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Amp up your Workbench

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Jim Heavey, WOOD magazine

Every shop has some form of a workbench, but have you maximized yours to its full potential? The addition of a few well-chosen accessories really helped boost my bench’s usefulness.

I began with a workbench placed behind my cabinet saw (shown below) to act as an outfeed table; its 30×60" size works well for that purpose. As a worksurface, though, that large expanse makes clamping and holding projects and odd stock a bit awkward.

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I bought the top. For my workbench’s top, I used a 1  3⁄4"-thick glued-up maple tabletop (no. G9914, 800-523-4777, grizzly.com) that came without any holes. I mounted it to a wood frame and ran electricity to one end for powering benchtop tools.

Add a vise

Next, I added a simple vise to the workbench below. Although the vise could clamp material between its jaws, I needed a way to hold pieces along the length of the bench, too, and bench dogs—removable posts that drop into holes aligned with the vise below—are the perfect solution. The vise had a pop-up dog, but my bench didn’t have dog holes to work with it, so I set out to change that using the two following methods.

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Bench vises come in a number of styles and price ranges. This one has wooden faces that attach to the metal jaws using a magnetic-backed adhesive plate.

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Bore the dog holes


 

Routing:
This method, using a plunge router and a 34 " upcut spiral bit, keeps the dog hole perfectly vertical. To keep the router from moving sideways during the plunge, create a template from a piece of 14 " hardboard cut out to match the router base shown below. Align and clamp that template to the benchtop, then rout.

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If you don’t have a 3⁄4" spiral upcut bit, try a standard straight bit instead, and plunge in multiple passes to reduce burning. Drilling a 3⁄8" or 1⁄2" pilot hole first helps remove some of the waste so the router doesn’t have to work so hard.

Drilling:
The second method uses a drill and an auger-style bit in combination with a simple jig show below. Start by boring a 34 " hole in 2×4 scrap with the drill press. (I used a Forstner bit and a backer board to prevent blow-out.) Now, simply clamp that 2×4 jig to the benchtop, centering the hole over the dog-hole location, and drill through the benchtop with the auger bit. If, after drilling several holes, the jig gets reamed oversize, simply bore a new hole in it.

After machining the holes with either method, use a 45° chamfer bit with a bearing to ease the top edge of each hole. This removes any tear-out and prevents future tear-out caused by inserting and removing dogs. Finally, buy a batch of bench dogs and fill those holes.

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Follow the walls on your way down. The full 3⁄4" flutes on the auger bit follow the sidewall of the starter hole perfectly. A Forstner bit may make a cleaner hole, but its narrow shank can wander off true plumb when drilling.

Consider adding T-track

For added versatility, I also routed a groove to accept T-track down the center of my benchtop. Now I can use any of a number of compatible hold-downs, toos as shown below.

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Fleece the flange. I removed about an inch of the flange from the end of the track to ease insertion and removal of the hold-down bolts. Extending the routed groove by an inch accomplishes the same thing.

Add a layer of protection

I know my workbench will get its share of scars under normal use, but I still cover the top with builder’s paper when not using bench dogs. It protects against scratches, gouges, and glue drips. You can find it in rolls at home centers.

To round out this list of accessories, I like to keep a set of bar and F-clamps nearby for glue-ups, and a couple of short lengths of 4×4 stock to use as risers, elevating the workpiece to make room for clamp heads under it. A set of bench pucks (see first photo) comes in handy when you just need a little lift, such as when applying a finish to edges.

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