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I am curious as to what seems to be the average working height for hand planing. This is an issue I haven't seen on this list or in the archives. In my case, I raised my workbench from about 30" up to 39". I am 5' 9" tall, and this puts my plane arm almost parallel with the forms. This seems a little more comfortable. The reason I bring this up is because 27 years in the plumbing/heating business has taken it's toll on my shoulders, back, and knees. Now I'm wondering if a particular height will create rotator cuff problems. Repetitive motion and all that. Any of you doctor types have an opinion? If I could get my own doctor to return a phone call I'd ask him.  (Tom Vagell)

    I am on the preventative side for now, as I am pretty young and have already had occasion to worry about my back.  The rule of thumb that most go by is “belly button high” for your planing.  More specifically, about 2” below your elbow.  Also the word is that planing on an increasing angle is also a must.  What this angle is I do not know.  I have only seen a couple, but they were radically different.  One was about 2 inches over the span of about 7 feet and the other was ¾” for every foot.  Both had the start height at that “belly button high” level for themselves.  I am working out a quick and dirty method of achieving this, as space is becoming a consideration as I move throughout the house.  I must admit, though, I have it better than some (just barely single... work in the living room with the hardwood floor to just sweep up.  Yes, I realize that this is going to quickly come to an end!!!)  Good luck.  (Carl DiNardo)

      What is the rationale behind planing on an incline, Carl.  It might be worth a try, but I have to be convinced before I will give up my tried and true methods.  (Ralph Moon)

        As I interpret things, by raising the far end of the form (the side you plane towards), you are more or less pivoting it about the close end. Because the entire affair is lower than your shoulder, this has the affect of relocating the far end closer to, in this instance, the business end of your body (shoulder and arm).  By doing so, you rather significantly reduce the amount of reach and/or hunching to plane.  If you walk the length of the forms when you plane you will probably save a step each time.  Tim told me he got the idea from Japanese planing, where they plane at an angle, but plane backwards by our standards (think about turning the plane 180 degrees and pulling it) and nearly always work higher away and lower towards.

        I could be completely wrong here, but that is how I perceive the benefits.  Those who try it say it is very helpful on their backs and general comfort when working.  I am all for comfort.  (Carl DiNardo)

          My work bench is 45" high and my planing form is sitting on a 2x4. I guess that makes it 46 3/4 inches. I am 5'9 1/2" in my stocking feet.  (Timothy Troester)

      Tim Abbott showed his planing form "jig" at the Catskills gathering. It raises approximately 4" across the 6' of support. You start at the low end and plane upwards. The starting height is somewhere around belly button height, but I am not absolutely positive about that aspect. The force is always applied in your best "center of gravity" position.

      I have some pictures and there are also some more views of it actually in use in the new Golden Witch video, “Making Bamboo Rod Blanks”. It is a great jig that also utilizes a vacuum pump underneath the forms to keep the strip firmly in the groove. The clamping set up is also easy to use and quite efficient. Tim also has a block of wood that he replaces the forms with so that he can easily sand the blanks and or strips with the clamp set up as usual. Tim is a pretty remarkable and ingenious fellow.

      Another thing you might want to check out is John Niemera's planing form bench plans.  It has many great ideas as well, and it is nice because you can tuck it out of the way when done.   (Bob Maulucci)

      Most general woodworking sources recommend a bench height that lets you rest your palms on the bench with your arms at your sides.  Lower heights can hurt your back from too much bending; higher heights can trouble you arms and shoulders because they make it harder to use more of your body in the planing stroke.  The planing in rodmaking is, however, lighter in nature than a lot of woodworking, so it may be OK or even better to go a little higher than the "palms rule".  (Terry Finger)

    I am 6' tall and I plane at approximately 37" high.  Keeps my back straight instead of all hunched over.  I have not had any shoulder problems either working at this height.   (Robert Cristant)

