A Day In The Shop: Preparing For A Workbench

I probably move stuff around in my shop more than most people but every time I do make shop changes there is a reason behind it. Over the past few months I’ve wanted to move a few things here and there to accomplish small “wins” but individually they weren’t really motivating. I’ve also been wanting to make a traditional, solid wood workbench for ages and deciding to go forward with building one this winter was all the motivation I needed to get these small “wins” completed.

Since making my modified Paulk workbench (<–It’s not a bench, its a work table) it’s made me really, really want a solid mass workbench. Something you can pound on with chisels and a mallet and have your material not bounce around. Don’t get me wrong, making the modified Paulk workbench was a great decision. I love it, actually. It’s a fantastic assembly and power tool work table. And the array of dog holes has proven to be more handy than I originally thought. But when working with hand tools, which is something I do more often than what I show in videos, its incredibly lacking.

The style workbench I’m leaning toward is a French style workbench. laminated beam size legs and rails with a 3” or so top. A traditional leg vise and maybe an experiment or two for another vise. Some dog holes but it won’t be like Swiss cheese. Five, six, or eight feet? I’m not sure at the moment. But hopefully I can get it built in early 2016. In the mean time I need to make room for it. The first step is fueling up with a Mario pipe mug.

shop organization (1)

All my larger power tools and dust collection are already on the east side of the shop so it makes sense to put the workbench on the west side of the shop. That means this inefficient parking space for other rolling stuff needs to be cleared out.

shop organization (2)

Step two: make better use of tool space. Putting my business/editing computer in the shop was a love/hate relationship. I absolutely loved it because it was incredibly convenient for SketchUp measurements and reference while working on projects. It was also nice just being in the shop environment while working on other computer tasks. On the other hand, I absolutely hated it because it was incredibly convenient for me to get distracted and quickly lose 15-20 minutes several times a day when I should have been working on the current project. I believe that’s more of a ME problem than a computer problem but the temptation just needs to go. Two other reasons to move it were that I needed the space for tools and it really doesn’t make much sense to heat and cool the shop on the two or three days per week when I’m just doing computer work. I’m already heating and cooling the house, which is where I should be doing computer work. The following picture is also a good representation of most of my previous jobs where one guy is always doing work with the boss man just standing around drinking coffee.

shop organization (3)

Step three: more fuel.

shop organization (4)

Ok, enough with the steps already. The east wall of my shop is really where I should have put my clamp rack from the beginning. Especially considering I do most of my glue-ups on that side of my work table. To move it over to this wall my small shelf needed to be cut down and moved over my jointer. I used this shelf primarily for jointer push blocks and hex wrenches for tool adjustments so it’s new location is actually a tiny bit more convenient. Of course, the flags had to come down.

shop organization (5)

The rest of the west wall could be cleared next. I only access the inside of the sticker cabinet maybe two or three times per month so putting my rolling tool cabinet in front of it is probably the best use of that space. Rolling it out a couple times per month to access the inside of the sticker cabinet is quite alright with me. Because the workbench will be relatively close to the wall, but still with working space on that side, I wanted to clear the wall of anything that sticks out. That means the finishing supply rack needs to find a new home.

shop organization (6)

I found that rolling dresser in the trash a few years ago and have been mainly using it as a work surface or mobile sawhorses since then. It just has to go. It’s big, not incredibly useful, and just takes up too much space. I couldn’t leave the Detroit flags down though. Because they hug the wall and don’t stick out it made sense to move them over here. Also, I think it might make a pretty nice backdrop for working at a workbench :)

shop organization (7)

The finishing supply rack found a new home on the side of my miter saw station. I really like it over here as it’s out of the way but still convenient. I put it on drawer slides so it can be pulled out as needed and also easily removed if greater access to the breaker panel is needed. I completely understand that some people will freak out about putting something in front of the breaker panel but like I said, it can be easily removed if needed. This whole area is a much more efficient use of space compared to having my computer here. I have also drifted away from using that dry erase board so putting stuff in front of it isn’t a deal breaker.

shop organization (8)

This turned out to be quite a productive day. I ended up getting a lot of free space for a workbench. From the planer to the flag wall is eight feet and from the garage door to the house steps is fourteen feet.

shop organization (9)

The shop has come a long way in the past fifteen months that I’ve been working in it. It’s crazy how much the shop seems to shrink as time progresses. For me, this shop has been a great lesson on how staying organized and efficiently using space can result in an easier work experience and more enjoyment. But I’ll have to enjoy it while I can. I know there will come a time when I simply cannot fit more stuff in this space without having my table saw, bandsaw, work table, and miter saw station hoisted to the ceiling on a motorized overhead trolley system….hey, now that’s an idea!!

shop organization (10)



  1. Love the way you edited that. And, as simple as the content is, it shows the usefulness of those French cleats. I would not have thought that one cleat was enough to hold all those clamps. Thanks.

