Answers to New-Fangled Workbench Questions
More details on lumber selection, sources of supply, finishing options, John White and community members answer questions about this popular workbench design
John White’s New-Fangled Workbench has developed a cult-like following since he first wrote about the bench in 1999. For more details about the bench, check out some of the questions and answers that White has traded with readers over the years. There are also some questions answered by members of our Knots forum.
Also, detailed project plans for this bench are now available in the plan store.
Douglas fir and other lumber options
Question: I’ve had no luck locating any Doug Fir where I live. All joists are pine or hem-fir. I’m wondering what you would suggest as an alternative, keeping in mind I’m trying to keep costs down. -Tramps, via Ask the Experts
Answer: Except at the extremes, like balsa wood or ipe, almost all of the wood that is commercially available is more or less interchangeable for most applications.
Any framing lumber that you can find that has a fair amount of straight grained, and mostly knot free, wood in it will serve for the bench. You can use any hardwood also, but unless you are buying hardwoods from a local mill it probably won’t be as cheap as framing stock from a lumber yard.
Try to locate kiln dried wood if possible, it will dry out to a useable moisture content sooner when stickered in your shop, and will probably have less warpage as it loses the moisture. Seal the ends of the boards with tape or paint to prevent end checking a the wood dries. The pine you are finding is almost certainly southern yellow pine, not white pine. -JW
Question: I am looking to build a workbench similar to the one you built out of Douglas Fir. Now, I was wondering if I were to use Spruce if there would be any issues that came from using this wood. E.g. is it too light?, too soft?, will screws and bolts hold together? I would like to do use spruce because it is readily available at Home Depot and much much cheaper than Fir. -cmregalado, via Ask the Experts
Answer: Any dense softwood or hardwood will work well for the bench. I would be surprised if the greater widths of 2X stock available in lumber yards and the box stores isn’t Douglas fir. I’d ask someone who really knows wood for assistance, the clerks probably haven’t a clue. -JW
Straight-grained Douglas fir’s expensive!
Question: First off, what a great design and a nice video to see the bench in action… I’m BRAND NEW to this and would take any help I can get before I dive in. My main concern is this inexpensive wood I’m supposed to acquire. I live in Vancouver, BC but if necessary, can make it anywhere down the I-5 corridor to Seattle to pick up my wood.
I’m just not going to pay $14.95 per linear foot for “straight grained” 2×8 Douglas Fir!!! … I’m looking for… the best possible source for Douglas Fir between Seattle and Vancouver. I guess I could go north of Vancouver as well but any advice would be most welcome. -jrnymn, via Knots
Answer: The straight grained DF is premium stuff for trim, you want to pick through the lower priced construction lumber and pull out the best stuff there. -JW
Wedges sturdy enough for hand planing?
Question: I’m interested in the New Fangled Woodworking Bench, however I have a concern with the wedge style “traps” that hold the wood for jointing. What are your experiences with that portion of the design? For many things they obviously can not take the place of a traditional vise. I like how quickly you can secure the work and then change it just as quickly without unclamping anything. Does that wedge thing really hold the work well or do you get wobble or vibration when planing an edge? –Korg, via Knots
Answer: The wedge is a very old and traditional way of holding boards on edge for hand planing, it doesn’t need any extra clamping. For work like cutting dovetails on an upright board you can use the two clamps and a wood jaw inserted through the front apron of the bench to hold the work solidly in place.
The two long clamps running down the length of the bench work exactly the same way as a tail vise and were specifically designed to hold panels for surface planing. -JW
Benchtop Finish Options: Varnish, Shellac, Oil?
Question: I am thinking ahead ’till when I have my workbench (New-Fangled design from 1999 Fine Woodworking) done and thinking of finishes for the top. I want something that will keep the wood as light as possible in color. The shop teacher at the school I work at uses Liquitex Gloss Medium and Varnish. His tables look great and they hold up to student abuse. Any other suggestions? -mycoleptodiscus, via Knots
Answer: Your varnish solution sounds great. I used shellac. As a matter of fact I re-did my top about two months ago…in about an hour more or less. -BG, via Knots
I second the shellac choice. Since it drys so quickly, it can be scraped off and reapplied easily, as needed. -tms, via Knots
I’m not happy with shellac as a benchtop finish. When (not if) I spill alcohol on the top, the shellac softens & it gets messy. I use leftover BLO/poly/MS on my benchtop. Easy to reapply & isn’t affected by solvents. -BarryR, via Knots
I prefer to oil my bench tops (something like BLO or Watco). Then I wax it now and then — mainly so that any glue will flick off.
I think shellac would be fine too, since you can rub it out with alcohol at any time to reconsitute the finish and apply another coat.
I would, however, avoid any film finish — such as varnish — since it will scratch. And the only way to refinish it is to completely strip off the varnish and recoat. -nikkiwood, via Knots
More detail on leg assemblies
Question: I feel comfortable that I can build an acceptable version of the NFWB from the information in the article. I appreciate the steps that you have taken to allow for wood movement so that the bench remains rigid and does not self-destruct.
