One Bench to Rule Them All
July 23, 2020 1:44 PM   Subscribe

I enjoy and want to expand my experience in both DIY electronics and woodworking. Is it feasible to create a single bench (limited available basement area probably precludes two) that would be usable for both activities? If so, what might it look like?
posted by Inkoate to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't read it already, take a quick read through the Anarchist's Workbench. I think you should be able to adapt the design for electronics by fitting some *sealed* drawers below the work surface and the like, with woodworking storage on pegboard or something on the wall facing you (electronics storage sealed vs. dust, woodworking not sealed).
posted by aramaic at 2:04 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think yes, that's how many home workshops work. Due to their disparate natures, though, I think you'd be doing one type of project at a time, as woodworking tends to be messy and electronics stuff requires some modicum of cleanliness.

If you're thinking the bench would be along the wall, a 2' deep bench with a woodworker's vise on the front should allow a fairly decent range of woodworking projects to be built, with the understanding that for bigger assemblies you'll pull out a couple of sawhorses and lay a sheet of something on top to provide glue-up/large staging areas. Higher benches are often more comfortable and definitely lend themselves to sitting at them.

For electronics, I'd want to be able to sit at the bench on a stool and have a well-lit area in the middle. For both, lots of outlets help, maybe a power strip mounted underneath?

On a narrow shared bench, consider having a work surface which is sacrificial or maybe can be turned over, so your inevitable glue drips, accidental chips, etc that woodworking can put in the surface can be removed when it's time for electronics.

If you have the room for a free-standing bench, you could lean towards dedicating built-ins on one side to woodworking (vise, bench dogs, etc) and the other towards electronics built-ins (room underneath for legs while sitting, mount for a magnifying lamp, etc.). You'd still be able to clear the entire top for whichever project was the focus.

I think under-bench storage is overrated and often can make it difficult to actually work at the bench...there is no place to add clamps or put knees, etc. That said, a bank of drawers at one or both ends can help tuck away tools. Just leave yourself a couple or more inches at the outside edge so you can get clamps under the bench to hold things down.

Dust is a reality for woodworking, so I'd be thinking of how I'd be storing delicate electronic-work tools where they're safe from it. I'd also be thinking of "how do I temporarily store a halfway-done project from one realm when I want to do the other?"
posted by maxwelton at 2:11 PM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

take a quick read through the Anarchist's Workbench
It is sitting on the table right next to me, as a matter of fact. I'm 60 pages in and enjoying it very much.

If you have the room for a free-standing bench
Yes, I should have been more specific. This will be a free standing bench in the middle of the room. What you're describing is what I am thinking in my head, and yes the requirement to do one or the other at a time will be a small annoyance, but not the end of the world.

My biggest question about that approach is whether sitting for long periods at something as high as the woodworking bench is going to get old?
posted by Inkoate at 2:43 PM on July 23, 2020

This is something I gave a lot of thought to recently. I have my dirty hobbies, woodworking and metal fabrication (sort of) and my "clean" hobbies, such as model making and some electronics. Originally I had one big long bench with room for all my tools. What happened is the entire bench was just cluttered with whatever I was working on and everything was covered in dust and if I wanted to do some electronics I would just move my soldering iron to whatever square inches I managed to clean off. It just didn't work very well.

Part of this depends on how you work. Do you have multiple projects going at once? Or are you the sort, like me, who might be into woodworking for a couple months and then spend a month building models? In that case you can just clear your bench off and start the new project.

I eventually solved my problem by walling off part of my shop into a clean area and a dirty area and putting proper benches in both areas. I understand this is not a solution that will work for many, including you.

Before I decided to wall off the area the idea I came up with was to have an electronics kit or kits. I'd put everything I needed inside some sort of vertical case so when I wanted to do electronics I would just pull the case out from somewhere and open it on my bench. Everything would be easy to reach and the case would contain everything I needed to do whatever it was I wanted to do. So I'd have a case for electronics, one for modeling, one for leathercraft, etc. The bench itself, and my pegboard, would be mostly set up for whatever I did the most, in my case woodworking.

Even large fishing tacklebox type cases might work for this situation.

I got this idea partially from Adam Savages one day builds on YouTube. He will often build a little kit for, say, soldering or leathercraft, that he can just pull out when he needs to do that craft. He's very clever in his design and use of space and his approach to building things like that. He'll design his kit around his tools, rather than making his tools fit into a generic space. I would advise you spend some time checking out his videos to get inspired.

But I really do think having a single bench for both woodworking and electronics is often going to be frustrating for you. It can be done, you just build a bench with a nice woodworking vice on one end and a panovise on the other. Tools on pegboards or stored in whatever way you prefer to store your tools.

This also depends on the sort of woodworking you do. Basic stuff can be done on just about any type of bench but if you do real find stuff with handplanes you're going to eventually want a proper woodworking bench, in which case check out the Schwarz book that aramac mentioned above.

Another thought would be to have a somewhat wide bench with a divider in the middle that has pegboard on either side. One side of the bench is electronics, the other woodworking. Perhaps with some clever design the divider could be removable in case you needed to use the full width of the bench.
posted by bondcliff at 2:45 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

That's all great advice, thank you bondcliff!
posted by Inkoate at 2:50 PM on July 23, 2020

Another option is a sitting-height general purpose bench for electronics and then a "bench on bench" for woodworking. Two popular styles are the Sjoberg's Smart Vise and the Milkman's Bench.

A very simple shop-made version of this is Yoav Liberman's "bench bull".
posted by jedicus at 3:03 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

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