It seems to be normal practice to sit a workbench against a wall and this is something I’ve often done myself. But having worked in many different layouts I now tend to favour bringing the workbench right out away from the wall instead. In a small workshop this can feel like a huge waste of space but if you’re like me and treat your workbench as the heart of your workshop then it makes sense to give it all the space it deserves.
I’ve touched on this a bit before in an article about tool storage. At that time I was doing all of my hand work in a corner of the main workshop and wanted to point out the convenience of being able to stand between your bench and your tools. This works especially well if you have everything hung or on shelves across the wall as you can quickly turn around, grab a tool then carry on working.
The obvious downside of sitting a bench against a wall comes when your planing across the grain as you could end up with your plane being shooved right in to it. I don’t often plane cross grain so that’s not too much of an issue, but I still find myself with work overhanging the bench so having a wall in the way would be a problem. It’s also more awkward to grab tools off the wall if you’re having to stretch to reach over the bench. Another thing I’ve noticed with having a big wall dead in front of me is somehow it makes me feel that the back half of the bench is written off – but maybe that one’s just me? Although I certainly can’t imagine many people would enjoy staring at wall all day!
I had always considered my prefered bench position to be more costly in terms of space though, especially in a small workshop. When I moved my hand tools over in to the ‘filming’ room this became more apparent because I could only fit in a 5′ workbench. If it went against the wall then I could have easily gone to 6′ or more.
A recent post on the She Works Wood blog (thanks for the mention!) made me think about this a little differently. In her post Marilyn wrote about the bench positioning that I use and how mimicking this actually made better use of the space in her small workshop. This was a great point to see and shows that bringing the workbench out can actually be space gaining in a small hand tool focused area. It gives you a nice working area with quick access to the tools and a clear assembly spot in front of the bench. It’s certainly been working out well in my little hand tool hovel and I’m pleased to hear it’s worked out here as well.
So the question isn’t as simple as ‘Where have you positioned your workbench?’ but also ‘Why?’ and have you really ever given it any thought?