What's the right height for benchtop tools?
My shop has numerous benchtop tools, and most of them sit on any available surface. Some seem awkward or uncomfortable to use, and I suspect they may not be at the ideal height. I'm ready to build custom bases but need help determining the right height.
—Ben Novack, Jonesboro, Ark.
The ideal tabletop heights for a benchtop tool, Ben, generally range from 30" to 50", depending on the tool, how it's used, and operator height. A correctly positioned tool will help you work effectively, safely, and with minimal fatigue. Here's how to get there.
First, consider that each tool generally fits into one of three zones from low to high, as shown above. Keep in mind that depending on how you work, a tool might be best in the zone above or below the zone cited here. Heavy workpieces could require shifting one zone lower, and light workpieces may allow you to move up a zone. For example, if you use a tablesaw primarily to make model or small-box parts from small blanks, or a lathe only to make pens, move the machine up a zone. But, if you prefer a bird's-eye view of operations at tools used for short periods, and don't mind a bit of bending over, go down a zone.
If the table of one machine could potentially double as an outfeed or support table for another machine, consider compromising the height of one or both to achieve a shared height. Just don't compromise more than an inch or two on the ideal height of your most frequently used tools.
And finally, keep in mind that anatomies differ drastically, even for people of the same height. One person will have longer arms or legs than another, even though one is no taller than the other. So remember: These are only guidelines, and listen to what your body says about the comfort of working at one height versus another.