    Let me give it a shot. I am a Doctor of Chiropractic and I make a living off of people doing horrible things to their bodies in the pursuit of fun.  What I recommend is standing next to your bench with your arm and hand parallel to the table top. Now either lift your bench or place supports under your planing forms so the top of your arm, elbow and wrist are just above the forms. This is the correct height. Also do not use to much of your arm in planing. It is better to hold the are as stationary as possible and lean in the direction you are planning and walk your body down the form as you plane. In this manner you will not only find you will not injure your joint but you will find maintaining your angles will be easier.  (Adam Vigil)

      So what do you think of the inclined planing form?  If I read you right you are saying that it isn’t at all necessary if you walk the length of your forms.  (Carl DiNardo)

        An inclined form will simply decrease the angle at the elbow as you progress down the form. This will decrease motion with internal and external rotation of the arm, this will help maintain correct angles as you plane. But in all honesty one of the best way to maintain the angles is not extending the arm while planing. Arm extension allows to much rotation in the forearm and places the more force behind the plane and less over the top of the plane. It is the force on top of the plane that stabilizes keeping it level and the force behind it that actually moves the plane forward. If the arm become too extended you lose the force above the plane. Therefore inclining the planing forms helps keep the force on top. But if you simply maintaining the correct arm angle while planing and walk the plane down the form you will maintain better angles and save your joints.  (Adam Vigil)


What's a good, cheap workbench idea for cane rod building?  I assume it need to be at least the length of the forms?  Have an 8'x4' area I can use for rod building, but can't get into doing a lot of cutting and woodwork in my apartment.  Any lower cost "off the shelf" ideas that won't kill me to carry up 3 flights of stairs?

I'm thinking sawhorses and a solid wood door. But I'm 6'4" and worry that I can't build stable, tall sawhorses.   How about one of those long folding buffet/utility tables?  Too unstable?  (Joe West)

    I use one of the modular "Gorilla Racks". The kit is composed of two units, each four feet long, 20" wide, and 3.5' tall, and has two shelves - the total length 8' if you use both.  It made out of heavy gage steel, and is very sturdy.  It doesn't take up much room, especially when placed against the wall (I built rods on one in my apartment kitchen for two years before I bought my house and built a real shop).  (Chris Obuchowski)

    You don't need much of a bench for most cane work. Why not just use a glorified sawhorse? You can make a sturdy one easy with some of the commercial sawhorse leg brackets. All you have to do is cut the 2 X 4 legs to length and bolt them in place.

    Get one of the heavy duty plastic versions. If the legs are not rigid enough, you can always add a stretcher, but I doubt that you will need it. I would use a 2 X 12 or a 2 X 8 for the top. Make the top a bit longer than your forms, and tack a piece of molding of some sort to the back to keep tools from rolling off. This rig will even disassemble when not in use.

    Go to the Catskill Rodmakers Gathering 2003 site to see plans for a custom made version of this idea designed by John Neimera with a few more bells and whistles.  (Tom Smithwick)

    I built the Heavy Duty table but made it 8 feet long.  It is a good work bench with lots of room.  You can get the plans  (PDF format) here.  The whole bench cost me approximately $110.00 ($60.00 of it was plywood).  Once I cut the wood all I needed was a drill and a Philips screw driver bit to assemble it.  (Dave Gerich)

    For my Morgan Mill, I just screwed 2- 2" x 4" together and then into the wall. With the angle bracket, it has ample clearance to plane/mill. it is solid and takes little room. Tools are hung on the wall above it and toolboxes are below.

    I do have a workbench too. I just couldn't see tying up that space with the mill. Now it is free for other things. Things like storing junk or making things disappear from this universe?

    I know it was on the workbench............... That is where I put it.

