In ancient times, the woodworker’s bench consisted of a plank or split log with four splayed legs. Descendants of those benches are manufactured today, usually with a top of hardwood slabs glued together. The norm nowadays is four straight legs supporting the bulk above, often with braces and a shelf below. Despite the improvements, the linkage to Greek and Roman antecedents is still evident.
When you're working with linseed oil, never -- I mean NEVER -- leave used rags lying around. Hang them up outside, away from anything combustible, and where there's enough air circulation to keep them cool. Or put them in a bucket of water, and hang them outside later. If you're just setting a rag down for the moment, set it out flat, without folds, on something non-flammable. Hanging outside in the breeze, the oil in the rags won't retain heat while they oxidize. For the oil to completely oxidize can take in a couple of days, if it's warm, or more than a week, if it's cold and rainy. When fully oxidized, the oil will be solid and the rags will be stiff. At that point, they're safe, and can be thrown in the trash. Toss them in the trash before that, and you might as well say goodbye to your garage.
I'd decided on an oil-and-wax finish. Oil finishes are by no means the toughest. In fact, they're really rather pathetic, so far as protecting the wood goes. But they're easy to apply, and not even the toughest finish will stand up to the abuse that a workbench will suffer, so it's more important that it be easy to repair. Wax is usually used to add a high gloss. On a bench, it's there to keep glue from sticking.
There are two books that I would consider highly influential in my personal woodworking path. Darrell Peart’s “Greene & Greene: Design Elements for the Workshop” (Linden) and “Adventures in Wood Finishing” by George Frank (Taunton). Peart’s book kicked off my fascination with all things Greene & Greene. Peart does a fantastic job of covering history as well as practical techniques.
If you opt for a bench with drawers or cabinets built into its base, don’t forget the toe spaces: Leave a space roughly three inches deep and four inches wide at floor level for your toes, just like kitchen cabinets. The absence of a toe space means you’ll be forever kicking the face or sides of the cabinets which is irksome and, with tools in hand, potentially dangerous. And you’ll have to lean over farther to reach the back of the benchtop.
Contrast is created when you have two or more related elements that are different. Contrast can be used to add visual interest, depth and to highlight a dominant element. It is also a way to unite a piece and often bestows energy to a design. If there are too many contrasts or the differences are too severe, there is risk they will not only compete for attention, but may also create unbalance, confuse the viewer and create optical illusions. To achieve success with contrast, ensure the differences are obvious enough, but without an overpowering presence. Each design element mentioned in this article can be manipulated to create contrast. Each of the images not only relate to the corresponding element but also exhibit contrast.