A Modern Woodworking Workbench

This is a post about workbenches, but not the benches you’re probably thinking about. Workbenches meant for electronics development are simple matters – just about any flat surface, a few shelves for equipment, and an anti-static mat will be fine for every conceivable use.  Workbenches for woodworking are a separate matter entirely. There’s actually quite a bit of history behind the development of the woodworking workbench, but the basic idea is a thick laminated wood top, integrated vices, holes in the work surface for bench dogs, and ergonomics that allow for comfortable use of hand tools. The basic design of these benches hasn’t changed much in several hundred years, and [Dirk] thought the design was ready for a modern update.

Robot-Bench Yes. This one moves on its own. It’s a robotic woodworking workbench that lifts the workpiece and table up to a comfortable position. The lifting mechanism is a quartet of Acme threaded rods all powered by an Arduino-controlled stepper motor linked together with sprockets and chain. There’s a remote control to raise and lower the bench, and a few batteries tucked behind the mechanics to allow for off-grid operation.

A bench must be sturdy, and this one has clamps on the frame of to clamp the ‘elevator car’ securely to the bench. Leveling casters make this bench mobile, giving [Dirk] the ability to move it around the shop, or from site to site. An integrate face vise and a twin-screw end vise securely hold the workpiece to the table, and a linseed oil finish make scratches and gouges easily repairable.

The majority of the frame is constructed out of birch plywood cut on a CNC, so if you have a Shopbot or other large router available to you at the local hackerspace, building this bench for yourself is a much simpler matter than the mortise and tenon joinery of a more traditional woodworking workbench. If you end up building this bench, be sure to pick up the casters [Dirk] used; this thing weighs 800 pounds. Massive, heavy, and an excellent bench that can be passed down to your grandkids. Video below.

32 thoughts on “A Modern Woodworking Workbench

  1. Doubles as a saw runoff table, always at the right height.
    Or make an extra long table to some other surface.
    Ready for blackout but not EMP. With all the chain it would be simple to add a crank.

  2. Good to see someone who takes great pride in their work, create such a beautiful product.

    My (outdoor) workbench get used for woodwork, metal work and car repairs. It has lots of workbench unfriendly tools to contend with like power saws, angle grinders, hammers and gas flames. It could never look like this.

    This workbench is beautiful, practical, functional and innovative. Excellent work.

  3. If I am seeing it right, it looks like there may not be sufficient clearance for the toes of your feet under the bench. If so then that creates a big ergonomic problem when you want to stand up against the bench. Those feet gotta go somewhere.

  4. Very well done – much as I love HAD, there’s often a dearth of “traditional” craft/mechanical projects like this.

    A couple of comments:

    The drive mechanism is a tour de force, but unless you use it constantly you’ll find that it’s more trouble than its worth and a crank (other than this author) will likely appear for simplicity’s sake as the batteries expire and the drive system – particularly the roller chain system – gets clogged with sawdust. The lift screws will similarly get clogged with dust over time unless there’s a screw thread wiper on either side of the travelling parts.

    Alternately, you may find that you *are* constantly raising and lowering the work surface, which would argue strongly for a rocking foot pedal to trigger it up and down so you don’t have to put down what you’re working on.

    I’d also strongly advocate one (or several) sacrificial surfaces to put on the top for those projects that have require percussive persuasion, a lot of heat, or paint/oil/coatings to be spilled about. 3/4″ plywood is good, maybe one with 12 gauge steel up on standoff washers for torch/heat gun work.

    All of that said, I’m going to be waiting for plans to be posted…nice stuff.

    1. That’s not the sort of work this is designed for.
      Though it shares many characteristics with a work-Table (and some would argue I’m just being pedantic) this is a work-Bench. It’s optimized for a specific type of work to be done on it ie; wood work. It looks beautiful but it’s meant to have things beaten against it and covered in sawdust. It’s not a museum piece. If you’re concerned about paint/coatings getting all over it that’s nothing a few sheets of the local paper can’t be used for.

      If you’re looking for a general purpose work table I would say this is not the best tool for the job.

    2. The points you bring up are things I was concerned about. However, as far as dust in the mechanism, I haven’t found that to be a problem at all. I’ve been using it for almost a year every weekend and most evenings without concern.

      The batteries are sealed lead acid batteries that are meant to go in universal power supplies. They are designed to last many years especially if used frequently. Second, they are only $10/piece and there are only 6. So you are looking at a $60 expense every ??? years. That’s not much for the convenience. And you can operate this thing by plugging it in just fine too so it’s not like your stuck if they fail.

      As for the threads and chain collecting dust. I haven’t seen any really even with grease on the threads. Mainly, I think, this is due to the fact that they are buried far enough underneath the edge of the bench that they just don’t get much dust on them. Remember, the Top edge of the bench hangs over a good 4 inches and then the centers are set back 2 more under the edge of the elevator car. Unless you have a lot of strong air currents in your shop, dust falls pretty much strait down (at least the majority of it). I usually don’t have the bench really high either

      The other thing is that I generally work with wood so the dust is really not abrasive to the metal. Maybe if I were doing metal work I would do things differently, but I don’t really do that.

      The roller chain is designed to operate loose enough that any small junk that gets in there doesn’t jam or anything. Maybe it will wear out eventually, but again, the roller chain was like $12 or something and it has lasted just about a year and had no problems. I re-tightened it once, but that is because every new roller chain stretches some as is wears in.

