Do you have a workbench in your workshop? I don't mean just a big table but a real carpenter's workbench with vises and bench dogs. Such benches were available in almost every rural home in the past. Today you'll often meet hobbyists who don't even know what a workbench really means.
Why Do You Need a Workbench?
If you have one you probably don't need further explanation. A real woodworker's workbench greatly improves your productivity and reduces the effort in performing most tasks. The different vises and bench dogs allow securing parts of any size and shapes in comfortable way that lets your two hands to be free for work. The stable top allows you perform heavy operations without worries.
Most carpenter benches also have a tool storage space both under the bench and on the top which lets you keep all you tools at a just hand distance. The final result is really easy and pleasant work with good results.
This is how a classic workbench looks. It has a side vise and a front vise plus a wisely distributed set of bench dogs. This allows you to secure nearly any workpiece in a comfortable position.
Once small disadvantage of the classic workbench is that it doesn't have top tools storage. But as you can see from the photo, sometimes the bench dogs can be used to keep a chisel or screw handy.
This is a workbench design built by a French cabinetmaker called Andre Roubo. Many carpenters and hobby woodworkers believe this design is better than the classic workbench. Here is a very good guide on building such workbench, along with pictures.
The front vise of the Roubo bench is larger which allows securing larger workpieces. The design is generally more eye-catching but other than this I don't see huge difference between the Roubo-style and the classic workbenches.
There are also various hybrid styles which use elements from both designs, and from other designs, and combine them in various ways.
Modern Small Workbenches
In the recent years many hobby woodworkes work in small basements or garages and don't have real workshops. These craftsmen still want a comfortable workbench but have no space for a real one. This is probably the reason for the emerging trend of small workbenches like this one:
These benches look good and are fully functional but by no means they are as good as the real workbenches. So if you have the place and money it's better to buy or build real woodworking bench. If not, I recommend the Black & Decker Workmate - excellent small workbench at affordable price.
Another great advantage of these workbenches is that you can get them in the car and bring them somewhere.
Poor Man Workbench Ideas
Not every woodworker can afford or wants to spend money even on a bench like the small ones above. In the past they were not available anyway. So many hobbyists came up with ideas how to improve old kitchen table or a desk to serve to some extent as a workbench. Here are some quick ideas:
- A square hole in one of the edges (near the table leg) can be very useful for securing parts vertically (using a woodworking clamp)
- Nothing stops you to drill bench dogs in the kitchen table so you can use them for securing workpieces. Or if you don't want to drill the table top you can build a second top with dogs.
- A very old and comfortable solution is to attach a wooden plate with a triangle cut in it on the table top which will help you attach stuff there. Just put a board in the empty triangle, press it from the other side and you are all set.
- You can of course just attach one of the ready woodworking vises that are created for use on workbenches. I mean something like this.
By attaching vises, top with bench dogs, and other stuff you can easily turn any good table into a workbench designed exactly for your needs. So don't worry if you don't have a real workbench. DIY solutions work great. I am using an old school bench and planning to attach a top with holes and furrow for tools on it.