WORKBENCH ACCESSORIES & TOOL STORAGE
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In this section I’ll discuss various accessories that are essential or convenient for using with your woodworking workbench or for storing your woodworking hand tools.
Buy or Make Bench dogs:
Bench dogs are essential to a workbench, as they allow you to wedge your work piece between the tail vise and the bench dogs that sit in your bench dog holes. Bench dogs come in an assortment of materials, shapes, and sizes. Most commercial workbenches come with metal bench dogs; some round and some square.
Both shapes seem to work fine to me. However, there’s a danger of seriously chipping your handplane’s blade if you’re not careful. That would cause you a lot of work to re-grind and re-hone your blade. So on all the workbenches that I’ve built, I’ve made wooden bench dogs.
And I prefer round bench dogs, primarily because I can just buy wooden dowels from the hardware store to make them. Also, it’s much easier to add round bench dog holes to your workbench than it is to add square holes. You can watch the video above to see how I make wooden bench dogs and bench dog holes.
Just a quick tip: to make a lot of consistently-sized bench dog holes, and also holdfast holes, I use a plunge router with an adjustable fence, and plunge as deep as I can with a ¾-inch or a 1-inch spiral up-cut bit. It’s super easy to just move down the bench as you plunge. Then I finish boring the hole with a spade bit in a powerful corded drill.
You can certainly do this with a brace and bit, but just be prepared for it to take a lot longer, and maybe have holes that aren’t as tight. I stop just when the lead screw exits the bottom of the workbench, and then I bore back up through that small hole. This gives me a clean hole.
As I mentioned, to make bench dogs I buy wooden dowels from the hardware store. I’ve used both ¾-inch oak dowels and 1-inch poplar dowels, and both wood species have worked fine. I cut them to length…a little longer than the workbench’s thickness is nice…and then I use a handsaw and chisel to add a flat face to the top of the dowel. I sometimes also add a notch to the bottom end, so I can hold abnormally-shaped pieces of wood.
And my friend Will Myers, who I showed assembling his Moravian Workbench in the last video, introduced me to a pretty cool way to keep these round bench dogs from slipping through the workbench top.
I bore little holes in the bench dogs, and epoxy these little 1/4-inch bullet cabinet door catches inside. It works really great to hold the bench dog in place. I couldn’t find these brass cabinet latches in any stores where I live, but I eventually tracked them down online. The best place I’ve found these is here. They’re cheap, but the shipping is a bit expensive. But even with shipping it’s still the cheapest source I’ve found.
Square bench dogs have similar spring methods for holding them in place.
And below are some sources for good metal bench dogs, if that’s the route that you’d like to take:
- Here are the round metal bench dogs that came with my Sjoberg workbench: click here
- Here is a huge selection of more affordable bench dogs on Highland Woodworking: click here
- See bench dogs on Amazon: click here
Here’s a video that I made on making bench dogs, bench dog holes, and holdfast holes:
Buy Metal Hold Fasts:
Holdfasts are amazing workbench accessories. You bore holes in your bench top, and then you drop your holdfasts into one of the holes and hit the top of the holdfast to wedge your workpiece down. It’s really difficult for the wood to move, which is great when you’re cutting a joint. Then when you’re ready to release the holdfast, you simply hit it on the back, and it pops loose. It’s pretty cool.
In my woodworking school I use two different types of holdfasts. The first type (and my favorite) are holdfasts that were forged by a blacksmith. The flex and aesthetics of these holdfasts makes them the most popular, and most expensive option (usually starting around $75 each):
Another good option, at a much lower price is the Gramercy holdfasts, made out of formed wire (pictured below). Gramercy Toolworks created this style of holdfast, and others have copied it, though I prefer the shape of Gramercy’s holdfasts:
These Gramercy holdfasts are what I purchased (and many other people that I know), because they are high-quality and pretty affordable. I use these holdfasts in my woodworking school, and I also know that Roy Underhill uses these holdfasts in his Woodwright School. You may need to rough up the shaft of the holdfast with sandpaper if it doesn’t stay wedged properly. Last I checked, they run $34.95 for two and $19.95 for one on Tools for Working Wood. That’s an excellent value. Here’s the official video:
- If you can afford over $75 for a hand-forged holdfast (two would be helpful, so it would be over $150) then I’d recommend ordering them from a blacksmith. One option is to check with master blacksmith Peter Ross (former head Colonial Williamsburg blacksmith…and he’s always on The Woodwright’s Shop). Here’s his website. But I’m not sure how long it would take to get these. I’ve got four of these forged holdfasts from a blacksmith on Etsy, so you can try that source also.
- I’ve heard good things about these cast iron holdfasts made by Lie-Nielsen (Maine), Auriou (France), and Veritas (Canada): click here
- Here is a great source for other holdfasts & workbench accessories at Highland Woodworking.
Holdfasts to Avoid
The holdfasts that I would avoid is the cheap cast iron holdfasts that you’ll find at woodworking retailers. Besides being too rigid (and non-flexible), I’ve found them to be too short for most workbench tops. However, I have been able to get them to work on some of my thinner top Moravian Workbenches. So if you’ve already got some, then give them a try in your workbench top.
Make a Bench Hook:
A bench hook lets you quickly hold your work piece in place while sawing across the grain, without having to clamp your piece down. I also use it a lot when doing chisel work when I’m making joints.
You should really make a bench hook yourself. In fact, I’m not even sure if anyone sells them…I sure hope you can’t buy one! I built all of mine from scrap pieces of wood. The type of wood that you use doesn’t really matter, because a bench hook is meant to be replaced when it gets worn out. It should take just a few minutes to make, by just cutting the two ends off of a board, and gluing them on opposite sides.
