I have a great respect for Paul Sellers and especially for the amount of time that he puts it to encouraging hand tool usage. But I was pointed to a post on his blog today which I had mixed feelings on and I did find myself a little riled reading through.
There were two points which I took from it and the first I pretty much agreed with; a great demonstration with a well set and sharpened plane to show how it pulls itself in to the wood without the need to push down. I feel this is an important point to educate people on.
What puzzled me though was how the post used this to support an argument that there’s no need for a low bench height; I was confused as to how the two are connected.
Clearly Paul’s favourite height of 38″ suits his approach and methods perfectly but towards the begining of his video he calls low benches ‘ridiculous’ and this is the part that I feel needs further thought before everyone goes dismissing low benches completely. I’ve not heard of this ‘overhead planing’ which Paul refers to but I definatley feel that there’s a very important point which is being missed.
I can’t go fully in to planing techniques here but the main reason for having a low workbench is not for adding significant force downwards but to allow you to take the optimum stance for the heavier and more tiring work of say hand thicknessing.
Stance is the vital point here and the best way I can explain this is by asking you to imagine sliding a lightweight chair; since you won’t be expecting too much resistance you’re likely to stay fairly straight as you push. Think now about pushing something much heavier like a car, chances are you’ll stand your feet apart and bend your knees to ground yourself in preparation. The force doesn’t change direction between the two circumstances it’s just that there’s more of it to counter balance. If you don’t take this lower stance then your efforts to push the car would be far less productive and more tiring.
So bringing it back to planes – of course these should never feel anything like pushing a car but it’s the stance which I’m trying to emphasise here.
That finely set, well tuned No. 4 can be pulled successfully with a fairly straight stance. If you swapped it for heavily set jack plane to hog off more material then whilst it may still be possible to pull it along with the string, you would certainly struggle to get far without preparing to give it a much stronger pull and as a result you’re naturally going to lower your stance.
The heavier planing cuts of hand thicknessing will always require a little more downwards force as well but the main purpose of a lower bench height here is to keep your arms at the right height in relation to your body. If you’re having to raise them at all then you’ll loose a lot of strength and not only do you tire more quickly but it can also become painful on your back.
To say that a low bench isn’t ideal for fine work or joinery would be a very fair point to make but to simply say that low benches for woodworking are rediculous, well this makes a strong point without putting in any context or sharing a full understanding.
Whilst many people enjoy the speed of preparing their timber with machines before bringing in the hand tools there’s also a huge interest in stripping things right back and omitting the machines altogether. There are plenty of reasons to do this; space restrictions and noise for a start but the point is when someone is using a low bench it’s probably for good reason – if you think thicknessing boards all day with a hand plane would be tiring, consider doing it whilst depriving yourself of half your strength.
I’m hoping to clarify rather than confuse with this post and so I feel I should add something which I’ve said in the past. Bench height is not an exacting sceince and so you shouldn’t feel the need to become too consumed by it as an inch or two either way isn’t going to alter your experience. There are general things to bare in mind such as the lower bench being more suitable for heavy thicknessing and the taller for detailed joinery but then I know many craftsmen who sit and work off a stool! If you are looking for some basic guidlines then this old post may help but to be honest the best bench height is the height which works best for you – I’m sorry that isn’t definitive but woodworking is not a definitive subject.
Arthur van der Harg says
I absolutely agree! I used to get pain in my elbows from planing, in the tendons running along the outside. That is probably because my elbows were just too square and I couldn’t properly propel myself with my legs,, forcing me to use too much arm muscle. I shortened my workbench’s legs by about 7-8cm (say 3″) and my elbows no longer hurt. Now I just get tired 🙂
A plane does not need so much downward pressure that one needs to bring bodyweight to bear on the issue.
A well-tuned and sharpened #8 can be pushed with one finger and take a shaving. I think there’s a demo of this on David Savage’s site. It’s a bit of a woodworker’s parlor trick but it does demonstrate a few truths about sharp planes, getting out of the way of an iron plane, etc.
Arthur van der Harg says
I’ll have a look at his site, thanks for the pointer. Mind you, using body weight is not the reason I use my legs, I always use my legs when moving my center of mass. The pain in my arms did not come from pressing down but from pushing forward. I suffered from RSI some twenty years ago and I still need to make sure my wrists and elbows are properly positioned when used. Typing can give problems within minutes, and so can planing.
Cas Sedgwick says
Your thoughts on this subject are, as always, fair, balanced and thoughtful. I think on any given subject there is always a bit, or a lot, of subjectivity. Sometimes fancy is confused with fact when seen through the lens of bias and preference.
Jay Brown says
I agree as well. I am in the process of building a new bench which is lower than my current bench for this very reason. I to do all hand tools and have found that by lowering my bench 2 inches will help out greatly. I have just stumbled on to your website and I find both the material and presentation “cracking” I hope I used that right. Thanks for the work and presentation that you do and please keep up the great work. The baton holddown trick as well as strait drill jig still have me punching myself for not thinking of it. Really has helped. Thanks again from the other side of the pond.
