Workbench configurations vary. Choose the setup that fits your available space and project goals.
Woodworker’s Bench. This is perhaps the most familiar configuration for a workbench. Its top is of hardwood and is usually two or more inches thick (antique benches were often shaped from one tree, new ones are glued and assembled from thick strips). There are two vises, one at the tail, another at the front. Holes for bench dogs probably line the front of the bench and maybe the back as well. A tool well may be built into the rear or one end. Typically, four legs support the bench, often with a shelf connecting them that adds stability as well as storage space.
Cabinetmaker’s Bench.The top of the cabinetmaker’s bench resembles that of the woodworker’s bench. There are vises, usually one at the tail and one at the front. Holes for bench dogs punctuate the front of the bench, aligned with the tail vise. Sometimes there are bolts or collars for holdfasts.
What distinguishes the cabinetmaker’s bench is the casework below the working surface: drawers and cupboards that are used to store tools and supplies. New ones tend to be more expensive than traditional woodworker’s benches (the casework involved in drawers and cabinets requires much added time and materials). Old ones are rare enough that they are hard to find.
A good cabinetmaker’s bench is an excellent option for the small-scale workshop where the bench is expected to perform multiple duties. The benchtop provides the work surface, the space below efficient storage for a good many tools.
Backboard Workbench. This simple, sturdy bench is little more than a long, tall table. It has a board across the back (to keep tools and supplies from tumbling off) and a shelf beneath. The backboard bench is probably the easiest to construct, and is best suited to all-purpose work. If you anticipate that your bench work will consist more of making repairs than of fabricating new objects from wood or other material, this bench is probably your best choice.
An engineer’s vise can be mounted on the benchtop, providing assistance for all sorts of basic fix-it work around the house, from plumbing to electrical. You may elect to install a wood vise, too, either on the front or on one end. Typically, the front vise is set above or near the front left leg, while the tail vise is set at the right end.
Portable Bench. If you’re working out of a closet, a portable bench may be the answer. Commercially available benches like the Workmate oiler surprising flexibility, including three different heights, a variety of means of clamping, and the capacity to collapse quickly and easily into a suitcase-sized bundle.
Another option is to make one to suit your needs (and storage limitations). You might try one along the lines of this little box bench, a tried-and-trite variety. It doubles as a short bench and tool carrier, with its work surface on top, carrying slot, and shelf below. If the sizes specified don’t work for you, don’t hesitate to vary the design.