The Benchbuilder’s Poker


In “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” I call out the thickness planer and the band saw as the two most useful pieces of machinery in a shop that is focused on furniture.

But as someone who builds lots of workbenches, I would be lost (or at least, quite fatigued) if I didn’t have a beefy, accurate and tuned-up drill press. Because of the way I build benches, the drill press is what makes everything come together quickly and precisely.

Here’s why:

1. The mortises are too big for a typical mortiser. So I cut all the mortises with the drill press.

2. If the bench is a knockdown model, all the holes and counterbores have to be accurate to accept the bolts, nuts, washers and crossbolts.

3. Straight holes for 5/8” drawbores ensures there will be a lot fewer exit-wound explosions.

4. Mounting vises (especially those with crossbolts) is easy with a drill press. Holes have to be straight so vises don’t bind. Drill presses also make it easy to install a crochet. Drilling counterbores on a curved surface can be tricky with a brace.

5. Round dog holes are easy with a drill press and a big bit.

6. Holdfast holes are always better with a drill press. The more I use holdfasts, the more I understand this point. If your holdfast hole is even slightly off plumb, then the holdfast is likely to work in only about 180° of the possible orientations of its pad. This is also why a tight hole is better than a loose one. Both of these factors – plumb and tight – make it easy for the holdfast to wedge in the hole.

I don’t have a fancy drill press. Years ago I bought a Grizzly G7944 drill press, a 14” model with 12 speeds. The drill press is powerful enough for building benches (and for furniture, of course), but I long for an old Powermatic or something bigger that has a beefier depth stop (I am always bending my stop, or it loosens too easily).

The only modification I’ve made to my Grizzly is I added a large accessory table and fence, which makes drilling out mortises a snap.

Today I drilled out the first trench for the Benchcrafted Crisscross using some huge sawtooth Forstners in my drill press. Now I have to make the same trench in the leg of the assembled bench, which means I’m going to have to switch to a brace or (if I’m lucky) a corded drill.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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20 Responses to The Benchbuilder’s Poker

  1. Which do you think is more useful, a floor or bench top press?

    • lostartpress says:

      I don’t have any bench space for a drill press, so the answer is easy for me.

      I have not dropped the table to the point where a floor drill press is a must-have item, however. My uninformed opinion is that either would be fine.

  2. Sean Hughto says:

    Did you consider just gluing this up? I can imagine reasons not to, but curious as this looks like a lot to excavate.

    • lostartpress says:

      According to my calculations, it would have been more work to glue up the construction. The trench took 10 minutes to make.

      • Sean Hughto says:

        Does that include the time to finish these sides with a chisel? Or just the drilling? Cause if you drilled and cleaned this up to the lines in ten minutes I’m very impressed. You should do a video of your chisel work. Or maybe I’m misjudging the size of this?

  3. jonfiant says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Chris. As a professional bench builder myself, I love my drill press for all the aforementioned reasons. That machine comes in so handy, I have three of them, one floor standing in Jet blue, and and old Walker Turner and an old Delta, both bench top size. The two older ones are both heavier than the floor standing model. Go figure.
    All the best,

  4. Josh Salomon says:

    Do you think a linear bearing (a la Maguire workbenches) would work in place of the Crisscross, or would there be too much weight for the linear shaft to operate smoothly? (Or might it require the ultimate precision in location, alignment, etc. to have it work just right?) I am planning to get the same Benchcrafted classic for my bench build but thinking about a linear bearing as a way to avoid all of the ‘trenching’ you’re doing right now. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. jonathanszczepanski says:

    All I hear in my head when I look at that picture…

    “Stabilize your rear deflectors… Watch for enemy fighters.

    They’re coming in!
    Three marks at 2-10!

    It’s no good, I can’t maneuver!

    Stay on target.

    We’re too close!

    Stay on target!

    Loosen up!

    Gold Five to Red leader, lost Tiree, lost Dutch.

    I copy, Gold Leader.”

  6. Martino23 says:

    I can certainly understand that it is important to drill dog holes that are straight and true, but I can’t visualize how you are doing this. Do you drill the dog holes before the bench top is fully glued up? Can you place a bench top drill press on top of a completed bench and use it to drill dog holes that are deeper than the feet of the bench top drill press?

    I only have a standing drill press, but I can’t imagine trying to hold up and maneuver my bench top while trying to drill holes in it with my standing drill press.

    Perhaps I need to buy a bench top model?

    Do you have more pictures you could post?

    • lostartpress says:

      I drill the holes for dogs and holdfasts when the benchtop is partially assembled.

      If I need additional dead-straight holes I use a shopmade jig that looks and works like an oversized doweling jig. And then I drill the hole using a brace and bit and an auger. I’ll post a photo of that jig in a bit.

  7. Martino23 says:

    Thanks Chris!

  8. visualjay says:

    Good thing to know I am not the only one with tool envy…

  9. adrianmakes says:

    After I realized that the depth stop on my Grizzly drill press was bending and giving me non-repeatable hold depths I replaced it with a wood block, which seems to be more reliable.

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