What is the best kind of workbench? It’s simple: Any bench that allows you to easily work on the edges, faces and ends of boards and assemblies. Everything else beyond that is tradition or personal preference.
Those of you who have read my first book, “Workbenches: From Design and Theory to Construction and Use,” might recognize that statement. It’s the core thesis of the book.
I’m repeating it here, five years later, because anytime I teach a workbench class I get asked by readers why I’ve changed my philosophy of constructing workbenches. Why have I abandoned the sliding dovetail joint? Eschewed the wooden spindle? Flushed my thoughts about using pine?
Truth is, I haven’t abandoned or changed a thing about what makes a good bench. Make it solid. Use the best joints you can. Use the cheapest material that is the stiffest and heaviest. Make it as long as your space will allow.
The rest is noise.
So why am I building old-world French workbenches without a sliding dovetail through the top? Because we had to make these benches in five days with limited equipment.
Why did we use French oak for the top instead of Scot’s pine or fir? Because that was what was stacked there when I arrived.
Why are the benches only 2 meters (6’) in length? Because that was the longest size that the students’ shops could handle. Many had to cut their tops down even shorter.
Why didn’t we use a wooden spindle for the face vise? Because we couldn’t find any in Europe that were reasonably priced.
And on and on.
Once you recognize the essence of the problem – the workbench is a 3-dimensional clamping surface – you just need to get there by the best route possible.
— Christopher Schwarz