This is 15 helpful woodworking Bench Design Tips, your guide to designing the perfect bench for your workshop. If you’re thinking about making a custom woodworking bench, these concepts and ideas will be very helpful to you. Enjoy.
Designing Your Dream Workbench
One of the most fun things that you’ll ever do in woodworking is designing your woodworking bench. This is the foundation upon which you will build all of your future projects, and it’s a point of pride to work on a well-made bench.
It’s also a point of pride that you made the bench yourself. Thankfully, the process is not very difficult, and it uses all the same tools that you are accustomed to using anyway. That’s good news, and you can really have a lot of fun in the design process.
It’s in the idea and creation phases that you get to experiment with all the amazing things a woodworking bench can be. Since it’s all theoretical, and on paper, the sky is the limit so just have a good time with the process.
You can always add or subtract things later, and there is no penalty for eracing and changing your mind on some of the features. Use the tips that are coming up in your design process, and you can end up with a wooden bench that you are extremely proud of.
Carpenters Bench Making Tips
Here are all of the tips, so that way you can see what’s coming, and browse through them for the sections that are the most interesting to you. I will going to each one of them in detail coming up, so that you understand everything you need to do.
None of these ideas is difficult, and every one of them will help you make a better woodworking bench. Browse the list, then continue on to read the details.
- Pick the Right Size for the Space
- Design With the Project in Mind
- Decide on the Right Vises
- What Layout is Perfect for You
- Choosing the Correct Bench Height
- Additional Important Features
- Drawers Make Excellent Storage
- Choosing the Wood Species
- Making an Economy Bench
- Making an Expensive Bench Pitfalls
- Construction Methods and Choices
- Consider How to Take it Apart
- Avoid a Mega Bench
- Avoid a Deep Bench to Stop Back Problems
- Avoid Overly Thick Finishes
See Also: A Beginners Guide to Woodworking
Pick the Right Size for the Space
First and foremost, it’s important to pick the right size bench for your space. The amount of space that you have to work and can vary wildly from woodworker to woodworker, and it’s important that you pick a bench that can fit well.
Evaluate the space that you work in, and decide how much of it you’re willing to give up in order to have a nice carpenter’s bench. Pay attention to the phrase give up. Since the bench occupies floor space, you do lose that space in your shop when you introduce the bench.
If floor space is already at a premium, then consider that factor when you start creating your designs. The last thing you want to do is import a bench that is far too large for your space, even if the bench itself isn’t overly big.
If you restrict your space too much, you can end up not enjoying the bench to its full potential. It could also end up just being in the way, or end up being used as storage because you don’t have enough space.
The same thing would work for a bench that is too small for the space. You might end up using larger tables or prep areas instead of your bench. This is obviously a waste, because you’re going to spend a decent amount of time making the project.
Use your size as a guide, and decide right away how much space you are willing to relinquish too house your new workbench. If you have plenty of space, you can go a pinch larger. However, if your space is restricted, consider making something that’s not very intrusive.
Design With the Project in Mind
Another design aspect it’s very important when making a bench is to look at the projects you normally make. The projects that you make are what you really enjoy doing, the bench is just another tool to get you there.
Don’t focus so narrowly on the bench design that you forget about the projects which really make you happy. The last thing you want is to have a bench that’s very functional for one thing, and not really suited well for the type of project that you make.
This would be considered a failure. Make sure that your workbench is crafted specifically for your brand of woodworking. It can have some future proof features that you just add to the design but don’t necessarily need.
However, at a bare minimum it needs to have your required features. In the end, when the excitement of the bench wears off, you’ll be happy that it’s a very good place to build the projects that you really love.
Decide on the Right Vises
Vices are the cornerstones for any good woodworking bench. They also need to be cornerstones in your design. Even if you don’t necessarily use a vice in your woodworking, you should consider one as a method of future proofing your bench.
There are so many intricate and exceptional vice designs in the world, and it’s a real pleasure to go through them and see what they offer. That being said, you don’t need to do anything that’s overly elaborate or expensive on your workbench.
