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Pressing for Bench Height Info from YOU!!!

DSC_0006DSC_0008This question seems as though ot is going to be most helpful on a global scale. I would like to hear from our Aussie friends and our Austrian friends. This in Slovakia and Greece, Croatia, Israel, Latvia, Poland, Belgium and just about everywhere on the globe. I would like to start a collection of notes from people working on workbenches to help us better assess what the real issues are. For far too long I have been concerned that we give some arbitrary height and make it fit our personal criteria. I think it was 20 years ago when I had to start considering my students. Up until then, benches were more generally sized. Because most western men generally grow to an average height of  5‘ 10”  and the vast majority of woodworkers are adult men, most, not all, benches can be made to a fairly generic size. It also seems from the responses we have received that other ingredients factor into the equation that we might not have considered or been aware of before. Physical abilities vary markedly between one woodworker and another. I have known this for many years because I deal with som many students in my classes. The backgrounds are as diverse as can be also. Muscle only increases through pressure caused by exercise. This then multiplies the dilema, as what we assess of worth in the beginning may well change through exercise at the bench (workbench not bench presses). Amazingly, some very muscular and strong looking men and women have great difficulty under the stresses of a real woodworking workout at the workbench. Greg, in my class last week, said that at the end of nine days his bad hip improved to the point that he thought he might not need surgery for a replacement.  Stamina too is a key issue and of course it therefore means building up otherwise unused muscle in bench work. Cycling and swimming exercises do almost nothing for planing and sawing, even though they all require stretching and strokes.

DSC_0323Bench work is of course a whole upper body workout that does not exclude the lower limbs, and torso. Bench work engages the whole being of anyone working wood in a way that no machine methods do. Because machine methods demand constant safety consciousness and is prevalently dominated by safety alone, it is very different to the realms of hand work where the senses are used very differently. With handwork the concern becomes focussed on other elements and results in a tremendous sense of wellbeing and mental connection to the work in a very different way than we do with machines. It’s great to understand why we feel so well when we exercise in the woodshop, sweat and muscle the small and the big stuff. The exercise is exactly what we cannot get on a tablesaw and computer keyboard and so we feel totally aware, stimulated and engaged when we work with our hands for the main part. Everyone who ever attended my workshops says the same thing. The bench therefor becomes the pivotal  anchor to that wellbeing and the bench height custom fitted through an evolving process of trial and error is perfect for everyone.

My goal is still 100 responses. We are 1/20 of the way there. Please contribute and we will have your contributions analyzed and processed for the betterment of woodworking worldwide.

Here are the definitive questions we feel will help establish factual considerations. The more contributors we have engaged in this, the more accurate the evaluation.

 

Your physical height

Age

Gender

Occupation (Present or former)

Physical disabilities

General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent)

Current bench height

Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect)

Country living in*

Nationality*

Other information that will help the survey determine more specific issues we might be missing.

 

*Optional. These questions will help us determine if there is cultural influence on height.

 

Thank you for your help with this everyone. You are helping your fellow woodworkers with this very confusing issue.

44 comments

  1. Your physical height – 5’11”
    Age – 40
    Gender – male
    Occupation (Present or former) – programmer/consultant
    Physical disabilities – none
    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent) – 4
    Current bench height – 38”
    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect) – 4
    Country living in* – Canada
    Nationality* – Canadian

    I mentioned elsewhere, but my right elbow (I’m right handed) gets some kind of RSI when I do a lot of planing (like dimensioning lumber).

    • Dave says:

      Height – 5’8″
      Age – 25
      Gender – Male
      Occupation – Construction Superintendent
      Physical Disabilities – Herniated Disc in lower back
      General Health – 5 (other than the back)
      Current Bench Height – 35″
      Satisfaction Level – 2.5
      Country – USA
      Nationality – American

      I do feel that my bench is a little low. The time I notice it most is when I am doing detailed marking or paring right at bench level. I have to bend over just a little bit to get down to the level of my work, but that bending does sometimes exacerbate my lower back issues.

      I have come to the conclusion that I would rather bend over a lot or none at all. Bending over just a little bit is what bothers me the most.

      I might put a couple 2×4’s under the bench this week and see if it improves my experience.

