English v French Workbench
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- This topic has 8 replies, 6 voices, and was last updated 3 years, 5 months ago by Colin Scowen.
4 October 2019 at 8:35 am #614731
I built my first workbench about 5yrs ago, slavishly following Paul along as part of his Artisan woodworking course. Despite a number of errors, it has served me well and now that I am a bit further on and with a bigger selection of tools, I think I am about ready to make my bench for life. Due to workspace limitations, I am looking to build a 6′-8′ bench and was planning to follow Paul’s video series.
I have noticed that the majority of woodworkers (certainly those online) tend to go for a French-style bench, with wooden leg/face vices, tail vices and use with dog-holes and hold-fasts. It’s made me stop to think about which of the two styles is better suited to me. I tend to build small pieces of furniture – my tool cabinet being the largest item (other than my bench) that I have made. Does anyone have any opinions around the pros and cons of the two styles? Interested to hear thoughts and comments
Mike5 October 2019 at 4:19 pm #615181
I think it’s all a matter of personal preference. Since you’ve used the current style for 5 years, have you felt anything was missing or certain tasks were hard to do? If not, there’s not really any reason to change. I built my bench about a year ago following the Paul Sellers videos. After about 6 months of working on projects with the bench as-is, based on where the bench is located (in a corner), I found a tail vise would be helpful, so I added one, along with a few bench dogs, which I also found very useful. If my bench weren’t up against a wall in a corner I probably would have been fine with it as-is.6 October 2019 at 7:13 am #615399
Sensible advice. I like the style of the Paul Sellers bench and will almost certainly go with that again. The one thing that always seems to give me problems is planing the face of thin planks, so I think I would benefit from the combination of tail-vice and dog holes – or possibly just a retractable plane-stop but otherwise I’ll go for a more refined/accurate version of what I have.
Mike6 October 2019 at 10:55 am #615434
The advantage of having a Paul Sellers workbench is that when you look at his video you can replicate what he does. Otherwise you have to find alternative ways of securing the pieces instead of focusing on the particular skill he is demonstrating.
Not to say I don’t appreciate acquiring autonomy and developing my own ways.
About planing thin material:
In one of his tricks, Paul uses a blob of rapid glue on a support board in the vise which, after planing, he would pop it off. It is strong enough…if your plane is sharp.
look for the video “Top 10 Woodworking Tips & Tricks | Paul Sellers”6 October 2019 at 8:10 pm #615535
Echoing Brian’s comment, go with what you know. I have neither an English or French workbench, so when I see techniques using either of those styles, I do have to adapt. Hasn’t stopped me making anything in particular, it’s just made me do some things differently.
(Also, since they are both made with what is effectively thick chipboard, I have no qualms about drilling holes for threaded inserts for clamps or anything else like that.)
I did find that with a bit of file work, you could get a carriage bolt to fit within the mounting of one of those multi tool saw blades, so if you could get your hands on a couple of cheapos, and didn’t mind drilling a couple of holes in your bench, you can use those as bench dogs with teeth.
Colin, Czech Rep.13 October 2019 at 4:45 am #617461
Thanks all. Just rewatched Paul’s videos on clamping techniques as an alternative to bench dogs (so obvious once you know!) and also his bench build series where he observes the benefits of not having his vice flush with the side of the bench.
I am going to go with the English-style bench and follow the series. Should be far easier with a bench already in situ – last time was a right old wrestle in the back garden with clamps and various make-do supports!
Thanks again for the comments
The subject of benches is very much an area of personal preferences – despite so-called regional differences, no two workers have the same ideas or needs.
Some 20 years ago the Taunton press published “The Workbench Book” by Scott Landis
Still obtainable, I think with a little searching and worth a read – it’s very informative with details of benches of every description and size.
Good luck15 October 2019 at 4:14 am #618102
The main difference between the French and the English (Paul Sellers version) bench is that the English bench can be dissmantled in case you move house (and subsequently workshop). If you are not a home owner and you may need to move house in the future you must take this into account. Also the English bench (if built using softwoods) is lighter and therefore easier to move from one workshop to another. Regarding the workholding ability, I can’t tell that there is any serious difference between the two bench types. You may have leg vice, metal vice, dog holes, tail vice etc in both types of bench according to your needs. Personally I would prefer the French design based on aesthetic reasons only, but being a tenant with the possibility of a house move any time in the future I built the English (PS) workbench and I am very happy with it (after four years of use still not sure that I like the tool well though).15 October 2019 at 10:42 am #618186
Mine are both built to sit on a workmate. Not the most stable configuration in the world, but incredibly easy to swap around (or stow away when I need the floor space), extremely versatile and the length was such that they fit in the back of the car.
Colin, Czech Rep.
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