One of the simplest vise designs that is also one of the most versatile is the front vice. This is very simple to make, and you can even buy a hardware kit if you don’t feel like making it. Either way you go, you’ll have a good way of holding material on your bench.
If you decide that vises are just not your thing, then at least design the bench in a way that you could add one in the future if you need to. Most of the time, a front vice can go right on the front edge of any bench.
Plan for the location, and at least save that tiny piece of real estate for a little while until you absolutely know you don’t need it. This is going to be for the rare woodworker out there, as most woodworkers can use a nice front vice for a number of different operations.
See Also: Homemade Front Vise
What Layout is Perfect for You
Along with different designs, there are different layouts. Most benches are shaped like long rectangles, however you can do other shapes as well. You can also define your layout by the location of the vices, or other assistive parts.
Maybe you work with longer pieces of timber, and you need a longer bench in order to complete that kind of joinery. That’s OK, and that’s the nice thing about designing your own bench. You get to make exactly what you want, and choose your length.
Maybe you’re a jewelry maker, and you only need a small work space in front of you but you need a lot of space for storage and tiny drawers. If that’s the case, your layout might be a lot more compact right around the area that you work, and then have a bunch of drawers in the back.
One of the best ways to see what’s out there is to go online. Search handmade woodworking bench, or traditional woodworking bench design in Google image search and see what comes back. You will find quite a bit of inspiration, I promise.
Incorporate some of these ideas in your design. Make sure the layout is something that makes sense for you, and the projects you make. That way, you know the bench will serve you well once you finally start working with it.
Choosing the Correct Bench Height
Workbench height is an interesting subject. It’s entirely subjective, and what one person likes, another person may not. That’s OK though, because again it’s all about what you want in your shop for your bench.
As a general rule, benches that are taller are better for fine work that doesn’t require a lot of pressure. In contrast, work that does require a lot of pressure or leverage is better suited on a shorter bench.
This just comes down to body mechanics, and it’s very easy to push down on something that is below you, because you can add body weight and leverage. In contrast, if you need to to apply a lot of pressure to something that is the height of your chest, it can be harder.
Also, for fine work you don’t want to have your work way below you, otherwise you could end up hunched over and uncomfortable. For something like this, it’s better to raise the work up so that you can sit more naturally or even stand more naturally.
If you’ve never experimented with height before, I recommend trying to work at a few different areas that are a few different heights. This doesn’t have to be anything crazy, you can go from a dining table to a counter top and then to another surface.
Try to spend at least an hour working at that height, and see how your body reacts. There might be one that is significantly worse or better than the other, and this experiment will help guide you in the right direction.
Though I don’t recommend it as much is actually doing first hand research, you could also look at a bench height chart online with a simple Google search. If you don’t really care to experiment, just pick a standard height based on your own height, and build it that way.
Additional Important Features
When you design a woodworking bench, you also have the opportunity to make it as feature packed as you want, or make it as minimal as you want. A bench can be very raw, or it can be the equivalent of a Swiss Army knife with features.
In the beginning, I recommend that you go more towards the modest side when it comes to features, or even aim for simple. Trying to pack every feature in the world into a single project can extend the build time quite a bit.
However, if you’re confident builder and you don’t mind the extra work, then add as many additional features as you want to make the bench uniquely yours. These can range quite a bit depending on what you make, but they will all add function to your bench.
Drawers Make Excellent Storage
One of the most overlooked things on a woodworking bench is drawers. Drawers are amazing for storage, and they can keep all of the tools that you use the most often right at your fingertips. This is super useful, and thankfully it’s really easy too.
The most common place for drawers is right underneath the center of the workbench, between the two legs that hold the bench up. You can put them in other places of course, but this is the most common, and you have a large wide-open space.
Design some drawers that are not too wide so that way they are flimsy, but aren’t too narrow that you can’t get some of your bigger tools inside. Evaluate what tools you actually use at the bench the most, and plan your drawers to house them plus a little extra space.
Not only will putting all your tools at your fingertips make you a more efficient woodworker, it can actually make you a better woodworker two. You stress out a lot less when you’re not searching for your tools, and that makes you calmrr while you’re working.