Very well said. For all that Paul does for the world of hand tools and woodworking, it is articles like the most recent that can be the most confusing. I could easily see someone coming away from Paul’s recent post thinking they need no downward pressure at all. But, that would also mean a plane on its own with only horizontal movement can plane a board flat, and that isn’t true either. Some downward pressure must be used to properly guide the plane at the start and at the end of the cut, or you will get a tapered board. Not to mention if he would of tried that trick on a piece of hardwood.
Paul is an excellent teacher and has done great things, but in his efforts to make woodworking so accessible to everyone he glosses over some of these concepts that could be confusing, if not misleading to beginners.
For the most part I think people can figure all this stuff out on their own by just spending time in their shops working. It doesn’t take long to figure out what works and what doesn’t. And not everyone does everything the same either.
Good post Richard. Yeah I built my bench to suit me, I was a member of Paul’s woodworking master class, and I also respect what he dose for woodworking, but sometimes its Paul’s way or the highway.
Well I did it my way, so I took the highway. 🙂
If your bench hight feels right, and it’s working for you no need to change anything at all.
Just my take on it. 😉
Vic Tesolin says
Agreed … Bench height like many things in woodworking is a personal thing that shouldn’t be approached with a dogmatic march.
Bernard Naish says
I have no doubt whatsoever that you are correct in your excellent explanation of why a bench needs to be low if you use exclusively hand tools as I mostly do.
Another point is that when jointing an edge with a #7 or a #8, planing a rebate or when making moldings it would be impossible for me to use a high bench. This is probably because more sensitive guiding is needed.
It is always possible to add raiser structures to gain height as when sawing dovetails or some carving.
If I were to mostly use an electric motor driven router or other electrical tools then I would still use a low bench. I listened to other people in my Club and made my bench 2″ higher than I first wanted and have regretted it ever since.
To call low benches rediculous is rediculous. Read some of the books. The two by Christopher Shwartz are the best (yes I do have them all).
ron howes says
I’m confused. I have just read Paul’s blog and no where does he dogmatically say that you need a high bench. In fact, just the opposite. He is surveying his readers to see what their preferences are. Neither does he imply that you should exert downward pressure on the plane. Again, just the opposite, he demonstrates that the plane needs no downward pressure at all. The post I am referring to is from today, is there something I have missed?
Gary P says
I still am a member of Paul’s Woodworking Master Class. I will remain one for quite a while I think. Paul’s teachings are second to none. Now, having said that I try to follow what he is teaching to the letter. Some of the things he say’s I might not agree with and just forget about. Bench height being one of them. I’m 5″6″. Not gonna have a 38″ tall bench, no matter what he or anyone say’s. Again, Paul is a wonderful teacher. From what I have seen so far, so is Richard.
Very well put. I went on a great course at David Savages place in Devon and asked one of the guys there about the optimum bench height. The answer was stand up straight, put your elbow out as if leaning on a bar and circa 4 inches lower is probably right … but if that doesn’t feel right go with what does!
I have always understood that the traditional way to find your ideal bench height is to make a fist and hold your arm straight down, then measure from the floor to the bottom of your knuckles and you have your ideal bench height.
I have come to believe that this only works when you consistently use only toteless wood-bodied planes. Your hands are at the top of this style of plane while using it, so a low bench is ideal.
Traditional wood-bodied planes fitted with totes that were made before 1800 consistently have the tote fitted at a strong angle. This results in the tote-holding hand being cocked slightly more than it would be on a toteless wood plane, so a slightly higher bench would be more comfortable to use.
Modern metal planes, however, have a very shallow angle to their totes, resulting in the tote-holding hand being strongly cocked when working on a traditional low bench. If you hold one of these metal planes in a working position rested on a low bench you would quickly see that the angle of the tote-holding hand is actually set to an unnatural angle, so it would not be surprising that doing a great deal of planing at that low height would quickly become tiresome and even painful. While I know that we are quite adaptable at perfecting unnatural motions, which any good golfer could quickly prove, I think that a bench with a considerably higher height than the traditional would make sense for a woodworking constantly using modern metal planes.
It is interesting that surveys of your readers vote for the lower bench and surveys of Paul’s readers favor the higher. Clearly, bench height is anything but objective.
As a disclaimer, I am one of Paul’s students, enjoy the higher bench, and find it the best tradeoff for me to rapidly go between joinery with saws and chisels, planing, and layout. I can do 10 hour days for a month on this bench. You are right that there are times when I drop my weight and sit down into my stance. You are also right that this happens for heavier planing, e.g., with a #5 set heavy with a heavily cambered blade hogging off wood. But please consider the example of pushing a car that you gave. There are two levers, the first being the distance from ground to hips and the second being the distance from shoulder to wrist. When I push a car, I drop down but I also bring my hands up closer to my shoulders, ideally bracing them in my armpits. I find the higher bench lets me keep more to this position (push with legs, plane up at pectorals) and this gives me more power behind the push. You are right that this drops the elbow and levels the forearm, but I find this relieves pain in my wrist that occurs if I push through a bent wrist.
