Anatomy of a work bench

Every good workshop starts with a workshop bench. My design is simple and focussed on it being primarily used for wood. All I really need is a sturdy bench at the right height with a quick-release, woodworking vice integrated into it. I also plan on getting a bench morticer, so ideally that will find a home mounted on the end of this but not be in the way while working with lengths of timber on it. I may well build a bench just for the morticer later on indeed. In this article I begin with some SketchUps of the design so I can visualize it before deciding on which way to go.

First I had a look online for some reasonable dimensions in metric. One of the reasons I've started recording these projects is that the quality of content online for the types of things I'm going to be building isn't good and a lot of the ones you do find are in imperial measurements. So, if you find this and you like the designs, feel free to replicate or ask me questions if you run into issues. The rough dimensions I settled on are 150mm square for the legs; and 150mm x 75mm or 50mm for the cross members. Overall, I'm going for 750mm deep, 875mm high, and 1800mm long.

On drawing it out via SketchUp, I think the 75mm thickness of the crossmembers may be too much. I will probably switch that to 50mm when I go to buy the timber. Additionally, the traditional woodworking bench tends to have a valley in the middle so I may swap out the solid wood some ply in there to achieve that.

Follow along with the project to see how it turns out. Hopefully I will be able to publish enough detail so that others can make this if it suits their setup too.

Design revision

Looking at the drawings, I figured 75mm might be a little too chunky for the cross-members and the countertop. I also checked what I can source locally and 40mm x 95mm is the nearest I can get where I can glue two together to make it nearly square for the legs and so I can use the same stock for the entire frame. So I've revised the drawing to use 40mm x 95mm stock for all elements. I've also kept the plywood centre for this design, it provides a space where tools and projects are less likely to fall off the bench and it's easier to make. The local hardware place will cut it to the width I want too. So now I can also develop a cutting list and source the materials for this workbench project.

Cutting List

As you will see below the basic stock for this project is 95mm x 40mm planed white deal. This is often referred to as 4"x2" which is it's size before it gets 'planed all over' (PAO). Typically these come in lengths of 2400mm or 4800mm. In this project I will glue two of these together for the legs to get a near-square 80mm x 95mm to work with. I will also glue two together side by side to get the wide countertop edge pieces of 190mm x 40mm. The size of your project can be adjusted to match the stock wood you can get locally.

  • 4 x 94 x 40mm x 1800mm (Long cross members) White Deal PAO
  • 2 x 190 x 40mm x 2040mm (Countertop: 4 x 95mm x 40mm glued in twos) White Deal PAO
  • 4 x 95 x 40m x 750mm (Short cross members) White Deal PAO
  • 4 x 95 x 40mm x 800mm (Legs: 8 x 40mm x 95mm x 800mm glued in twos) White Deal PAO
  • 1 x 500 x 2050mm x 18mm Hardback ply
  • Extra 95mm x 40mm for the vice block

Building the bench

I started out by gluing two pieces for each leg and letting those set. Next, I marked out the positions for the two mortices on each leg, with the top one being a haunched version. Then, I marked the tenons on the cross members.

Once the legs and cross piece markings were complete, I began manufacture using a table top mortice machine. I set it first to cut the deeper tenons, leaving the haunch uncut for the moment. This meant I could cut all of the same type at once without setting and resetting the machine. I also cut the mortices with a bit that was smaller than the hold required, cutting one side before flipping the wood around to make the mortice the correct width. This way, cutting from both sides, I can be sure the mortice is dead centre in the leg pieces. Once the normal mortices were cut out, I set the machine to the lower depth for the haunches and cut those.

Next, I cut the shoulders of the tenons by hand with a tenon saw. My table saw didn't go low enough to cut these, though I could have made a jig to get around that it was probably as quick to cut them by hand. Once these were all cut, I cleaned up the tenons and mortises with hand chisels and tested with dry fitting. Then I eased the edges of the appropriate pieces with a 45° router bit and sanded each piece to prepare for gluing.

The next step was to glue and clamp the ends. I coated each tenon and the inside of each mortise with glue. I used sash clamps to hold the joint tight while the glue set overnight. When both ends were completed, I set the long cross members in place and used concrete blocks as added weight to hold them tight while the glue set. That completed the base frame. The next step was making the countertop.

To create the countertop I made the two valley sides first by gluing two of the 4x2 side-by-side for each. On the edge of this I drilled a series of 10mm holes using a simple jig to keep them perpendicular and consistently spaced. I used the same jig to drill holes in the hardback plywood before gluing all surfaces and using 10mm dowels to joint the pieces together. This gave me a countertop with a nice valley in the middle. Before fitting that, I wanted to fit the vice to it could be hidden from the top, so I beefed up one corner of the frame added more 4"x2" recessed at the bottom for the vice location. I jointed these through with 10mm dowel also. With those in place I drilled through and bolted the vice in place with coach bolts. I recessed the heads of the coach bolts so that the countertop could then sit on top level, hiding them from view. Finally, I joined the countertop to the frame using a series of blocks and screws.

That completed my workbench project and I've already moved on to the next project. Thanks for following along!

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