In a small workshop, one way to conserve space is to have a modest workbench. If you have a gigantic mega bench, you are going to end up losing a lot of floor space. This is bad in a small shop, so here is how you make your bench a help and not a space killer.
Small Shops and Workbenches
Every shop needs a bench, typically. Some shops have different work spaces, and if that makes you happy then stick with it. In most shops however, there will be some sort of bench where the majority of the work takes place.
If you are in a small shop, a smaller bench can save you a lot of space, and it can make room for other tools and shop items. In contrast, a very large bench will do the exact opposite, and rob floor space.
Here is what you can do if you are working on your bench and also trying to maintain the available space in a small shop. These few ideas will help you ensure that your bench is working for you and not against you in your smaller shop.
This is one of my 29 Ways to Maximize Your Woodworking Shop Layout, and make the most of a smaller space.
Make a Small Bench
If you are brand new to woodworking, and you do not have a bench, you are in the best place you can be to make a good decision and get a bench that is as big as you actually need. This is a great way to get the perfect bench for your space, and not over buy.
Many times Woodworkers think they need a huge bench. This is rarely the case, and most of those people end up working on one half or one corner of the bench most of the time. This means a lot of wasted space, and less room for other things.
In reality, the size of your bench depends on what you make. If you make smaller projects, you probably don’t need much space at all. In fact, a ring maker could probably do all of their work on a bench the size of a cutting board and still have too much room.
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Cut Down the Bench You Have
Unless you have an heirloom quality bench with a lot of history and money tied up in it, you can cut down a bench that you already have to decrease the size. This works really well for plywood and 2×4 benches, which are very common in the beginning.
Start by planning. Examine your existing bench and really figure out how much of the surface you actually use. Odds are this is pretty low, or at least not the same as the size that the bench is currently. Mark on the bench if you need to, and get an idea for size.
Once you know the size, start working on how you will cut down and modify the bench to be the new smaller size and still be strong. You will likely have to move legs, add more wood, and change the support system. Make sure to do all of this on the build, so your new bench is a smaller but still as strong as it needs to be.
For more about workbenches, my Woodworking Bench Restoration post shows you how to take an old bench and make it look new again.
Find Something That Folds Down
Another option is to use the wall space to house your bench. This is a more common idea with crafters, but it can just was easily be used for small woodworking projects. You can create a simple bench from a single piece of wood, a couple legs, and a couple sets of hinges.
Do a search online for a fold down crafting table and you will see a lot of options. It’s just a board on the wall with folding legs and hinges. When you need the bench, you pull it down from the wall and set the feet. When you are done, you flip it back up.
These are great for inside the home, because they can be made to look like a picture frame or a mirror. When you need them, the pay fold down and you can use the space. When company comes over, you lift it up and the bench looks like part of the house decor.
Use a Movable Bench Top
Another option is to have a thick piece of plywood that you can move into place and then store away at the end of the day. This is good for a garage or basement shop where you can store the piece without it being in the way.
For this to work, you need to have a sturdy board. Even a smaller board, but made twice as thick can be better, because it will not give under pressure. This can be a great temporary work board, and not take up any space at all.
As you need to use more tools, or complete other processes in the shop, simply put away the board bench and you now have room. Do whatever you need to in order to create your parts and pieces, then you bring out the bench top and begin your assembly.
Here are a couple ways to Find a Good Woodworking Bench.
Do You Already Have a Flat Space Somewhere?
If you already have a flat space in the shop, you might not need to add anything at all. In fact, you can just use the flat space, and unless you really have the need in the future, you might not actually need a dedicated bench.
A flat space that is a good candidate is on the table saw. Retract the blade and unplug the machine of course, but if you made the mistake of trying to cram a huge saw into a small shop, you might as well get double use from it.
Any other flat space in the shop that you can get a chair under, and work safety and comfortably is perfect for a modest bench. As long as you are able to produce good work, and are comfy and happy at that space, then it will work fine for a bench.
Sell Your Big Bench
This one can be tough, and it can be a hard decision, but sometimes you might just have to sell your bench to get yourself more floor space. If you have a really nice bench, or your made it yourself, you can always get it again down the road when your shop gets bigger.
A high end bench can sell for several hundred to several thousand dollars. If you sell a big bench and get a smaller unit, you can improve the shop space, and get a brand new bench all in the same process.
The nice thing is that you might even have money left over for more tools, or a fancier version of the bench if your other one was big enough. These big benches can bring in a lot of money, and if you are not going to use it, why have it in the shop.
Your homework is to evaluate your bench and see if you really need all the space. A small shop can really benefit from a smaller bench, so make the decision objectively and decide if it’s worth changing your bench.
If this is the case, you have a lot of options. Look at what has been discussed already, and think about which of them really make sense for you. Odds are that one will stick out, and that can be your ticket to a shop with more room.
Either way you go, don’t be stuck in a really confining shop. Not only does this limit your room to move around, it also makes you feel like you are confined. This feeling, over time can lead to fewer sessions in the shop, because it’s not as inviting as it could be.
Modest Workbench Wrap-Up
A modest work bench can be a huge space saver in small shop. Most of the time, you will never use the full size of a very large bench. In those cases, you are just losing out on floor space by having an overly large bench.
There are a number of ways to make your bench fit better in a small shop. You can start with a modest bench, modify an existing bench, build something portable, or sell a big bench and buy something smaller. Either way you choose, it will result in more open area.
The big thing about making sure not to over stuff your shop is that you want it to be inviting and comfortable. A tight shop without much room to move around is restrictive, and not the best place to do your finest work.
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