    I wonder what that alternative universe thinks of the things that fall from here to there. A box of jasper, gorilla glue, various screws, batteries, light bulbs, oh the list goes on.  Could they really use a $20 bill?  (Rich Jezioro)

    Space is a premium for me as well and for the most part I use the aforementioned plastic saw horses, spanned by a plank, and elevated to a comfortable height and set everything up outside. If the weather is bad, I will then move indoors to my laundry room and set up, temporarily, because I compete for space with SWMBO. The best part about working outdoors is that cleanup is easy. Let the wind blow it away. The worst part is bringing everything in at the end of a day. I have gotten lazy and covered things well with a tarp on occasion  (Bill Bixler)

    Good question.  It is fairly easy to solve rod making problems with unlimited area and resources, but an area 8' x 4' on a limited budget might require some creativity.  I'm not absolutely sure that you can get a completely satisfactory solution that is cheep, doesn't require much wood working, and will serve your ultimate desires; but the challenge might be interesting.

    Ultimately, the only answer to your question is what works for you.  I'll throw out two alternatives to the sawhorse option.  These might not work for you, but maybe they will get your creative juices going.

    1.  Check out a company like "Grainger" for their workstation benches.  They offer a variety of metal legs that will hold your choice of table top, and do it with good stability.  They will breakdown for storage or mobility, and you can purchase the legs alone and supply your own top.  Three-quarter to one inch particle board is usually quite flat as long as you keep it dry and sufficiently stable to serve adequately.  It's cheaper than a solid door.  The legs for such workstations usually provide for some adjustment, which a person of your height will likely appreciate.  You can recess the legs sufficiently that you don't kick them every time you plane along.  You can decrease the depth of the top too.  Most of my activity takes place in the first eighteen inches to two feet of depth.  Additional depth might just take up space that you don't have to spare.  In addition, it is much easier to store equipment under a table supported by vertical legs than sawhorse legs.  Limited to an area 8' x 4', I think you will need the storage space.

    2.  Consider an inexpensive "hobby" bench, usually about five feet long and a couple of feet deep, from a "Home Depot" type place.  Alternatively, what about a desk form an "Army Surplus" type place, or even a school surplus auction.  These are not fancy and not adequate for heavy-duty woodworking, but they will provide a stable base, and that's all you really need if you consider adapting them to the task at hand.  For instance, while it is nice for a  workbench to extend the length of the planing form, this is not absolute critical.  Rod sections rarely require the full length of the form. All you really require is support under the "working area."  You can shift the forms to have the "working area" over the workbench without having to have bench under all of the form.  Or, you could create a "nest" for your form in a length of 4" x 4" and mount this to the bench.  It effectively increases the bench length for planing, but can be removed to permit other rod making activities.  It also increases its effective height, which is nice for planing.  While you are at it, you might consider setting this "nest" on an incline so that the planing form rises as you plane along.

    Binding might be another matter.  You can bind by hand, or you can invest in a vertical binder, so you have alternatives.  Any of the versions of a Garrison binder will require a length as long as each section you are binding on both sides of the binder.  If the binder takes up a foot, and you are binding four foot sections, then you need a minimum space of (4' + 1' + 4') nine feet, which exceeds your work area.  Binding is not an activity protracted over time.  If you could shift your bench so that it lines up with a doorway, you would likely be good to go.  Binding doesn't take that long, so you can move things back immediately afterwards.  A smaller bench would be easier to move.

    It has occurred to me that binding does not, in and of itself, require that I bend over to do it.  If struck by such a revelation, you too can avoid bending over while binding by building a binding station that will hold your binder closer to chest height and mount on your bench.  Note that bench length and height at this point are not critical issues, just the stability it offers the binder.  Thinking that you might build a binding station simply to avoid bending over anyway, you could create some detachable extensions to support the rod section as it approaches and exits the binder. Something as simple as 2" sections of 1/4 inch dowel stuck into holes along the length of a 2" x 2", or half a PVC pipe for that matter, will work adequately.  Such extensions carry little weight, just that of a rod section, so there is no need to over engineer them.  When the pegs get covered in glue, simply cut more 2" sections of dowel and replace them.  You will have to clean out the PVC.  The point is that detachability of the supports would give you sufficient flexibility to keep within 8' x 4' area most of the time, but allow sufficient binding space when needed.

