The Bench Apron

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    You may need a longer clamp to reach the bottom of the apron than the bottom of a 3″ benchtop, but you could still clamp things. Where you may have a limitation is how deeply you can reach into the bench with a clamp because of the apron thickness. My benchtop has a few inches of overhang, maybe 3, and that determines how deeply I can reach into the bench with a clamp. Away from the legs, you might be able to devise a return on the bottom of the apron to increase how far you can reach with a clamp. I’ve not tried this, but don’t see why it wouldn’t work, but keep in mind you are ultimately limited by the depth of your clamp, which again is a few inches. You could also consider holdfasts. Another idea is to extend your bench top beyond the apron, perhaps stopping the apron a bit short of it’s typical length and also extending the length of the top a bit. This then makes the end of the bench, where there’s an overhang, available for clamping. My bench is like this a little bit, and I do make use of it; however, I don’t want to claim that Paul’s design could be modified in this way. I’ve not looked in detail.

    There are two aspects of my current bench setup that I consider essential. First, a face vise that is not flush with the bench top or apron, so that I can get my hands in while placing work and doing other things. Second, is a second vise. I have a second face vise mounted where you’d normally find a tail vise. I routinely have more than one thing I want to hold at a time. It might be a sharpening setup, a strop a shooting board, or a scrap of wood to test my plane setup, or it might be a part that I’m fitting to test against something in the vise. I also use it as a planing stop. I’m left handed, but have my main face vise mounted as a righty would mount it, i.e., on the left end of the bench. My 2nd vise is on the right end. I can put a piece of scrap in that “tail” face vise and adjust it to project whatever distance I want and then push a piece of work up against it for planing. Since I am left handed, this is perfect for me, since that 2nd face vise is to my right. Of course, you don’t need that second vise…you can make a little appliance that is nothing more than a dovetailed corner of thin material that goes in your regular face vise and serves as a planing stop. I also use a through-the-top stop like Ian Kirby describes and find it essential for thin work. My bench is 8 feet long and that second vise is like having a second bench. As long as I have room, I’ll use a bench of this size and with two vises. These are bigger issues for me than the apron and dust on the floor, which I can vacuum up.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by Ed.

    To clarify the question: Chris Shwartz roundly dismisses aprons because they prevent clamping to the top of the bench top. Which activities do you find such clamping absolutely indispensable?

    Do you have a link to the article where Chris Schwartz says this? I have to wonder if something hasn’t been misunderstood. I can’t see Chris making that statement with no qualifying context as you present, because Chris knows better than any of us how useful holdfasts can be.

    Holdfasts are awesomely useful, they clamp workpieces to your benchtop (or to your apron), and the presence or absence of aprons does not interfere with their use. I will say that the presence of aprons in a design might infer a much thinner benchtop, and at some point a benchtop is too thin to support the use of holdfasts, which need …I’m guessing here…about 1.75 inches of thickness or so.

    Maybe Chris was only referring to “clamping” in the sense of using, for example, an F clamp, and only on the face of the bench which featured an apron (because you could still clamp to the top of your bench from either end of your bench, where there is no apron)?

    Assuming so, I wouldn’t worry about it. Chris has been woodworking since color TV was a novelty. He has developed his way of woodworking the way he likes it, and he prefers situations or equipment which allow him to work in his way of doing things.. As beginners, we’re much more adaptable, we don’t have “our way” of doing things yet, we’re still learning even the most basic way of doing some things.

    Look at Paul — he never clamps anything to his benchtop. “Paul’s way” of doing things, which is just as effective as Chris’ way, doesn’t need F clamps to the benchtop or holdfasts. Eventually we’ll all develop “our way”, but in the meantime, it’s probably best to not worry about one way or the other, try all available ways, because you never know what will really resonate with how your brain is wired to solve problems, and ultimately that will guide all your choices and lead you to find what is “your way”.

    Rowdy Whaleback

    Hello Edmund,
    Shwartz sets out a set of “principles” (not rules)
    Principle 8 about 3d clamping and principle 10 “Aprons and skirts are good to look at” calling them a “crime”.
    Not one of the designs in this second book “Better benches” has an apron. They are all pretty much roubo variations.

    Sven-Olof Jansson

    Adding, as Mr. P Sellers shows in a video, castor wheels to the legs makes cleaning up under the bench easier, as it can be moved around.

    Mr. David Charlesworth advocates the well bottom to have moveable segments, thereby allowing clamping from the rear, which, at the expense of sometimes quite big clamps, does away with the clamps obstructing the work.


    Sven-Olof Jansson
    London, UK; Boston, MA

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