Knock it down a notch!

When I made my work bench, I did not know which height would be best. So I made it tall. Very tall. I put “lowering the bench height” on my to-do -list. Do you have one of those never ending stories? Na-na-naa-na-na-na… Anyway, let’s get crackin’!

If you google “how tall should a woodworking bench be”, you’ll get 1.3 million hits or so. If you google “workbench height woodworking” and click on videos, you get a little over 60000 hits. Of course, most of these hits are not really discussing the ins and outs of the science of workbench height. Ask the question in any Facebook group or on any forums, and you’ve opened the proverbial floodgates of – for the most part – less than useless replies, opinions and advice.

I also have quite some bench time on a Sjöbergs woodworking bench. Those puppies are pretty nice, but really expensive (on the verge of ridiculously so, in my opinion). A Sjöbergs Elite 2000, which are roughly the same size as my work bench, costs around $2200 to $2800! They are nice work benches, but every time I use the one we have at work, I miss my own bench for several reasons. My Eclipse vise for the most part, my holdfasts* and most important: the height of my work bench! The Sjöbergs is way too low for my taste.

*The Sjöbergs uses 25mm / 1” dogs, while most other accessories are 19mm or 3/4”.

They say a cluttered work bench means a cluttered brain. I prefer that over a completely blank and void work bench… Besides, to paraphrase Einstein: genius master chaos! ’nuff said. Although he migh’ve said that to avoid tidying up his own desk…

Einstein’s desk, picture taken the day he died.

So it may not surprise you that when I built my work bench, I decided to err on the side of caution and made it tall. Very tall. In fact, way taller than I had planned for. I forgot that the top isn’t a two-dimensional plane. There are also some extra pieces of wood on top of the legs, so I ended up with a work bench standing 103cm tall. That’s 3′ 4 916”. It works great for joinery, not exactly ideal for hand planing. The plan was to lower the bench by cutting the length of the legs.

Which only took me about 2,5 years to do. Oh, well…

When I finished making the picture frame shelves, I cleaned and tidied up and decided that it’s now or never! Shortly after I took the picture below, I flipped the bench onto a couple of sawhorses and performed amputation of the lower extremities of my beloved bench.

First order of business: make a knife wall. This prevent tearout and guides the cut.

DR. HARBOE TO O.R.1 STAT! I then grabbed my Spear & Jackson 9500R and went to town. With the bench on sawhorses, I got to practice my overhand saw technique. Here goes nuttin’…

I chamfered the edges of the cut and gave the bottom of the feet a quick once-over with a hand plane, and got the bench back on its feet again. Then four laminated pieces standing 10cm tall (3 1516”) could be placed on a bench that suddenly felt a LOT more… “Right”. Yes. “Right” is a good description.

And you thought this topic might be vague!

But that is the really best explanation I can give. It just felt “right”. At 93cm (3′ 5/8″), the bench height feels very nice to me. I have to bend over slightly when planing, which gives me a better stance. It feels more natural than before, and I suspect I won’t feel like my shoulders are above my ears anymore. I also feel like I am applying force to the hand plane in a more natural way.

You might be wondering “but how tall are you”? Well, that is really not the deciding factor for bench height. The bench height are slightly above my wrist joint and it feels nice. After I’ve used the new height for some time, I might opt to lower the bench even more.

Why is my height not important? Because of arm length. Depending on where one reside in the gene pool – closer to a gorilla or a t-rex – the arm length is the deciding factor.

And did you even consider the thickness of the soles underneath your feet? Lots of factors, my friend! Lots of factors!

The general consensus narrows the ideal bench height to about wrist height. Some say the height of the knuckles (which ones?), some idealizes the wrist. There’s many fetishes, and I’m not here to judge…

I’m 185cm by the way, or 6’1”. Which doesn’t matter here.

I did take two photos of the bench so that we can compare the “look” before and after the surgery (taken from roughly the same height, although the perspective is a bit different due to the distance from the bench):

This is one of those tasks that we always end up putting “I should’ve done it before” labels on. Yet, having worked on the high bench for some time has proven to me that I personally prefer a bench that is tall. It suits my style of work, but the bench was indeed way too tall.

So what’s the ideal woodworking bench height? How long is a piece of rope? All I can say is that I am happy I decided to make the bench too tall then cut it down. It’s like inverted cooking: you cannot add (well – you can, but it is cumbersome) but you can take away (really easily done with a sharp saw!).

Lowering the bench height 10cm made a huge difference, and I cannot wait to start the next project and start gaining experience on a bench that seems a lot better all of the sudden.

And that is not an expectation I expect I need to lower!

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