    Effectively, these examples show two adaptations to a smaller bench that will adequately serve your needs.  I think it unnecessary to fill your 8' x 4' area with an overly large bench.  I would suggest you keep flexibility and storage requirements in the front of your mind as you think through your possibilities.

    Rod making is a lot more than splitting, planing, and binding.  Dealing with nodes, cutting to length, flattening sections after binding, scraping and sanding glued sections, setting ferrules, creating handles, affixing reel seats and handles, wrapping guides, applying finish, studying and graphing tapers, all need to happen somewhere.  Might as well consider them too when considering your bench, your size constraints, and your budget.  (Russell Dabney)

      By all means, bind by hand!! It is easy and quick and you need no material at all. I put tension on the thread with my bare right foot. I do not understand all this talk about mechanization. If making those tools gives a kick, then, do it.

      As for me I make rods as a hobby. In the three years and a bit I have been doing this I already made more rods than I'll ever need. I am into British coarse fishing rods now and I only have two so far. Lots of ideas are waiting to be executed. Mechanization would give a bigger production but what for? I make rods mainly to kill the time. For a professional maker things are different of course, but us hobby makers??

      I do have a work bench on the porch now, but it is merely a recipient for clutter... So if the goal is making a couple of rods as a hobby you can start with really very little tools.  (Geert Poorteman)

    Find a used office furniture place and buy wall track, a work surface(s) to fit your area, and mounting brackets.  They are solid, stand up to anything I have thrown at them, and cost me $50.  (Brian Creek)

      For what its worth, the first rods I made were planed on the table on my outside porch. It was not as long as my forms, but it worked. After planing, I stacked the forms in a corner, the rest of the tools in baskets on the floor. In Africa,  most craftsmen work on the ground. Ever considered planing sitting down on the floor? Should work, and if you are REALLY very tight. I made my wooden planing forms on the floor of my living room. But I was still single then. (Geert Poorteman)

    You might try using a pair of the Black and Decker Workmate folding workbenches.  They are quite steady and not terribly expensive.  They can also be put away when not in use.  I have used that setup for my Morgan Mill.  (Bill Lamberson)

    I have made four workbenches all with the aluminum angles from Home Depot. They work very well for making a cheap bench from 2x4s. I also situate them so I can work on both sides, although this may not be an option for you.

    My next bench will be a mortise and tenon based set up in the Ian Kirby vein. I think that "racking" (shifting) is the major problem, and I think that a good mortised base will really help. That is why my previous efforts all used the aluminum deck ties.

    I highly recommend the book "The Workbench" by Scott Landis (Taunton Press). It has some really great ideas. Check the local library. You can also try John Niemiera's design for a planing bench here. (Bob Maulucci)


I built a 2" x 6" x 72" long board with 4" x 4" feet at each end to set my forms in. This raised the form up to a more ergonomic level on my work bench. I did this after talking with list members about planing ergonomics about 6 months ago. The working height is much better.

Well, about 3 months ago I added a bamboo strip hold down device to keep both hands free. I used a piece of "unistrut" fastened under the 2 x 6 to act as a "track" and welded a unistrut nut to a pair of wide vice grips, the kind we use in our sheet metal shop, with the bottom riding in the strut groove. On the top of the vice grip I added a rubber crutch tip to hold the strip in place. I can slide the vise grip the whole length easily. Works great.

Now, me thinking I'm onto something here, about a week ago I watched the Golden Witch video tape showing Tim Abbott's really professional device with an 8 degree rise, improving the ergonomic idea. Simply beautiful. It looks like I was trying to reinvent the wheel here. Does anyone else know of this device? Is Mr. Abbott a list member? I sure would like a closer look at his invention.  (Tom Vagell)

    Check the photos of the 2003 Catskill Gathering.