Clearly, these are all personal preferences. I like your article, Richard, and agree that ultimately one must experiment. When Paul first mentioned higher benches, I think there was no voice at all saying that they can work for many people and for many purposes. I do not wish to put words in Paul’s mouth, but I think he may have had a sense that much of the low bench advice was absolutist and new woodworkers weren’t hearing of alternatives. It may have taken some “shouting” to be heard at all. His comment about “ridiculous” may be a bit out of context and may be referring to 28″ benches (if I recall correctly).
Paul said at the beginning of the video that 28″ was to his book “almost ridiculous.” Richard, perhaps you should go back and watch again and maybe come back a little less upset. He advocates a taller bench at 38″ as a general rule. (I find that too short) His last blog on the subject he had various height students which they worked out different heights per the person. As I remember one of the taller students had a shorter bench than a shorter one. He advocates making it what works for you above all. Height, body type and work load all come into play on that.
In his blog today he was asking people to give their preferred heights so that they could see what everyone thought. I don’t think he’s any more or less rigid in his preferred height than those who advocate the lower benches. Paul prefers a taller bench and wants people to know that just because certain authors almost demand a shorter bench doesn’t mean you must have a shorter bench. I worked that bit out on my own many years ago but it’s nice to see a respected source give an alternate view to the prevailing (most read) advice.
Ed has it correct you took the word “ridiculous” out of context. when Paul mentioned ridiculous he was talking about a bench of 28″ which in fairness sounds ridiculous unless your 4′ tall . i think paul through his many years of teaching has seen to many and what he refers to as “bulldoging” with hand planes that one needs a low bench and plenty of power behind them to work these tools
Larry Jackson says
Richard, many more kudos to you from here across the pond.
The muscles of our legs are the largest and strongest we have. If you want to plane all day long on bench without tiring, you need only learn to power with your legs rather than your weaker shoulders, arms, and back. You do that by bending your knees and lowering your erect torso closer to the surface of the workpiece… not by leaning over from the waist with straightened legs, because if you do the latter, your legs cannot supply power… only direction. The former is a recipe for a strong and healthy core. The latter is a recipe for chronic back, neck and shoulder pain. You cannot maintain healthy planing posture with a bench that is “too high”, but you can maintain it with a bench that is “too low”…simply by bending down a little lower…always from the knees. So I would say err on the side of “lower” when choosing height. And if you find you need the extra five inch height for fine work, you can simply use a moxon style joinery vice atop the bench. After all, how much surface area of your benchtop do you really use for fine work? We don’t need to pave all our streets with leather, when all it takes is a couple of small patches of leather on the bottom our shoes,do we?
Richard, I had seen Paul’s blog post and the video earlier. I hadn’t thought anything untoward about what he had said. Then reading your post I was a little confused, I thought I’d missed something. So I went and took another look, when I came back to give my view I see David has beaten me to it.
Paul didn’t say lower benches were ridiculos, he said some people are advocating bench heights as low as 28″ which in his view is almost ridiculous. (Note, “in his view”)
We all have our opinions about such subjective views. For myself I have to use a higher than ‘traditional’ bench because of arthritis. I use wooden body and metal planes, and no longer have machinery to prepare stock. Because of all the wisdom on the net saying you have to have a lower bench to plane effectivly I built a 3″ platform just for stock prep. I have never used it!
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not particular devotee of Paul, or anybody, I don’t agree with everything he does. For instance I don’t agree with his ‘over reliance’ on his face vise. I think, however, you may want to take a second look at that particular post.
I’m selfish, I want to be able to pick the best from all of you who are good enough to share your experience with us. But reserve the right to use which ever persons style/technique I find most appropriate for me. What I don’t need is for the people I look up to sniping at each other.
Just my view, and won’t affect the respect I have for you and Helen. Keep up the good work.
Jim Mount says
I’m with Ed (and others) on this. For goodness sake, do we need yet another neurotic conflict over the right [insert your topic here]? Neither artisan is suffering from the messiah complex. The overlap in their approach seems to me to be exceeding 90%. Richard: un-rile yourself. Paul, ask one of your sons what happens when you use words like “ridiculous.” Is it me as an ignorant American, or have we been arguing about a word we can’t spell? Having read and listened to both sides, it seems they are saying similar things. Bench heights are idiosyncratic, and dependent on the type work you are doing. Richard likes to hand thickness a lot of his stock. Watching him work, I’m not surprised; he’s very effective. Paul being older and wiser [oh please, not another controversy], prefers to let machines do the “donkey work.” Thus his ideas about bench height are “higher” or to be more politically correct, more vertical. This just in from the IDEA, International Donkey Empowerment Association: “stop making fun of donkeys, especially younger donkeys.” Now HERE is something to get excited about!
