With six pipe clamps and some dressed framing lumber, you can make an inexpensive bench that's as versatile as a Swiss Army Knife
Synopsis: Fine Woodworking’s shop manager John White talks about the value of a good workbench, whether you do a lot of handwork or not. He researched American and European designs before designing his own, which incorporates pipe clamps into the bench’s top, the front apron, and even the legs. His planing beam slides on the pipes, and they replace a traditional tail vise. He used Douglas fir because it’s dense and stable, and assembled it with drywall screws and lag screws, so the joinery goes quickly. You get detailed project plans for this rock-solid, versatile bench.
For five years I worked as a cabinetmaker in a shop that used only hand tools for the simple reason that electricity wasn’t available that far back in the woods. One lesson that I came away with was the importance of a good workbench—and lots of windows. I now work in a shop that is, if anything, overelectrified, but a functional workbench is still important. Just because you’re driving a car instead of a buggy doesn’t mean you don’t need a good road to get where you’re going.
On a perfect bench, the various vises and stops would hold any size workpiece in the most convenient position for the job at hand. Traditional workbenches are adequate for clamping smaller pieces, a table leg or frame rail for instance, but most benches can’t handle wide boards for edge- and face-planing or frameand-panel assemblies.
Recently, I moved my shop and needed to build a new bench. I began by researching traditional American and European designs. I found that although our predecessors had many clever solutions to the problems of holding down a piece of wood, no one bench planed. Instead, the force of the plane pushes…
Get the Full-Size Plan
Digital plans, a cutlist, and a SketchUp drawing for this project are available in the Fine Woodworking store.