Another Point for Lower Workbenches

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As I was making the final adjustments to the drawers on this teak campaign chest, I was reminded of another reason I like lower workbenches.

When I need to trim up a typical chest carcase or drawer, a lower bench ensures I can place the drawer on the floor and dress the dovetails. No platforms or other jiggery. Just drop and go.

But the No. 1 reason I like lower benches is that I can get my weight over my handplanes so I don’t have to use my arms when dressing panels and boards.

I started with a 38”-high bench in the 1990s and have steadily reduced my working height as I became better with hand tools. My current bench is 34”. The massive French oak workbench I’m finishing up this week will be 33”. I am perfectly comfortable at Megan Fitzpatrick’s bench, which is 28” (I think).

Disclaimer: I don’t give a flying ^&%$ at a rolling doughnut what bench height you use. You’ll figure it out.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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13 Responses to Another Point for Lower Workbenches

  1. Tell us how you really feel Chris

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  2. Most drawer sides that use dovetail joints will have a half pin on both the top and the bottom. I notice that you have used a half pin on the top side and a half tail on the bottom side. Why use the half tail?

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    • lostartpress says:

      You find this on some old drawers. The straight tail holds the drawer bottom. It’s not common, but I have seen it on a fair number of chests to know it was not unique to one maker.

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      • Eric says:

        Is it to accommodate a groove for the drawer bottom? I just had a tiny piece break off the bottom tail while dry fitting a drawer back. I can’t remember what compelled me to cut the grooves in the sides before the dovetails. No one will know but me (and now you).

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  3. Now that’s why I tune in to Lost Art Press blog, a brilliant post.

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  4. Eric says:

    You just sent a few hundred readers to grab a tape measure. I’ve thought mine was a little too tall. It’s 36.5″. At 5’11”, I can’t quite get my weight over it. Crawling underneath, I see how to lose an inch… then go up to the attic and find the old KISS boots.

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  5. churchclown says:

    I printed this out and inserted it in my copy of your workbench book so I’ll see it the next time I get the hankering to build a new workbench. Thanks Chris. Great stuff. (You always measure up!)

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  6. Kat Ferneley says:

    Are you noticing a pattern as to where the most comfortable benches fall on your body (i.e., top of the bench at the point of the hip)? Trying to get an idea of a general ergonomic reference point, as I would guess that most people wouldn’t have access to such a wide variety of heights to try.

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    • lostartpress says:

      I like a bench to be at the height that matches the joint where my pinky finger meets the hand. It’s a decent place to start.

      You can try different bench heights at a Lie-Nielsen show or by standing on some plywood.

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  7. jgust74 says:

    Why do you need to put all your wight over the plane?

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  8. rtroupwoodworking says:

    If you have more than one work bench, having them different heights can be beneficial. I have a shorter bench – 31 inches and a taller bench – 37 inches in my shop. The shorter one is great for hand work with planes. The taller one is best for layout work, as my eyes and back get older.

    Frank Klaus has written articles about having an even shorter assembly bench to get projects up off the floor, but yet lower than his normal working bench height.

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  9. playnoevil says:

    I was thinking along similar lines when looking at Japanese saws. The way they are used would seem to imply that a lower AND higher surface would be required for cutting horizontally. .. down at near waist height and something like chest level when cutting vertically. .

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