Why Do Woodworking Benches Have Holes?

Take a look at any woodworking professional’s workbench and you might wonder, why there are holes randomly cut into the top?

These holes are not randomly placed, and are actually called “dog holes.” Dog holes help woodworking professionals hold the piece they’re working on. They can also act like a vise when large amounts of pressure or force are necessary. Dog holes are an easily-accessible and simple solution to retaining a piece of work without changing the workbench or workshop.

Want to know more about how to use dog holes, if you should have them, or how to add them to your bench? Keep reading! We’ll discuss all the particulars and help you decide if dog holes are for you.

How to Use Dog Holes

Dog holes are a great solution when you need a vise or simply don’t have the room for one. Traditional dog holes are drilled square, but most often dog holes are drilled round. Typically, dog holes measure ¾ of an inch in diameter, spaced 2-3 inches apart, depending on the length of your workbench and your specific needs.

Dog holes are used to secure what are called “bench dogs,” often made of medium-hard woods such as mahogany, cherry, and/or walnut. The wood used to create a bench dog must strong enough to hold your work, but still pliable so as not to damage the wood you’re working with. Bench dogs can also be made of plastic or metal. You can also add metal and/or wood springs to make them height-adjustable.

To use your bench dogs and dog holes, simply fit a bench dog into a dog hole. Then, place your work against the bench dog to secure it. You can also use holdfasts for extra security. Once the piece is in place against the bench dog, complete the necessary process(es) that require the use of the bench dog. Once finished, either press the bench dog down to depress it back level with the rest of the table, or push it out of the bench from underneath. Store your bench dogs for future use.

Dog holes can also be used to secure holdfasts, which also act as a vise to keep wood in one place as you work. In fact, you can use both bench dogs and holdfasts in combination to secure work as you complete tasks.

 

Dog Holes or No Dog Holes?

Now that you know how bench dogs and dog holes work, what’s the best way to decide if you need them on your workbench or not?

Well, that really depends on the type of work you’re doing, and if you have the need of a vise. Bench dogs allow you to work with a vise when you need it, one that breaks down and can be stored when not in use. If you don’t have a vise, it could be more cost-effective for your space to invest in bench dogs and dog holes.

Alternatively, your work might not require the use of a vise very often, so creating a permanent solution by drilling holes in your bench might be too extreme for you. Take a look at the following to decide if dog holes are right for you.

Add dog holes if:

  • Space is at a premium in your shop
  • You don’t have the money to invest in a vise
  • You’ll need a vise that won’t damage your wood
  • You need to make precise alterations to your work

DON’T add dog holes if:

  • The bench you’re working on is not yours
  • You don’t want to cut up or drill into your workbench
  • You don’t require the use of a vise that often

The great thing about dog holes is that you can add as many or as little as you want. Once they’re drilled, you can also interchange the bench dogs and holdfasts. While holes in your bench might not seem like a practical solution, they could come in handy. And in the event you find you don’t need or want them any longer, you can always fill them with plugs or replace that particular section of your bench.

If you’ve decided you want dog holes and you’re curious as to how to add them to your bench, keep reading! We’ll discuss the step-by-step process.

How to Add Dog Holes to your Bench

Adding dog holes to your workbench might seem like a daunting, measuring-filled task heavy on complex math. Really, it’s a rather easy process once you know what you’re doing. It does take some planning for sure, but it’s as simple as drilling straight, clean holes.

Laying Out Your Dog Holes

Top Down View

Many experts agree that layout is vital to getting the dog hole placement process right the first time. After all, you’ve only got one workbench, right?

This is the part where you’ll want to think about what sort of tasks you’ll be doing. Which jobs will require the use of the dog holes and by extension, bench dogs? Most often you’ll probably be standing up to use the full length of your bench, but placing dog holes near the edge can also be useful as well. That way you’ll have access to your work from at least 2 sides of your bench.

If you prefer, you can create a diagram of your bench—to scale, if you’re so inclined—to plan out where you’ll place your dog holes. Depending on the size of your bench, you could potentially have room for 20 holes. Or, you might only have room for a handful. This practice will help you visualize placement.