Your bench too high? Saw some off the legs. Too short? Stick some wood underneath the bench legs until you feel comfortable.
Why can’t we all get along? Jeeesh!
Graham Haydon says
Thanks for the post Richard. It is very valuable to have the feedback from a talented bench builder such as yourself. In addition you use a wide range of tools, wooden jacks, bevel up planes and big hammers no name but a few! All of this gives you a very important perspective on what works and why.
I tried a 38″ bench height when I built mine and found it impossible to work from and I’m six foot tall! I had a niggle in the back of my mind during the build so I allowed for height to be removed should I need to. I removed 1 1/2″ from the height and found for what I do it offers a nice balance for hand tool focused work (btw benches the guys work from every day in our workshop are 34″ and they also work great). For those procrastinating on heights don’t. I don’t feel there is a magic formula or a one size fits all, for me the sweet zone is between 34″ > 37″, trial and error play a part as will the tools and work you choose to use.
Please hurry up with your videos Richard, I need me some English Woodworking 🙂
I’m pleased to see some mixed opinions in these comments as that’s what I would expect with a topic like this although I think it’s fair to say that we’re all in agreement that Paul is an extremely good teacher, woodworker and well respected for all of it. My purpose for writing this post was in no way to dispute his reasons for using a tall bench but simply to add further information on the subject.
Having worked for many years and written about my workbench of 29″ – a height around which Paul says he feels is almost ridiculous I felt that on a subject like this it was worth sticking my neck out and putting forward a balancing view.
This wasn’t to be argumentative or sensitive but to add to the full picture so that people can better decide what is suitable for them.
I’m not taking todays post in isolation, I’ve read a lot of Paul’s previous posts about bench height because I receive many emails with questions deriving from them – this is why I know there can be some confusion.
The part which I’m trying to shed some light on is simply where I feel there is a misconception; the thought that people who use low benches do so because they need to press down excessively on their work. I hope that what I’ve written above helps to explain the real reason why people, including myself might opt to use such a low bench.
And whilst I’m saying that a bench height of 28″ – 30″ does have relevance to many woodworkers I hope you’ll take note that I’m also agreeing that 38″ does too. My point being that usually some of the most important factors when choosing bench height are going to be how the bench will be used, how do you work and with what tools?
I’m certainly sorry if my opinion’s come across too strongly on this one, although I’m surprised that it could cause too much offence. For anyone who’s followed our blog for a while I hope you’ll know that I’m not the sort to take a swing at others and on reading back through my post I feel I’ve kept it pretty well balanced. I should perhaps make it clear that I consider Paul to be a friend and I know he’d say the same too.
Richard, I can understand you taking some offense to the 28″ remark. We are all passionate about our love of woodworking. I just did a measurement and the tips of my fingers are at 30″ with shoes on. 28″ bench height for me would be ridiculous but I would never say that it would be for someone else. I think Chris Schwarz said that Meagen Fitzpatrick’s (I’m sure I spelled that wrong) bench was at 28 or 29 inches and he said he could work at that height. Chris and I are about the same height but I could never do it. I think my bench is at 40″ but I have about an inch thick floor mat. Like another person above I too made a platform for heavy planing. I’ve used it a few times in the last ten years. I could have gotten by without it though.
I’m not a devotee of anyone and I do respect both of your opinions. Being on the left side of the pond it’s nice to see how the other side does things. Over the years I’ve tried to take what works for me from wherever the source might be and that has evolved with time. I would hope others do as well. I hope we all can agree that one size will never fit all and we can all get along with that. There is no single right answer.
Thanks David, Some very good points here and your example of Chris and yourself being a similar height but not necessarily being able to use the same bench certainly bodes well with the sentiment that one size will never fit all – I for one would always agree with that.
Bill Lattanzio says
My bench top height sits somewhere around the middle of my hand when standing with my hands at my side. I didn’t read the post, but I do agree that the trend of making benches lower is done more out of a reaction to trend than for actual practical purposes. For a home woodworker, I think the workbench has to function for several different tasks, not just thickness planing. An average height person may find it a bit easier to hand plane a board with a 28 inch high bench, but try using it to saw tenons or dovetails without some sort of jig to raise up the work and suddenly it isn’t so fun. In my opinion, a bench between 31 and 35 inches will work well for most woodworkers.
I’m barely into the realm of not ridiculous; oh good. My benches are 29″ and they’re perfect…for me.
