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Here's What You Need to Customize Your Workbench

There are approximately 238,000 professional woodworkers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of course, the line between amateur, semi-pro, and professional woodworkers becomes very blurry.

After all, the exact same kinds of tools are available to enthusiastic amateurs that professionals use. Plus, many weekend woodworkers produce professional quality work, just at a slower pace.

One thing that often separates true amateurs from semi-pros and pros is the modifications they make to key woodworking tools, such as a workbench. If you're looking to up your woodcraft game, keep reading for some key ways you can customize your workbench to fit your needs.



Countertop

When most people first start with woodworking, they often put together a DIY woodwork bench. They buy some plywood, attach some 4"x4" legs, and use 2"x4" to create some bracing.

For beginners, a setup like this makes sense. It's affordable, relatively sturdy, and you can build it to fit your available space. Yet, plywood is not really an ideal material for workbench counters.

At heart, plywood is just thin layers of wood that are glued together. That can make the wood susceptible to warping and swelling, particularly in spaces with a lot of humidity, big temperature changes, or both. Does that sound anything like your garage workshop?

Once that plywood warps, it can make anything that involves fine adjustment tricky. Ultimately, you want something with very high stability, even in spaces where your humidity and temperature control aren't great.

That's where the traditional maple butcherblock workbench counter comes into the picture. They're thick, heavy, durable, and won't warp on you.

Bench Vise

One of the things you often see that come pre-attached to a retail woodworking bench is the bench vice. A lot of beginner woodworkers regard that vise with a bit of puzzlement. What is that thing for, anyway?

Experienced woodworkers know that you often work alone in the shop. That means you will find yourself thinking, over and over again, "I wish I had another arm to hold this."

That is the precise function of the bench vise. The vise holds a piece of wood in position so you can cut or shape it. Yet, both of your hands remain free to use for the cutting and shaping.

That can prove very important when you must work with power tools or you're shaping the wood with a razor-sharp hand tool.

Under Bench Storage

Like most serious hobbies or semi-professional pursuits, woodcrafting means an almost inevitable buildup of woodworking tools, jigs, and supplies. When you first start out, maybe you have a miter saw, some glue, and a smattering of hand tools.

In truth, that's plenty if you just want to do some backyard woodworking projects like a picnic table. Once you start delving into more complex projects, though, you discover that you also need:

  • Jigsaw
  • Orbital sander
  • Hand planes
  • Pliers
  • Router
  • Clamps
  • Stains and finishes

Where do you put all of that stuff? You put some of it in the under-bench storage area. If you're putting together a DIY bench, you'll probably want to just make it an open shelf. FYI, this is where you use that plywood.

It's a convenient place to store tools that you use on a regular basis. Pro tip: that bench will accumulate dust, so keep your power tools in their storage bags if you store them on that shelf.

If you don't think you'll move anytime soon, you can build some storage drawers into the bench. That'll add a lot of weight, though, so make sure the bench is where you want it for the long term.

Pegboard Organizer

If your workbench will sit up against a wall on a full-time basis, you can also add a pegboard organizer onto the back of the bench. This kind of organizer can become a big space saver for you.

The organizer lets you hang most of the basic hand tools you use on a regular basis, such as pliers, hammers, screwdrivers, squares, and even small bubble levels. By hanging them on the pegboard organizer, you don't need drawers or a separate storage cabinet to keep them tidy.

Plus, they're always right within reach when you need them.

Castors

Let's say that you know that moving your bench around is a must-have feature. If that's the case, then you'll want to install lockable castors on the bench legs.

The castors let you push or pull the bench to wherever you need it. Once you get it in place, though, the lockable feature will let you secure the bench in place while you work.

You don't want the table to shift position while you work with powered saws or routers. That's a fast route to a hospital trip.

Adjustable Carving Bench

Some woodworkers like the fine woodworking aspects of the craft more than the bigger, cabinet-building aspects of the craft. For anyone who falls into that category, you may want something like an adjustable carving bench.

Granted, this is less of a modification to the bench than an add-on. An adjustable carving bench sits on top of the workbench and uses it for support.

This type of add-on lets you work on those delicate carving projects while standing upright, rather than hunched over your regular workbench. It also lets you adjust the angle you work at on the project.

If nothing else, it will help give your back a break. 

Customizing Your Workbench

Even for the beginner, a workbench is something of a necessity. As a beginner, though, any kind of flat surface will often prove sufficient. If you want to take your woodworking up a notch, though, you'll likely end up customizing a workbench for your needs.

Make sure you get a good countertop for your bench that will resist twisting and warping. Consider adding a storage shelf, drawers, or a pegboard organizer to keep your tools contained. Don't forget a bench vise.

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