Have tools will travel. Bonus: the perfect wooden multitool

Woodworking on the go? If you don’t have any special projects planned but you still want to come prepared, these are the basic tools to pack and take with you.

Tom Fidgen has designed a remarkably compact and efficient wooden tool box.  His selection of the bare minimum of hand tools required for a project is spot on.   But I’d like to add one more thing to his kit:  a saw bench.


A saw bench is the original multi tool.  It can serve as a sawhorse, a workbench, a step stool, a riving brake and a bench hook.  Saw benches typically come in two forms:  the English-style slab top and the more modern split top.  Plans for either type are readily available.


The English style is more traditional and typically lighter but has several shortcomings.  The mouth is fairly shallow so you’ll have to shift the wood often when ripping and the splayed legs make attaching a saw stop/ bench hook more difficult. The top is also fairly narrow so it can be difficult to handle wider stock.

The modern split top saw bench is much more useful.  It allows you to rip wood with ease, has a much larger working surface and is extremely sturdy when built with through dovetails. Saw benches are typically built to knee cap height.  This is great for general ripping and crosscutting.  It is also a good height for a step stool.  In most furniture making and finish carpentry, that extra 18 to 21 inches is all you need.  If you build the saw bench with an opening of about 1.75 inches, it is perfect for holding doors and windows when installing hardware or trimming to fit.

You may also use your split top saw bench as a workbench on the job site.  You can attach a small wood vise to either side.  You may also drill several holes for benchtop holdfasts.  You will probably need to increase the thickness of the top of the saw bench to allow the holdfasts to get a good bite. Another good use for a saw bench is for chopping mortises.  You can straddle the saw bench like a horse and secure the stock between your legs.  This allows you to position yourself directly over the mortise and strike your chisel with heavy blows without tiring as easily.

The saw bench can be used as an improvised riving brake.  You can secure the stock vertically in the slot and then hold the saw bench down with your feet as you strike and rock the froe back and forth.

You may also add a fence to one side of the saw bench to help you secure stock when crosscutting.  It’s a good idea to use slotted screw holes to attach the fence so that it may be pushed down below the top surface of the bench when you are handling larger stock.

Designing and building your own saw bench is a great project and you will end up with a tool so useful you’ll wonder how you ever worked without it.



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