Building a Workbench

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References and Ideas

You only have to peek at an internet search result to realise that every man and his dog has an opinion about building a workbench. As always these opinions vary from useless to overkill with the sensible answer being somewhere in the middle.

One of the more informative books I found on the matter is WorkBench Design by Christopher Schwarz. He describes a number of design considerations such as the height of the worktop, the overall size and proportions of the bench, the placement of the vice or vices and how to go about making a couple of the included designs. As with all of the references I found, the dream scenario is to have several benches of different sizes and heights in your workshop. Higher benches are often better for close or detail work, lower benches are preferred for planing as you can apply more upper body strength to the task.

One area where opinions do seem to agree is that the bench should be solid and not wobble as you use it. This boils down to making it substantial and heavy, if the top flexes or the legs rack from side to side then it probably won't be much use as a workbench.


The next requirement is help with actually making your bench. Having watched many youtube offerings it quickly becomes apparent that some people are just difficult to listen to. They have good things to say but the presentation is just hard work (this is of course very open to opinion). One youtube series that I did like was by Paul Sellers. He advocates hand tool working and built his example bench in his back garden partly to prove that you don't need many tools or equipment and by definition you probably haven't got a workbench available yet anyway. He has also published a book which includes guidance on making such a bench, the book is in 2 volumes and sometimes the combined volumes book is also available.

I elected to build a bench in this general style but tailored to fit the requirements of my relatively small workshop. My bench is 39" high, 60" long and 22" wide. Paul's design calls for an apron on both the front and the back of the bench to resist racking forces but as I have to store stuff under my bench I decided to not put an apron on the front. To compensate the front leg assemblies have a mortise and tenon joint to the underside of the bench top. So far this has proven to be acceptable.


Materials

Essentially you need a heap of heavy and straight timber. My bench is laminated out of 2"x4" pine from the local diy warehouse. You will need about 20x8' lengths and it is at this time that the impending weight of your soon-to-be bench becomes apparent. Sorting through the available timber at the store also makes you realise how bendy, twisted or split such wood can be. Nobody in the store said a word as I rejected several dozen propeller-shaped pieces while searching for enough good ones but I did get some funny looks. Should I have sourced finer wood from a more expensive supplier? Possibly, but the main aim was to turn my new found information into a bench that would serve for the forseeable future.

You will also need to give some thought to a vice or vices. Should they be mounted on the left or right side of the front? Should you include a second vice at one end? Should the vice be flush fitting to the front face of the bench? The choices are considerable but again using the forseeable future process I chose a mid-range vice from Amazon.

Construction

I'm not going to give a blow by blow description of how to make such a bench, Paul Sellers' videos cover that far better than I ever could. I will however include some progress photos showing different parts of my build.


Start with a plan

Plan
Start with a plan or at least a sketch to clarify how your choices differ from the guide you are following.

Laminating

Laminating
Laminating the timber for the bench top. If you have an understanding partner this can be left on the front room floor once the glue has stopped dripping.

Approval

Meow
Be sure to get your work checked by the local management.

Planing the legs

Legs
Once you have the top slab and a couple of stools, you can sit on them to work on the legs.

Leg parts

Some legs
As long as progress is being made your time with the understanding front room can be extended.

Leg sub-assembly

Leg assembly
Before long you have something that looks like a leg assembly.

Legs under the table

Leg attached
The upturned bench top showing the mortise and tenon joints used on the front legs.

The old bench

Old bench
The old bench that I was replacing. The previous owner of the house left it when he moved...

Joint sizes

Sizes
A comparison between the new bench legs and the old bench legs. The old bench suffered a bit from racking, the new legs will be much better.

First fit in the workshop

New location
With the legs and top slab well on their way to being ready, the whole assembly can be tried in its intended location.

Lumpy floor

Hammer
Wouldn't you know it, the workshop floor is not flat just where I wanted to put the bench feet. A big hammer and bolster resolved this.

The bench can now be used

In use
Once the legs and top are assembled they can be used to work on the other components. At this time the front room is probably able to be used as a front room again.

Woodwork complete

Wood complete
With the well board and rear apron attached, the wood tasks are now complete.

Attach the vice

Vice
The vice is secured with coach bolts.

Nearly there

Plan
With the vice attached and the bench stood up again (not easy now it is getting heavy) it is looking like a real bench.

Level the surface

Level
Now it is all assembled you can carry out any levelling tasks on the top surface.

Finishing

Varnish
Give the whole bench a few coats of your favourite varnish.