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Through various circumstance changes we had to re-allocate rooms in the house which gave me the oppotunity to build a work bench in what will become a workshop come storage area. The bench is made from 3x2 with 25mm mdf top (flippin' heavy) and is 2400mm x 800mm (8 foot x 31") with a shelf underneath made from the remaining mdf ( originally 8x4 sheet.) The corner support pieces will be glued to the top and then screwed into the frame, And the front 120mm Apron was glued to the frame which really stiffened up the whole thing. Everything else is screwed. In the 3rd pic you will see three dog holes in the vice face piece which accept the dowels from the Ash strip in the 4th pic, this enables pieces to be secured whilst planing. I installed the vice 25mm below my original plan due to brain fog but it works fine. There is a lot of room to add other components as and when I think or see something I like. And it was finished with three coats of Patina.
No two workbenches are created equally, and a surprising number of details fundamentally alter their suitability despite (what might at first seem) superficial differences. Of course, a humble Black & Decker Workmate might not easily be comparable to a 16ft French-style Oak bench or even the dining table, however they can all be examined using the same criteria of, "what is useful to us as luthiers?". I think we can agree that this is far from ideal for working during winter on the patio (Source: Black n Decker) Go and do a quick Google Image Search for "luthier workbench" and briefly browse the thumbnails. Absorb a bit about what you see; we'll come back to that again later. The reason I recommend this is that I have noticed numerous shortcomings in most people's workbenches, even those of established luthiers. It might not seem immediately apparent at this stage what the problems are, but we'll gradually illustrate that.... Primarily, most luthiers have learnt to "make do" with existing solutions that originally evolved to solve other woodworkers' problems. Sometimes this is out of necessity (any workbench is better than none!) but often we just don't recognise that traditional workbench styles are inadequate for the needs of a luthier. Smart luthiers spend much of their time adapting ideas to better suit their own work, or creating entire new ones. A luthier's work is uniquely demanding in comparison to that of a furniture woodworker, kitchen fitter or patternmaker. Not recognising these demands and reacting on them by tailoring the functionality, ergonomics, efficiency, safety, etc. of the work area sets up larger problems waiting to happen. The work area has to be made to work in your favour; not left with the default settings and allowed to cause you more problems than it solves. At the low end of the scale a poor work area causes beard-stroking and time-wastage. At the catastrophic end, errors are made, general work quality suffers, risks taken and money is lost. Dedicating thought into improving your work space impresses itself on the quality of your output and on your sanity. Fundamentally, we just need to break down why benches are configured the way they are, the uses this configuration serves and then re-engineer ideas from the ground upwards. No one "real" luthier's workbench configuration exists since we gradually mould our working habitat around the needs of the work itself. No two luthiers have the same working processes, preferences or range of experience so it is impossible to hope that "one-size-fits-all". Regardless, the process of detailing a generalised design driven by general luthiery tasks should illustrate how simple it is for any individual luthier to evaluate their needs and craft their own solution. After we've broken down the purposes of workbenches a little bit, we'll go back to that Google Image Search with new eyes. Hopefully you'll be able to spot which benches are less than ideal, and which ones are truly inspired. ------ Dining room warriors About all luthiers, modifiers, tinkerers, etc. have worked off the dining room table at some point in their careers, and most people reading this might still be doing that. When did you last change strings or carry out a setup on the dining table? There's absolutely nothing wrong with making do with what is available, especially when options are at a premium because of money, space, etc. Working off a simple flat surface is vital to luthiers of all levels whether it's the dining table or a carpeted 2x4 frame bench. Using a table in the home may not offer reasonable access to tool storage, ideal lighting conditions, workholding options or a sacrificial surface but it shares many points in common with a work area that a luthier would benefit from. Dining tables tend to be free of clutter, they sit at a height which is idea for seated close-up work, there is freedom to move around it, etc. Many excellent guitars wouldn't exist if it weren't for delicate negotiation with one's spouse to utilise them. This is not me advocating that you move out of the workshop and migrate back into the home however. Simply, it emphasises that we need good clear and clean space. A poorly-organised workbench that encourages disorder and sloppiness is a magnet for Bad Times. Traditional bruisers At the other end of the scale are the workbenches