Making a Workbench

Monday 9 July 2018

This time we meet the Barnsley boys as they get to work on making new workbenches. Craftsman Tutor Stephen Rock explains the Barnsley Workshop principles behind the work: “We have recently been upgrading the benches in the workshop. The old benches, which had seen decades of service, needed improving. They were not as sturdy as they once were. Old benches are too low because they were designed for people who wanted a lower bench suited to lots of hand work. Working on their own bench is a good experience for our apprentices and it gives them a sense of ownership. We had an opportunity to have a rethink of the bench design as well. Some notable features on our new benches are:

– Flat underneath to suit F-clamps, with no drawer under the top

– A fixing for a beam on the front face to support long workpieces on edge when held in the front vice

– Substantial long front and back rails to make the whole bench really stiff

– Flat front, ie legs, flush with front edge of bench top

– No tool well in order to have more bench surface and to encourage tidy work habits

Around 1m high works for most people doing our sort of work; 2m long x 0.6m deep is a size that fits our workshop layout.

We retained a tail vice because we've grown used to them. The tail vice mechanism used is from Dieter Schmid at www.fine-tools.com and the vice with a (short) 350mm opening was 96.64 Euros.

We chose this vice mechanism because it is a complete kit made to a pretty good standard. We have made tail vices completely from wood in the past but found they take longer to install. We chose the shorter 350mm length to keep the bench overhang shorter.”


1 Nat tackles the glue-up and assembly…

2 …of mortise and tenoned end frames

3 For cramping up end frames note that we are using T-section cramps as they are big joints that need adequate pressure. Also note the blocks between the workpiece and clamp bar to prevent iron staining

4 Nat checking for twist in the legs which could be the result of uneven pressure from clamps

5 Josh glues up the front section to the already jointed main bench top

6 Nat is using a previously drilled guide block to drill dog holes in the bench. The guide blocks were drilled on a drill press for accuracy. We use round bench dogs bought from Axminster Power Tools which fit a 19mm hole. They work well. The holes are quicker to make than rectangular slots. They are also good for holding

unusually shaped pieces. A range of accessories is compatible with these holles

7 Rob checking alignment of the tail vice assembly. The apprentices have received safety training and do all their own machining now. Gone are the days of hand planing every piece of timber, but knowledge of hand-planing and grain type will inform their machining decisions

8 Here the upper part of the tail vice block is upside down. Dominoes are used to aid alignment. Biscuits are great at aligning two surfaces, for example when joining boards on a tabletop. They cut joints that go together easily because some lateral adjustment is built in. The slots are a bit longer than the biscuits. Absolutely no play was wanted so tightly fitting Dominoes were the answer

9 Here it is reversed and being trial fitted.

10 Rob is using the Domino jointer to cut alignment holes

11 The back plate of the tail vice mechanism attached to the bench top using No. 5 x 45mm Supascrews

12 The tail vice mechanism fitted to the bench top

13 Addition of part of the timber blockwork around the mechanism. This wooden box encases the metalwork and will have five dog holes

14 The finished tail vice part open to show the backplate

15 A completed bench