      As far as the pounding goes, the bench is solid enough to take anything I can dish out to it without doing any structural damage. I think my house could fall down on it and it would be ok. It’s probably the thing I would hide under if there were a tornado or something. I do grab some scraps if I am going to pound on it in a way that will leave dents, but I think most people would do that with any bench they put any kind of time into.

      Foot petals may be a good addition though.

      A hand crank would work too (even if you terminated it in a nut you could easily run it with a drill). However, I find that the convenience means I use it a whole lot more than I would if I had a manual adjustment. I use it probably an average of 4-6 times a day when I am in the shop. just so easy to keep my back straight when I work. I am so much more comfortable for long sessions.

        1. Maybe. Contact me through my website (www.21stcenturywoodworking.com) and maybe we can work something out. Its a lot of material to ship. I know I can’t handle that out of my house even though I have a large format cnc. I don’t have any desire to make these things as a kit. Its just too much lifting heavy stuff. I can imagine that somebody with a cnc cabinet shop or something could make these easily. I think you could even set it up to cut out parts on the sheet and leave tabs in place and ship basically full sheets.

    3. Concerning sacrificial surfaces, our machine shop uses 1/4″ plex (I don’t know, maybe it’s acrylic or Lexan) on top of some tables. Those tables, which serve the big CNC mill, look brand-new after years of use.

  5. Those don’t look like Acme threads, I think it’s just regular threaded rod.

    I love the vises he’s made for it. If I were to make this, I’d ditch all the lifting paraphernalia and just make a table.

    1. The threads are indeed Acme.

      the lifting mechanism is so handy (IMO). I save my back and serves as in feed out feed for all of my stationary tools. I don’t have room to build dedicated in feed and out feed tables. I use it all the time. Though, it is quite a bit more complex than a fixed table so I understand the desire.

  6. The comments above are all good . On sacrificial surfaces I would suggest two 8″ x 2″ ‘s full length one front one back . Most traditional woodworking benches have a wide channel down the middle to stop tools falling off ,and sweeeping shavings into and out of down the end.
    I like the idea of moving it around then fixing it . I have about 6 benches now that would benefit from that if I can source those rollers . Can you post a source ? . Didn’t post on your site because I have to register first and I am sick of registering here and there just to comment.

    1. sorry about the inconvenience of having to register. If I don’t do that then I get inundated with junk posts trying to sell knock off purses and watches somewhere out of the boonies.

      Just search for “leveling casters” on ebay and you will come up with all kinds of them with different mounting systems, different sizes, and weight capacities (along with prices to suit). If I recall I paid around $60 for the set of 4 of them.

  7. Nice looking bench, a few comments; is the purpose of the Arduino to allow remote operation, wouldn’t a simple 3 way switch do the lifting duties ok?
    As others have mentioned, dust and shavings getting into the chains, could be remedied by having overlapping cover plates between the bottom and top sections.
    Are you really worried by a few scratches on the bench, it’s a work bench.

    1. Re Arduino: I did it this way because I want to incorporate more stuff just for fun. I actually have an acoustic sensor and a display already purchased to add in. I have everything to run the sensors back and forth and all the GUI programming done. I just have not had time to get it installed. Nobody needs that stuff its just fun and nerdy. For sure, you could easily do a simple motor and 3 way switch, but I like to do things just because I think I can and because I haven’t done it before. Learning is just as much fun as building it (probably more for me). That is actually my problem because once I find out that what I wanted to do will work, its a bit of a chore to finish it before moving on to something else that is fun.

      I haven’t found dust to be a problem, but covers would sure work if you are concerned about it.

      Yes, I dont’ worry too much about scratches. They are there even in the filming of it. The maple is so durable too that they are never really deep.

  8. This is amazing. I could totally turn this into a watchmaker’s bench (we need work always
    at eye level while sitting- adjusting benches are 5000$!) with a super heavy duty cnc’ed 4″ thick
    endgrain butcher’s block as the top.

    Absolutely awesome build, and I concur- MUST GO ….TO HARDWARE STORE…..NOW! :)

    1. wow.. your ambitious a butcher block top that big is a LOT of cutting and gluing but would be really nice. better account for wood swelling because all of your swell is going to be in the horizontal plane so you’ll need to float it. I’m willing to bet that it will move by a quarter of an inch or more from summer to winter over the long direction. It will also be super heavy. Maple is about 40lbs/ft^3, so a 7ft by 3ft by 4 inch thick bench top will weigh about 280 lbs. Yea, you may have to consider adding gas springs or going to a lower friction screw. I put gas springs in mine to support the majority of the dead load and give me added lift capacity for the fun of it, but they may be necessary with such a heavy top.

      Glad you liked the build. If you have questions don’t be afraid to ask.

  9. Here’s a possible solution to the apparent dust problem that hasn’t cropped up in the year that Dirk has been using his bench.

    Use some linen and slats to create a rolltop desk-like cover for the mechanics of the bench. There’s going to be an issue of getting in there and cleaning it once in a while, but having a wooden cover for it would look far too cool.

  10. Could you provide some more detailed information about the height adjustment mechanism hardware? I get the arduino part, it’s the other hardware I’m unfamliar with and can’t make out from the video. I’m looking to build a simliar height adjustment solution for a craft table.

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