Should a workbench have a tool well? Ask ten people and you’ll probably get ten different answers to why a workbench should have one and why a workbench should not have one. There is no right answer as it’s a personal preference thing. The point of a tool well is to have a convenient location to temporarily store tools while working. If they are in the well they are within reach but also not taking up space on the workbench top and potentially getting in the way.
On my first workbench I decided to not add one because I knew I was going to make a tool wall behind the workbench. If all of my tools are on the wall behind me and all I need to do is reach to the wall to grab or put back a tool then I didn’t see the need to build a tool well. If the tool is in my way on the workbench then simply put it back on the wall.
When I built my second workbench and placed it in the middle of my shop I decided to experiment with the idea of adding a tool well to the workbench. This workbench isn’t within an arms reach of my tool wall so putting stuff back on the wall if it’s in the way for the immediate task isn’t as convenient. And because this workbench is much smaller than my previous assembly table I need to take greater precaution as to not have it cluttered with tools or anything else preventing me from actually working on the top. Having a small tool box or tool well attached to the workbench to hold the tools I’m currently using will reduce the number of trips across the shop so for this particular workbench it makes sense. Of course, tools still need to be put away when I’m done using them. Adding a tool well will also give me a little more surface area on the bench when I’m going through the milling process and need more horizontal surface to sift through material.
This workbench is made out of hickory so I stayed with hickory for this addition. I had a piece of curly hickory set aside and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to use it. Of course, my milling process always starts at my miter saw station to break down the longer board in to more manageable sized pieces.
I don’t normally like to use the table saw to rip rough sawn lumber because the lumber isn’t generally flat and therefore can shift into the blade as material is removed. In this case it’s a matter of examining both sides of the coin. My bandsaw is the better and safer tool for ripping rough sawn material but I don’t have a setup that is convenient or easy for longer material. This board had a little bit of cup to it so I ran it through the saw making sure the side between the blade and the fence remained flat on the table. Then the offcut piece can fall away from the blade.
These pieces had too much of a bow to run them over the jointer. Using the jointer for the wide faces first would remove too much material to get them flat. Instead, I skip planed both wide faces at the planer. I knew I could deal with the bow of the board during assembly.
Then one narrow face of each board is jointed.
And then everything is cut to the final width at the table saw. I was going for the same thickness as my workbench.
The final size of the tool well was determined by the material I had. I wanted to use this one board for all four pieces as it keeps the curly figure wrapping around the entire tool well. After seeing this mock-up I decided to use mortise and tenon joints and to inset the short pieces by about an inch on each end. The inset allows for more material on each side of the joint. I was fearful that if I made the mortise right at the edge the side of the mortise closest to the end of the board would be weak. Insetting the joint allows for more structure and more stability on the short side.
To make the mortise and tenon joints I used the Pantorouter with the bed tilted to 90 degrees. I’ve got a love/hate relationship with this machine. It’s a very capable machine but it required quite a bit of shimming here and there to get accurate joints. And it’s very fiddly to get setup every time it’s used. There’s a lot going on to get the joints setup but once it’s setup the process is pretty quick. It’s just not as convenient as I thought it would be.
It’s always best to start with the mortise and for these boards that meant mounting them vertical. If my workbench was any longer I would have had to make these cuts on the floor.
Here you can see the two mortises cut. I’m going with a dual mortise and tenon setup instead of a single mortise and tenon due to the templates I had. The single, longer mortise wouldn’t span the same distance as these two templates. And because I was using two templates (which you will see when the tenons are cut) I didn’t have enough vertical travel of the router to mount the templates vertical and therefore make the cuts with the workpiece horizontal.
Using the machine is a two handed operation. The left hand controls the plunge depth and the right hand controls the movement of the router in relation to the templates. I do have the dust collection shroud but chose to not use it because I don’t have a good fitting hose to connect to my shopvac. The hose I previously used clogged constantly and wasn’t worth the aggravation. And because I wasn’t using the dust collection I knew the shop air would get pretty bad even with my air cleaner cart running so I wore my respirator. A lot of people comment on me not wearing it for some shots and the reason I don’t is because I use a particulate monitor to monitor the air quality. When the dust collector and the cart are running I get near hospital numbers on the monitor. If I know I’m going to do something that will spew dust in the shop air I’ll wear the respirator until the air cleaner catches up.
A 1/4” bit was used for the mortises. For the tenons a 1/2” bit needs to be installed.
With the table returned to the horizontal position the tenons are cut. It’s important to make sure the material is sticking out the appropriate distance from the table and that a depth stop is used so you don’t run into the table with the router bit. Don’t ask me how I know this…..