I think the best height is the one that makes me comfortable. For years my bench was at 36″ but about a year ago I lowered it to 33″. What an amazing difference – for me. I used the palm held flat trick to size the bench and it worked wonderfully. I do a lot of fine work (chopping, etc.) from a stool. I find that very comfortable and it gets me close to the work. The lower height for me has certainly made it easy to take a power stance while doing heavy planing and it is not uncomfortable when doing finer planing. Sometimes I also use a Moxon vise to raise fine work to a more comfortable height, but most of the time I just sit down on my stool for fine work.
mike murray says
I want to preface this post by saying that I have the utmost respect for both you Richard and for Mr. Sellers. You both are truly great artisans. I have learned a great deal from you both and both of you have influenced me greatly in my quest to learn hand tool care, use and techniques. I’m not taking sides as I am one of the least qualified to challenge either of you on any topic of this nature. I do however, have my own personal experiences to share on this bench height issue. I realize that I mentioned some of my experiences with the bench height before but for the sake of responding to this blog entry, here goes again.
I built my first bench at 39″ + or – to the top of the top. I could sit at a stool and work on little things at that height and was comfortable in doing so. But, when I tried planing on that bench, I found that often times, I was twisting my upper torso in relation to the position of my lower body. In the past, I experienced a rather severe musculoskeletal injury from doing just that, twisting while exerting force. I now know that the forces that your stomach, back and leg muscles are exerting when twisting like that can impact your low back/lumbar area. If you get the right set of circumstances going like I did when I hurt myself, you can tear muscles or injure the L4/L5 vertebrae. I could tell when I tried to plane (at the 39″ bench height) that I needed to change to a difference stance to be able to follow through when planing without the twisting. I scrapped the tall bench and built the next one at 35″. To go along with the 35″ bench, I have an adjustable stool if want to sit, I also have a bench top-bench now for when I need to elevate the working height, but for most everything else, the 35″ height is just right for me (at 6’3″ tall). I find that I can apply better body mechanics when planing and don’t feel myself twisting like before.
I marvel at someone being able to swing a plane from side to side and not hurt themselves doing it. I’d have to have an ambulance standing by if I did that. : ) If someone asked me what the height of the bench should be, I would tell them to experiment for themselves using a few different worktop heights to see which works the best for them for the different tasks they plan on doing. Take some time figuring it out then buy or build to suit.
Christopher Jemmett says
I think simply he is implying that there might be tendancy to push down on plane if your bench is too low, no need to really read anything else into this. But those planes should be laying on their sides in the story picture!
I am short by the average standard at 5′ 7″ and my writing desk is 29″ from the floor. My workbench is 34″+ and I just tried how it would feel to plane something on my desk. I had to bend very low to do it and I must say 29″ is too low for me. Is it really comfortable for someone 6′ or so to plane on a bench that is 29″ high on day in and day out? 38″ is definitely too high for me and 29″ too low. I am just surprised that anyone 6′ or taller can work with a 28″ high bench when it comes to hand planing.
The workbenches carried by Lee Valley are all close to 35″ high and I suspect that is aimed for the average guys.
John Powell says
“[T]he height which works best for you” is the best useful advise. When starting out I used what was considered normal, or rather, average. It didn’t take long for me to begin making adjustments to my work area, however. While my wife doesn’t use my shop tools, we are both considered tall. I now use several different heights of bench. My assembly bench is 36″. There is a machine bench that holds belt and disk sanders, a small band saw, and jigsaw, that is 40″, as I like to keep detail work close. When hand drilling I often use a small clamping table about 30″. I also raised my table saw as much as possible because, while the spinning blade keeps the work down, I feel more comfortable guiding my work laterally rather than feeling I am standing over that wickedly spinning blade. (It is an older saw that didn’t come with a blade guard.)
As said here, there is no definitive advise on what height to work, except maybe this; The more comfortable you are working, the safer you will be and the better your project.
Andy Margeson says
I originally made my bench 34″ high and it was essentially unusable. Finally, I raised it up on 4″ blocks and it was much much better, including for heavy planing. For me, Paul Sellers is absolutely right, for you maybe not.
I think it is a mistake for most of us to optimize our benches for planing rough stock. What percentage of the time are you doing that? Even if I make a project entirely from rough stock, preparation is a small portion of the total. In any case I am personally much more comfortable planing rough stock at 38″ than I was at 34.” I find a deep crouch extremely tiring; it makes my back and neck ache. I don’t have any trouble believing that it is different for someone else though.
What to do? If possible, use a variety of benches and find your ideal height. Failing that, I think the answer is to make your bench the maximum height you think you might want then cut it down if you find it is too high. That’s a lot easier than trying to raise it up.
Paul is very opinionated but I find him very refreshing, a useful antidote to the conventional wisdom. I find that he is right surprisingly often, but not always.
Matt Robinette says
I like it seems quite a few others am building a new bench. Benchcrafted is backed up weeks with orders.I am also making a Maxon bench to plop on top to bring things up closer. If that don’t work out and the bench is still to low there is always bricks to put under the legs.