It is not clear to me, from the article, how the top is fastened to the leg assemblies. Can you give me a clue? Am I missing something? -DavidFromGuilford, Ask the Experts
Answer: If memory serves, there is a top piece on the legs, more or less a 2×4 and a similar piece mounted on the underside of the bench top near either end. They simply sit one on top of the other with a half dozen sheet rock screws driven through the leg piece up into the top piece.
Where’d you get the clamps? And can it stow a lathe away?
Question: I have looked at your workbench from FWW #139, and think it looks like a very nice and practical design. My plan is to build one myself and I have a couple of questions.
1. Where did you get the clamps and the drop-in vise jaws that you used? If you have any idea of European or Swedish source, that would be excellent, but US-based will also do.
2. I have a small table-mounted lathe that I would like to ‘hide’ in the workbench. The current idea is to put it on a board with hinges and then be able to just lower it down in the backend of the workbench, so it is out of the way when not used. But I am concerned about – having it in the backend would be a very uncomfortable working position; – hinges on the top of the workbench; – etc. Haven’t found a real good solution yet – do you have any suggestions? -TommySweden, via Knots
Answer: The clamps are made by an American company called Jorgensen. They are commonly available here in stores and in catalogs. What you want are their “Pony” brand bar clamps for 1/2 inch pipe, model number 52. If you do a web search, you will find numerous suppliers in the U.S and Canada. Pipe clamps are a very old design, there may be someone closer to home that makes something similar.
Be aware that you will also need the proper sized black iron pipe which you probably won’t find in Europe, and that 1/2 inch pipe is a nominal size, it is actually larger in diameter, .840 inches, and the pipe will have to be threaded on the end that the screw portion attaches to.
For the lathe I would suggest attaching it to a base that would either fit down in the well with the panels removed, or you could mount the lathe on a larger base that would position the lathe close to the front of the bench. If the base extended back to the well area you could clamp it down with the well clamps.
Pins for the front clamps?
Question: I am trying to build the New-Fangled Workbench by John White. He uses speed pins to hold the front clamps in place and I can’t figure out where to get them. Anyone know? -kenf55, via Knots
Answer: I think I’ve seen something like that in the “specialty fasteners” section of Lowe’s. If not there, then a Tractor Supply store, if you have one nearby, should have them. If all else fails, McMaster-Carr has every kind of pin you can imagine. –saschafer, via Knots
Found mine at the local building supply outfit – in the fasteners section, in those stacked trays/boxes. …The ones I chose are, I think, better than what John used: can’t now recall what they are called, exactly, but they are 1/4 dia., have a small split ring at one end to grab hold of, and a little spring loaded ball bearing to keep it from falling out. They were available in several different lengths.
They work great. -RDNZL, via Knots
Question: I’m considering building the pipe clamp workbench and have a few questions. Does the front top portion (~3=”) provide enough support to resist downward pressure from tasks like cutting mortises or chopping dovetails?
I was considering building inverted open or u shaped boxes for the top instead of L shaped ones. The sides would have rabbets the top fit into. One problem would be the planing plank would be able to come up flush with the bottom of the top. Does my approach seem unreasonable or overkill?
Most similar designs I’ve seen also have the much larger portion of the top at the front of the bench not the back. any reason you placed the larger portion at the back?
How may positions do you recommend for the front vise and any reason you didn’t place it at the far right side of the front like most traditional benches?
Thanks for your help and time. -Randy11, via Ask the Experts
Answer: I’m building one of the “John White – New Fangled Workbenches” at the moment.
Once it is built and you are standing in front of the bench, you will appreciate the fact that the “clamp well” is as close to the front of the bench as it is. If it was any further to the rear of the bench, I would be bending over to work on jigs and work clamped. So I believe that it is well designed. (I too had some concerns about how well the bench would fit my needs, so I have built it as cheaply as possible … thinking of it as a prototype. However, now that it is almost finished … I think that it will suit my needs and will now not need to build another.)
I have another bench for heavy duty use, so I never intended to use my bench for chopping, etc … which I think may cause problems with the “Dry Wall screw type joinery”. Having said that, I’m confident that it will serve me well planing, holding my routing jigs secure, clamping, sharpening, sawing, chiseling etc.
Before building this project I spent 2 months searching the web for similar ideas for benches. I then spent 6 weeks recovering from surgery and used that time to further think through the building of Mr. White’s Bench. I now acknowledge that the things that appear to be “light weight” are actually designed that way for a purpose. It is not until you think through how you will use the bench that you come to understand this. i.e.. I don’t think that your modifications to the front are necessary – since the purpose of the heavier front on other benches is to keep the work piece at 90 degrees – and the planing beam achieves this purpose. (I now think that a whole book could be written on the subject of this bench.)
Thanks again to John White and Fine Woodworking. The fact that there wasn’t a detailed plan actually helped me to get much more out of this project. -Balls, via Ask the Experts