Definitely 38” High

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The title above is a joke about workbench height. I think workbenches can be almost any height – even 38” – depending on what you are doing at the bench and your tool set.

Here’s a confession: My back sucks. My dad’s back isn’t so good, either. But one of the most important and vibrant memories from my childhood is of my father. He was confined to bed so his back would heal, but yet he built, painted and finished an end table while in bed. That table is one of my most prized possessions.

In other words, don’t let your back alone dictate your work. You can work while flat on your back if necessary.

I like a low-ish workbench (28” to 34”). I find that it makes planing easier. When sawing, I use a Moxon/Felebien vise to raise the work to a comfortable level (a 17th-century trick). And whenever possible, I sit on a shop stool to work. I have an old Chinese stool that I sit on when I am chopping stuff that requires precision. Also when carving. Or when doing close-up work.

If you think this is a modern idea, then maybe you are a caveman. Early workbenches showed Romans working while sitting on shop stools. Why stand and bend over when you can sit?

— Christopher Schwarz

About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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11 Responses to Definitely 38” High

  1. jonathanszczepanski says:

    While bending over to work close does feel good for my back, my back always feels its worst after sitting and working. I always try to raise the work as high as I can to a comfortable height. I guess it’s a lesser of two evils situation.

  2. I’m taking Jay van Arsdale’s class on Japanese woodworking, and just in yesterday’s class he summed it up pretty well. He was showing us to sit on a chair and elevate the work to the appropriate height when possible, cause “pain won’t make it any better.”

  3. sharpe1815 says:

    What’s the source information for the photo?

    • lostartpress says:

      Title: worker at bench.Country: Greece Period: 5c BC.Type: Technology Keywords: worker at bench. Metalworking: Metal relief. 5c BC.Notes: worker at bench. Metalworking: Metal relief. 5c BC.View: Metal relief.Definer: Metalworking:Slide ID: 3032

  4. dlwhitehurst says:

    This post is funny. I just made a bench like Paul Seller’s uses. I stressed and stressed about what height my bench was going to be and like you, I have back issues too. I am 6′ foot tall and I went with Paul’s measurement 38″ exactly. I’ve been a home do-it-yourself-er with power tools and I recently have been excited about hand tools again. I’ve found that good tools make a HUGE difference and I’ve been doing lots of hand-cutting, planing, dovetailing, and such and I’m really pleased with the 38″ bench.

  5. corpmule says:

    I’m beginning to adopt a multi-bench approach. I plan to build a planing bench, which will be what some consider to be low. And I’ll build a couple of low benches similar to Ron Herman’s saw bench, which I’ll use for various things like boring, mortising and sawing. And a high bench with a twin screw face vice. I’ve seen other folks build those and call them “joinery benches.” At least that’s the plan so far. :)

  6. toolnut says:

    I’m done trying to figure out bench height. I’m going to focus more on floor depth.

    • smbarnha says:

      Don’t limit yourself. What about several shop shoes with different sole thicknesses, or a hover-pack!

  7. Jeff Faulk says:

    Here’s a splendid little idea for a shop stool. It requires a bench with stretchers, but it struck me as eminently practical. You could even use it as an improvised deadman.

    http://lumberjocks.com/projects/97940

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