Michael Forster says
I’m quite tall, at over 6ft, and used to suffer quite badly from lower back pain after a short time at my bench. Putting a couple of floor-joist offcuts under it completely eradicate the problem. Although I do enjoy hand-planing, it’s mainly light stuff – finishing, minor adjustments to thickness, and panel-raising, mainly – teh initial thicknessing having been done by machine. However,I cut a lot of dovetails and similar close work – which probably accounts for my problem and the solution. For cutting the sockets I’m one of the people Richard alluded to who perch on a stool – then with the workpiece flat on the bench I can sight through to an upright square behind the chisel and chop out the waste. I find this approach works well, both in terms of results and personal comfort – so it’s a high-ish bench for me, but I do concur completely about the need for a lower surface for heavy planing work.
Paul is passionate, committed and well intentioned, but I have to find that his “my way or the highway” approach to woodworking to be quite grating.
To be honest, as a follower of many of the great modern woodworking authorities (Schwarz, Underhill, Tolpin, Klaus, etc), I actually find Paul’s elitist, “you must be an idiot if you think…” tone to be quite insulting.
I try to look past it by telling myself this comes from Paul trying to fight what he perceives as elitism, but he should be thankful for the effort that others are putting in to preserving and researching our craft.
Don’t forget that Paul Sellers served as apprentice to a Master Craftsman, in the traditional style – In those days the training, syllabus, required standards and vocational courses were very detailed and highly regulated. For example, you learned to make a wallclock not because there was a national wallclock shortage, but because making that piece taught you the use of certain techniques – It’s similar to learning a kata in martial arts.
In other words, he comes from a world where it really was The Master’s Way or the Highway… and usually the Master had good reason and a history of experience that came with his ways.
McKay Sleight says
I have two sizes of “steps” that I simply slide into position and step up on when I need a lower bench. I find that my bench is then the optimum height for whatever operation that I need to perform. To argue about such unimportant issues is a waste of time.
Julien Hardy says
My understanding has always been that if you use wooden plane, which are in average three inches taller than metal bodied planes you need a bench three inches shorter. And that’s precisely why in the days of wooden planes and short benches (ref. Félibien, Moxon, Roubo, etc) every joiner had a bench top “Moxon vise” to work their joinery way higher than their actual bench height. Anyhoo. How tall are you ?
Harkin Jolobob says
What’s to get riled about? It’s just someone’s opinion, he’s not drowing your kittens
I think your missing the point of the post, but I agree “riled” was perhaps a bit strong.
I’ve taken classes with Paul Sellers and to say he is passionate about wood working would be an understatement. What he teaches is how he has worked for the past 50 years. I don’t agree that agree with the one size fits all theory when it comes to benches. I think you would make the bench to fit you. The benches at his school in New York are 38 inches. I’m 5’6″ and felt they were a little too tall for me to work at forever. I believe I read Christopher Schwarz say that the lower bench height was so you could use legs and body mass to push the plane as apposed to all arm work.
There are some really talented wood workers out there trying to keep hand tool wood working alive. They all have different ways of doing things. I think it is up to us as students to try out the different methods and see what works for us. To say that I’m giving up on Pauls Master Classes because I don’t agree with something he said or a point he’s trying to drive home is a bit harsh.
Personally I look forward to any and all education I can get on hand tool wood working. I hope that Richard , Paul, Christopher and everyone else contributing to the cause continues to try to educate us on a subject well worth learning.
Hi Scott, very well said. I feel strongly that in order to keep this wonderful craft alive and growing we all need to share equal respect, whether tool maker, master craftsman or amateur looking to learn -it takes us all to keep it going.
John S says
We’re all different! what’s comfortable for me may not work for you – so what?
I’m 5’8″ and my bench is just over 34″ high and it works for me, it wouldn’t do for Joe Blogs at 6’4″ or Jane Doe at 5’2″(or 6’4″)!! By all means put your bench on blocks to try a higher working height or stand on a pallet to try a lower working height – then use what feels best for you.
Peter Gee says
Surely, the whole point of what Paul Sellers said was that there is no hard and fast, “you MUST have a low bench”, way of looking at the height of your workbench. There is far too much nonsense aid (and written) about what people must, or must not, do/buy in order to plane a bit of wood, or saw a dovetail, come to that. Different people do things in different ways, with the tendency being for older people to need higher working heights because of back pains (something which is caused by too much stooping when younger, I would suggest to you youn’uns).
There are as many recipes for ‘correct’ bench height as there are writers of woodworking advice, with more views added by those that sell workbenches for a living. I myself am fortunate to have enough space to have more than one workbench, which I have at different height – because I made them that way.
So, less anger and more common sense and even a touch of respect, eh, Richard?
