Everyone knows a workbench should be rugged and massive, "the bigger the better." But some years ago I set out to build a firm yet semi portable stand for teaching and demonstrating. The little workbench that eventually evolved is now an indispensable part of my workshop. At first glance it looks like a traditional sculpture stand, and one might hastily conclude that it is too small, too frail and too tippy to be of general use to the woodworker-it simply doesn't look like a workbench. However, it does offer some noteworthy advantages.
First, it is tall. Most benches are 36 in. high or lower, but many-if not most-hand operations are more comfortable at a higher level. For me (I'm 6 ft.), a 42-in. bench makes all those little jobs like letting in an scotches on plate, carving out a fan, or cutting a dovetail, much easier.
For woodcarving, a top surface of 12 in. by 12 in. is ideal: small enough to work all around, yet large enough to handle a sizable sculpture. For general woodworking the dimensions can be increased to about 16 in. by 18 in. (as shown). Getting much larger subtracts more than it adds.
Making the top in two halves minimizes warping. High-density hardwoods such as oak, birch, maple and Beech about 1 in. thick is suitable. A one-piece top of I-in. hardwood plywood might also do nicely. Cross support cleats should also be hardwood and the top should be fastened with heavy wood screws, lag crews or carriage bolts. Be sure fasteners are well counter bored below the surface. On my first model set the screws flush with the surface and frequently hit those with carving chisels until I finally set them deeper.
The dimensions given here are only suggestions and can be modified for each person's specific needs. The key feature of the top is plenty of clamping edges all around. The middle area has holes to stick C-clamps or quick-set clamps up through. Making the top surface in two halves with an ample slot down the middle adds to this versatility. A carving screw can be put anywhere along the slot, or the slot can be widened in places for clamps. Any number of holes or recesses can be added to accommodate your favorite vies, bench stop or hold down.
A vertical apron on one side might be bothersome to the carver, but helpful to the cabinetmaker for clamping stock to work on edges. Put rows of holes in the apron for support pegs.
The base frame must be stable and rigid, and 2x4's or similar lumber will do nicely. Splaying the legs adds stability but is not absolutely necessary. I try to make the frame with as much unobstructed interior space as possible and with a bottom shelf as low as possible for piling weight on. The first bench I built is at home, and I weigh it down with bricks and stones because I happen to have them: bricks in the cellar shop, stones when I move the bench to the garage or backyard to carve in the summer. Lead would be ideal ballast.
Behind our little summer house on Cape Cod, my favorite carving place, I have another bench, built from wood recycled from the town dump. I enclosed the entire bottom assembly with plywood and once it was set in location, filled it with sand for ballast. Then I slowly poured in as much water as the sand would absorb. The bench has been in place for four years and is now settled in rock solid. Occasionally I water it. A plastic trash bag keeps the top dry when the bench is not in use.
see my other videos: http://youtu.be/WcabcevS-9s