For this month’s Wood News Online we received the following Ask the Staff question from Tom Rose:
Why are wood bench plans that I have seen not over 5 feet long??
Read our answer in the comments below and feel free to leave your own answer in the comments section!
This bench has a top slab that is about 75″ in length: Benchcrafted Split Top Roubo Bench Plan. The overall length is longer with the dog vise attached.
Many pre-printed plans drawn up for a shop bench may be at 5 feet or less so you can get the material for the top out of 6′ or 12′ lumber with the ends cut nice and clean (away from any checking on the board ends).
An approximately 5 foot long top can support 4 x 8 plywood sheet stock adequately, often the largest “piece” of wood many woodworkers would be normally processing. I don’t think something close to 60″ for a bench top is any magic number, but it can meet the needs of most woodworkers, is sized to not be massive to handle when building (and moving once built) and will not break the budget on materials. However, if you want a longer top, then build a bench with a larger top.
If the plans you come across have a length too short for your current shop space, but you like the overall bench design, feel free to modify the plans to a length of your choosing. It should not be that difficult to tweak a workbench design in length. Of course you need to pay attention to the legs underneath and how they may need to be adjusted for a longer bench. More than likely, the stretchers for the legs will need to change in dimension. And if your top gets a lot longer, you may need to beef up the dimensions of the design of the supporting legs and stretchers. You would want to be sure that spacing for any vises to be attached or perhaps under the top drawers in the design, as well as dog hole spacing are changed appropriately.
While there may be comfort in building from plans that are exact to your needs and no modification would be needed, it is perfectly normal for woodworkers to take a set a plans and alter things like overall width, length or height (among other things) to customize the bench to suit their particular needs. Yes, this means you have to recalculate cut lists and other aspects of the plans to build the bench to a different dimension, but with careful attention, I’m sure you’ll be able to make modifications so you’ll end up with a bench that fits your personal requirements.
You might want to try “The Workbench Design Book” by Christopher Schwarz and the Popular Woodworking Staff. It has at least 10 designs for benches with a ton of information about options and holding mechanisms, including Chapter 17 — The Best Bench Never Built. If you can’t find something in there, perhaps you are being too discriminatory. I think he may have reissued the book because when I search Highland books, this one pops up. http://www.highlandwoodworking.com/workbenches-from-design-and-theory-to-construction-and-use.aspx