I've been a gym member for around 1.5month now and I've used with smith machine from the start. I didn't actually know there was a free bench there - it was hiding in the corner. It's a powerlift set-up I think. They're big plastic coated weights, but I could always just add the normal ones onto it.
I was just wondering what the benefits are using a free bench rather than a smith machine? I image it will be a lot more difficult because you don't have the added safety factor that the smith machine has (the hooks). Chest day is on Monday and I'm thinking of giving it a shot.
By lifting free weights, you will get quicker strength gains because free weights require more balance and coordination. Free weights recruit more muscle groups than variable resistance machines, which tend to only isolate specific muscles.
If safety is an issue, get a spotter or train with DBs.