Monday, 16 March 2015

Ideal Workbench Height


I know this is an emotive subject, if you talk to Chris Schwarz or Richard McGuire they will advocate a low bench height of around 33". But most everyone else I know prefers a higher bench and that includes me. I've made benches from 37" - 39" high over the years and have settled on 37" as my ideal height, I can hand plane comfortably as well as cut dovetails and I can sit at the bench with my knees under like a desk. Interestingly an article comparing benches in Fine Woodworking a while back also found the most comfortable working height was 37", I think this was on a Lie Nielsen bench.
I was reading Alan Peters great book the other night when I came across his views on the ideal work bench.

In his words, 'The illustration shows what I consider to be the ideal cabinetmakers bench, European in pattern. If you decide to make your own, do research the best height for you - all purchased benches appear to have been designed for midgets, or rather they are based on traditional patterns for chopping mortises and for hours of heavy hand planing. My four purchased benches sit more or less permanently on 6" blocks to eliminate backache'.
By my reckoning this meant all the benches in his shop were about 38" high and Alan was by no means a tall man.
So with my hat thrown into the ring in favour of higher benches, I'll leave you with some shots from his great book. Although written in 1984 it is still mostly very relevant and still in print 31 years later. If you don't have a copy in your woodworking collection, get one!





12 comments:

  1. Very timely David, I'm thinking 39" would be a good height for my bench. Incidentally, I bought this book through Amazon.com at your earlier recommendation. It was a library copy from "The Public Library of the District of Columbia, Washington D.C." ... I paid $2.50 for it ... plus $12.00 dollars postage !!!

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    1. Hi Simon, you may be right about your bench height, the book sounds a bargain! All the best, David.

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  2. I built a small bench for home (in my bedroom of all places) and it is just over 39" high. I'm 5'8" on a good day, and it feels right for just about all jobs. At first I thought it might be too high, but I'm glad I chose to make it this size.

    Who am I to argue with the great Mr Peters (or indeed Mr Barron). Thanks for the book recommendation.

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    1. Hi Frank, that's good to hear, but a workbench in the bedroom, I'd never get away with that! All the best, David.

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  3. Of course, you could have one bench at, say, 40", and another at, say, 33-34".

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    1. Your right and that's how I work. I have my main bench at 37" for working on and an assembly bench which is only 30" high behind. All the best, David.

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  4. I have just reduced my workbench to 37" from 39". At 5'6" I found the 39" great for detailed work but planing resulted in some sore elbows. 37" has turned out to be a happy compromise. A neighbour suggested a walk on planing board to raise my height, but I chose against this because of the potential trip hazard and inconvenience.

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    1. I think 39" would be too tall for you. It's interesting you've settled on 37" that seems to be the magical all round height. All the best, David.

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  5. How tall are you?
    I'm 6'2" and tempted to go for 41", since I find my kitchen tables back achingly short at 36". I have a hard time thinking 39" would be tall enough considering that many people much shorter than me seem to swear by it.

    Also, is 19" to shallow? I've heard so many people claim 24" as the perfect depth, but my apartment is quite small and I have no garage. But I'd hate to move to a bigger house and regret it... Would 41"x5'x19" be too tippy?

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    1. Hi Daniel, I'm 6' tall and I wouldn't want to work on anything higher than 38" or lower than 36". It doesn't necessarily follow that taller people need a much taller bench or shorter people need a much shorter one. Try and set something up and test the comfortable height hand planing.
      If you don't skimp on the weight of the under frame (or the top!) then the bench won't go anywhere. 24" is a good depth.
      All the best, David.

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  7. Picked up the book by chance during a holiday. Absorbing and informative. Real world advice for those wanting to become a professional furniture maker, good technical advice too.

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