Build A Saxophone Repair Workbench
Your work area is the literal foundation for your saxophone repair, and as such it needs to be stable, level, sturdy, and clean. It can be simple or complex, but it must always be well thought-out. Remember that your work will reflect its origins.
The following are my recommendations based on my experiences, obviously you must find the best way to work for you. There are no specific dimensions or step-by-step instructions here, only recommendations and tips to figure out your own customized needs so that YOU can make the dimensions. Because honestly if you can’t build the underlying bench itself- which is quite simple- without instructions, you probably can’t figure out what is going to lay on top of it when you are done.
I have both bought and built workbenches, and I vastly prefer building them, because you can make something that fits you better and is of higher quality for the same price plus a little sweat.
If you need to buy, this is a good, sturdy, cheap bench that does the job well. You’ll need to add carpeting to the top and stabilize the legs if you use the extenders, but its a great starter bench. And when you eventually build one customized to your needs (as I’d be willing to bet you will if you work on horns very much), you can use it as a secondary work station- mine is going on 10 years old and it still gets used and abused often as the workbench in my garage.
A basic bench is a work surface (where the sax lays when you work, nothing else goes here), some surface outside of the work surface for various tools and supplies, and a pegboard or shelf backing for tool and supply storage.
If you decide to build, the first thing you should do is figure out your ergonomic needs: how high do you prefer the bench? How deep can you reach when sitting? How far to the left and right? How far up and out? Do you have room to turn a saxophone around? These measurements will obviously differ for everyone, but I recommend making your bench so that when you are sitting comfortably, your arms can rest slightly apart on the bench in front of you- a good starting point might be a benchtop about level with the bottom of your rib cage. I prefer mine at about the same height as my solar plexus. The work should be close enough to your face that you can see clearly without hunching over. You should be able to reach all parts of the pegboard you want to use without getting up. You should aim to keep as many of the tools and supplies you use consistently within arm’s reach without getting up. You should not have any sturdy or rigid objects where the saxophone will be manipulated. Use these dimensions to draw your bench. Mock it up- at the very least the height- to see if it is indeed comfortable. You can’t do your best work unless you are comfortable.
When you get to building your bench, overbuilding is the word. It needs to be super sturdy, rigid, and if not heavy then firmly attached to the floor- though both would be best. If you aren’t comfortable walking around on it when its done, its not sturdy enough and you will notice over time that your bench if sagging and breaking down. For my current bench, I used 3/4 inch plywood on a tight frame made of 2x4s, screwed and glued, and doubled up 2x4s for the legs. The bench needs to be level and square, and of course have a padded surface to work on. Select the color of your padded surface (I use indoor/outdoor carpet) with the thought in mind that you will be searching for parts on it frequently. I prefer light grey. I also like to put down a permanent carpet layer on the bench (I use a staple gun) and then have a replaceable piece that lays over that, so that when I spill enough hot shellac and oil etc. that it gets worn out and dirty, I can replace it in seconds and keep the permanent piece clean. Remember that your bare skin will be touching this benchtop, so don’t get the really scratchy stuff, and of course don’t get anything with deep pile.
If this is your first workbench, I would recommend keeping the tool and storage mounting reversable/changeable. I’ve gotten to know pretty well where exactly I like each and every single tool and supply, but your assumptions about what you want vs. how it goes in the day to day will likely differ in the long run.
To build a pliers stand, simply bend a piece of metal rod and mount it into a shelf. I also drill holes into the shelf for my screwdrivers, and keep lapping compound and oil to the right so I don’t have to reach over top the screwdrivers.
I recommend having your leak light on one side, and your torch on the other so they don’t get tangled. I have it set up so my torch is on my dominant side, and my light on the other.
The area needs to be well lit, both from closely overhead and the room in general. You will want the ability to turn the bench lamp and overhead lamps on and off separately so you can control the type of light you are receiving to keep eye strain down and to best utilize the light for different jobs, including dim or near darkness for leak testing.
Your chair, if you build a sitting bench, needs to be comfortable. You’ll be spending a lot of time in it, so get what you find comfortable and don’t skimp if that ends up being expensive. If you build a standing bench, get quality shoes and don’t stand directly on concrete or brick.
I like to have my storage directly behind me, so that when I rotate in my chair I’ve got access to all of my pads, parts, and some more tools. If you are in a large room, you can build a table/secondary bench that has parts drawers for a base. Just don’t put any parts drawers directly on the floor- leaning all the way down to floor level to pick out a tiny replacement screw gets old fast.
Basically, when you sit at your bench and extend your arms, the more of your job that exists within that area the better. Just not at the expense of neatness.
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