Advice needed on hobby setup - wood, bench, router...

26 Sep 2008
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United Kingdom
Hi people :)

I found the DIYnot forums yesterday when doing some research and I must say I've already found out a lot from reading the posts here. I've got to the point where I'm a bit stuck with some things and i figured this is probably the best place to ask.

I'll start out by describing a bit about what I'm up to, so that you understand the context :D

Basically I'm a keen hobbyist. I've been "into" woodwork pretty much all my life, and I have a fairly good set of various tools. I'm somewhat competent at getting stuff done, and I usually acheive a good level of finish, but I'm no expert and much of the jargon confuses me. For instance, I only found out yesterday that planed-all-round wood isn't actually the quoted size!

I started off with one shelf that I wanted to inversely round the edge of, so it would fit against another object. This is when I discovered what a router is. Well, my eyes lit up when I realised what I could do with such a tool! I started looking into it and decided that I want one mounted in a bench, because I definitely prefer the idea of moving wood past the router rather than moving the router past the wood. So I looked at various benches and decided the best thing is to build myself a large, sturdy workbench in the garage.

My wife approved of this idea (I've learnt always to run things past her! ;)) with the condition that I make her a new wardrobe, and an easel for her painting... I've also been working out plans for (don't laugh!) two indoor guinea pig cages for her. So I've gone from wanting to finish one shelf, to an idea involving workbench, two cages, a wardrobe, an easel, and probably a lot more stuff. All good fun!

On the workbench side of things, I found a Draper 1400 bench (link) which looked nice, but is rather pricey (£189, usually £277 :eek:). I figured I could do a bit better by building one myself, so I've planned out one that will be 1800x800x900mm (lwh). Using redwood I've priced it up as £85 :D That's using a nice 5cm-thick top, sturdy legs, and a shelf underneath, etc. My plan is to mount a router and a cirular saw in the bench, and set up an adjustable/removable fench for use when running wood past the router and saw. So ideally both of those need to be retractable in some way...

So that's the background, which leads me to my questions.

1. Router: I'm having problems figuring out what router to get, and how to mount it. I know I definitely want a 1/2" one, to take 1/2" and 1/4" bits, and I also want one that's fairly powerful, say 1.5hp or more. But I also don't have a load on money to chuck around - after all, this is "just" a hobby! I was hoping to pay about £60 for a router - I've found a plunge router for that price that looks okay, but it doesn't seem to be designed for bench mounting, and I'm not sure how to go about that. I've found some very useful sites telling me all about how to do the actual bench side of the mounting, which seems straightforward enough, but the router side of things is more tricky. I don't want a router that comes in its own bench, but all other routers seem to be just hand-held ones - I've read about a router "base" but I don't really know if I need one of those or what to do about fitting etc. Ideally I would be able to detach the router from the bench occasionally and use it as a hand-held...

2. Circular saw: Like the router, I have no real idea what I'm doing here. I just want a decent saw that I can mount in the bench... the idea is to have the blade protruding up through the bench, but that raises questions of how exactly to mount it, how cut depth will be affected, etc. There's also the safety issue of having a great sharp thing sticking up, so I'd like to be able to retract it safely when not in use, but still have it firm/stable enough when cutting. Then there's the question about saws that "chop", and I get a bit confused... ideally looking to pay the same as the router, about £60, but once more they all seem to be hand-held.

3. Positioning: Once I get the router and saw figured out, I have to work out where to put them! I was thinking of putting the router dead-centre, and the saw half-way between the router and one end, aligned along the length of the bench rather than the width. Bearing in mind that the bench will be 1800x800mm, is that the best way to do it?

4. Jigsaw: I already have a hand-held jigsaw, which is very useful, but I was thinking how cool it would be to mount one onto the bench. This is nowhere near as important as the router and circular saw, but it would be nice... again there are the questions of how to mount it etc. etc. and I'd not want to pay too much.

5. Drill: As with the jigsaw, this is another less-important thing, but when I was at school many years ago we had a drill machine that you pulled the drill bit down into the wood. I have a hand-held drill but if it would be cheap and worth doing then it would again be nice to mount a drill somehow.

6. Wood type: Ideally I would want to make the bench top and the fence from hardwood, but the cheapest I can find is "Idigbo" which for 50x125 is £6.16/m for sawn, and £7.70/m for planed, but the planed also comes with a planing fee :confused: By way of comparison, 50x125 in softwood (fifths) is less than £3/m. I don't know anything about Idigbo and I don't know if it's worth paying the extra to get hardwood for the bench top and fence?