Here is a video that I published on making a bench hook (you can also read the article here):
You can also make one that’s a bit nicer, like this bench hook that doubles as a miter box. And by cutting off the side, you’ll have a small, extra bench hook to support longer boards.
Make or Buy a Planing Stop:
A planing stop is a workbench accessory that’s used to give you a quick place to butt your wood up against when handplaning, when you don’t want to clamp it between bench dogs. There are, of course, both affordable and expensive commercial metal planing stops, where the metal claws pop up to dig into the board. This one was forged by Peter Ross:
I’ve also seen people file teeth on a railroad spike to use as a planing stop. They definitely are pretty cool to use. But, you can also just use a block of wood that slides up and down in the bench top.
The disadvantage of these types of planing stop is that you have to mortise the stops into the top of your workbench. But that may not be something that bothers you. But I find it easier, and cheaper to just make a simple planing stop that attaches to the workbench.
The first style of attachable planing stops are those that fit into your bench dogs, like the one pictured above, with dowels that fit into your bench dog holes. These can be made out of scrap wood and short dowels. And some companies sell metal versions of this style. My personal preference, which we use in my school, is to just make a simple planing stop out of a quarter inch thick board that’s glued to a scrap block of wood.
I like a thin board like this so I can handplane smaller boards. This quarter inch poplar board can be purchased, pre-milled, at your local hardware store, if you don’t have an easy way to make thin stock. Here are links to places where you can buy planing stops:
Make a Shooting Board:
A shooting board is used to square, and miter the end grain on your work pieces.
It can also be used to square edges of boards. It should definitely be made in your workshop, unless you buy a cool antique metal shooting board (see them here on Ebay).
A shooting board is used by laying a larger handplane on its side, and then pushing the sharp plane along on a base to remove a little bit of wood at a time, until your piece is square…or mitered.
There are many shooting board designs & tutorials in books and online, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding one that you like, and that isn’t too difficult to make for you. Below are a few designs and shooting board tutorials that I like:
Shooting Board Designs & Plans:
The below video from Timothy Rousseau and Fine Woodworking Magazine shows how to make my style of shooting board:
Here’s another good short video by Lee Valley tools that shows how to make a different type of simple shooting board:
Here’s a great tutorial, by Rob Cosman, on how to make his excellent shooting board:
Buy or Make Vise Rack Spacers/Stops:
These simple blocks are designed to help prevent racking when clamping work at one side of a face vise. Obviously you wouldn’t need these if you don’t have a face or end vise. But if you do have a face or end vise, you can easily build several common sizes to set in the unused side of the vise, like in these photos that I took at the Woodwright’s School. But they have a major drawback.
They don’t cover every board thicknesses, which you’ll certainly encounter if you dimension your own boards. So in my woodworking school I use this extremely cool “Vise Rack Stop” (made by Veritas) which lets you micro-adjust for different wood thicknesses.
I use this accessory all the time on my face vise and end vise.
Make a Sawbench Pair:
Saw benches aren’t necessary for sawing, but they are really convenient and cheap to build. My favorite design are these heavy duty saw benches that incorporate sliding tapered dovetail joints:
They are perfect for woodworking in your workshop and for heavy-duty use in timber framing. The tapered sliding dovetail tightens over time as the top dries. I made four of these for my woodworking school, and the students love them. I also taught a class on making these, and the students didn’t find the build too difficult.
Here is Roy Underhill’s video tutorial on making these saw benches. I also like the look of Christopher Schwarz’s design in “$5.87 sawbenches” as shown in the below video (which appears to now be free on YouTube):
Make or Buy Tool Chests:
Most joiners of the past stored their beloved hand tools in a large tool chest so they could transport them from job to job. The cabinetmakers (furniture makers) typically stored their tools on shelves and in cabinets since they didn’t travel to jobs sites, but worked in their own workshops.
As far as tool storage goes, I prefer storing my tools on shelves (see bottom of this page) and in smaller, easier to transport, tool chests. But Christopher Schwarz and Roy Underhill (among others) have been popularizing large tool chests in recent years, so many modern traditional woodworkers have jumped into building large joiner’s chests. Chris Schwarz introduces his “Anarchist’s Tool Chest” and his “Dutch Tool Chest” on both of these Woodwright’s Shop Episodes:
You can even buy cool antique woodworker tool chests here.
Build Tool Cabinets and Tills:
Like I mentioned above, I prefer tool cabinets and storage shelves over large tool chests (like Frank Klausz and Don Williams told me), and I continue to build more and more to store my hand tools. Here is one saw till that holds my some of my hand saws and hand planes:
Make or Buy a Workbench Tool Tote:
I really like to have a workbench tote or two to hold my most-used small tools. I can move the tote around all the workbenches in my school, or move it off a bench if needed. The best option would be to make one similar to this one that I made:
I made internal dividers so I could store a lot of little tools and gauges is my school.
You can also buy a tool tote or small tool box for cheap, like these on ebay or at flea markets.
Buy a Shop Apron:
Some traditional woodworkers love shop aprons and some don’t. I like wearing one, and like having my pencil, small square, and other small measuring devices right next to me. Here are a few highly rated shop aprons on Amazon:
Continue to Layout, Marking & Measuring Tools (#2)…
TOOL GUIDE SHORTCUTS:
HAND TOOL BUYER’S GUIDES
- Intro to Buying Woodworking Hand Tools
- Workbench & Tool Storage
- Layout, Marking, & Measuring Tools
- Sharpening & Honing Supplies
- Mallets & Hammers
- Hand Drills, Braces, & Bits
- Tools for Curved Work
- Tools for Green Woodworking
- Woodworking Clamps, Gluing & Fasteners
- Tools for Wood Carving
- Products for Wood Finishing, Sanding & Scraping
- Wood Turning Tools & Lathes