Choosing the perfect woodworking bench can be challenging. Chances are, you’ll be stuck with your woodworking bench for the next few years at least, so you should think about it thoroughly.
I’ve worked with my fair share of woodworking benches, and I can safely say nothing is more annoying than having a frail bench that moves around as you’re working.
To help you choose the right one, I compiled this definitive guide for woodworking benches.
What should you look for in woodworking benches? When choosing a woodworking bench, your priorities should be durability, even weight distribution, and functionality. Four sturdy legs is non-negotiable as is a hardwood, durable working surface. Functionality, size, and the ability to customize are important as well.
A flimsy workbench is not only annoying, but it can be dangerous as well.
You want something that will stand the test of time, hold up to a certain amount of abuse, and continue to meet your needs as your skills improve.
In the following, you’ll learn exactly what to look for, what features may be worth considering, and what you can probably do without. Let’s jump right in.
- Criteria for a Woodworking Bench
- How Thick Should a Woodworking Bench Top Be?
- Does a Woodworking Bench Need To Be Flat?
- How Wide Should a Woodworking Bench Be?
- How Much Should a Woodworking Bench Overhang?
- What Is the Best Height for a Woodworking Bench?
- Why Are There Holes in a Woodworking Bench?
- Why Do Woodworking Benches Have a Recess?
- What Can I Use for the Top of My Workbench?
- Is Ash Good for a Workbench?
- Is Plywood Good for a Workbench?
Criteria for a Woodworking Bench
Now that you know the general main points of picking a woodworking bench, let’s go into detail. Here are the factors you should consider when choosing a woodworking bench.
Sturdy & Stable
The woodworking bench of your choice should be stable enough to withstand heavy weight. In addition, it should be sturdy and not wobble when you apply force to it.
Many manufacturers choose beech for woodworking benches because it’s dense and withstands abuse. On top of that, it’s affordable, so it’s often used for budget-friendly benches.
However, beech is now a bit hard to find. So manufacturers are leaning more towards maple because it’s hard, stiff, and resistant to denting. And, of course, it’s more readily available.
Whatever material you choose, make sure it’s dense enough to take abuse. Also make sure the bench’s base structure is sturdy and allows for even weight distribution.
Your woodworking bench should be functional enough for the tasks you intend to do.
For example, it should provide ways to clamp your workpiece so it doesn’t fly off when you attempt to work on it.
Additionally, it should be adjustable if you need it to be. If you tend to work in multiple areas or move around your garage a lot, you’ll need a foldable bench.
At the very least, it’d help if the top is removable.
Lastly, your woodworking bench should have drawers if you want to store your tools in it. It’s a small detail, but it can make all the difference when it comes to functionality.
Older benches were heavier and bigger than current ones are. Some of them were too hefty; you couldn’t move them alone even if you tried to.
While there is little doubt as to their sturdiness, those aren’t convenient if you have a small space.
The average benches now are 2-3 feet wide and 5-7 feet long. These won’t take up most of your work area, and they’ll still fit most woodworking projects.
If you don’t have enough space for that, you can always get a smaller bench. It’ll definitely be easier to move around and reach for the tools.
Able To Meet Your Needs
The woodworking bench of your choice should be able to meet your needs, whether you’re a professional or a beginner.
For example, beginners need basic functionality so that they can hone various skills and complete multiple small projects, but they likely do not need a bunch of fancy bells and whistles at first.
In addition, benches for beginners should be easy to use and functional so as not to give them a hard time.
Meanwhile, professionals need sturdy, durable benches that’ll last several decades. Theirs should also be customizable so that they can add accessories and vises whenever they need to.
Professional woodworkers are more likely to work on complicated projects, so they may need to add a lot of accessories.
Customizable woodworking benches are highly convenient and functional. You can adjust them according to your preference and the project you’re working on.
For example, some woodworking benches come with adjustable heights, so you can change heights when you’re in the mood to work while sitting.
This feature can also come in handy if you don’t use the bench alone. Adjustable heights are convenient for multiple users with different heights.
Other woodworking benches are foldable, making them easier to store and transport. Some benches come with holes so you can add vises and remove them.
Generally, customizable benches offer better value for the money because they provide multiple benefits for the price of one.
Some woodworking benches come with vises, and some come without them.
For example, classic ones often come with a face vise. It clamps to the bench’s top using screw arms, and it often comes in the same thickness as the top.
Face vises are convenient for some projects, but the screw arms may be bothersome when you’re trying to attach a wide board.
In addition to face vises, there are also leg vises. These were more common in antique benches, but some woodworkers still use them.
Leg vises go on the front leg; they can be on either side, but most woodworkers choose the left side. They attach to the bench’s leg using screws.
The thing with vises is you can always add them later on if the bench comes without them. So, I’d say it’s easier to get a bench without them and add them when you need to.
Bonus Features To Consider
Here are a few bonus features to consider when choosing or making your woodworking bench. These features aren’t essential, but they can increase the functionality of your bench.
For example, drawers can come incredibly in handy for storing your tools.
Here’s a roundup:
- Shelves for storing tools
- Cabinets underneath
- Pegboard on the back
- Recessed center
Need a recommendation? Have a look at this birch-topped workbench complete with a large cabinet and three drawers.
