If you’ve read my book, my blog or my magazine, it’s easy to get the impression that I hate benches that have a lot of storage beneath the benchtop. I don’t know how many times I’ve written about how a bench that looks like a kitchen cabinet works about as well as a kitchen cabinet when you need to clamp something to its top.
But that’s not the whole story. I think that you can add some significant storage to a bench and still make it just as useful as a stripped-down Roubo workbench (the hulking French bench on the cover of the book).
If you have a lovely French model in your shop, add a shelf inside the bottom rails. Then add three drawers below that shelf, just as Andre Roubo shows in his illustration of a German workbench. Adding these drawers is on my to-do list, as is making the sliding leg vise shown in the same engraving.
If you have the English bench (or are thinking of building one), here are a couple suggestions. Audel’s Carpenter’s Guide suggests making a bench with a top board that can be removed so you can stow the tools in the cavity below.
That’s OK, but that middle board might jump around when you are planning panels. (Carpenters don’t plane as many panels as cabinetmakers. Heck, they don’t plane anything these days.) So I’d consider making only one half of that board removable. Pick the end of the bench where you don’t handplane panels.
Another option is to build a drawer into the front apron, as the ingenious airplane makers did in this shot from the Filton shop in England. That is how I would add storage to an English bench – plus I’d add drawers at the bottom below the apron as well, as shown in a drawing in George Ellis’s “Modern Practical Joinery.”
None of these solutions will change the way the bench functions, but they sure will give you a place to store your bench chisels and layout tools.
— Christopher Schwarz