A calm woodworker is a patient woodworker. A frustrated and stressed out, worried woodworker makes mistakes, which compounds the stress and frustration, and then pushes you into a really bad cycle.
Simply having what you need nearby, and operating in a clean environment can make a huge difference. If this sounds familiar, I really recommend putting drawers on your bench, and simplifying organizing your work space to make yourself happier.
Choosing the Wood Species
One of the last considerations for your bench is the wood species. Yes, I really mean one of the last, final, end of the process considerations is the wood species. Don’t put the wood on a pedestal, it’s way more important to get the function right.
If you had a well-designed carpenter’s bench that was made out of popsicle sticks, and that functioned really well, you would be more excited to use it rather than one made poorly out of the finest hardwood in the world.
The wood that you use is more of a ego thing, and it’s really to impress others versus add any real function. Yes, density and weight do make a difference, but those two things are small when compared to the set up, layout, and features.
That being said, also don’t let anybody pick on you about your wood choices. If you make a killer bench out of Pine, or two by fours, and it makes you happy, then don’t pay attention to what anybody else has to say. You did it right, and that’s all you need to know.
As far as actually picking out wood goes, traditional options include Beech, Maple, and other light colored hardwoods. You can really make a bench out of any hardwood that you like, and even softer species like Pine or Fir will work as well.
A workbench, especially one with the butcher block style top can eat up quite a bit of wood in the building process. If you have to make some compromises in the wood species in order to control the cost, then that’s what you need to do.
Don’t sacrifice design for wood choice. If it’s a matter of affording vice hardware or picking what you perceive to be a better species of wood, choose the vice hardware all day long. Again, it’s more about the function than the fashion.
See Also: How to Find a Good Woodworking Bench
Making an Economy Bench
If you are really into making an economical bench, I wrote an entire post about that, and I give a lot of great advice and ideas on how to accomplish it. That being said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with building a woodworking bench on a budget.
Woodworking as it is can be a very expensive hobby. Just the materials and tools can be enough to require you to take a little time and save. If you add a very expensive woodworking bench project to the mix, it could delay some of the projects really want to make.
It’s much better to do the things that excite you before the things that don’t. If a woodworking bench makes you happy, but doesn’t excite you as much as your main project, then look into the ways to make a bench in an inexpensive fashion.
Do what you need in order to get the functionality that you want, and then skip all the bells and whistles to save the money. You can always add things to it later, and that’s the beauty of being a woodworker. You’re never boxed in, and you can always change things.
See Also: Restoring a Workbench
Making an Expensive Bench Pitfalls
On the other hand, if you’re making a very expensive bench, there are a few things to think about before you start cutting. The biggest one is your personality type, and how you are going to interact with this bench once it’s done.
The last thing you want to do is create a bench that so nice and beautiful that you don’t use it. The whole point of having a workbench is having a tool, not an artifact. If you can’t bring yourself to hammer on it, or damage it, then it’s not useful.
Now I’m not advocating destroying your hard work, but it’s the equivalent of buying a Jeep and being afraid to get it scratched when you go off-road. That’s what the vehicle is meant for, just like your woodworking bench.
Another thing about a super expensive bench is that it will also tend to be a very time consuming bench. This means you can run the risk of running out of steam before you actually complete the project, which is worse than never starting.
Take all of that into consideration before you decide to go with an expensive or elaborate bench. Sometimes it’s much better to create something simple that gets completed and used properly rather than create something expensive that may never see the light of day.
Construction Methods and Choices
There are so many different construction methods to go through, that it would take an entire post all by itself and then some to cover them off. This is actually really good for you, because no matter your skill level there is some method that will be comfortable for you.
If you’re really nervous about making a laminated wood top, then just skip it. There are a lot of good instructions on making plywood tops from a few layers, and they can be just as good in the beginning.
If you don’t know your joinery very well, and you don’t want to use traditional joints on the legs and stretchers, then build them using screws and glue. You’re not going to lose any points, and as long as your bench is sturdy it really doesn’t matter.
It’s really important to find a construction method that you are comfortable with. It also needs to be something that can be done with the tools you already have. This way, you’ll have a better chance of finishing, and you’ll actually get to use your new workbench.
