn’t big enough even with an extension, and when you pound on it with a chisel and hammer the entire steel frame vibrates and rings.

So a new bench is in order. The current criteria:

  • Cheap. I don’t have a lot of money to put into it. This is my first workbench so I’m expecting to make some mistakes.
  • Mobile enough I can get it up the hill and into my summer workshop. Depending on how the year goes, and how well it’s made I might leave it up there and build a new one for the summer workshop.
  • Sturdy enough that I can plane or pound away on it without worrying about it collapsing.
  • Tall enough that I can stand at it and plane or assemble parts without hurting my back
  • Have at least one vise to hold down work, potentially two different vises.

Vises can be expensive, so I’m going to try using some pipe clamps to build a tail vise and a face vise.

Bench vises made with pipe clamps: in the sale I can get a pipe clamp for $10. Combined with a few lengths of black pipe, I can probably keep my costs down to the $30 – $40 range for two vises.

Another possibility which would be even cheaper and I could make myself is some cam clamps:

Cam clamps are great, but wouldn’t help me straighten an edge of a board, so I’ll probably need a face vise regardless. A face vice could also help clamp narrow boards edge on, so I could for example hand cut dovetails.

Videos on how to build a workbench:

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