Hi Peter, thanks for your comment. I don’t think anger was how this post was written and if you read through again and also follow along on some of our other content on here I hope you’ll see that we are a very open minded blog. You’re feeling that “different people do things in different ways” is exactly the point of nearly everything I write including my advice on bench heights. Your last comment makes me wonder if you have followed through my writing and advice?
p.s through building workbenches for my living I receive many emails asking advice on bench height from people who are confused by the subject.
My remark; “So, less anger and more common sense and even a touch of respect, eh, Richard?” was made in respect to the post you made alone and not influenced by any other posts you have made previously. Just so we are clear that it was directed at your comment; “… I did find myself a little riled reading through…”.
I appreciate that when you ‘put yourself out there’ as an expert in the field, people are going to expect a direct answer from you along the lines of “915 mm is perfect for you”, or “800 mm is the right height”, after all, benches never ‘ride up’ with use, do they. Bench height is subjective, not objective and, as such, I agree with Sellers when he complains about the “experts” that declare that any particular height is the “correct” one – it is the same as someone telling you that there is only one way to sharpen a chisel, for example; equally nonsensical claims.
If you are selling a bench, make it high enough for 7-footers with the intention of requiring people to cut the legs down to suit AFTER they have actually used it for a while, after all, they are supposed to be wanting to do woodwork, aren’t they. Or give it an adjustable height mechanism, even. But showing anger to Sellers for questioning bench height “nazi’s” is, surely, pushing a desire to sell ready-made benches a touch too far, don’t you think?…
PS. I agree with much of what you say, as well as liking to see that some basic skills are still being encouraged in this world of brand-conscious designer tools designed only to relive the gullible from their money.
Thanks again Peter, I feel there is still some what of a misunderstanding on my writings. My interest is not in providing advice on a fixed bench height but as you say yourself in providing advice which is subjective. I build bespoke workbenches and the heights are chosen by the customer for their individual needs and I provide advice if asked, I have no intent to push ready-made benches to anyone. This individual post notes my opinion that bench height is very subjective and also links to a previous post I wrote on the subject. I have never been one to give a direct answer to a woodworking question even as an ‘expert’.
J Harper says
I have followed your blog from the very beginning and as yet have not joined in but have enjoyed reading through and learning all your wonderful wood working tips and ideas. After reading through all the recent comments with regards to work bench heights, I found myself unable to hold back. The comments from Peter Gee was in my opinion out rageous,The man clearly hasnt read this blog properly, At no point did you show anger to Paul Sellers nore did you “dictate” the height a workbench should be, I and others can see that your post merely stated that there is no one size to suit all, it is purely down to your own preference. Its healthy to have a different point of view thats what its all about but I think Mr Peter Gee is taking it a step to far dont you. Keep up the good work Richard & Helen and just remember you cant please them all.
This is a public blog, a place where you can publish your ideas and comments for public scrutinisation. As such, you must be prepared and able to justify any of the comments you make – a “put up or shut up” scenario.
Richard posted an article where he attacked a named individual, a fellow professional worker in fact, in connection with a subject he has a vested interest in: workbenches.
My comment was because he, as a writer and publisher of a blog about woodworking techniques, chose to attack a well-respected teacher and fellow blogger. Your comment is a simple, straightforward personal attack against a complete stranger and is entirely without merit, as you have made no comment regarding the article written by Richard to which I have commented.
Tribalism is a very poor aid to knowledge; something you would do well to reflect upon.
This is indeed a public blog and we welcome discussion and constructive criticism from all towards what we publish and write, this is not about public scrutiny but more a place for sharing passion, advice and entertainment between like minded craftsmen. Your comments on this post seem to show that you have either misunderstood or not read the article and as such Richard has been very much prepared to justify and try to explain this to you. Your views on bench height whilst written with little respect towards Richard do seem to fall in line with what Richard has written about it being a subjective subject and so I find it difficult to see where much of your thoughts are coming from.
The post was not written in anger nor was it in any way an attack, it was respectfully providing an alternate view on a subject whilst continually reinforcing the respect Richard has for Paul’s work.
Everybody has a right to disagree with us but please be sure that you are disagreeing on the right lines before commenting with such aggressive terms as bench height ‘nazi’s’, I have no idea who you are referring to with such thoughts and there is certainly no place for that on here.
We are not pushy, opinionated sales people and I feel we have very much gotten off on the wrong foot which is a shame. This discussion is misplaced on our blog and unfortunately I will be editing out any further comments which I feel are written senselessly or are directed negatively between commenters.
If you have any further constructive thoughts on bench height then please feel free to share and if you are still feel that Richard’s words of ‘a little riled’ were an attack then try watching one of our videos and read the post again in his calm, nasally Lincolnshire accent.
Thank you, Helen
I did not read all comments to make sure, that my comment was not redundant.
I bought a lower bench because it was easier and more flexible for me to put it on wooden blocks than to cut it to a special length. Therefore I see no contradiction in Richard’s and Paul’s positions.