      Good Luck Paul

  2. Galoot says:

    Your physical height – 6′ 0″
    Age – 45
    Gender – Male
    Present occupation – Bookkeeper
    Physical disabilities – Lower back pain
    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent) – 4
    Current bench height – 34”
    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect) – 4
    Country living in – Canada
    Nationality – Canadian

    I intend to lower the bench 1″

  3. David Knight says:

    Age 43

    Gender Male

    Occupation (Present or former) Carpenter

    Physical disabilities None

    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent) 3

    Current bench height 34″

    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect) 2

    Country living in* USA

    Nationality*

  4. Phill Kibblewhite says:

    Your physical height — 181cm

    Age — 55yrs

    Gender — male

    Occupation (Present or former) — glass artist / woodworker

    Physical disabilities — my age

    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent) — 4.75 (age related degeneration)

    Current bench height — 960mm torsion box 1200×1800 on two mobile cabinets, height selected after using the Festool MFT being 820mm high and finding this gives me back ache

    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect) — 4.5 needs some dog holes and things

    Country living in* — New Zealand, next door to the bloody Aussies

    Nationality* — Kiwi

  5. john bailey says:

    5′ 9″
    52
    Male
    financial analyst
    No disabilities, though I’ve got for 9 mo nerve entrapment both arms starting from working on the house. This is making both woodworking and chores a big problem. If this is to continue, it’s a disability.
    Generally terrific health.
    38″ Sellers bench, full length, width with tray, and four (!) vises
    Satisfaction level 4, which is surprisingly good since buddies all thought too high. I was pleased with its comfort level, though I feel handicapped now as noted.
    USA citizen

  6. Bryan says:

    Height: 5′ 11″

    Age: 41
    Gender: Male
    Occupation: computer programmer
    Physical disabilities: none
    General health: 5
    Current bench height: 32
    Satisfaction level: 4
    Country living in: USA
    Nationality: American

    One thing that might be overlooked is the type of plane being used. A Stanley or similar steel plane has a tote that is fairly upright, so that the fingers of the hand that grip the tote are parallel to the surface of the bench. If the bench is lower, that wrist is sharply bent, which puts a good deal of strain on the wrist. A wood smoothing plane, on the other hand, is generally held from above, leading to a more natural position.

    I’m planning on making a Japanese-style trestle-and-beam workbench at a height of 28-30 inches for use with wooden planes. If this is successful, I will sell my Stanley planes, as I tend to favor the feel of the wooden planes over the steel ones. In addition, I’ll then make a separate, smaller joinery bench at a height of 36-38 inches, so that detail work will be up close to my eyes.

  7. Ric Kearsey says:

    Height: 5′ 11″

    Age: 50
    Gender: Male
    Occupation: Pipe Organ Builder
    Physical disabilities: see Age above (plus the usual lower back niggles.) Eyes failing
    at the normal rate ie too fast.
    General health: 4.5
    Current bench height: 38″
    Satisfaction level: 4.5
    Country living in: UK
    Nationality: English ( or should I say British)

    Have always worked at lower height benches than now, which does work well for machining and assembly as Paul says. Since moving to predominantly hand tool work at home on a 38″ high bench I have been suprised at the ease of working. If anything I would consider raising by another inch or so. Power whilst planing does not seem to be an issue which I thought it may be before I switched. Love having the work nearer my face so there is not much stooping to see my lines etc.

  8. sinisa says:

    Your physical height: 6′
    Age:41
    Gender:male
    Occupation (Present or former): electrical engineer
    Physical disabilities:none
    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent):5
    Current bench height:34”
    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect):3
    Country living in:Croatia
    Nationality:Croatian

    I’ve built the bench a year ago. The height of 34” proves to be little low for me. For planing it is OK but not so much for sawing or specially for marking. I’m currently looking for suitable (and preferably adjustable) way to raise it for couple of inches

      • sinisa says:

        Hi Paul,
        For the last year I’m mostly involved in hand tool woodworking. Before that I was using machines but now very rarely. I’m still at beginers level and most of the staff I’m learning is comming from your online course or from DVDs. For that I’m very thankfull to you for all the effort you are putting in this. Here in Croatia is very rare occasion to find someone using hand tools any more and majority of woodworkers are using machines and produce low level quality of furniture mostly using man made materials. If I even find some old master they are using rather different tools, similar to continental Europe (mostly wooden planes, frame saws etc.). Also workbenches are of different styles then yours. 
        Best regards

        • Aha! That’s why you are so important. Woodworking can be p[reserved through what you learn in the next few years and then passed on through the skill you develop. You and the others are all part of the Real Woodworking Campaign.

