May 11, 2021
The bench dog hole is often a point of argument amongst woodworkers around the world. What should be the size of the hole? Is there a perfect size for the spacing between each bench dog hole? All these and more are common questions that fly around during such debates.
In a woodwork shop, the workbench is undeniably one of the most necessary equipment of the trade. Indeed, if you set up your workbench right, it instantly becomes a 3-D clamping gadget that will hold any workpiece in place. To do this, all you have to do is dog holes into its top. This way, the workbench becomes more efficient in working with your vice to secure workpieces of various sizes.
However, it is at this point that many woodworkers seek answers about dog holes.
Have you ever engaged in arguments about the parameters of bench dog holes? Perhaps you’re a new woodwork enthusiast looking to find answers. Whichever the case may be, you’re in luck. Today, we will shed light on everything you need to know about the size and spacing of bench dog holes.
What is a Bench Dog?
Bench dog is the term that describes an accessory that woodworkers use on their workbenches to clamp wood pieces. To give you a clearer picture, a bench dog is essentially a peg that goes into a matching dog hole in the top of a bench.
Typically, these dog holes are perpendicular to the vice on your workbench. This way, you have the distance between one dog hole and the jaws of your vice to clamp your wood pieces.
Bench dogs may be square or round. Pro tip: round dog holes are more convenient to drill but may not have the best gripping surface. However, you may use round bench dogs that have one of their sides flattened.
You may also need to provide a source of friction for your bench dog (square or round) to prevent it from slipping down the hole. You may achieve this by wrapping some spring wire on the side of the bench dog. Or better still, ensure that your bench dog fits the hole snugly.
Making A Bench Dog Hole: How Large Should It Be?
I can confirm that the most common and applicable bench dog hole size is 3/4, as it is the most commonly used dog hole size for almost every woodworker.
However, the truth is there is no standard for the size of bench dog holes. It all depends on the type and size of vice you use, the scale of most of your work, and several other factors. In other words, the size of your bench dog holes must be suitable for all the work that you do.
That said, a ¾ inch dog hole is the most common size that most woodworkers use. Understandably, you may think that this size is small and may not work for your needs. The truth is it’s really not. Indeed, many pro woodworkers swear by the ¾ inch bench dog hole.
However, if you need to, you may try the 1-inch dog holes. Interestingly, they are the second most common size of dog holes in workbenches.
Before you start drilling your dog holes, it is best to decide on the bench dog you’re getting. After all, you cannot fit a square peg into a round hole. Moreover, you also want to make sure that the sizes correspond such that your bench dogs don’t slip out while you work. Or worse, you can’t get them in at all.
After deciding on your bench dog’s size and shape, the next step is to drill the hole. If you are drilling a round dog hole, you can use a drill with a bit size that works. However, a square dog hole is not as straightforward. You may have to use a chisel and hammer, much like the way you create a mortise.
Or, cut some corresponding dadoes into the boards that will make up your benchtop. Then, all you have to do is laminate the boards, and you’ll have your square dog holes.
Interestingly, dadoes and lamination is the more common method. But it requires more planning. You’d have to decide the number and spacing of dog holes you want on your workbench. This brings us to your next point.
Making A Bench Dog Hole: What is the Optimum Spacing?
Typically, your dog holes should be in a position perpendicular to your bench vice. Now, you probably already know one dog hole is not enough. So, how many should you drill into your bench? More importantly, what should be the spacing between each dog hole?
Once again, there is no universally-accepted dog hole spacing. Instead, your work requirements should be your deciding factor. For instance, are you using both sides of your workbench, or it’s up against a wall? Several other factors also play a role in determining your dog hole spacing. Notwithstanding, we can guide you in deciding a spacing system that works for you.
With dog holes, the goal is to create a spacing interval such that you can secure a board of any width to your workbench. Here’s how to do it:
- First off, measure the width of your vice’s jaw. (We’ll use a maximum capacity of 6½ for this analogy) In other words, any board larger than that requires a bench dog.
- Next, close the vice jaws. Then, measure 6 inches (slightly less than the vice’s maximum) perpendicularly from the vice’s dog and mark that point. This is where you’ll locate your first dog hole.
- With a bench dog in the first dog hole, your vice can now clamp boards with sizes ranging from 6 inches to 12½ inches. Don’t stop now!
- From the center of the first dog hole, measure another 6 inches, and drill a hole at that point too.
- Repeat this step until you run out of room on your bench surface.
In this analogy, we used a 6-inch spacing, and we find that it worked reasonably well for all workpieces we used. However, it is not a hard and fast rule. You may choose to use any spacing that works for you, as the above is merely a guide.
But, always remember to take the maximum capacity of your bench vice into consideration. Based on that number and other related factors, you may decide the spacing for your dog holes.
Guides on Bench Dog Hole Placements
One of the most common questions I often get asked by newbie woodworkers is about where to drill their dog holes on their newly built workbench. My answer, of course, is an equivocal “It depends!”
However, newbies are more often taken aback by this answer, for they want something direct and concrete—something like a standardized measurement on where to locate their dog holes.
Nevertheless, my answer does make sense, woodworker will be dealing with different types of stocks and wood, and thus, the dog holes you would bore will depend on the stock you would frequently work on. This post will explain my answer further to help beginners in woodworking figure out where to locate the dog holes on their workbench.
Dog holes are necessary for securing the bench dogs, which are accessories that enable you to clamp wooden items while you plane or work on them on your workbench. Hence, if you are laying out a diagram for positioning your dog holes, you will find the following guides helpful:
Creating Round and Square Dogs
Bench dog holes come in two shapes: round or square. You can easily make round dog holes by simply drilling using bits of precise round sizes. Round dogs, however, do not offer an excellent gripping surface. So, to remedy such an issue, you can utilize round dogs that come with flattened one side.
