Popular Woodworking 2007-06 № 162, страница 30

Popular Woodworking 2007-06 № 162, страница 30

These classic European workbenches were made from fine-grained steamed European beech. Shouldn't you do the same? Not necessarily. Choose a wood that is like beech is in Europe: stiff, inexpensive and plentiful.

Other woodworkers, tacking toward the sensible, use hard or soft maple for their benches, rationalizing that it is like the beech of the New World. And indeed, the maples have all the qualities of a good species for a workbench.

Maple is stiff, resists denting and can span long distances without much of a support structure below it. But so can other species. In fact, if you went by the numbers from the wood technologists alone, you'd build your bench from shagbark hickory, despite its difficult nature. Once you look at the characteristics that make a good species for a workbench, you'll see that white oak, Southern yellow pine, fir or just about any species (excepting basswood and the soft white pines) will perform fine.

■ Rule No. 4: Use a Tested Design

After you sketch out your workbench design but before you cut any wood, compare your design with historical designs of benches. If your bench appears to be a radical design or looks unlike anything built before, chances are your design is flawed.

I've seen workbenches with pneumatic face vises. Why? I've seen a workbench that had two twin-screw vises: One vise for the right end of the workbench that was matched to work with two long rows of dogs along the length

of the benchtop; and a second twin-screw vise on the face of the bench that was matched to two more rows of dogs across the width of the bench.

Now I'm certain that there are a few woodworkers who would really need this arrangement - perhaps someone who has to work on a circular tabletop on one end of the bench and a Windsor chair seat at the other. But for most people who build cabinets and furniture, this setup is redundant and neglects some critical bench functions.

■ Rule No. 5: The Overall Dimensions of Your Bench Are Critical

Your bench design cannot be too heavy or too long. But its top can easily be too wide or too tall. I think your benchtop should be as long as possible. Find the wall where your workbench will go (hint: Pick the wall that has a window). Measure that space. Subtract four feet from that measurement and that's a good length for the top. Note: The benchtop must be at least 5' long unless you build only small-scale items. Furniture-sized parts typically range up to 48" long and you want to support these fully with a little room to spare.

I've made tops that are 8' long. My next bench will be a 10-footer, the maximum that will fit in my shop. It is difficult to make or imagine a workbench that is too long. The same goes for thickness. It is the thickness that allows the top to be that long. If you make the top really thick (4" or more), then it will offer unerring support and allow you to build your bench without any support system beneath. The top can perch on the legs and will not sag under its own weight.

The width is a different matter. You can have a bench that is too wide for a one-person shop. I've worked on benches that are 36" wide and they have downsides. For starters, if you park them against the wall you'll have to stretch to reach the tools hanging on the wall. If you assemble projects on your bench, you will find yourself dancing around it a lot more than you should.

But there's more. Cabinetwork is sized in standard chunks. These sizes come from the human body; they aren't arbitrary. A kitchen's base cabinet is generally 24" deep and 341//2" high. This is important for a couple reasons. First: It means you don't really need a bench that's much more than 24" deep to build cabinets. With that 24" depth, you actually get some advantages, including the fact that you can clamp the cabinet to your bench from as many as three sides of your bench. That's dang handy. A deep bench allows you to clamp your cabinets to the bench on only two sides (with a couple exceptions). Here's the other thing to keep in mind: Kitchen cabinets are themselves a highly studied work surface. There's a good reason that kitchen cabinets are 24" deep. And it's the same reason you don't want your workbench much deeper either.

Now I'm not going to argue with you if you build really big stuff or have a bench that you share with another woodworker facing you; you might need more depth. But if you are like the rest

Here's proof that odd workbench designs are nothing new. This Hammacher, Schlemmer & Co. bench from an old catalog is a study in tool storage. I've seen one of these in person and I can say this: I would not want to have to build anything using it.

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