  9. Eddy flynn says:

    Age : 46

    Gender : Male

    Occupation (Present or former) Electrician

    Physical disabilities : nothing a few weeks starvation couldn’t solve

    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent) : 4 see above

    Current bench height : 33 3/4

    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect) : 3

    Country living in* England

    Nationality* British

  10. Height: 5′ 11″
    Age: 53
    Gender: Male
    Occupation: Engineering
    Physical disabilities: none
    General health: 5
    Current bench height: 37-1/2
    Satisfaction level: 5
    Country living in: USA
    Nationality: American

    Although my health is great, I do suffer from lower back pain if any amount of time is spent ‘bent over’, whether at the bench or doing other activities. So I’m even considering making a small joinery bench that will be in the mid-40’s in height.

    Awhile back I had to add 3/4″ top to my bench. I was concerned that the top would be too high. Surprisingly (to me), the bench is still a pleasure to use.

    I hope to make a better bench in the upcoming few years, and now I know that I’ll stick with 38″.

    • Thanks Marty. These stats are really helpful and especially the comments at the bottom. men are always more reluctant to write down their feelings and so the ones I am getting clear up other issues too.

  11. Kees van der Heiden says:

    Your physical height: 1.86m (6′ 2″)

    Age: 47

    Gender: Male

    Occupation (Present or former): Electronics

    Physical disabilities: None, just some lower back pain occasionaly

    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent): 4

    Current bench height: 85cm (34″)

    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect) 4

    Country living in* The Netherlands

    Nationality* Dutch

    Other information that will help the survey determine more specific issues we might be missing.

    I like working with wooden planes which I feel need more of my bodyweight over the plane.I don’t get backpain from planing. For detail work my bench is too low, so I try to work more with an upright stance and I am contemplating a “moxon vise”.Lately I bought some new, very comfortable clogs, but the heel is 5cm high. That did feel too much at first but I got used to it pretty quickly.

  12. Brandon Avakian says:

    Your physical height: 5’5″
    Age: 32
    Gender:Male
    Occupation (Present or former): former attorney now furniture maker
    Physical disabilities: none
    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent): 5
    Current bench height: 38″ – workbench from Paul Seller’s DVD
    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect): 5
    Country living in: USA
    Nationality: American

  13. Alvaro Villalón says:

    Your physical height 5’8″
    Age 39
    Gender Male
    Occupation (Present or former) Software Enginer
    Physical disabilities None
    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent) 4
    Current bench height 34″
    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect) 4
    Country living in Chile
    Nationality Chilean

  14. Mark Armstrong says:

    height 5′ 8″
    now
    Age 46

    Gender Male

    Occupation (Present or former) Carpenter/builder now office furniture fitter

    Physical disabilities aches and pains all over eyes and ears not as good used to it

    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent) 3.5

    Current bench height 35″

    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect) 3 probably needs little higher

    Country living in*England

    Nationality* English

    Trying to get use to using a bench so use to being on site using a saw horse or what ever to hand. Your knee was your vice So use to sawing down ward and not straight across or up

  15. Bill Schenher says:

    5′ 11″

    33

    Male

    Occupation Sign Maker (carved wood, hand lettered, and aluminum signs)

    Physical disabilities NONE

    General health 5

    Current bench height 34″

    Satisfaction level 4

    Country living in USofA

    Nationality refer to above

    When I first built my Nicholson style workbench it was 32 1/2″ tall (satisfaction rating of 3.5). I raised it to 34″ (satisfaction rating of 4) and have been using it like that for 8 or 9 months. I plan on raising it again to 36″ to see how that works. At 32 1/2″ it was just to short, at 34″ it is much better , but I think I will be happy at 36″. I work entirely by hand. Stanley style planes and western saws etc….I mill all my lumber by hand, so I spend a good amount of time using hand planes. At work I have a 34″ (for woodworking) and a 38″ (for sign making and its 4’x8′ on top) . To me 38″ is good for signs , but to high for planing on. I just need to find that happy medium zone. Comfort for sawing/chisels and comfort for hand plane use.