Many woodworkers prefer square dog holes because they offer a better gripping surface. You can create these square dog holes using a mortiser or a chisel. However, most workbench owners also make these holes by cutting several dadoes in one of the board’s edges that would constitute the benchtop. These dadoes would then form the necessary square holes once the panels are laminated.
You can be simplistic or elaborate in the creation of dog holes. Some woodworkers are so simplistic, for example, that they only use planks as a guide when drilling dog holes. Some others, however, make precise mathematical calculations as if they are engaged in rocket science calculation. Yet, it boils down to your preference and type of personality. The important thing is—your holes should be straight and precise.
Spacing Your Dog Holes
The ideal thing is to space dog holes so that the workbench can accommodate any board width. Therefore, at the onset, you need to measure your vise’s capacity if you are using a vise dog. If the vise’s jaws have a maximum holding capacity of 6-1/2″, you can locate the first dog hole around 6″ away from the vise’s dog.
Then, you can again space the second hole around 6″ from the first hole’s center. Continue with the 6” interval up to the other end of the benchtop. However, one caveat is to refrain from putting holes right at the very joints underneath the benchtop.
You can also create holdfast holes 12″ from the benchtop front edge. You should stagger these holes between the back row holes, but these holes should be centered. With these added holes, you’ll have enough flexibility when dealing with wider boards.
Number of Holes You Want
You will often see various workbenches with two rows of holes parallel to the vise to allow for four clamping points. Of course, you should have 2 bench dog holes sets if you have a tail and face vise to allow for clamping from either vise. Nevertheless, if you don’t have enough money to invest in a vise, you should add more dog holes.
If you would make precise changes to your work, you need to add dog holes. But as a meticulous woodworker, it will be useful to make a diagram of your benchtop. This diagram will allow you to scale the spacing of dog holes on the benchtop and plan out where you would position the dog holes.
The maximum number of dog holes you can drill on your benchtop is around 20 holes. Yet, the number of holes will still depend on the side of your workbench. Draw the spots where you will dig the dog holes on the benchtop. In this way, you can visualize where the dogs will be positioned when you are working. Moreover, before you drill or make those dog holes, make sure that you are satisfied with the locations and the number of dog holes.
The Ideal Hole Locations
You can make two rows of holes for your holdfast and stagger these holes over the benchtop. You can position one row about 4” away from the bench’s back edge. You can set the second row around 12″ away from the bench’s front edge. It is crucial to figure out where the holes would begin on the benchtop and how far apart each dog hole from the other dog holes.
For example, you can lay out the dog holes along the row that is 4″ off the bench’s back edge. Start with the back-left hole, which is 4″ off the back edge and is around 8″ from the workbench left end. Ensure that when you put the holdfast on it, its tip will reach up to the right just in front of your plane stop. In this way, you can clamp a batten down against the planing stop, allowing you to deal with wide panels easily.
Holes Near the Edge
The next significant dog hole you need to drill is the dog hole at the bench’s far right side. This hole is 4″ away from the back edge and 7″ from the end. You can secure wide and long stock using a notched batten on this hole.
I would prefer that this hole is situated nearer the bench’s right end, though it may risk splitting the bench. Afterward, you can start marking the centers of the holes. Then, step back and survey the layout to ensure that everything is clear from any direction.
Make sure that you don’t locate a hole right on the joints underneath the bench. Adjust the position of the holes before you drill to ensure that everything will be perfect. Once you are satisfied with the markings, you can center punch each mark using a punch or an awl.
Plan the Placement for the Vise Dog Holes
When laying out the holes, you will need a useful reference. You can set your placement of holes relative to your planing vise. The planing vise can be a good reference point for hole placement. Ideally, you will want some dog holes located near the workbench’s edge to allow you to work within your reach or near your body for more precise movements.
In this regard, experts would casually recommend you position the first hole about two inches from the bench’s front edge and around two inches away from the left or right edge. You would surely like the dog holes situated on the bench’s opposite end, depending on your dominant hand.
Additional Dog Holes You Want
There is definitely no standard rule on how you would configure the dog holes on your workbench. Your layout of holes will be mostly arbitrary. Yet, you can reference the top hole to make a row of holes over the bench’s length.
You can also have several dog holes along the workbench’s bottom. Yet, if you have a dog hole diagram, you can visualize how the finished workbench would look afterward. Make sure that you are satisfied and have carefully thought of the pros and cons of your layout.
Start with around four to five dog holes. If you feel that this number is not enough, you can always drill additional holes if you think that the initial number of holes is not enough. You can add depending on the needs of the moment at different spots of the workbench.
As a newbie, you might find laying out the dog holes on your workbench a bit daunting and challenging. You might also feel apprehensive about whether you are doing the layout right or wrong. Yet, as I’ve mentioned earlier, the layout depends on your preference and needs. You may mimic the hole layout of your expert friends. Yet, such a configuration may not come out the best for your needs.
Nevertheless, the abovementioned tips and guidelines may help you decide what type of layout will work best for your woodworking needs. Of course, the dog holes are there to secure the bench dogs for clamping the wooden items you will be working on. As long as the dog holes make your work on your wooden items steady and convenient, you have done your diagram of holes correctly.
There is no established rule for the size and spacing of dog holes in workbenches. All you need to do is consider your various work requirements and decide based on your answers. However, we hope we’ve been able to share some insight into choosing a bench hole size and spacing that works for you. With these tips, you should have a useful bench dog and hole system in no time.
Jason is a 40-year-old woodworker, carpenter and author who have been involved in the woodworking and woodcraft industry with 17 years of experience. He is expertise in technical aspects, woodcraft and furniture building projects.