Before you begin drilling, it’s a good idea to draw the dog holes in pencil on your workbench top. This is a great way to visualize where the bench dogs will sit. After you’ve penciled in the holes, take a step back and consider your placement. You could even take a project you’ve been working on and imagine using a bench dog. Do you like the placement? If not, what could you change to better fit your particular needs?

Correctly Drilling Your Dog Holes

Now, before you start drilling holes, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. Dog holes must be as perfectly perpendicular to the workbench top as is possible. The best way to achieve this result is to use a jig to guide your drill bit or auger into the wood with precision.

In the event you don’t get your dog holes drilled at a perfect angle, that’s okay! As long as you’re consistent, you can drill dog holes to be angled 2-3 degrees at most. You might even prefer to drill them out this way! The top of the hole facing you should be bigger than the bottom part. This will allow you to wedge bench dogs into the dog holes for better stability.

A great way to help your dog holes last is to chamfer the edges. Having a rounded edge will allow the hole to function as it should. At the same time, you won’t risk the edges of the dog holes splintering and degrading over time. This will also protect the integrity of your bench dogs as they won’t scrape against the roug edges.

Space dog holes from center to center. Accounting for the radius of each dog hole is key to correctly measuring the distance between them. One expert recommends spacing them 3 inches apart, on center. Spacing holes this way will allow you to place medium-sized projects between holes alongside one another, as well as allow for holdfasts in the case of larger projects.

Creating a Dog Hole Jig

As with most projects, your dog hole jig can be as simplistic or as extensive as you want it to be. Some woodworkers prefer just using planks to guide their hand as they drill the dog holes. Others prefer a bit more precise methodology. It really all depends on your style.

Really, creating a jig is all in the name of precision and making sure your holes are as straight as they can be. The jig you come up with is dependent upon what type of tool you use to make the cut as well. Let’s take a look at what tools you could potentially use to cut your dog holes.

Choose Your Tool

One of the first tools that might come to mind for drilling holes is a drill bit. Using your favorite hand drill, be it battery-powered or corded, is a quick and easy solution to drilling dog holes. At the same time, it’s not always the most accurate. Your bit may walk or you might put more pressure towards a certain direction, and that will ultimately affect the perpendicularity of your dog holes.

You can also drill your dog holes with an auger bit. The screw point acts as a guide to center the auger bit and the extended length of the bit allows you to penetrate even the thickest of workbenches without bottoming out.

Forstner bits are perhaps your most precise cutting tool for this kind of application. Like augers, they are equipped with a pointed tip, which allows you to locate the center of your hole. They will continue to drill through your workbench and provide a cleaner, more precise cut than you’d get with an auger or hand drill.

Now that you know how to drill your holes, let’s get down to how to properly place them, using a planing vise as an example.

Planing Vise Dog Holes Placement

Starting the layout of your dog holes with the placement of your planing vise is a good idea. They can act as a guide for placement of the rest. In general, you’ll probably want a few dog holes placed near the edge of your workbench for instances when you need your work closer to your body for precise movements, such as planing.

Oftentimes experts recommend that you place your first hole 2 inches from the front edge of the bench and 2 inches in from the right or left edge. Depending on which hand is your dominant, you’ll want to place the dog holes on the opposite end of the bench. Right-handed woodworkers should plane in a leftward motion. You’ll want to place your dog holes on the left-hand side of the bench. The same goes for those left-handed, except vice versa.

Extra Dog Holes

After drilling your planing vise dog holes, you’ll have 2 holes stacked upon one another. You can then use the top hole to create a row of dog holes across the length of your workbench, and if you prefer, a few dog holes along the bottom of the workbench.

This is where your dog hole diagram comes into play. After drawing the dog holes on your workbench, approve their placement before you begin drilling. Really, starting with 4-5 dog holes is good, depending on the size of your workbench. You can always add more if you’d like, and in different spots across your workbench where it might be more useful for the vise and/or dog hole applications.

Conclusion

Dog holes are a quick, easy, and cheap solution to any of your vise-ing needs. Experiment with dog holes in your workbench and make completing your projects easier. Dog holes can truly be a woodworking master’s best friend.

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