that populate many "fine" woodworkers' workshops, schools and old-school shops. My first explorations in workbench design started in this very same territory. Christopher Schwarz' excellent, "The Workbench Design Book" inspired me to build my own French-style workbench from solid Birch. Despite a traditional woodworker's bench being very useful for the non-guitar work I was doing at the time, it reinforced how well-suited it is at doing the tasks it originally evolved for; hand tool working the faces, ends and edges of large rectangular things! Applying luthiery tasks to this workbench just highlighted its lack of finesse, unless I really wanted a flat rectangular instrument. Most of the time it only provided me with a useful flat area to work on....which isn't that much of a step up from the dining table example is it? Big bruisers like my several-hundred kilo Roubo excel at providing an unmoving structure which won't rock, slide or react to having a hundred-kilo gorilla driving wide jointing planes down workpieces secured to it. We rarely need to exert that much force on anything we do making or repairing guitars! Even planing the sides of neck-through blanks or facing lumber by hand. More than likely when I set up a new working space, the Roubo will become a base for securely holding larger jigs such as the router thicknesser bed or even the Myka neck jig. Fundamentally, its uses are just too coarse for guitar work and it's the wrong height for eating dinner. Typical French "Roubo"-style workbench for working the face, edges and ends of boards (Source: 3D Warehouse) Workbench styles evolve from the pressures of the work expected of them. A Black Forest cuckoo clock maker's bench is radically-different from that of wooden gate maker. Shoehorning a bench whose DNA is fundamentally different to the task at hand means that everything becomes a series of compromises and workarounds to get even the simplest job done efficiently and correctly. A hammer isn't really the best tool for driving a screw. Fundamentally, the Roubo grew to satisfy the requirements of pre-industrial hand tool users working on large heavy (generally flat and/or long) boards. The same rough arrangement exists today in commercial woodworking benches, such as those in the core range from Sjöbergs: Sjöbergs Elite 1500 model bench. A more practical size, but not the workholding we need. (Source: Sjöbergs) Whilst being a little more universal than the Roubo, the underlying configuration of Sjöbergs' standard benches is more or less identical; designed to work on face, edges and ends by hand. The front vise might seem useful at first glance, however it will likely spend more time as an obstacle than being in use, and ultimately is designed for holding non-guitar shaped things. The wide tail vise in combination with the dual bench dog rows is more useful for routing operations on flat pieces, however simpler workholding arrangements exist and the ergonomics may not be ideal. As a turnkey bench, these would get you in the ballpark however I would have a difficult time rationalising the hacking and deconstructing necessary to my thousand-plus workbench to make it do what I wanted it to. Ergonomics How do you decide on the height of your workbench? Do you spend more time sat or stood around it? Traditional benches are surprisingly low; mostly due to their expected tasks requiring a wide and powerful stance. Physical tasks such as hand planing (especially with old tall wooden planes) benefit from a lower bench than relatively static standing jobs such as hand routing. Pleasantly, the Sjöbergs bench weighs in at an ideal height of around 36" which is also somewhat odd given that this makes it almost too tall for a good planing stance. It is however about the correct height for seated work such as soldering and other fine work. Unlike many other bench aspects, raising the height is not usually too onerous, especially given how transformative 2" can be to a bench you spend any length of time hunched over. Designs with foot stretchers such as the Sjöbergs are difficult to lower however. Workholding Workholding is an enormous topic which we'll partially cover in part two of this series, whilst introducing design aspects for a more usable luthier's bench. For the moment it is sufficient to say that guitars are rarely (if at all) comfortable being secured using the vises and clamping methods designed for handling rough semi-finished wood that is more or less of square dimensions. We are needing to fit our delicate guitar-shaped pegs into somewhat rectangular shaped holes, however the vast majority of workbench designs - both commercial and traditional - do not entirely satisfy our needs. We need better ways of stopping our work dancing around the table. A more universal productive luthier's bench should be capable of holding necks and bodies in all states of the process firmly yet safely whilst offering free workpiece access from any angle we choose....all without devices and whatnot cluttering up the valuable flat real-estate around our bench. In part two, we'll look at how we can move beyond this by making our benches smarter. ------ Post photos of your own workbench in the comments below! We'd love to hear exactly how everybody arrived at their own bench designs, the troubles you experience with it or the problems you solved!
