The long and short of bench heights

Part of my preparation for the upcoming month-long class and other classes in the future is to install a taller bench than usual. I have already established that the premium height for a hand tool bench is 38”. This is not a mere opinion. I don’t altogether care find too much real value in opinions. I like things proven through usage. If you are a machine-only woodworker, as most woodworkers are, you don’t really need a hand tool bench but more an assembly bench. I have worked with so many people working at 38″ bench heights with rare occasions where we need higher benches. This 38″  height usually accommodates people between 5’ 9” and 5’11” – Mr Average in the western world of woodworkers. Some people have taken the crease-in-the-wrist maxim from somewhere, heaven knows, I think for measuring walking cane heights. That doesn’t usually work too well for a bench height. I do like to have a lower assembly bench, but that’s like 18” from the shop floor. I build these when we work on premium pieces like the two cabinets we made for the White House four years ago. Hard to imagine today as I write this that I was actually walking through the White House and in the Cabinet Room the evening President Bush gave his departing speech. The streets were filled with crowds anticipating President Obama’s inaugural speech and this week he is sitting next to the cabinets I designed and made with the people I had worked with as apprentices, journeyman and when they became craftsmen in their own right.


It’s hard to imagine that today I was dismantling a workbench we made for our YouTube Series we just finished filming and that I was wheelbarrowing the bench components to my Mondeo hatchback to get the bench to Penrhyn Castle. Yes it all fit in the car and had I adjusted the seats differently this 7’6” long by 42” tall by 36” deep workbench would have fitted quite nicely inside , allowing the hatch to fully close down and fasten shut.

Phil was in the castle to help me prep and reset the bench. Actually, he will be using the bench. He’s 6’4” and 38” tall benches just don’t work for him. We will test this out for him over the coming year as longer term he will need something that fit’s him and his back and neck. By the way, there is nothing wrong with building long floor boxes from plywood for shorter people who are still growing, or jacking up a bench on two 2×4’s to gain an inch and a half or more.

9 comments on “The long and short of bench heights

  1. Could you share the logic used to determine the bench height? I’m 6-6 and use a 39 inch bench for hand work that was not originally designed for any type of woodworking and when working much above the benchtop due to vise/clamping limitations I feel plane work relies too much on arm strength. I’d like to know how the 43 inch bench works out.

    • I am afraid there is no one size fits all with benches. Arm length, torso length and leg length play a part too. Long arms can indeed mean everage against you. Now that you have a max height you feel may be too tall, lay some plywood down and try working from that height for a day and see hpw it feels. Keep changing by adding and you will find the exact height that suits you and you can then cut to final height.

  2. Finally, some sanity returns to recommended bench heights. Here is to saving the backs of those Roubo enthusiasts who built benches with heights based on their pinky fingers. But then again, they seem to be enamored with being 18th century joiner re-enactors rather than cabinetmakers.

  3. I was wrestling with this issue today! As a (very) novice woodworker I’ve been following your bench making series with keen interest. I do not have facilities that lend themselves to power tools, so I turned to hand tools in order to pursue the craft and I am smitten. However, it’s hard to have a go at it without a proper stable bench. I really want to see how this bench turned out because I’ve not had the opportunity to see a proper hand tool bench in person. Thanks for your hard work and sharing, keep it up!

  4. Paul
    I am 5’9″ and my bench is 34″ high. I wonder if that is why even with knife walls I can saw at 90° to the face but my cuts are off square vertically, even though the saw looks vertical to me? roll on your weekend or two day short course!

    • Keep correcting this discrepancy and even go the other way so that you can chisel the wall with horizontal cuts, perpendicular to the face of the wood. I use the knife wall to rest my chesel on before a forward thrust develops the wall pristinely. You will get it. e will show you this in the upcoming online stuff we are planning.

  5. I just marked my legs before reading this post. The legs are at 35″ and the table is 3″ thick at this point. I’m 5′ 81/2″… so say 5’9″, and the measurement gives me the height that I’m working off to build the bench a total of 38″. The only time I’m having an issue right now is when I reach too far over the makeshift bench to plane. I’ve found the pull stroke works well there.
    I do have kinda long monkey arms though. 🙂
    Another coincidence, the bench is at 8′ long right now but when I cut it to size it will be 7’6″. That seemed like a good length for working on doors and tall shutters.
    My goal was to have the bench done by the end of Oct but I’m going to have to push it to get there, its a busy season around here.

  6. I am 6’3″ and built my bench 34″ high based on the “rule.” It is too low. After I read your post, I put 4″x 6″ under the legs and instantly liked it much better. I’ll try this height and a few others before finally deciding, but I have to say that your opinion seems right for me. Now, I have to design plinths for my nice Nicholson bench legs!

    • Sorry we didn’t get to you sooner. You have to get through the “opinions” and the “IMHOs”, which are seldom humble at all, to get to the meat of what you need. That should be more In My Honest Opinion, based on tried and tested methods that really work.

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