    It will be interesting to see what the final results are. Good luck.

    • Paul Sellers says:

      I hate to even ask or suggest this Bill, but are your planes truly sharp. if they don’t reach the standard of surgically sharp, and if you don’t maintain that level as close as possible, then I agree, you must press down much more from above, which is why people say more overhead for planing, but when a plane is sharp it does pull itself to the wood with the forward stroke and so you can work from a higher position? I would never dream of having planing lower down ever. it seems so counter when i am forced to plane say a tabletop fixed at a table height of 29-30″. Now scraping with a #80 is a different cookie. It’s ideal for that on large surfaces like tabletops.

  16. WaltAmb says:

    Your physical height: 6′ – 0″

    Age – 56

    Gender – M

    Occupation – Woodworker for 42 years

    Physical disabilities – Bad knees, Hips, eyes

    General health (3-4)

    Current bench height – Same as Table saw around 31″

    Satisfaction level ( 3 )

    Country living in* U.S.A.

    Nationality* Slavic and German

    Other information that will help the survey determine more specific issues we might be missing. Returning to handwork after years of Machine abuse. Planing requires a different height than Dovetailing. I like to sit for as many tasks as possible for several reasons. 1) more relaxed 2) less fatigue 3) better visibility on some tasks.

    Thanks for doing this survey, there are no hard and fast rules, everyine needs to do what makes their tasks fun.

  17. Patrick says:

    Height: 6′ 3/4″
    Age: 57
    Gender: Male
    Occupation: Sales
    Physical Disabilities: age related; i.e. eyesight diminished, weaker muscles, carpal tunnel syndrome
    General Health: 4
    Current Bench Height: 37″
    Satisfaction Level: 4
    Country Living In: USA
    Nationality: American

    While I am tall, I have short legs and long torso. Long sessions at the bench cause some lower back pain. My main complaint about my bench height involves dovetailing where I would like more height to bring the wood closer to eye level so I could see my lines better. Perhaps new glasses are in order.

  18. Guest says:

    I have a commercially made bench I picked up cheap many years ago. It has nice vises but is way too light – it walks around the shop if I do any serious planing. It stands 33″ tall. When I stand next to it, the top comes to the middle of the back of my hand. Someone told me once that was how you knew it was the right height. My back always hurt when I used it, but I have a back problem anyway, so I chalked it up to that.

    When I read in your blog that your 38″ bench was good for most woodworkers, i made a frame of 2×6 construction lumber and put it under the bench. The top is now 38 1/2″ and my back does much better. I’m thinking of raising it another inch or two.

    I’m male, 75″ tall, and 61 years old. I live in California (a world unto itself). My only health problems are a back injury suffered many years ago and deteriorating eyesight. I am a photographer by trade.

  19. mr Chris says:

    Hi Paul,

    here is my data:

    Your physical height 5 feet nine inches

    Age 73

    Gender: Male

    Occupation (Present or former) retired finace director

    Physical disabilities; the bottom of my back, too much sitting in life

    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent) 4

    Current bench height 89 cms, it was 85 and I put it up on blocks

    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect)

    Country living in* Belgium

    Nationality* British

    Other information that will help the survey determine more specific issues we might be missing.

    I made your bench last year, the most wonderful project I had ever tackled! I studied bench heights, and found, afterwards, I had cut the legs too low, and even at 89 cms I am doubtful. Looking forward to your two day course in October when I could try a higher bench

  20. Hello Kevin, Nice too hear from you. Thanks for sharing your position thus far. I think that bench heights emerge through a year or two but that you can short circuit the journey when you have the opportunity to try different heights beforehand. The bullseye is comfort. Another as yet undiscussed issue is the difference between the USA and the UK. Most US woodworkers are heavy into machines,machine shops and sitting on stools at benches in larger work areas than say in Europe. So culturally we may not be discussing apples-for-apples stuff on some level. I am looking into these differences too. If most people are ripping on a bandsaw or planing rough stock by machine as a measure for prepping stock, they have different approaches to the issues.
    Best regards.
    Paul

  21. Owain Jones says:

    height 5 ‘ 9″
    Age 49
    Gender male
    Occupation (Present or former) IT consultant
    Physical disabilities none
    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent) 5
    Current bench height 38″ (Paul Sellers design )
    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect) 5
    Country living in* Wales
    Nationality* Welsh
    Other information that will help the survey determine more specific issues we might be missing. Sometime when sawing small dovetails bench could be better being an inch or two higher.

