Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Ideal Bench Hook

  My old bench hook is wearing out, and it's just about time to make a new one. As with any shop jig, when we're ready to re-make, it is often time to re-design. When I thought about it, though, I realized I've been using this particular bench hook in so many ways, for so many years, that it really doesn't warrant any re-designing. It is about as good as it's going to get, so I thought I'd share it with all you woodworkers and woodworker wanna-bees.

  A basic bench hook is no more than a mini-shelf on top of the workbench, sporting a rear fence to press a workpiece against while you saw a cut line.  One lip below, which holds it in place, and one lip at the back above, where you press the workpiece to hold it in place firmly while sawing.

  This one is a bit more elaborate. It is not my own design, and I no longer have the magazine where some enterprising woodworker published it as a tip many years ago.  If he's out there, I hope he'll step up and claim authorship of his design, because I've appreciated his innovative thinking for a long time.

  Here is the basic bench hook, with storage for four dowel pegs on the left, and a drop-shelf to prevent cutting through the bench hook after doing 90% of the cut on a workpiece.

   It is made with one 3/4" sheet of plywood 12" wide and 14" long. Another 1/4" sheet is glued on top of it, 10-1/2" wide x 14" long, and aligned with the left front corner (this is for right-handers, and can be reversed for lefties.) Then an equal length block 2x2" is glued under the bottom front, and an 8" 2x2" block glued on top at the back, aligned with the left side. Be certain the end cut of that back fence is 90ยบ vertical to the flat bench hook, as it acts as a saw guide.  Then add another smaller block to the right of the cut space, to steady the work when you move it over above the drop-off to finish the cut all the way through. Also, atop the back 2x2" fence, glue on two different grits of sandpaper to brush off any whiskers from your saw cuts, or to sand down the roughened end grain from a saw cut.

  The final chore is to drill some random holes 1/2" deep in the bench hook that loosely fit your selected dowels, stored above in equally dimensioned holes when not needed. The dowels serve to steady oddly-shaped pieces for either sawing or drilling. When attaching lathe face plates for turning, for example, the drill produces a great deal of torque and the workpiece is nearly impossible to hold by hand with any stability. When secured in a front vise, this bench hook and dowel set up makes it a one-handed operation.

  So, knowing I cannot improve on this bench hook design, I'm ready to put together a new one. Truth is, I'm not going to throw away the old one, but save it for more 'scrappy' uses like chopping end cuts and various dent-worthy chisel pounding.  

  I hope this is of some use to others.   For construction, here is one more photo of it on its side to clarify my directions. The dimensions are entirely up to you, so make it to fit your bench, or alter it as needed.  I really wouldn't know how to get along without it!


Addendum: mine is only one kind of bench hook.  Here is a YouTube link to another kind by famed handtool officionado Roy Underhill:  

©BarbSiddiqui; use by permission only


  1. Nice work, and an excellent description. I like this design better than the version Underhill made, if only because it's more straightforward to construct. I've never used the secondary "drop-off" platform design - sounds quite reasonable.

  2. I'm glad you like it, John. Roy Underhill makes his look so simple to cut, but I had my doubts about it, too. The 'drop off' design has a useful feature. If you make one, I think you'll appreciate its use!


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