Building vs. Buying a Woodwork Workbench.
The most valuable tool for a woodworker (besides his two functional hands) is widely disputed amongst furniture makers. We are of the opinion that while hand planes and chisels are the main contender for bright-eyed affection, they would be undermined with out the most important tool: a sturdy workbench.
When it comes to building or buying a bench, most woodworkers focus primarily upon the expense as priority number 1 when making their comparisons for buying vs. building. Understandably, this is an important factor, however I would contest a shift of focus to quality as priority. Don’t get me wrong, cost is still an important focus but it now factors at number 2, underneath ‘quality’.
So with quality now sitting in the driving seat and expense sitting *shotgun of your decision making, we can pretty much rule out ‘buying’ as a good option.
*Shotgun – passenger seat
In my knowledge, affordable to moderately priced off the shelf woodwork benches are typically; constructions void of timber joinery, low quality materials, held together with bolts and screws, light in weight and delivered with characterless standardized dimensions. Inexpensive benches may eventually require more of your time, in repairs (modifications) and then cost more money, repairing and or eventual replacement.
Expensive benches to buy are made bespoke, typically by a more experienced craftsman. These are a good option for those with little time and big pockets. But before signing that check, ask yourself the questions, “an individual buying a high quality sturdily built (expensive) workbench is surely looking to do some woodworking? Building a bench is woodworking… right?”
So at this point, it’s maybe becoming quite clear that my lean and preference is towards building your own bench.
Here’s why I recommend you build your own workbench:
Material: Remember quality is still of the utmost importance. Your choice of material will determine the longevity of the bench and its suitability to function, so forget the pine and look at affordably priced hardwoods. When considering a budget for timber (your biggest expense), also keep in mind that a well built bench will last a lifetime and it’s an investment rather than an expense.
High quality: a good workbench design should be robust in design and its method of assembly. So make your bench with deep mortises and long tenons, tight fitting joinery, appropriately sourced hardware and most importantly weight, achieved through chunky legs and rails, accompanied by a thick top for maximum rigidity.
Customisable: Lastly, but equally important as quality and cost. By making it yourself, you’ve got the opportunity to customise your bench to suit your body type (mainly height) and its intended use.
The central point is that a good bench won’t make you a better woodworker, and a not-quite-a-bench won’t doom you to failure. But a good bench will make many operations easier. It’s simply a tool that should perform a set of functions with ease, chiefly sitting sturdily and providing a flat working area, these things subsequently adding to your enjoyment while woodworking.
We are so passionate about the value of the self-built woodwork bench; we created a 3-day course, in which we could assist woodworkers build their very own workbench. This is our alternative option to buying an off the shelf bench, in which attendees learn about simple joinery techniques and bench assembly. This course represents excellent value for money in terms of ending up with an extremely well built, individual customised workbench.