  22. Alexander Schifter says:

    Paul, count me in!
    height 178
    Age 49
    Gender male
    Occupation broker
    Physical disabilities none
    General health 4,5
    Current bench height i’ve none yet, but 78cm fits well
    Satisfaction level 3
    Country living in Austria/vienna
    Nationality Austrian

    I’m using my one and only 4′ Stanley plane and looking forward, to build my very own Bench in the Paul Sellers Style.

  23. Robert says:

    Your physical height: 6′ 2″

    Age: 38

    Gender: male

    Occupation (Present or former): project manager

    Physical disabilities: severely limited wrist movement due to bone disorder.

    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent) 4

    Current bench height: 30″ (bench top vice takes it to 33″)

    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect) 3.5

    Country living in* Netherlands

    Nationality* Dutch

    Other information that will help the survey determine more specific issues we might be missing.

    My bench is made of a table top attached to two saw horses. I do a lot of work sitting down. For chiseling and detailed work this is fine. When I’m doing heavy planing I stand and for this my bench is way too low. I have a small vice that sits on the bench top (attached with a clamp). This raises my planing height (if the piece fits in the clamp). Not an ideal situation but I’ve worked like this for a couple of years now. I’d like to make a taller more sturdy bench with a proper vice. I’ll get a tall stool so I can also sit at it.

    I used the high bench (42″) during the 9-day course in Wales in April and it was great (I’m the ‘tall student from Holland’ Paul wrote about in a previous blog on bench heights).

  24. kdesilva says:

    Height: 6′ 2″
    Age: 54
    Gender: Male
    Occupation: Carpenter and Joiner (since (16)
    Physical disabilities: none
    General health: 5
    Current bench height: 38
    Satisfaction level: 5
    Country living in: Wales (UK)
    Nationality: British

  25. Greg Jones says:

    Your physical height: 6’1″
    Age: 58
    Gender: m
    Occupation (Present or former): former professor
    Physical disabilities: none
    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent): 4
    Current bench height: 39″
    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect): 4
    Country living in*: USA
    Nationality*: American

  26. Jamie says:

    Height: 6ft 1
    Age: 31
    Gender: male
    Occupation: window cleaner
    Physical disablilties: none
    General Health: 5
    Bench Height: 36.75 inches
    Satisfaction level: 4.8
    Country Living in: England
    Nationality: British

  27. Rick Lojewski says:

    I am 61, a retired auto worker living in Canada.
    Health is 5, bench is at 35.5″, satisfaction level before your blog was not an issue, it worked, now 3. I have had my current bench for about 15 years. When I built it the current wisdom was height at my wrist bone 34″ or my table saw 35.5″. I chose the table saw and never gave it another thought.
    Another suggestion was to have the bench top equal to your forearm parallel to the floor for fine detail work. For me this was 40″. I built a stool for the bench that put my arms at this position when sitting and find it very comfortable . I am currently gathering lumber for a new bench in the Roubo style and found your blog. I raised my bench to 37″ and immediately felt a great improvement with all my hand tools and even my planes and Moxon style vise which is 5″ tall and clamps on the bench top is still comfortable to use. I will try several more heights but suspect my new bench will be between 37 and 40 “. Many thanks for revolving an issue I never realized I had and I am eagerly awaiting the results of your survey

  28. Your physical height – 5′ 11″

    Age – 40

    Gender – Male

    Occupation (Present or former) – machinist

    Physical disabilities – none (getting older though, not as able to stand for as long)

    General health (Scaled 1-5, 5 being excellent) – 5

    Current bench height – 36″

    Satisfaction level (Scaled 1-5, 5 being perfect) – 3 or 4

    Needs to be 2-3″ lower. The more planing I do, the more I realize I don’t need to be lifting the plane as high as I do while at a bench that’s half as tall as I am.

    Country living in* – USA

    Nationality* – American (Scottish / Danish descent)

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