NOTE:Just so you know, this is an older workbench series. Paul has a newer Workbench series. If you are interested in the updated version of Paul’s workbench please click the button down below. This page links to a cutting list, tools list, FAQS and much more.

When I was a boy apprentice, the benches I worked on were two-man benches. At 15 years old I was considered an adult and worked as a man even though the older men called me “boy” or referred to me amongst themselves as “the boy.” I didn’t mind being “the boy” at all. Moving up the hierarchy of apprentices, it wasn’t too long before I moved from the lowest dog position to 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th year and a fully-grown craftsman.

All of the benches there looked the same. They were beaten and bruised, sawn into, chiseled into and sometimes planed into. They were screwed into, nailed into, clamped and cramped on to and the overall appearance was a scarred workbench. Because of this, I care little for polished benches that don’t invite work and even though I take great care not to axe into or chisel the surfaces, I find slick, highly finished bench worktops less than, well, working examples to be emulated. Now that does not mean that they are no good, or that someone is a lesser woodworker if their benchtops are not severely marred. Simply that I don’t want to feel I need to spend more time taking care of my benchtop rather than working wood. Anyway, this is how I feel and not for everyone. All of this is to get to my point, which is that every workbench I ever saw looked like the ones described and that is generally how my benches look in the everyday of life. Furthermore, men I worked with felt nothing about nailing a bench stop of 1×2 across the end of the bench and planing a stile of a door or a window frame. The stop might stay there for two weeks and then removed. The same stop was kept for future work and that was that.

There are many questions people have surrounding benchdogs and dogging systems and I indeed included a setup in my recently completed workbenbench to address the issue. What I have worked out is that most of use the bench top for stuff that will not fit into the vise. My Woden vise will take 14”. Quite large and very solid.

A highly effective method

One method of work holding I have used for a few years is the sash clamp held in the vise. You must however infill the aluminum clamps I use with wood beforehand. I do this as a matter of course on these clamps because it so improves the quality, feel and torque resistance on (see earlier post on retrofitting clamps) alluminium clamps.

A four-foot clamp will arrest a full table top on the bench and will also hold something 2” square or less. I place the work in progress on the benchtop and then secure the edge overhanging the bench edge and vise in the clamp. A 2’ x 3’ coffee table top can be readily scraped and planed and sounded without movement or vibration. Notice that I can change direction to plane away from me across the bench or along the bench. Long tabletops can span the benchtop and be worked from either end or turned around for comfort as needed.

As you can see, long legs and such fit readily into this system. Round or square, long or short pieces and even many awkward shapes can be safely and securely held using this system and many other such adaptations too many for this blog are possible.

This system is especially good for children who may not have the strength to use a bench hook, which is actually more upper body weight transfer to the arms rather than actual strength.

For the legs, I usually anchor the leg in the clamp clear of the ends so that my plane or spokeshave clears the clamps heads and then lower it into the vise so that the leg is then also supported by the vise jaws.

Look above also at the tabletop. I do the same here; I clamp the workpiece free and clear and lower it into the vise until the tabletop is fully supported and tighten the vise onto the clamp bar. This system also works well with pipe clamps (USA) and sash clamps too. It’s wonderful for scraping too.

14 Comments

  1. Brandon Avakian on 2 July 2012 at 9:58 pm

    I have been wondering what your alternative was to using benchdogs. Sounds like the tail-vise may not be necessary. I guess the average woodworker is just looking for a method the is simple and efficient.
    Brandon Avakian



  2. John Schwanekamp on 3 July 2012 at 12:36 am

    Paul, Your great ideas about holding work on the benchtop have got me thinking about wedges. Do you have a standard slope, such as one in nine or so, that you have found to be practical for wedges designed to be used with stops?
    John Schwanekamp



    • Paul Sellers on 4 July 2012 at 9:03 pm

      Hello John,
      Any shallow pitch less than a 1-7 ratio will work for sliding wedges in bench holding. The method I am using needs no wedging at all as few tabletops are wider than 44″ and going across the bench with wide and long lengths is simple enough to do and supports the bench without the need of further holding.



