Simple & Strong

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Old English WorkbenchWhen it comes to workbench design there’s a rule to suit us all. Keep it simple, make it strong.

Give any woodworker a French bench, an English bench, a trestle and a door fitted out with original Victorian handle bench… as long as they’re strong, they all work.
The same applies to vices. A twin screw, leg vice or quick release; we may all develop our favourite given the choice, but they each will do the job all the same.

What you don’t want is a Bambi; a rickety, wobbly concoction. And to my mind overcomplicating the design is even more crippling; very rarely is the complicated one the best.
I was the simpleton at school, but simpletons build the best bench.

Update: At the present time we’re not building any workbenches for sale, however we have many resources on this website that will help guide you with your own workbench build.

Our English Workbench Video Series takes you step by step through a traditional bench build, starting out with a discussion on choosing the ideal dimensions, demonstrations of how to cut the joinery, right through to flattening your workbench top and building the face vice from scratch.

If you’d like us to guide you through your build with detailed videos and PDF plans, then you can find full details for this Workbench Series here.

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19 Responses

  1. Chris Buckingham

    I think you are spot on with the “simple is best”, I have seen a number of simple benches down here in France, the one thing they all have in common is they are all very simple in construction, with a huge 4″ thick top, which is one thing you cannot reduce for simplicity, the bracing is always well thought out, and they stand solidly on robust legs, what more could you want?

    Reply
    • StephenMelhuish

      Richard,
      you are so, so right, i was in Italy last year and feared into a local woodworkers shop space where basic work was going on, nothing special, no cabinets to talk of but just honest workaday stuff, probably just for locals, the bench was so incredible simple, a huge slab of wood on top and some equally huge legs pinned into it with some wedges through the top and braced with some long rough wood below to stop the legs wobbling, that was it……just fabulous.
      Cheers
      Steve

      Reply
  2. John

    Hi Richard

    Perhaps I have come to expect too much but I when receive an email from you regarding a NEW blog I shouldn’t expect to see your chirpy face and antics……..but I do ….all good fun to watch in the past??
    All we receive is a few lines and not totally sure what point you are making……..life can be cruel.

    Regards John

    Reply
  3. Joe Laviolette

    Nicholson for life! All I want is mass, a planing stop, a place to smash hodfasts, and a crochet. Anything else is a luxury

    Reply
    • DenverGeorge

      That’s what I’m going to build a Nicholson next month. It’s going to be double ended as my shop buddy (my granddaughter) is left handed and I’m right handed. I’m thinking of dropping in the little Veritas wagon style clamp on either end. Also a crochet mount for both ends. Should be fun.

      Reply
    • enl

      The prettiest bench is the one that does its job well. Its like a bike: the best looking ones tend to be well proportioned for the job they do, without a lot of extra ‘fancy’ hanging off. Just like chrome doesn’t make a bike go faster, Mahogany and pearl inlay don’t make a bench work better. Just ends up looking tacky.

      Reply
  4. David Gladden

    Being an Englishman from a long line of Bench joiners I fully understand what it is you are saying but I would have to add that one yes this was the norm but at a time when every thing was done by hand and the most important thing was to make sure nothing moved when you was working on it hence the need for simple and strong, but now I find as with my workshop our work in centred around the saw table with I have as a centre Island, but still we keep the need for strong but I thing with so many power tools the simple side has gone.
    But just my thoughts, thanks

    Reply
  5. Richard Dick

    wonderful article I too was a simpleton in school and love your ideas thank you Richard

    Reply
  6. Johann

    I like the picture of this bench, it reminds me of my own. I have been intending to build myself a bench for 20 years, but there was one built against the wall in the building where I have my workshop when I moved in. The bench is just some planks nailed together on strut braces affixed the wall. It had a metal vice on the front. I drilled some holes for a hold fast, added a bench jack to the front, and have been using it ever since.

    Reply

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