When Bigger isn’t Better!

by | Sep 5, 2012 | 10 comments

This is a working prototype of the latest bench to be added to the Maguire Workbench range. At only 5’ in length it is rather on the small side for us, and it certainly feels that way after some of the huge benches that we’ve been building recently. This 5’ model is a first for our range despite a lot of requests to be building something for the smaller workshop and there are various reasons that we have held off for so long.

Every workbench that we build has to satisfy the two most vital requirements; it must provide a stable and rack free surface and it must enable you to hold work securely, quickly and in a variety of ways.

The first requirement is always the most difficult on a smaller workbench. The short length means that it has less weight to hold itself steady & even worse it makes the footprint of the base too compact to make it feel grounded or give any kind of stability. It hasn’t really been an option then to simply offer say our Artisan model at a 5’ length; the work involved would be the same which makes it very difficult to offer of a reduced price and yet the result is likely less stable than we would like.

This little bench has been designed from the ground up to tick all of the boxes within our brief; though the bench is small it had to cope with the rigours of hand tool use. The timbers used are of a substantial section to give weight and stability and most importantly the back legs are splayed so it is resistant to racking and will remain that way over time. The cost was a very important factor for us when designing this bench, there will always be lower quality benches out there that can be picked up for a very reasonable price but our aim was never be to build as cheap as possible. We wanted to offer a workbench that could be relied upon at the heart of the smaller hand tool workshop and one thing that we were sure to bear in mind was that it had to be fine enough to carry the mark ‘Made in England’!

Update: At the present time we’re not making 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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About Helen Fisher

About Helen Fisher

Helen seeks to explore ways to live with greater joy & sustainability for both ourselves & the planet. Concepts which have led to the launch of her second business We Are Carbon. As the producer of our videos, Helen brings a unique perspective & injects life to our education ensuring it is both a pleasure to watch & easy to follow & learn from. Learn More About Helen & The English Woodworker.


  1. douglas

    Excellent as usual! Hard to tell in the pics… there’s a tail vice but can’t see what.
    Leg geometry is neat – does the York screw disappear into rear canted leg (again hard to see for me anyway!).
    I was reminded how good smaller benches are a short while ago when I made one about this size, and realised the big ones are like big kitchens… you just walk around more 🙂
    very well done, again.

    • Helen

      Thanks Douglas. Both of the vices are from Veritas, the tail one being known as their ‘Inset Vice’. We both love it, its basically a very compact wagon vice and does everything it needs to and nothing more. We’ve noticed a couple of issues with it that we like to amend so we’re looking in to that at the moment. The leg vice screw has been cut short in this instance, we toyed with drilling clearance in to the back leg but in its current form the vice can open a little over 7” which we feel is ample for a bench of this size. We may reverse the nut in future though as this would provide another couple of inches.

    • Michael Forster

      Fully endorse the ‘kitchens’ remark. I made myself a huge bench and found I just didn’t’ have enough room to work around it. Changing for a bench about the same size as this one made working much more comfortable. The secret of working in a small workshop is to concentrate on projects of an appropriate size for the space – hence boxes. Really looking forward to having one of these benches in my place.

  2. Paul Chapman

    With a small bench I think it’s difficult to build in enough mass to stop it moving about. The only option, in my view, is to anchor it to the floor and/or wall with brackets and screws or bolts.

    • Helen

      Yes, rack is one problem but a bench sliding across the floor is another one altogether which is why this one has been such a headache. Too much weight on the top of a small bench would create more problems as its going to be top heavy so like you say it’s difficult to get enough mass without adding silly sections of timber for the base. For a little bench this does has a surprising amount of weight which is mainly over the front two legs which does help. Richard’s given it a thorough workout and on our polished concrete floor (which has to be a good test!) it hasn’t moved around yet. When we were designing it Richard got concerned about this issue and if it were a problem we thought about adding a shelf so that stored tools would add weight or the time honoured method of sticking a bit of suede under the feet.

  3. Paul Chapman

    Hi Helen,

    It was nice to meet up with you and Richard today at the European Woodworking Show and to see your new, small bench. I was amazed at how good it was. Watching Richard planing on it, the bench was rock solid. I reckon you have a winner there, particularly at the price you are considering.



  4. Michael Forster

    I’m very interested in this bench – my joinery shop is just not big enough to accommodate an Artisan. It looks and sounds extremely attractive, but I’ve got a query about the work-holding system. My current bench has a wide front vice jaw with two dog holes and a series of pairs of holes running from it across the bench – and the same for the end vice. This makes it easy to get a really good grip either on a box carcase or on a circular or other shaped workpiece. I can’t quite see how I’d do that a securely with the single row of holes running from the tail vice. If that question were resolved I’d be very tempted to splash out on this!

    • Michael Forster

      Since I wrote the above I’ve watched the video and been reassured about the dog holes – clearly the arrangement is more than adequate.

  5. Terry Pullen

    I had to chuckle at the idea that a workbench must be heavy to be effective. I work out of a Chevy Express van and my workshop must be portable and light. My workbench is a custom built knockdown affair made of 1/2″ plywood, 2×4 lumber and aluminium sawhorses. It is modular and sets up in sizes ranging from 2’x4′ all the way up to 4’x6′ or 2’x12 depending on the orientation of the top panels. It’s weight varies from about 30 pounds in it’s smallest form to about 80 pounds in full size. Although it is light it is very stiff. It does not have a vise, I use clamps instead and I do most of my work with hand tools saws, chisels, planes etc. I miss not having a vise but do not miss a heavy bench at all.

  6. Darrell Stone

    Since a video build of this Little John bench is not likely soon, might you have a PDF plan available? For sell, of course.
    I’m in need of just such a bench. Don’t want to waste time, money, and effort for something in the interim.


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