This is a work in progress....my main posts will be formed with the final intention of this becoming more of a permanent article on the main site. Wider user input is encouraged as it would be fantastic to broaden the article scope to include the experiences and knowledge of other PG members. Talk about your work area, please! If any of the thread seems somewhat unformed or unfinished, the chances are it is in the process of being edited :-) This article is being written with the intention of documenting my personal build of a heavy-duty workbench and to explore the subject of productive working areas as a wider subject. Fundamentally my bench will be configured for general woodworking use with certain aspects taking into account the demands of luthiery. Although almost all of the design decisions have been laboured over prior to any of this being written I decided not to present the bench as a simple "build project" and instead to explore the design pressures and describe the wider subject matter of workbenches. The estimated cost for my the project itself is low compared to many off-the-shelf workbenches however it does not skimp on the factors that make it more than an "expensive wood table"! The major factors in keeping cost down are purely related to the choice and availability of materials in the quantities, dimensions and quality required. Although the rationale will be outlined later, it is just as justifiable to use inexpensive constructional Pine as it is to use Hard Maple or other similarly costly woods. Equally relevant, the choice of workholding hardware can affect the final figure more than the wood itself....much the same as an electric guitar build! -------- I realised that I needed my own workbench because my current working environment is not a permanent one and changes depending on daily needs and usage. The quality and consistency of personal projects is definitely affected by this as every time I need to move workpieces and set up my working area it invites accidents with workpieces, stock and tools. Not good! Pretty much all of the requirements a workbench would need were right there in front of me. It can't take up massive amounts of space but needs to be large enough to handle my work confidently whilst maintaining a degree of portability instead of being a permanent edifice. These seem like completely incompatible requirements unless careful consideration is taken into balancing them out correctly. Oh, the fun! My initial introduction to the field of fine woodworking benches was through the publications, writings and musings of one Christopher Schwarz. Researching further into projects Christopher's writings have inspired (or have had reference made to) revealed a polarised set of opinions, some unfairly devaluing his work as overly fundamentalist and dogmatic (isn't this a positive definition for those who preserve valuable traditions?), many who formally copy his work to the letter and others who just vaunt the (largely similar) works of other authors. So anyway. The dogmatically fundamentalist work that Christopher HAS done regardless of overcritical online piddlings produced a fantastic pair of books on the subject with much additional materials in his blog posts and other online resources. The first of the books purely describes the detailed construction of an established and very useful 17th-century design and the second more of the rationale behind workbench design along with many other specific bench configurations. The second book is the one I will refer to more than as not. In "The Workbench Design Book" (Google book preview available that link), Christopher goes to some lengths in underlining how the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many (hah) and how defining pressures are paramount to decisions made in a personal bench design. Are you a hand planer? Do you cut lots of dovetails? Do you need to knock your bench down for mobility? Are you a powertool user? Are you working on something as small as a nut or lighthouse walls? Is the bench going to be shared with other people? If anything, this blows accusations of narrow-minded dogmatism out of water.... Not all of us are gifted with the luxury of an excess of space. Some of us - myself included at present - work in shared space where items are often moved into temporary locations which change as the demands do. I am sure that we would all love the opportunity of having a beautiful 12ft length of beautifully-planed French Oak (or five) sat in the best naturally-lit space(s) in a shop with wooden floors for our sole attention. Perhaps some of us do! In that respect I guess I should point out that I am not intended to identify the "ideal" workbench for all luthiers. Surely such a thing does not exist and any attempt to assert to the contrary is bound to fail. Hopefully by the time this article matures, the broad majority of circumstances and setups amateur and regular luthiers will benefit from will be discussed and explored. The overall point being to describe what works, why and for whom certain ideas will be of the most benefit....not just those for my own bench! I warmly encourage others to fill in the blanks or correct me where my knowledge fails me. So let's sit down with an Irish Coffee and look at where this journey is going to take me, why specific decisions were made (or yet to be made given that at the time of writing the project is yet to make-wood-smaller) and how this can be extended into making or upgrading your own workspace....