  3. Ron on 3 July 2012 at 1:15 am

    I find your view on benches refreshing. I think that’s why I like your videos, you come at it more from the view of someone who has done woodworking for a living. A lot of boutique woodworking blogs out there not that there is anything wrong with them there are many I like, but some people get way to spun up on the process instead of the product.



    • Paul Sellers on 4 July 2012 at 9:05 pm

      I think that people are looking more and more for real woodworking and I am glad we are making the shift.



  4. Mark on 3 July 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Stories from the early apprentice days and how life was then — Fabulous!



  5. David on 27 November 2014 at 6:28 am

    I think there is a big push to have a completely tricked out work bench when you really don’t need one. I have worked on some really nice benches, but as of now, in my home shop my table saw is my workbench. I get by with a straight-edge clamp thingy and two wooden clamps that are then clamped to the table surface. Eventually I would like to build myself a nice bench with a leg vise and full tail vise with dog holes, but for now I have a planing stop and some clamps which work quite nicely. When I was edge planing some thicker stuff I ended up using the table saw fence as a stop, and when I was planing thinner stuff I used thin pieces of plywood or whatever else was laying around as shims to bring the stock up to where I could plane it without hitting my straight edge clamp. In my experience, it’s not so much what bench you have but how you use it to get work done that counts.



    • Paul Sellers on 27 November 2014 at 9:03 am

      There is no substitute for a bona fide workbench and I think that’s what you are ultimately saying. Unlike the USA, most European woodworkers don’t have a tablesaw and don’t want one or even particularly need one so it’s not an alternative for them. It’s impractical for most of my work to think of clamps alone as a method for holding work, but as an interim it’s OK. Many people are now obsessing over workbenches for various reasons not the least of which is the image alone. I have no use for a post vise or a tail vise although I do have them on a couple of my workbenches. A quick release bench vise is invincible and fast. It does everything I want it to do so these are my recommended method for work holding.



  6. maurice on 20 December 2014 at 11:42 pm

    is there any advantage using a pattern makers vice?



    • Paul Sellers on 21 December 2014 at 2:06 am

      They are versatile with jaws that crank closed out of parallel and swivel too, but for the work I do I can’t say I need one at all. I guess it’s more a matter of choices really.



  7. René on 26 November 2015 at 12:48 pm

    I have seen your solutions for squared parts as you pictured in this blog entry, before. That was one main reason for me not to build a fancy bench with fancy holding systems for my children: Flat, doubled-on table-top with a front vise is all they need.
    Except: They like to chop-saw sticks and stuff like that. But that is hard to do for them with your style of installed front vise. The sticks do move too much back and forth because of the distance from the left end of the bench-top to the vise plus the gap between the bench-top frontside and the thickness of the vise jaw. I do have only one solution for them: to secure the stick in an angle. That, on the other hand, means to saw in an uncomfortable way; not suitable for the young ones who start to learn back-and-forth-moving of sawing.

    But another question more regarding to this article.
    You write: ” …and even many awkward shapes can be safely and securely held using this system and many other such adaptations too many for this blog are possible…”.
    Ok, only one tip, please: How to secure a round table top/plate or sth. where to even the surface? Is there a versatile solution – or only by making holding templates (one side straight to fit the clamping bars, and the other side in the arch shape suitable to the workpiece)?



  8. Robert Judy on 2 February 2019 at 2:46 am

    Paul, I like the idea of using sash clamps as an alternative work holding device. But how do I use them with a stem vise where the back “jaw” is the bench top itself?

    Thank you for all the great perspectives and methods you share.

    Robert



    • Paul Sellers on 2 February 2019 at 8:07 am

      You could screw am ‘artificial’ back jaw on to the face of the bench there opposite the front jaw. You should do that anyway. It will make benchwork a million times better as you can grip the wood you’re putting in the vise much more easily. It’s always been a silly thing that so many woodworkers cling to flush front edges for something they might need once every three years.



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