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Thread: Bench Heights

  1. #1
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Bench Heights

    Just curious, how high do you like your benches to be? I recently put a jig onto on my bench putting it up above my naval and find I really like that height. The benches have been lower in the past but I have found I really prefer to stand but need an adjustable bench because certain tasks or projects dictate that the bench be higher or lower. Do you have multiple benches in your shop of varying heights or do you just work with one and adjust to it yourself?
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  2. #2
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bench Heights

    I'm a little over 6' tall and I like my benches a little higher than average. 39" to 40" works for most things.
    When I worked at a cabinet shop a couple hundred years ago we had some low benches for assembling boxes. I wouldn't mind having a lower bench for some guitar work but so far I don't. I wasn't expecting to be building as many guitars as I am. For mandolins I don't feel a strong need for varying bench height. I do have stools of different heights and adjustable heights so I can work seated at different levels or standing.

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  4. #3
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bench Heights

    I'm short and slowly shrinking apparently. I have been told I remind people of a dwarf from The Lord of the Rings Movies. Anywho the bench I am using now with the leveling table on top is about 41" high and is just really comfortable to work over. I don't need to bend over and everything is right there. But one part is only 24 inches wide while the other is 30. One of the shops I was learning in had benches about 36" high but 8' square, a lot of real estate that would have made no sense for me but with several other guys working around it it made sense.

    I am leaning to making my new bench convertible, where I can have it long and narrow or a little wider and maybe height adjustable. I have found that having a couple benches works better than one big one. I do tend to prefer to stand up most of the time. I imagine that is why I like a higher bench. Do you do a lot of work sitting?
    My avatar is of my OldWave Oval A

    Creativity is just doing something wierd and finding out others like it.

  5. #4
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bench Heights

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    ...Do you do a lot of work sitting?
    I mix it up. Too much standing is hard on feet and legs, too much sitting is hard on other things. I like at least one stool of a height that makes me about the same height sitting or standing.

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  7. #5

    Default Re: Bench Heights

    Hardly anything energizes dilettante hobby woodworkers more than designs for benches. Books have been written; extremely expensive European ones sold. (Expensive as in as much as a high end mandolin, or a decent used car!). I’m willing to bet that there are completely unscarred, carefully waxed monster ones in significant numbers, languishing in over-equipped home shops.
    Beside the point, even if I did make my very own take on one of these, that now serves as just more horizontal space.
    Anyway, the basic idea on height is that fine work, or very fine work, is best done nearly at face level, e.g. watchmaker’s bench, and work requiring large muscular effort much lower, forearms below horizontal, say. So for whacking some innocent piece of wood with a big chisel, it has to be not only low, but the butt end of the chisel needs to be pretty low. Same with sawing: the work should be low. Thus, the traditional arrangement for a two-vise-with dogs bench generally is pretty low, very heavy, and often with a shallow recess for tools. I find very few chances to stay seated for long, but having two stools of different heiights helps.

    Sometimes, since the demise of school shops, woodworking (as well as other) benches can turn up surplussed for reasonable cost although often set up for two users facing. The two vises alone are worth getting one of these, since vises are now costly. And take my Emmert, please!

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  9. #6
    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bench Heights

    Bury me with my Emmert!

    Richard, which model do you have? I had a few of the larger turtle backs and the giant K models. I was always worried that when I titled it up and extended the jaws out, if it fell I'd lose a finger or two because it weighs so much. Now I have one of the smaller models and I find that one extremely useful.

    For folks that don't know what an Emmert vise is: http://www.mprime.com/Emmert/index.htm

    As for benches, I definitely have a bench problem. I have four different ones, each meticulously designed for specific tasks, and every one a different height. Imagine if your workload varied from small mandolins up to double basses.

    By far, may favorite is the bench I made with a giant adjustable bowling ball vise. The ability to do complicated odd angle work and ergonomic carving is unsurpassed. SHown here with the bass jig attached.
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  11. #7

    Default Re: Bench Heights

    I think traditionally, old world benches were lower because the major action processes were done by hand. Hand planing and sawing require you to bear down on the work and a lower surface better facilitates that. With routers and chisels, having the work up closer to navel level makes for easier seeing with less stooping. At my age, I'm paying more attention to what I ask my back to do.

    My cabinet saw is on a mobile base, putting the table at 36". I put a router in the table extension and a big 4 x 4 outfeed table which gets used for a lot of different operations. I'm short (5' 7") but find that height more comfortable than my hardwood bench at 32" (for everything but handplaning).

    I also have a rollout storage cab that lives under the outfeed table with a height of 30". It gets used when I stand up an instrument to work on the rims. If I was going to be building many more guitars, I would build a small bench for that purpose, maybe 20" wide that I can walk around 3 sides and designed for easy clamping with an outboard neck vise.

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  13. #8

    Default Re: Bench Heights

    James, I’m still remote from my place, and caretaking my lady, so I can’t go look at the Emmert, or play with the machines much. It’s a
    big one, around 100 lbs and the model from 1905 If I remember, and I did look up the whole history, but can’t name the letter code. Beyond having to cut into the bench top, and the inability to work below it like a normal screw vise, after I got done making the missing little bits, I just didn’t like how crudely it was made - cast iron screw(!), so I just set it aside.
    I like that ‘bowling ball’ vise. What was the ball from, assuming it’s iron and you didn’t make that part? The standard electronics bench tool is, or was, the Panavise, also a ball and socket with a head for holding, especially, circuit boards. A bit smaller.
    On benches; when I shut down the company and sold/trashed most of the antique machine tools, I did drag a number of the workbenches home, figuring that the steel-topped ones could be useful inside and out, and they are. I saved far more large machinists vises than anyone might need. Generally only use two of them. I attached a massive, ancient blacksmith’s footed vise to my woodworking bench just for added inertia, but it can grab things too. I thought about the welding table (about 18” high and 6’ diameter, but at 4” thick and solid steel (a repurposed who knows what) it was just too big to play with. A lot of things were built on that table.

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  15. #9
    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bench Heights

    I had a similar experience with the bigger Emmerts- great for cabinet making, but too much for my uses. I cherish the smaller one.

    The bowling ball vise is the same concept as a Panavise, but literally uses an old bowling ball, so it is massive. I have a giant old Oliver #20 patternmaker's lathe, so it was easy to turn the upper and lower sockets. Simple as the photo looks, those two used up almost an entire sheet of birch plywood.

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  17. #10
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bench Heights

    I have several benches, one just above waist high I set my engine on, 71' super better motor, to high and I have a harder time lifting the motor up, an MFT3 which I bought into years ago and not nearly worth the cost then and certainly not worth the cost now! I also have a 2'x4' Bora centipede. I actually use the mat and bora a lot. But what I have learned is height really makes a difference and it is great to see my personal observations mirrored here. I appreciate the replies and do believe I will make a bench I can vary in width and height. I always wanted a very heavy bench that wouldn't drift around while using my planes and I still might make this one incredible heavy. I'm still thinking on that.
    My avatar is of my OldWave Oval A

    Creativity is just doing something wierd and finding out others like it.

  18. #11
    Registered User amowry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bench Heights

    My main workbench is 48" high. That would be too high for much heavy work, but most of what I do is detail stuff and my back and my poor eyes both thank me for having my work as close as possible.

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  20. #12
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bench Heights

    Thanks everyone!
    My avatar is of my OldWave Oval A

    Creativity is just doing something wierd and finding out others like it.

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