As they say, it’s not the size of it but how you use it that counts and that comes to mind when thinking of my new workbench, because I’ve opted to build it 12′ long!
I knew fairly quickly that I’d build my new workbench in the English style and I’d also been toying with the idea that I’d like to have two workbenches rather than just the one. This English bench will mainly be intended as a prepping and assembly bench and I’m really looking forward to showing how it will be suited to that, and used alongside another. Two workbenches is a complete and utter luxury and it’s not something which I’d ever say you need but in this workshop this bench is going to be my equivalent of the rip saw, planer and thicknesser.
Now for that second extravagance, the length.
12′ was never part of my plan but then I received the timber delivery and each board was clearer than most pine you get to see and amazingly straight and free from twist. It was going to be a shame to cut them down short and I realised that at full length the bench would slip perfectly in to the available space. The final excuse I gave myself was our barn restoration, and a 12′ bench would be an enormous aid when building very large doors, lengths of moulding and even trusses. So I couldn’t really find a reason why not to build it 12′ long! Overall I’ve got to build this workbench with my own needs and purposes at the fore front but I’ll also be putting a heavy emphasise and going to extra lengths to show how you can build a solid workbench using only hand tools.
If you’re new to woodworking or just to hand tools then with any large build you’re planning you want to be sure that the design is a sensible match to your tools and experience. This is going to mean no laminations in the top, in fact there’s no gluing up for the top at all. And with the joinery I’ve opted out of having any massive mortice and tenons to cut by hand (the trestles in the photos are ones I found to prop the top to, not the ones I’ll be using). I get asked a lot of questions about workbench builds and for beginners in particular it seems like the prospect of many large mortices can be a bit daunting. I think this comes down to limited time more than anything and if you have only got a few hours each weekend to get in to the workshop and it almost takes you that to cut one maybe two large joints then having up to 12 to do could feel a bit endless. I don’t wish to put anyone off the mortice and tenon but I thought it would be interesting to show an alternate joint; one which can look attractive and be very strong for this purpose, but is much quicker when only using hand tools. I think in a couple of weekends anyone just setting out with their hand tools could have this knocked up. I may tart mine up a little with some extra touches if I get carried away, but ultimately it will be a perfect replica of an old English bench built to the principles and their way of working. I’m hoping that whilst my chosen dimensions will be rather extreme for most, the build itself will give anyone looking to build their own bench a few things to think about. The video isn’t going to be a thorough step by step build along but will cover everything as we go. [EDIT – The video is long. And very detailed. Our plan for this changed before we started the build and after a thorough time on the editing table we will be launching the English bench build as a Premium Video Series.]
As a side note we’ve decided to keep the Little John bench in here for the time being. I wondered why Helen was so encouraging of the 12′ length to my new bench but this long bench will mean that the Little John may still be needed; we can’t just plonk my new bench in the middle of the room to allow filming from all angles and so until I build my second one the Little John will play that part. Helen will be learning on it and I’ve made some simple skids so I can raise it up and use it myself as a dedicated joinery / detail bench.
I received a great question in the comments on my last workbench post from Mitchell – “I enjoyed this post, Richard, but it does conjure up what I think is a relative question…it is obvious you think highly of traditional English benches, so why, as you stated, have the vast majority of benches that you have built recently been French?”
Sorry to keep you hanging but I’m going to answer this one in my next post about my workbench.
We take you step by step through a traditional bench build, starting out with a discussion on choosing the ideal dimensions, demonstrations of how to cut the joinery, right through to flattening your workbench top and building the face vice from scratch.If you’d like us to guide you through your build with detailed videos and PDF plans, then you can find full details for this Workbench Series here.