On Benchtop Benches

Benchtop Benches provide woodworkers with small, portable benches that have almost as much clamping versatility as a full sized bench while still fitting in a suitcase.

I first noticed the Sjoberg Smart Vise due to its prominent placement in the Rockler catalogue I recently received. The Smart Vise caught my eye because it solves an issue I've had before and I know many woodworkers have had: How to clamp and work pieces without a proper, formal bench?

This image of the Sjoberg Smart Vise is from Rockler's site.
The Smart Vise is a 14.5” x 14.5” benchtop with a wood jawed vise along one side. There are dog holes in the vise and bench. It even comes with four (4) small bench dogs.

What makes the Smart Vise so interesting is the lip which runs around the sides. By clamping the lip onto any work surface, you mount the Smart Vise and get a small, extremely portable bench to work on.

This notion of a small, clamp-on bench has recently been popularized by Chris Schwarz and his “Milkman’s Workbench”. The Milkman’s Workbench is a small (about 30” x 7”) wooden bench. As is true of the Sjoberg Smart Vise, the Milkman’s Workbench is meant to be portable and simply clamped to a table for use. The original Chris saw accomplished this with fancy wooden clamps built into the bench. In the version Chris built, he used much simpler angle iron and F-style clamps.

Mark Hochstein's Milkman's Workbench. (image from gunpowederwoodworks.com)

Though not designed to be quite as portable as the Smart Vise or Milkman’s Workbench, Jeff Miller’s Benchtop Bench is also in this class of bench - in that it can be put on about any table and used as a bench.

Jeff Miller's Benchtop Bench from finewoodworking.com

The difference is that unlike the Smart Vise or Milkman’s Workbench - which are essentially portable benches designed to be transported and used when a standard formal bench isn’t available - Miller’s Benchtop Bench is designed to be used on, and in conjunction with, a formal bench. It’s made to raise the workpiece to a more comfortable height for certain operations, similar to a Moxon Vise. Though the stub legs which give it the added height also make it a bit bulkier than the others, I think it would still work as a portable bench too.

Among these benchtop Benches, I think the biggest deciding factor is “Do you want to build or buy?” If you want to build, you’ll then need to figure out if you want the unique clamping ability of the Milkman’s Workbench or the height and bench surface of Miller’s Benchtop Bench. If you want to buy, then you just need to figure out where to get the Sjoberg Smart Vise (Woodcraft and Amazon seem to be the cheapest).

All three (3) of these benchtop benches provide working bench functionality for anyone without a formal bench or who needs to woodwork on the road. Though I won’t be putting one (1) on my to-do list ahead of the formal bench I still need to build, I think there versatility means one (1) of them will be in my future.

If the Milkman’s Workbench has caught your eye, be sure to check out Mark Hochstein’s blog posts about building one himself.