I’m getting ready to build a workbench for my woodworking hobby and was wondering if there was a reason that the front vise is installed on the left side of the workbench? I’m right-handed and it would seem more comfortable for me to have the vise on the right side, but I don’t want to cause any problems down the road by doing this. I’ve read articles and books about different types of workbenches, but have found nothing that addresses this question. Will I be making a mistake if I place the front vise on the right side?- Lee Nalley
Tim Inman: Great question! Way back when I was a new teacher, the woodworking benches in my first school had vises mounted on the right-hand corners. Four vises per square bench/table. I learned to use these and really liked them. Any “off” work stuck out to my right and it was easy to make cuts, etc. (I’m right-handed, too.) The scrap dropped off away from the bench and my feet.
Then, I learned that most professionals had their vises on the left-hand end. In my new shop, the only place I could put my bench mandated that my vise had to go on the left-hand end. It was awkward at first. Like anything else, I learned to deal with it. Now, I prefer my vise on the left-hand end. All my tools are at hand on the bench and my right hand just naturally reaches out to get them. No crossover like I had when the vise was on the other end.
Long story short: As far as I’m concerned, you should put the vise where you want it to be. Call it the Justin Wilson Rule. He was the PBS “Cajun Cook” a long time ago, and his wine recommendation was always that you should “drink the kind of wine you like to drink” regardless of the conventional wisdom about red wine or white wine, etc. I know of no rule or reason that convincingly dictates that the vise should be on one end or the other. Sometimes custom and past practice can get in the way of progress, though. Tradition can be a hard thing to beat. Another option? Put a vise on both ends.
Chris Marshall: I’m a righty as well. With a vise mounted on the left, holding a plane in my right hand allows me to present it to wood clamped in the vise while keeping my right arm comfortably in line with the wood (and the bench on my right). If the vise were mounted on the right instead, you’d have to cross over yourself to still hold the plane as you normally would to line up the tool (the bench would be on your left). Or learn to plane with your left hand driving the tool, but I wouldn’t want to do that. This all presupposes you need to stand with the workbench to your side. If your preference is to stand facing the end of your bench and plane that way, rather than keep the bench to one side of your body or the other, you could mount the vise on the right instead. I like Tim’s idea here: put vises all around the bench. Then there’s one at the ready whatever your angle of attack may be. To stick with Tim’s analogy, we’ll just consider a bench with several vises to be a well-stocked wine cellar. Have fun building your new bench!