Rethinking the Tool Well
April 1, 2012 § 4 Comments
For about a year now, I’ve been just a few weeks from starting my workbench build. Then something comes up and it gets delayed. My simple work table has also proved sufficient for most of my tasks, so quite frankly I’ve focused on more pressing needs. But I still plan on building it.
When I went shopping around for a workbench style, I settled on something without a tool well. Tool wells have their advocates (Rob Porcaro, Robert Lang), and detractors (Chris Schwarz, Joel Moskowitz – see The Joiner and Cabinet Maker, page 69). The “no tool well” crowd seems to be the dominant force at the moment, probably due to the enormous popularity of the Roubo and Nicholson style benches that hobbyist woodworkers are currently building in every far corner of the world. I had settled on not having a tool well for the reasons the detractors most often cite – tool wells tend to collect junk and they limit the surface area of your workbench. There, my mind was made up.
Then a funny thing happened. I brought some long 2x8s into the shop and just plopped them on my bench for lack of a better place at the time. I needed to work on something at the bench so I just shoved them to a far side to get them out-of-the-way. I started to work – I grabbed a chisel, then a block plane, a hammer, a mallet, etc. And then I stopped and noticed something. The picture below (a shameless reenactment) tells it all. Without even thinking about it, I was placing the tools up on the boards in between use. This kept them safely out the way when I needed to move things around. I had been employing one of the benefits of having a tool well – keeping small tools out of the same plane as your working surface. This little moment of subconsciousness has made me rethink my anti-tool well sentiments.
I envisioned having my workbench up against a wall, though I had gone back and forth on this. Now I know that I want it against a wall, and either have a tool well or incorporate some sort of narrow shelf or tool holders just above the bench on the wall. The 2x8s have long since moved off the bench, but each and every time I have to move tools around on the bench I consider bringing them back.
Chris Schwarz’ two workbench books (the red one and blue one) might be two of the most popular books ever written on the subject of workbenches.
Tim Celeski maintains Workbenchdesign.net, a bounty of information on workbenches for woodworkers. Tim is a professional woodworker who also teaches several classes a year – his 2012 teaching schedule is here.