    Tim's planing bench (and Tim) are in the Part 3 Photos -- the top left photo  (David Van Burgel)

      The Golden Witch video shows it a lot better than the Catskill pictures, but if there's a plan floating around somewhere I'd sure like to see it.  Maybe Tim will write it up for "The Planing Form".  (Neil Savage)


While straightening nodes today I thought I would mention a factor of bench construction that has saved my noggin from concussion who knows how many times.  While flattening and pressing nodes and concurrently burning a bunch of CD's for an upcoming road trip to Oregon for the salmonfly hatch, I found myself consuming mass quantities of swill (bud) while working. Those of you have haven't yet built your bench. Be sure to install a bottom rail at least 2 3/4 inches from the floor. This serves two purposes. One (obviously) is to provide the bench with lateral support at the base as well as a platform on which to install a base shelf. The other, after listening to at least four Clapton albums, I have found that if there is sufficient room to slide your toes under the rail, if installed properly, all one has to do to prevent a fall backwards is to slightly lift ones toes under the rail and equilibrium is instantly instituted to ones satisfaction. I have found this compensates for any manner of air guitar playing while performing this drudgery.  (Mike Shay)

    Kewl.  I have that feature built into my bench too, but haven't had cause to use it in such a manner.  (Mark Wendt)


I have finally remodeled my place to the point where I'm thinking about making rods again.  I am going to build a new work bench and thought I'd ask if there are any 'rules of thumb' (rule of thumbs?) for the height of the working surface, taking in to account the fact that a planing form is about 2" itself.

I searched the 'old' rodmakers list at Todd Talsma's site and found two posts on the topic (one by AV Young, where did he go?) but the new one at Goldrush requires a password and i don't know what mine is and the query page doesn't say what to do in the absence of a valid password.

Hopefully, this topic has not been beaten to death while i was sleeping to the point that no one wants to talk about it anymore.

But, with all of the previous disclaimers firmly in place, any help? I am presuming that one's height would figure into the equation (but maybe not, since  golf clubs are about 80% standard
length, I'm told).  I am 6'2" and my wrist is about 34" above the ground with arms hanging at my side.  Is there a formula for optimum work bench height specific to bamboo rod making?

Google produced this gem:

Workbench Height

When setting up workbenches, the height is generally figured at about hip pocket high. But before you buy or build a workbench, consider the height of your table saw. If the bench is the same height as the saw it can then be used for extra support when sawing oversize materials.

Unfortunately, it doesn't say whether it's the top or bottom of the hip pocket, I'd presume top.

What surface height formulae do you guys like?  (Patrick Mullen)

    First of all, A V. (Tony) Young is now in New Zealand.  Out of Internet range most of the time, unfortunately.   He was a real treasure to the list.

    Secondly, I have my workbench set so that it's about at belly-button height.  Then, I set my planing forms on pieces of 2x2's wrapped in drawer liner (the "grippy" kind).  That way, it's easier to work with the clamp when planing.  Just a note, since I'm 6'6", when Bret Reiter comes over, I have to build a step so that he can see the top of my bench.  Just ask him!  ;^)  (Todd Talsma)

    Tony is homesteading in New Zealand, no internet connection.

    My favorite bench is 35" to the top of the bench. Add 3/4 for the base clamp and 3/4 for the forms. If I did it again, I'd lower it an inch or two , but you are a couple of inches taller than I am. I've never cared for a low bench. Matching the bench to the saw bothers me for two reasons.  It is to low as far as I am concerned, and it implies a portable bench. I don't like to feel my bench move when I'm planing. I like the bench to be an anchor in an uncertain world, solid, level and plumb.  (Larry Blan)

      I am 5'10 and my bench height is 45 inches. No bending over for close work and no stiff back or neck. It is working great for me.  (Timothy Troester)

      Does anyone plane sitting down, as on a stool?  (Carey Mitchell)

        Speaking strictly for myself, if I tried that, my strips would look like I was trying for an 8 sided rod. I walk the length of the forms, if my hand/arm extends very much, the plane tilts.  (Larry Blan)

    The advice I liked came from Nunley. Have the surface of your work bench about bellybutton height. I made mine 1/8 inch lower than my small table saw bed, and elevate it on some bricks to bring it to the correct/comfortable height. Once you do this you will never go back to lower benches again. Saves your back, especially during planing.