  2. I built a Roubo style bench several years ago based on suggestions from Chris Swartz’s book. Never been as pleased with a project and I thank ol’ Chris every day.
    One suggestion I would make, if you have room, is not to place it against a wall. I move all around the bench and it makes the space much more versatile. Also I used holdfast clamps from Gramercy Tool Works. They are a must have for this type bench. The material I used was SYP that you are so fond of. Its the best cost material for this syle bench.
    Wish I had room for that Paulk bench. Then maybe the work bench would not be so crowded.
    Really have enjoyed your last projects: Router mortising fixture and jointing wide boards.

  3. Just wondering what is the Paulk bench used for? Isn’t that your work bench?? Or is that just an assembly bench?? I made my rolling work bench out of 2X4’s added a few drawers and it’s always being used for something.

    Always a pleasure watching your videos.

    • I think the Paulk bench is a fantastic work area for on site contractors. For someone with a dedicated shop where it will never leave it is a fantastic assembly and power tool table. Too bouncy and not enough mass for hand tool stuff. I’ve always wanted a bench that you can pound on and hold items firmly in a vise without the bench wiggling and bouncing around.

  4. I have watched a bunch of videos on building one myself. Space is a problem and my highly modified HF bench attached to a structural member seems to work fine for now. I did drill a bunch of 3/4″ holes in the top to work as an assembly table also. I think if I were building one I would make the split top with a 4×4 tool tray in the middle. I added one to one side of the HF bench and have been sold on its usefulness. I am sure you have considered all the options and I doubt that we will see it completed in one video session. Look forward to seeing what you come up with.

  5. Hey if you want some more storage I bet you could come up with something to utilize the area under your steps into the house too. Great Video man. always enjoy the videos. Hey I bought the same Miter saw you have from HD. How do you like it?

  6. Great stuff, Jay. One comment, though, just because I was recently reminded of this – Many states (Texas being one of them) have building codes that require completely clear space around an electrical panel (floor to ceiling and on either side). This is so that you are not reaching over something to get to the panel and have space to move out of the way if there’s a problem.

    Not saying you need to change things, just be aware and be safe….

  7. Jay, definitely what Bob Burch said. The Chris Swartz books are great. I built the Ruobo bench and am very happy with it. For sure do the M&T ‘s and draw bore them. Great joint. I glued up maple 1 X’s for the top, with a couple of Meranti pieces for accent. Bottom is all Meranti. Happy to give you more info if you wish including pics.

  8. A little off topic question maybe Jay but, there is a deal in my local CanadianTire store here in Canada, they sell nice Dewalt screwdriver + impact driver set, some are 18v some are 20v, I wanted to ask you, do you think this brand Dewalt is the best to buy for these screwdriver tools? and also how many volts will you suggest to buy for the best effect? thank you, sry for this typical woodworking beginner type of question :)

  9. Very cool, would have been even better if your twin would have stopped and turned around to you and said something to the effect of You could have helped instead of standing there jawing.

  10. Love the workshop stuff. They all inspire new thinking as I plug along. I am currently converting a recently repaired barn into a shop of sorts. I am liking the cleat system, as I can’t afford to install wallboard and insulate (a 40 x 12 area) yet, but need to hang cabinets. I think I can make that work, and can move forward with the wall bench. I can pull the cabs off, insulate and wallboard without too much effort. Now, I need to figure out how to build a bench without legs to the floor until the dirt stalls get a hard finish….

    BTW, I too really get a kick out of your production / editing. Funny stuff, but man, one of yous guys works way harder than the other…

    Always food for thought in these videos. Thanks and keep up the great work.

  11. Hello Jay,

    I truly like your videos and design/built instructions. I am aware how much time you are spending for producing the videos and preparing the material, drawings etc. Your “router edge guide and mortise jig” inspired me to build my own version very soon. Please keep the videos coming….

    Kind greetings from Bavaria, Germany.


  12. It’s gr8 you had that twin of yours doing all the heavy work while you are drinkin coffee… Nice one… lol

  13. Hi Jay! I’m glad I stumbled across your site. It was actually due to one of your sketchup tutorials for making cabinets.

    In the last couple days you’ve taught me how to proficiently use sketchup (coming from SW/Inventor), how to clean and (not?) assemble my new 13″ drill press, and make a cheap lumber rack. So thanks for that!

    Chop chop on that new solid workbench. I need to build one, as well. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!


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