Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In search of the ideal kids' workbench.

As I prepare to commence running woodworking activities with kids in Primary Schools, I have been exploring the best type of benches to make and to use for the programs.

My existing benches, used by adults and secondary students, are fantastic. They are solid and made for serious woodworking. However they are heavy and need to be assembled. Each bench is held together by 4 bolts. I have made shorter legs sets to enable young children to be able to use them.

This pic shows the two types of benches I have been using - the 2-vice model and the 4-vice model. Shown here in the process of being set up ready for a program with secondary students.

Meanwhile, I have been researching benches specifically for kids - and the results of my research so far have been disappointing. So I was thinking... how about supermodified saw stools? The important criteria for kids benches me are: easily portable, stackable, stable, able to fit inbetween the wheel arches of my ute, solid enough to not bounce when hammering, room enough for two kids, and two small vices per bench. So after some planning, I made a couple of prototypes - two because I needed to test out the "stackability".

So here is what I came up with in the experiment, and I reckon they are little beauties! A bit like sawstools with a widened top. Note the small shelf under as well.

Of the two small benches I made, only one has the two vices fitted so far. I need to find more of them!!They are second hand 6 inch vices made for kids. Old ones, of course, sourced from markets and garage sales. Both Australian made, one by Carter and the other by Silex.

Note the little Record #0110 block plane on the bench. It was my first plane, given to me by my father. I still use it regularly in my workshop today. I recently said to my Dad: "I love this little plane, and use it all the time. Do you remember that you gave it to me when I was only nine. It's such a good tool - except it is a real pest to adjust." He laughed and said: "That's probably why I gave it to you!"
These little planes are really good for kids to use, as well as for adults!
How's the stackability factor? I was very pleased the way that worked out. Now that the experiment seems to have worked pretty well, I think I will have to make about 8 more of them! I will also need to make some extensions for the legs so I have some flexibility with the height. I made one of these 2 inches shorter than the other.
It must be time I started rounding up the timber to make the rest of the batch...
Not sure how I am going to resolve the vice issue. They're not easy to find.


  1. G'day mate.

    This is me leaving a comment for you.
    I so wish I was working in a primary school and could get you in to do a thing or two with some of the wild kids. Those benches are beauties.

    I will let the ALC crew know about the post about your work there. I'm sure they'll be keen to see themselves and their work.

    See ya,


  2. So, how do you hold down the workpiece while planing?

  3. Most of the planing kids do with me is with a block plane. These are a great size for kids to use. The method of holding for the workpiece varies with the task:

    End grain. If end grain is being planed, like cleaning up an a sawn end, this is either done using: 1. A shooting board, or 2. A vice - with the piece held vertically in the vice while the tail of the plane slides on a piece of wood laying on the bench. The surface to be planed is held level with the top of the guide piece. This gives a skewed cut which is often easier to do than use a bench hook.

    Side grain. Planing the edge of a board is most easily done when held in the vice.

    Face grain. If the face of a board is to be planed, I usually fit a temporary stop to prevent the board from flying off the benchtop. This temporary stop will often be a piece of scrap 1/4 inch ply or something similar, nailed to the benchtop with a couple of short brads, so that it can be easily removed.

    Removing arisses. The chamfering of edges, particularly to remove the sharp ariss from the edge of a piece of wood, again is done with the block plane. I usually suggest kids hold the workpiece in the vice to do this, rotating it in the vice for each edge. If they are a bit older and have the muscle, I would suggest they use the block plane with one hand while the other hand holds the piece down flat on the bench top. It's quicker as there is no mucking around with the vice. Either way, I encourage the skewing of the plane when on the end grain to get a nice clean slicing cut.

    I hope this helps answer your question.
    Kids very quickly learn to use the vice for holding their work. That's why I fit vices to all my kid sized benches.