Last weekend some friends stopped by, and while in the garage I had mentioned the possibility of building a new workbench. I’m not going to bore anybody with this topic, as it has been beaten to death many times over, but I will bore you with another topic that has also been beaten to death many times over: the workbench tool tray.
The tool tray is polarizing among woodworkers, which I find utterly stupid on many levels. Nonetheless, there are often strong opinions when it comes to having one on your workbench.
Since I’ve installed a tool tray on my bench it has never gotten in the way of my work, and it has never gotten messy, at least nowhere near the levels that some woodworkers claimed it would. At the same time I’ve never really felt that I’ve used it to the point where it became a necessity. For me, it is an attachment that I use because it’s there, but could live without if it wasn’t….that is until I actually watched the woodworking videos I’ve been filming lately. In those videos, it’s plain to see that several times I am (subconsciously) retrieving an item from the tray, and then putting it back into the tray when I’m finished using it to keep it clear of the work. And that I feel is the tool tray’s greatest merit: its ability to store often-used items at arm’s length without those items interfering with what is happening on the work bench top.
So what am I saying that I haven’t said a half-dozen times before? Well, if I were to build a new workbench, I would not include a tool tray. Say what!?!
I have one problem with tool trays: to have one that is functional, meaning deep enough to hold an item such as a bench plane without it sticking out, you either need a correspondingly thick bench top, or you need to have some clever engineering built into the bench. In order for the tray on my current bench to be 3 ½” inches deep, which I find is deep enough to keep the vast majority of woodworking tools “below the horizon”, I had to make supports, use wedges, and basically go through a lot of hassle to get it installed correctly. I wouldn’t go through that again, in particular after I’ve finally installed the wall mounted tool racks and shelf unit on each side of my bench.
Of course there are other ways of making and installing a deeper tray, such as a mounting it in the center of the bench, but they also require more engineering than I am willing to put into making a workbench, and a center tray also mandates that you have a wider benchtop (at least that is how I would do it on my bench) to allow more usable work space at the front of the bench. Once again, there are ways around that as well, but in my opinion a workbench should be built as simply as possible.
As I’ve said before, this topic is pretty much a dead one on many levels. At the risk of sounding ludicrous, I found my own thought process interesting. I’ve been an advocate of tool trays since I began woodworking, yet in an attempt to “front only the essentials…” I’ve discovered that the more “Spartan-like” my work area is, the more I enjoy being there.
Maybe, just maybe, I have the makings of a minimalist after all.
No more tool tray?