Here you can see the template setup I was using. The two templates are butted right up to one another. This means the follower pin cannot bet between the two templates and therefore the router cannot clean out the waste in between the two tenons.
Luckily, it’s just a few tenons and cleaning them up with a chisel is really quick. All four ends of the short boards needed this treatment.
The result is an accurate dual mortise and tenon joint with a good fit. Plenty strong enough for this application.
I don’t have a dedicated station for the Pantorouter though so we had to put everything back and do a quick cleanup. Cleaning up as you go is much more convenient than working in a trashed shop and therefore having to clean a trashed shop after each project.
To make glue cleanup easier I used blue painters tape on all mating faces of each joint. This made getting the extra glue off really easy but the tape I used was poor quality and was actually a really big pain in the rear to get off. Maybe the tape was old as it was the worst experience I’ve had with blue tape.
Four joints. Easy assembly for the two of us.
I decided it would be easier to cut the bottom panel rabbet after the frame was glued up. This meant I needed a rabbeting bit with a guide bearing in my router table. I used my slot cutting set without the spacers. I doubt the manufacturer recommends using it this way but I see no problem so long as everything is stacked without binding and with any slack in the rotational direction. Same setup as a dado stack for the table saw but with a guide bearing.
This router table setup has fantastic dust collection…….when the fence is installed. Even without the fence I have to say that it wasn’t that bad, so long as I fed the piece in a direction that kept the waste material going in the direction of the dust collection. This bit was on the more aggressive side compared to the majority of router bits I’ve used. So long as you follow normal router table safety guidelines, keep your hands away, and understand how the wood will interact with the bit there shouldn’t be any problems.
A circular router bit creates rabbets with rounded corners. In this case I found it easier to square the corners of the rabbet rather than round the corners of the bottom panel. I used a holdfast to hold it on the workbench while doing this. I can already see how replacing my assembly table with this second workbench was a good move.
I was going to use another piece of hickory for the bottom panel but didn’t want to run into any expansion and contraction issues. So instead I ripped a couple of pieces of 3/4” plywood at the table saw.
I left one piece full length and used the miter saw to cut the other to the appropriate length. It would have been nice to use a single piece for this but two side by side with no gap between will do the job just fine.
To get the piece to fit a little planing on the end was needed.
And finally the plywood is glued and clamped into place. I didn’t bother with mechanical fasteners here. The rabbet was 3/4” wide by about 3/8” deep. Plenty enough glue surface to hold the plywood and whatever tools migrate into it.
While that sat in clamps I gave some thought about how to mount it to the workbench. My original plan was to clamp it to the side and just screw it on. But after victor_martin_jr commented on my instagram post suggesting I turn the open ends of the well into chisel holders I had a better strategy for mounting the tool well. I put my saw in a vise and determined that a 3/8” offset would create an open slot for storing saws and anything else vertical between the bench and tool well.
For the spacers I found an offcut that was close to the size I had in mind.
I just had to plane it down to 3/8” thick.
Five spacers seemed like the appropriate amount.
The final step before mounting is to plane a chamfer on all of the end grain edges of the tool well. Nothing crazy. Just enough to break up the blocky look of the tool well.
Clamping scrap blocks to the legs provides a small shelf to make clamping the tool well in place a lot easier.
I used two clamps and a couple of spacers at first. Then a small hammer and a few taps here and there to get everything lined up.
The simplest solution to attach the well to the workbench is with screws. I didn’t want to over complicate this connection and I also wanted to use a method that allowed for this to be taken off in the future in the event that I don’t like it. Screws win in this scenario. One screw from the inside of the well and into the workbench at each spacer location.
I noticed that with just the top screws it made the well rotate up on the outside slightly. This could be due to just skip planing this stock instead of jointing it. Adding screws through the bottom at each spacer location stopped this and brought the tool well back to being flat with the workbench top.
Then we used a smoothing plane to make sure it was flush with the workbench top.
For a finish I used Danish oil. It really brought out the curly figure in this hickory. I also added it to the rest of the workbench top as well. Danish oil is my preferred finish for a workbench as it offers a little protection without being slippery and having a plastic like feel of a thick film finish like polyurethane. I wanted to use it as the original finish when I made the workbench but I didn’t have any on hand.
And here it is all complete and in action. I have no idea if I will like it long-term but I’ll give it some time. This entire bench setup was more of an experiment with a few things. Most of you know that I like to keep a clean shop and work area and I can totally see this thing being full of shavings and dust more often than not. We’ll see how well I can keep it clean and how much I can keep my sanity with it but so far I like it. Having tools within reach but not in the way on the bench top has been pretty handy so far. Next up is new LED shop light install then on to the coffee table. Take care!