A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my preferences when it comes to the shape of a bench dog and now I’m going to elaborate a little and cover some points about the choice of material.
I’d thought about comparing the options with a list of pros and cons but then realised this doesn’t really weight them in terms of importance and makes for a pretty obvious and barely helpful post. Instead I’ll just babble a bit about my thoughts and who knows, perhaps you’ll be better placed for making your choice.
Always keep in mind that bench dogs of both metal and wood are used daily and each has there fans so whichever way you decide to go you can’t go too far wrong.
Since I supply a pair of dogs with each of my workbenches I suppose that must give some indication to my preference – I always supply metal. My reason for this: with anything that I send out to my customers I want to be confident that it will last well.
Secondly I can purchase metal dogs but can’t purchase wooden. After building a workbench knocking up a couple of dogs is hardly the most challenging part and since I need a lot they could be made quickly and in a huge batch. This would add another process for me though and if I can buy something that lasts much better then metal has become my obvious choice.
So metal dogs can be bought and there’s no reason they won’t last a lifetime – that ticks the boxes for me. But what if you only need a couple for yourself and really don’t mind spending the time to replace them every now and then – well then wooden dogs will save you some money and that can only be good! If you make your own bench dogs then you have the ability to make them as long or as short as you need to suit your top thickness and this can be especially useful if your top is upwards of 4” thick.
Of course the other reason that many people opt for wooden dogs is because they fear putting a lump of steel in the path of their plane blade and this is a very valid point! If you accidentally pelt your plane in to a steel dog then you could find yourself in need of a good long sharpening session or worse. I should add that in all the time that I’ve hand flattened boards I’ve never (yet) hit a dog. Dogs will support the work without needing to raise them close to the top of the board so if you’re mindful of the dog height there’s no reason you should ever hit one. As a beginner though you’re perhaps more prone to hitting a dog until the habit of checking sets in.
It’s important to note that I opt for brass bench dogs – this acknowledges this issue since the soft metal would come off worse if you hit it and a quick touch up at the sharpening stones would rectify any damage done.
Ultimately there’s no clear cut answer but I hope you’ll find my thought’s useful. Just to finish up I’ll add an historic perspective. Square, steel bench dogs used to be the most common since years ago hardware would generally be made at the forge and hammering a nice fitting square dog would have been easiest. Since craftsmen earned their living at their bench it was all about pace and when you’re doing a lot of planing a wooden dog might not last too long so steel it was. It isn’t hitting a dog that would likely ruin it but if you plane aggressively and hit a big knot then the action will jar and if a dog isn’t holding tight enough the board could twist and result in splitting a wooden dog.