7. Wood source/costs: I didn't initially realise that getting wood was going to be so difficult! In this age of the Internet, I am used to sitting here and ordering everything online, from Christmas presents to Tesco groceries. However many timber mills do not even have prices online, can't even email them to me, and one I rang said they didn't even know their current prices! So I was very pleased when I found a timber site that had a nice e-commerce setup, with clear prices etc. - and then I found they only deliver to counties close-by to them. Grrr. I then went through every timber merchant in my area that I could find, and eventually found a couple that are cheaper than all the others in my area, and delivery isn't too bad either. So I'm wondering, how do other people get their timber? (I'm in Somerset by the way.) Even the cheapest I can find is more expensive than I was expecting, but thankfully not so much that it would be pointless. I also am surprised that the thinnest I can find seems to be 25mm, which I gather is actually 20mm when planed. Some places apparently do 16mm but it seems a lot more expensive. So my plan is to simple cut some 20mm stuff in half with the circular saw if I need 10mm. Is this a good idea? Plus there's the question of quality... I've recently discovered that "unsorted" is the best, then "saw falling" and then "fifths". Why they are called that I have no clue... I priced all my stuff and then found that particular company only do fifths, and the second company I'm looking at do all three grades but I'm waiting for their actual prices (pretty similar though). I've actually spent about a week or two looking into all this and I think that PAR softwood is the best way to go... Redwood (that's a kind of pine I think?) seems to be the norm. When I say "best" I'm basically after the cheapest possible wood that I can get that will be suitable to work with and not look awful. I'd also like to find a source of cheap hardwood, as I can see myself wanting to build something like an oak coffee table in the future. So, am I looking at the right types of wood, and are there any tips about where to get it from?

8. Finishing: I was planning on simply using either some cheap varnish (if I need a hard finish) or else oil/wax or something. Is there anything I need to be aware of here? Like, is it better to varnish the workbench top, or just oil/wax it, or leave it bare?

...I think that's it! Actually a lot more typing that I had expected, so a big thank-you to anyone who reads it all :)
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ithi - the thing to decide first, 'cos that'll determine which route you take, is will your 'station' have a permanent space or will it have to be packed away after use?

Next visit Norm Abraham's site - for ideas; he sells plans & DVD's but have a look at the free DVD previews for inspiration (he also shows other people's attempts/variations).

Have a look at for lots of fittings, aids, and other tackle to make-up benching & workstations.

Go to and check-out their cheepo tackle; compound mitre saw (£60), bench saw (£40), drill press (£40), 1/2" router (£50), etc. If you can pay more do go for better quality tackle but for those on a tight budget cheapo is OK. A bench saw is the first buy 'cos you can make the whole bench with it.
I get all my wood out of skips mainly new stuff and even hardwood
Oh, and forget mounting a circular saw upside down, that sounds very dangerous and impractical. How about a universal machine ? Pretty expensive mind you.
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For your own health and safety do not try to use a circular saw upside down in a homemade bench - this as 2scoops said is very dangerous and impractical. If you need a table saw then buy one that has been designed for the job although I suspect you will not be able to buy much at the budget you have in mind.

Although outside your budget you may want to consider something like a Triton workcentre which can be used with circular saws, jigsaws routers etc Here

Jigsaw mounted to the bench again not a very safe idea perhaps consider a small low cost bandsaw
several point

£60 = cheap 1/4" router
£100= cheap 1/2" router
£150= good 1/2" router

suggest ryobi ideal for your purpose as ryobi is good quality on a budget

kitchen worktops make good router bench tops along with mdf or ply

circular saws and jigsaws are more off a gimic under a bench and as said very dangerous without the propper gaurds

also worth mentioning the router is the cheaper part of the kit the router cutters for more than a basic set will boost the cost by £100 to£ 200
I agree about the triton if you've got the readies, but it's not strictly necessary to use power tools mounted this way for the projects you propose. They will work perfectly well 'right way up' if you know how to use them and you can adequately support the workpiece.

Get the book 'Making Workbenches' By Sam Allen. After reading this you will realise that you'll also have to factor in for a decent vice ;)
Upside-down tools ... years ago, in the 60's maybe, Black & Decker made a range of attachments to fit their bog standard electric drill. My old man had a set of these; I seem to remember a circular saw fitting that clamped onto the drill (to make a hand-held circular saw) then by adding another fitting you were able to fix the unit to a bench upside-down to make a table saw. Those old enough to remember this tackle may well have started out as youngsters using their Dad's drill powered lathe, drill press, bench grinder/buffer, circular saw, etc. - a proper homeworkshop in the days when choice was limited for 'the working-man'. You still see some of this vintage tackle on ebay. Ah, the good old days!

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