Beautifully finished and able to withstand up to 350 pounds, this model is ideal for those looking for a quality-crafted bench with room to customize as desired.
How Thick Should a Woodworking Bench Top Be?
Your woodworking benchtop should be thick enough not to budge at all under pressure. Ideally, it should consist of four layers, which amount to about 3 inches thick.
However, thick tops are expensive, so users on a tight budget usually go for tops between 2.25 and 2/5 inches thick.
Does a Woodworking Bench Need To Be Flat?
Most people would argue that woodworking benches need to be completely flat, and that’s generally true. However, it depends on your projects.
If you work most of your projects using power tools, the bench doesn’t need to be completely flat. You’ll still be able work fine if there’s a 1 to 1/16-inch decline because your tool will keep the wood flat.
On the other hand, if most of your woodworking is handwork, the benchtop should be totally flat because you won’t be able to ensure the wood is flat on your own.
How Wide Should a Woodworking Bench Be?
Most woodworking benches range from 48 to 96 inches in width.
Your woodworking bench should be as wide as your space allows. However, it’s not recommended to go overboard with the width even if you have enough room for it.
Benches that are too wide will cause you to stretch to get your tools.
Moving around while machining wood isn’t recommended because of the safety hazard. It’s also not ideal, so getting a relatively compact bench is the better option.
Ideally, your woodworking bench’s width should be so that you can reach your arm across it to reach its back easily. Talking in numbers, it should be around 70-80 inches.
You can choose wider benches, but try not to go over 96 inches because it’ll hinder your movement.
How Much Should a Woodworking Bench Overhang?
Depending on your style of working, you can choose a woodworking bench with some overhang.
It should be a minimum of 13 inches and a maximum of 20 inches. Additionally, it should be the same on the two sides.
Woodworkers usually need an overhang to allow for clamping. However, it’s not necessary.
Some users are actually against it because it doesn’t allow you to attach a face vise properly.
What Is the Best Height for a Woodworking Bench?
Woodworking benches mostly have standard heights to match a human’s size. Antique ones were shorter because woodworkers depended solely on their handwork then.
When you work without power tools, you need to be able to put pressure on the bench. You can’t do that unless it’s short, so that explains the height difference.
Now, power tools do the job instead of your muscles, so you don’t need to apply that much pressure.
Generally, the best height for a woodworking bench is equal to that of your hip, wherever that is. You’ll find most measurements between 33-36 inches, so you can choose the size that suits you best.
If you’re over 6 feet tall, go for 36-inch benches so that you can see your work closely.
Why Are There Holes in a Woodworking Bench?
Woodworking benches have square holes on the front side. They look like they’re drilled around randomly, but they’re actually placed at regular intervals for dogs and clamps.
Woodworkers use these holes to attach clamps. In turn, they use these clamps to attach wooden pieces they want to work on.
Some benches have two lines of holes—one parallel to the vise and one perpendicular to it.
They’re usually drilled this way so that you can clamp long wood pieces easily and hold them from two directions.
Woodworking benches that come with drawers typically don’t have these holes. If you’re making your own bench, you can customize it as you prefer according to your needs.
Why Do Woodworking Benches Have a Recess?
Some woodworking benches come with a recess or insert gaps. They’re added so that you can expand the bench slabs without moving the outside edges.
You can also use the recess to keep the tools out of your way while working or for jigsaw operations.
On top of that, the feature comes in handy when you want to clamp wood slabs to the top or sides, but it’s not available on all woodworking benches.
If you’re building your own, you can always add it.
What Can I Use for the Top of My Workbench?
There are multiple materials you can use for the top of your workbench.
For starters, LDF, or particleboard wood, is ideal because it’s affordable yet smooth and lightweight. It’s not too durable, but it’ll do the job.
Alternatively, you can use MDF. It costs more than LDF, but its best qualities are its durability and flexibility. Plus, it holds glue well.
Its only problem is its low water resistance, so you can’t use it if you keep the bench in a humid area.
If you don’t want to use either LDF or MDF, you can opt for plywood instead. Plywood is affordable, but you’ll need to make sure it is thick enough to hold up to whatever you put it through.
It’s solid for woodworking, and the thicker it is, the better it is.
Lastly, you can always choose hardwoods. They cost more than all the other mentioned options, but they’re way more rigid and more durable.
They’re also easy to fix, and they seldom show dents.
Tip: If you’re thinking about constructing your own workbench, consider this leg and shelf kit to make assembly quick and easy.
Is Ash Good for a Workbench?
Ash is one of the good options for workbenches because it’s dense and durable. It also stays flat and doesn’t deform.
However, ash has a lot of open grains, so it’s better to apply a protective coat to it before using it. Otherwise, it won’t be as durable, and any water spill will work right through the surface.
It would help if you also considered the seasonal changes. Ash is hard, but like any wood, it needs maintenance to stay that way.
Is Plywood Good for a Workbench?
Plywood is one of the best options for a workbench. It’s affordable, rugged, and durable.
If you use hardwood for a woodworking bench, you’ll likely pay top dollar.
Plywood, on the other hand, is affordable, smooth, and hard. It stays flat without warping, and it’s overall more durable than LDF.
When choosing a woodworking bench, you should consider its functionality, durability, and design. Try not to go overboard with the size, and get a reasonable model for your space.