Mail Order Workbenches

There are dozens of factory-made models available; we'll help you select the one that's right for your shop by Joe Wajszczuk

Most woodworkers would agree that the most important tool in any workshop doesn't require electricity or sharpening. The workbench doesn't make noise or draw attention to itself like a router or tablcsaw docs. But without a good bcnch, even the simplest operations become difficult or impossible. The workbench provides the flat, stable work surface that's critical for most layout and joinery work. It also offers clamping and hold-down capability for workpicccs of all sizes, for practically all woodworking operations.

While it's traditional for woodworkers to build their own workbenches, building one requires a sizable investment in material, machinery and time. If you consider your efforts better spent using a bench than building one, read on. The chart on page 10 lists specifications for 38 commercially available benches, ranging in price from $180 to almost $2,000. Find out which bench best meets your workshop needs.

Benchmarks

There's really no such thing as an "ultimate" workbench. A bcnch that works great in one shop won't necessarily be ideal in another. To find the right bcnch for your shop, you'll need to consider seven important factors:

The right size. Bench size is based on the length and width of the top. (Sec chart.) Bigger isn't always better when you're buying a bcnch. For example, if you're making small toys or doing delicate inlay work, you don't need a massive work-

Space savers. Small benches, such as the Sjobergs Compact Joiner's, are a good choice where space is limited.

Room for four. The Diefenbach Team bench is best suited to schools and larger shops.

bench. And even if you plan to work on larger projects, not every shop can house an 8~ft.-long bench. (See photos, above.) There should be standing room on at least two sides of your bench; clearance on four sides is best. To sclcct a bench size that's right for you, check your shop measurements against the top dimensions provided in the chart.

Comfortable working height. For hand-tool work, the benchtop should be about level with your wrist when your arm is at your side. This bench height is ideal for sawing, planing and other handwork because it enables you to exert good downward pressure on the work. If you work predominantly with power tools, consider a slightly higher bench for better visibility and control.

Most mail-order benches are between 33 in. and 35 V2 in. high. While they can usually be altered to add or subtract a few inches of height, only one bench lets you adjust the working height quickly and easily: the Sjttbergs adjustable-height. It has a unique pneumatic leg mechanism that can position the bench-top anywhere from 28 to 36 in. high. (See photo, below left.)

A thick top. You can expect to pay more for a thicker top, but the extra expense is usually worth it. Consider the abuse a top has to take—years of chopping, pounding and clamping pressure. And, since at some point your top is likely to need resurfacing, it s good to have a thicker slab to start with. Benchtop thicknesses vary from as little as 1 in. to as much as

4 in. Most benches are made of 1 '/2-in.- to 2 '/2-in.-thick wood, with a thicker edge banding (3 to 5 in.) for bench dogs, hold-downs, and extra rigidity. (See photo, below right.)

Most of the benches listed in the chart have tool troughs incorporated into the top. Troughs arc handy for keeping your most frequently used tools within easy reach; the downside is that this depression takes up some of your working surface area.

The heavier, the better. For general woodworking, buy the heaviest bench you can afford. A heavyweight bench can withstand all sorts of work—planing, chiseling, and sawing— without a shudder. Some of the larger models weigh in at 200 lbs. or more. Not surprisingly, these benches also tend to have thicker tops and, consequently, they're more expensive. Benches that weigh in at 90 lbs. or less are generally too light for serious handwork, unless they're bolted to the floor or weighed down with tools.

A good vise or two. Vises are what really transform a heavy-duty table into a valuable woodworking tool. On manufactured benches, you'll generally find two of the three different types of vises: face vise, tail vise and shoulder vise. (See bottom photos, page 12.)_

Face vises generally have wooden jaws with metal screws and guide rails. When mounted on the end of the bench, a face vise is referred to as an Mend vise." One drawback to this type of vise is that the guide rails keep you from clamping stock

Ulmia Bench Woodworking Images

Thick on top. A thick top and an even thicker edge, as on this Ulmia Professional, are indications of a high-quality bench.

Great legs. Sjobergs' adjustable-height workbench has a unique pneumatic leg mechanism for quick and easy height adjustment.

american woodworker ▲ 199 7 buyer's guide 9

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