Like many things in woodworking bench heights, sharpening etc can lead to paralysis by analysis when in fact it could be really easy. Good advice can be found by firstly reflecting on the woodworking you do as a profession or enjoy as an enthusiast and then secondly looking at what has been done before.
Back in the 1820′s they had the right idea
“Benches are of various heights, to accommodate the height of the workmen”.
What a lovely “in a nutshell” way of looking at it. The bench height advised by Peter Nicholson is 32″ (813mm) for joinery work. OK so initally this sounds a little low. The first thing to consider is the date Mr Nicholson’s advice was first published, the 1820′s, nearly 200 years ago. Within industrialised nations average height has increased around 4″ (100mm). That brings us up to a bench height of 36″ (914mm). The next thing to think about is the tools. Leonard Bailey and his metal plane was not yet part of the fabric of woodworking. Wooden bench planes were the weapon of choice. A wooden plane typically stands 3″ (75mm) high whereas a metal plane is at most 1″. So therefore we could add a further 2″ (50mm) to Nicholson’s advice taking us up to 38″. This seems a perfect height for accurate joint making and hand work and will be a start height for my bench. I will however listen to my body, if I find it too high I can easily trim a 1/2″ off until it feels right for me (I think it unlikely that I would want to add height)
Back to the reflection. Think about the type of work you do or aspire to do. Does that involve lot’s of planning rough sawn stock to size with hand planes. If it does, drop a couple of inches or so and when you have intricate work consider a bolt on surface that can raise you up or a small joiners bench. On the flip side if you use lot’s of hefty power tools on big projects a bit lower again might be good. Our benches are 34″ (875mm) and they have always worked well for making general joinery. Take Nicholson’s advice ”Benches are of various heights, to accommodate the height of the workmen”.