Karl F. Newman says
Hi; 38″ tall bench is ridiculous! And it will give him back problems unless he actually stands close to 9′ tall. the moment you stand up a chisel on your work (like for mortising) the handle of the chisel is too high to efficiently strike. if you then put a chest or chair up on it while working on it you need to get a stool to stand up on to do any work, Or you have to put it on the floor.
All of the older literature tells workmen to put the bench top at the height of their knuckles. it works for me and has done so for over 40 years.
Overly opinionated people are seldom right about anything.
The wonderful thing about woodworking is the vast number of ways one can come to the same result.
It’s tiresom and trite to hear woodworkers continually air views on why they think a tool or process doesn’t work for other people. It would be far more efficient to hear why said tool or process works for them.
Andrey Kharitonkin says
While being considering wider options for the same costs, would it be practical to have high workbench but with additional platform for the feet that can be put in case of the need for the lower stance? (As an alternative to have two workbenches of different heights for planing and dovetailing.) This way it seems to me much cheaper to find out what height is best instead of cutting and growing legs.
I picked up this idea somewhere on youtube. I think it was half-inch shy woodworker. He has on one side of the bench higher floor or something.
It is a pleasure to watch you at work, it really is! Should buy your premium videos, now that I’ve seen how experience for several generations looks like. Thanks so much!
Stephen Ayotte says
I have been going backwards through your posts and found this one. I have the ‘Complete collection of Paul Sellers’ on dvd and have been watching it along with reading through the accompanying book. He has a lot of really good things to say.
Interestingly my 6 year old grandson, who I talk about on my blog, has started spending time with me in the shop. And he decided he wanted me to make a stool. Well, Paul had just finished a video on making a 3 legged stool and so I sat my grandson down and made him watch it. He was absolutely captivated.
At the same time I am reading my way back through your posts because I absolutely love the way you say and do things and want to try to read all that you published.
Last year I purchased a bunch of hemlock with the thought of making my own workbench after the style that has recently been written a lot about by the Naked Woodworker. As your posts highlights the selection of a bench height is a very personal thing and I could not imagine anybody saying that any given height is wrong.
Thanks for all that you write. Keep it up.
Karl F. Newman says
That comment and others that Mr Sellers makes have irked me so much that I have decided to neither read or watch him but also to not recommend him to my students. He knows what works for him, but his arrogance is inexcusable.
I like your blog.
And he knows a hell of a lot more than you, I’m sure. He doesn’t have back problems, 28″ is a ridiculous height for someone nearly 6 foot. THAT will give you back problems.
I guess I’m coming a bit late to the party here, but a thought struck me that was worth sharing. Naturally, we’re all different heights, but within that we’ve all got different ratios of limb lengths and torso length to overall height. Bear with me here, I’m 6’1” tall and without wishing to sound like a circus freak, my arms and legs are relatively short to my overall height because I have a relatively long torso ( I also have no bum and no natural waistline, but I really doubt that has any effect on one’s ability to plane wood. Unless of course, my centre of gravity is adversely affected…).
Anyhow, I reckon if you managed to round up a 100 woodworkers of the same height you’d have at least 30 different “ideal” bench heights.
Keep up the good work, Richard and Helen, and I’m really looking forward to see more of your bespoke furniture commissions.
What I did was build myself a 36″ high workbench because I’ve hadd lower back pain issues in the past and because it’s just easier for me to do different types of detail work (I’m 5’9″). To compensate, when I need a “lower” becnch, I have a sturdy, 3″ thick x 18″ wide cachachira slab that I can attach and secure unto the legs, (takes under 1 min to do so) to stand on. This gives me the necessary advantage when needed and is of course, much easier than making a lower bench higher, plus the added benefit of making the whole workbench heavier, given that between the cachachira slab an I we add 180 pounds to the set up.
Correction: cachichira slab
I wonder if he still holds the same opinion?
If you watch his newest youtube video on putting together a workbench, he straddles his lumber with his feet on the floor – for someone my height that would put the workbench at 34″. If he’s a tall person, he shouldn’t be lecturing anyone about the proper bench height. Ergonomics are not a set of numbers, but an APPROACH based on the geometry of the body.
Looking on P.S. blog, he says is now a bit under 5’11”.
If you look at the latest video with the finished bench, you will see it is at he’standard 38″ height.
At the time of A.F. Roubo, French men were about 5’5″ tall and using wooden planes.
I made some research about what was recommended by OSHA (in the years 60s ? [now, I guess the work post must be adapted to the individual]) and what was the average men’s height and typical measures.
P.S. has an average height.
Here are my conclusions:
It takes into account 1″ tick shoe soles.
“I thought that this questioner might answer some questions for others. Up front I should say that these are my views and I am sure that others have theirs. I don’t think that mine are difinitive and I will say that we should look at the issues as woodworkers open to change.”
Next article I read had this quote from Paul Sellers.