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:

Divide and conquer

The shelves are now to thickness and cut to width. Some sanding of the end to ensure they fit and they are almost ready to go. I used a router to cut the dadoes in the case and because the bit is round, so is the end of the cut. I could attempt to square off the dado, but that would be difficult. My smallest chisel is 10 mm. I decided to try a different route and round over the edge. I did try to use a router to do the rounder over with a 1/8″ round over bit, but the shelves are too small to do it by hand. The router table wasn’t very effective as I couldn’t reliably get the depth right and anyway the shelves aren’t exactly 1/4″ thick. Then I remembered a video done by Matthias Wandel:

After a little trial and error I found that 3 45º strokes with my block plane, followed by a 22.5º either side of that created a very close round over, which is completed with a little light sanding.

Once the shelves are ready, I positioned them in the cabinet for a dry fit. I drew where the dadoes meet the shelves which give me a start line to mark out where the dividers go. To make sure I get the dadoes in the right places, I used the layout marks from the dadoes and a compass to find the center of the board. I think this must be one of the first times I’ve used a compass for something other than drawing a circle. The layout lines were then used as a reference point to make sure my router was in the right place to cut the dadoes. A 1/4″ v-groove bit has a sharp point and can help position the router on the line so the fence can be zeroed in.

1/4" V Groove bit

Swap the v-groove bit for the 1/4″ straight bit to make the cut and the dadoes are perfectly down the middle of the board. The depth of cut can be determined by dropping the router bit onto the workpiece whilst the motor is off, then placing an appropriate diameter drill bit in the depth stop. I did a couple of test cuts and worked out the best depth. After doing a couple of cuts things when a little wrong. I didn’t realise and cut one of the shelves in half. I didn’t realise until after I’d finished the second cut because of all the dust in the channel. Luckily I had enough stock prepared and was pleasantly surprised at how fast I was able to get a new shelf ready.

As I was finishing up, I managed to get one divider cut and placed in the dry assembly.




Andrew’s _IMG_0891 Andrew’s _IMG_0890 Andrew’s _IMG_0892

Magnetic personality

At some point I managed to knock my tray of 200 odd drill bits on the floor. With all the dust and the incredibly small diameter bits, it was quite difficult to get them all. Until I remembered I had a super strong magnet from inside a dead hard drive, and used it to sweep the debris to pick up the drill bits.