A workbench is a specialized table used by woodworkers. Among its key features are a flat, solid work surface and one or more means of holding work while being tooled.
There are many styles of woodworking bench, each reflecting the type of work to be done or the user’s preferred way of working. Most benches are heavy and rigid enough to keep still while a job is being done.
A woodworking vise holds work in its jaws, or compressed against a bench dog or holdfast. Holes to receive these stops or clamps are typically drilled in line with a vise in 3-4" intervals, with others added to the benchtop to serve various purposes.
There are two main locations for a vise (vice in UK English sp.) or vises on a workbench: on the front, a workbench's long face, known as a "front" ("face", or "shoulder") vise, and on the end, known as a “tail" vise. Either or both may be mounted on the right side of their face to allow a workpiece extending from them to be more easily worked by a right-handed person, though a common arrangement is with the front vise mounted on the left of a long side and the tail on the right side of the diagonally opposite end.
Probably the oldest and most basic method of holding the work is a bench dog, which in its simplest form is simply a peg or small piece of wood or metal wedged into a hole in the bench top that stands just above the surface, allowing a workpiece to be clamped between it and an adjustable dog on a face vise.
A form of bench dog, a traditional holdfast has either a curved or flat top. Its shank is slid loosely into a “dog” hole in the bench until the tip of its hook touches the work. It is set by hitting its top with a mallet or hammer, which causes the shaft to wedge tightly against the sides of the hole. A tap of its back side near the top releases it.
In addition to dog holes some workbenches have hardpoints, which are metal threads embedded in the wood. These allow convenient repeated assembly and disassembly of work jigs, and can be useful in other tasks.
Most workbenches are made from solid wood; the most expensive and desirable are made of solid hardwood, with tops laminated lengthwise in edge-grain butcher block fashion. Benches may also be made from plywood and Masonite or hardboard, and bases of treated pine and even steel.
There are trade offs with the choice of construction material. Solid wood has many advantages including strength, workability, appearance. A plywood or hardboard bench top has the advantages of being stable, relatively inexpensive. The practical drawbacks of a plywood or composite bench top are that they don't hold their corners and edges well, and they can't be resurfaced with a plane—something that is needed from time to time.
Maple is the traditional wood. Others used include beech and oak. A potential source for bench top material is old bowling alley lanes. These are usually made from thick, high-quality laminated maple.
The optimum size of a bench depends on the work to be done, space considerations, and budget. In general, bigger is better. An additional disadvantage of a smaller bench is that it is usually too light to resist heavy work without skidding around.
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