    Another thing: place the bench away from a wall so all sides are accessible.  (Jeff Schaeffer)

      I agree.  My benches are all at the height of my elbow when I bend my arm.  Have used that height 30 years.  (Neil Savage)

    How about making the bench height where your forearm is almost up to level while standing & planing?  (Don Schneider)

    When the time came for me to "rebuild" my shop, I thought long and hard  on the workbench.  I've tried a number of different configurations, and since the shop was too small for the kind of bench I'd dearly love to have (an island  bench) I went back to the old standard of a straight, long bench.  I used Ray Gould's design, with a few minor tweaks to fit stuff on the shelves.  Since my shop is rather narrow, I had to use the bench not only for it's benchtop utility, but as a storage area.  Mine's 12' long, so I can store full length culms on it, and has room enough on top to hold my mini-lathe and mini-mill, with enough left over space for a blade sharpening area, and down at the other end, enough free space to put my planing forms up on the same 2" x 4" blocks with the "sticky" liner on it (Wonder where Todd got that idear...  :-)) that Todd mentioned.  I also have my 7' long x 14" wide x 12" high convection oven on the top shelf of the bench.  I ended up making the bench about 37" high, since that worked out right for me for planing.  I'm 6' tall (not quite as tall as Todd, but a bunch more than Bret.  He'd need at least a step stool to plane on my bench...)  The bench top is 36" wide, which comes in real handy for the machining side of my rod making.  I store the machines on the back of the bench, and when I need to use them, I slide them forward.  When they're not in use, they're out of the way, and there's still a whole bunch of space on the front of the bench.  I've got some better pictures of the shop stored here on my computer, if you'd like to see them let me know, but for a quick glance at my workbench, look at the bottom picture on Todd's site.  Believe it or not, my wife got the posters for me when she used to work at Victoria's Secret.  (Mark Wendt)

    Hey guys, I built the ultimate table this spring for my leather work after using my old table for 15 years. A retired Bone Dr. friend of mine helped me to design it and one of the best things he suggested was to put a two inch dowel on brackets around the table about a foot high, you can adjust to you so you can pick your foot up for a foot rest. It really helps the lower back from aching after standing for long periods of time.  (Jimmy Acord)

    I might suggest that if you already have a bench you have been using and are going to make another one that you raise your bench using some half inch boards for shims and try working with a higher surface.  You can gradually remove shims to lower the bench until you find your best height.    (Richard Steinbach)

      Any height rules for Morgan Mill users? I find that the amount of force has a tendency to cause the bench to walk.  (Doug Easton)

        First, a disclaimer.  I have not yet made a rod on my Morgan Hand Mill.

        It is sitting there mocking me. If I am lucky I will have just enough time to make four rods this year on my tried and true planing form, with no time available for the MHM learning curve.

        I have been pulling together all information I could find on every aspect of using the MHM, and saw two threads somewhere that suggested the MHM works better if it is lower than the height you would use for planing on forms. I do not know if this is a universal truth, the posts were of a "this is what worked for me" nature. The workbench height was not specified, but the users lowered it so they could get directly over the cutting head.  (Jeff Schaeffer)


For years, I fought fatigue at the bench.  For years, my benches were standard cabinet height and by the time I got a rods worth of strips planed out, my back, shoulder, elbow and knees felt like they'd been worked over with a baseball bat.  Finally, someone, and it may have been someone on the list, told me to make all my benches tall enough that when I was pushing the plane, my forearm was level with the top of the bench when I was standing upright. I did that and it was unbelievable how much difference it made.  Planing, roughing, sanding... everything became so much easier.   My benches are all now belly button tall and it works great.  (Bob Nunley)


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