See Also: 7 Easy Woodworking Joints for Beginners
Consider How to Take it Apart
Within your building method, consider a way to take your bench apart. There may come a day where you need to move, and you don’t want to end up like the guy who built a boat in his basement and then couldn’t get it out when he was finished.
Most benches can come apart with the top and the base. This allows you to build a very strong base, and a very strong top, and then attach the two of them together. When it’s time to move, you pull a few bolts, the top comes off, and you move two independent pieces.
It’s really easy to design a bench this way, and it’s definitely worth it. When it does come time to change shops, it’s a simple matter of having somebody help you pull the top off, and then you just walk both pieces out to the moving truck.
Avoid Making a Mega Bench
Another tip that’s extremely important to know, is that you should avoid making a mega giant bench. I promise, it won’t make you happy. Not only will it not make you happy, but it will do a few other things that are not very good.
A mega bench is just going to take up too much space. You’ll be surprised at how your idea on paper explodes when you finally bring it into real life. What you thought would’ve been a decent size bench, ends up turning into a huge bench.
In the end, you you lose a lot of space. You also will eventually find out that you only use a small section of that bench, and the rest ends up being useless. Eventually, you’ll feel bad about making something so big, and it could be a bummer when you end up cutting apart that bench.
Avoid a Deep Bench to Prevent Back Problems
The further forward you been, especially at the waist because that’s where the height of the workbench typically is, it will start to put a strain on your lower back. Doing this repeatedly and it will make your back sore, and it will make your woodworking experience uncomfortable.
Eventually you’ll associate being uncomfortable with woodworking. This is obviously not something you want to do, because woodworking should be an enjoyable experience, not something that brings pain.
Take a look at all the classic designs, you’ll notice that 18 inches is right around the average. Anything deeper than that will cause you to lean too far forward, and cause strain on your lower back. Anything too much shallower than that is not enough space to work.
I promise that even though it sounds like a little bit of space, it’s actually more than you think, and you can get a lot done on a normal sized bench.
Avoid Overly Thick Finishes
Lastly, when you’re finishing your bench, avoid using finishes are overly thick or leave too much of a film. These kind of finishes could actually make it a little bit more difficult to work on the bench, and that’s definitely not the goal.
Instead of a very thick finish that can cause issues while you’re working, or flake off in funny spots, go for a very thin finish. Look for something that is close to the wood, and use a couple of thin coats only.
The goal of a workbench finish is to protect the wood, and bring out the natural beauty of the species that you chose to build with. You only need a very slight film, or layer in order to accomplish that goal. Anything else is just excess.
Some really heavy finishes, or finishes that you apply multiple times can make your project looks like it’s been dipped in plastic. Not only is this a bad look for your bench, it also will show a lot of wear very quickly, and make your bench look shabby.
One of the best finishes that you can use is wiping varnish. This is a thinned varnish product that goes on with a rag, and leaves an extremely thin layer of varnish. One or two coats of this, and your woodworking bench will look beautiful, and be protected.
See Also: 14 Easy Tips for Using Wiping Varnish
Time to Take Action
Your action plan for designing your woodworking bench is really simple, all you need to do is get out a piece of paper and get started. If you have a way to connect to the internet, start reviewing pictures of great workbenches with your paper in hand.
As you see things you like, start taking notes. These can be words, sketches, or anything else that helps you remember the things that you like. The point of the exercise is to get a lot of great ideas on paper.
Once you’re satisfied that you have a good amount of ideas, start to narrow them down to the ones that will actually be on your bench. At this point you can even start to draw a full schedule with the bench will look like with all of the ideas.
Remember the concepts that you’ve learned so far in this post, and keep them in mind as you’re creating your design. You will be very excited once you end up with your first sketch. It’s a lot of fun designing workbench, and I know you’ll enjoy it.
If you have any questions about the post, please post a question and I’ll be glad to answer them. Happy building.
- More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
- 7 Woodworking Books Available on Amazon
- Over 1 Million Words Published About Woodworking
- Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University
I receive Commissions for Purchases Made Through the Links in This Post.