After completing a Little John bench with a left handed set up I was struck by how odd it still appeared to me despite trying to get accustomed to it throughout the build. It made me realise that although we offer to customise our workbenches in this way, I’ve only ever built around four lefties, which is far less percentage wise than the population in general.
Those who do opt to go left handed with their bench tend to be new to woodworking, and I’ve found for the dozens of other left handed customers a standard set up was chosen because it’s what they had to become used to previously.
When I think about how easy or difficult it might be to use a ‘wrong handed’ bench, I look around and see that most of my tools are symmetrical. In fact glancing over the top of my bench right now, there’s nothing which is handed. I have to move over and check inside my tool box before I actually find a tool – my fillister plane – that would cause an issue. Of course, if need be this could be bought specifically with a left handed design.
I know left handed people struggle a lot with all manner of implements, everything from scissors and can openers, to musical instruments, riffles, computers … almost anything I can think of. So perhaps woodworking could traditionally have been one of the most well catered for activities for left handed folk? There are very few hand tools, bar joinery planes which have any bias at all.
This is likely something which developed incidentally because it’s the grain direction, rather than ourselves, which dictates so much of how we work. A woodworker who’s been at it a good while will be able to do most tasks with their ‘wrong’ hand for the odd occasion. I remember my Dad making me hammer for days with my left hand, as one day, he said, it will be needed. Confined spaces create such issues, and also when planing something very wide with stubborn grain, you can have little choice than to switch hand. It’s certainly a good problem solving skill to get used to putting a tool in the ‘wrong’ one.
After all this thinking it really begs the question, what is a left or right handed bench? And how much of it is simply down to what we are used to? As a right handed woodworker it’s easy for me to see past any difficulties a left hander might face, so if you’ve had any conundrums to negotiate I’d love to hear about it.
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.