Instructables
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There are a number of instructables on building "workbenches" of various degrees of cost and sophistication, but most of them are really just tables. They'd work fine as craft or assembly tables, but they're not true woodworker's workbenches.

What is a workbench?

A woodworker's workbench isn't a table, it's a work-holding system. It's not something you set things on top of, it's a tool that holds your work. Where a worktable might have a machinist's vise bolted to its top, a woodworker's bench is built to accommodate a number of different workholding mechanisms, such as bench dogs, planing stops, hold fasts, or board jacks, and will usually have one more woodworker's vises integrated into its structure.

A workbench needs to be heavy enough that it doesn't move under you while you're working, and stiff enough that it doesn't rack itself to pieces under the forces that will be placed upon it. It doesn't take many hours of planing a board or hammering a chisel for a worktable made of nailed 2x4s to come apart. Traditional bench designs use mortise-and-tenon joinery, which is strong and rigid, but not really suited for a novice woodworker who doesn't already have a bench.

The design

This instructable shows how to build, with basic tools and readily-available lumber, a bench that provides most of the function of a traditional woodworker's workbench. I began with a design by Asa Christiana that was featured in the second season of finewoodworking.com's video series Getting Started in Woodworking. The project plans are available on their website.

Christiana's design was a simplification of a bench from Sam Allen's book ''Making Workbenches''.

The bench I will be describing differs from both of these in a couple of areas, the most significant of which is the top. Allen's top was made from three layers of 3/4" medium density fiberboard (MDF), topped and edged with 1/4" hardboard. Christiana's top was just two layers of 3/4" MDF. My top is two layers of 3/4" MDF edged with 1/2" oak and topped by a 1-1/2" thick edge-glued oak Ikea countertop. My top is more expensive in both time and money than either Christiana's or Allen's. If you're looking to build something fast and cheap, I'd recommend Allen's approach over Christiana's. The hardboard significantly increases the durability of the top.

The essence of the design is a joinery system using threaded rod that provides a great deal of strength and rigidity. The base is formed with 4x4 legs and 2x4 stretchers, connected with dowels and threaded truss rods. As screws are tightened down at each end of the rods, the structure is pulled together forming a rigid unit.

I am new to woodworking. I'm learning as I go along, and I'm documenting as I learn, in the hope of being helpful to other novices. On the range from slap-dash to deliberate, my method is definitely on the deliberate side. If you have enough experience to be confident in using techniques that are more time-efficient, go for it. The techniques I'm using are those I thought least likely to go wrong, not those that would produce a product in the shortest time or at the lowest cost. You'll notice that I made a number of mistakes, spent considerable time on work I later determined to be unnecessary, and in a number of cases I used different techniques at the end than I did at the beginning. These are all the result of learning. I thought it would be better to demonstrate how I made errors, and how I corrected them, than to provide a set of instructions that presented the false impression that everything went together perfectly.
 
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tailslide made it!24 days ago

Thank you for the excellent instructable. I had a little extra funds and short on time so I skipped the edging and went with two ikea beech countertops. Vise jaws were old oak stair treads doubled up. Two coats of natural Danish oil. I am pretty happy with it, can't wait to start on some projects.

Lessons learned: Watch out for knots! Also countertop seems a bit thinner at the front and back not great for using the entire depth. Next time I would go with the 2" prefinished hardwood workbench top they sell at lee valley. Same price, not quite as thick though, and they don't deliver. They also just added a nice bushing/bit set for making your own jig to drill the holes. I will probably move the flip down casters to the outside of the leg and higher up they don't get enough leverage to lift the table easily where they are. Also bolt through the leg don't use the little screws they give you.

I make a sketchup file for the workbench here:

https://3dwarehouse.sketchup.com/model.html?id=ufc9f7839-a28b-47a0-b8a7-51fd47c02377

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bigsamrichards made it!27 days ago

I skipped the 2 layers of MDF and just mounted a work top on top (got this off ebay - new, 2m 40mm solid beech for 70 quid, delivered!)

Used sapele for the vice jaws (it has an end vice now too but hadn't installed that when I took this.) Couldn't find S-Clamps over here so made some buttons using leftover sapele to attach the top.

Including both vices (veritas, but one was second hand off gumtree), cost £330 quid!

So far have built a shoji/cinema projector screen. Next up - bookshelves! Wahoo!

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In fact - it was less than that - only cost £266 in total!

Mike J4 months ago

Awesome! I hope to build this some day.

Twobits1 year ago
Well, I finally have it almost finished, a couple of more coats of Danish oil and the shelf and it will be done. Bowling alley lane cut down to 7 ft by 3 ft, some stringers for the side rails are from the Detroit car show, 8 ft by 8 inches by 1 1/2 inch maple veneered plywood that I cut down to 4 inches wide, like little beams. The levelers are heavy duty for pinball machines (Ebay). Thanks again for the instructions.
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fr!th Twobits5 months ago

Geez. Is it a workbench or a dining room table for a queen?

Well, I guess even if your projects fail, at least you will always have something beautiful to look at in the workshop...

Thanks jdege. Although you can't see them very well, there are 93 holes in the table, 4 rows of 22 plus an additional 9 in between those on the side vise end. Three holes in the side vise jaw, 4 in the end vise jaw. There are 4 holes on the side vise leg and another 5 on the leg at the end vise leg, total of 109. Oh yeah, the jaws are bloodwood.
jdege (author)  Twobits1 year ago
Nice job.
tailslide5 months ago

FYI this looks like maybe an easier way to do the dog holes, using a spiral up-cut router bit:

http://www.popularwoodworking.com/video/workbench_dog_holes

hohum7 months ago

WOW!!!!!

graywulfen9 months ago

Hey there - I love the instructable, so much detail. Thanks for putting it together!

I have a question about the grooves in the long and short stretchers:

If the top grooves for both are both 7/16" in from the edge, wouldn't the threaded rods collide in the legs, since they both go all the way through?

Thanks! hope I get a reply this far in :)

Nevermind! figured it out by looking at the picture. That's why the threaded rods are grooved on the bottom for the short stretchers. I had thought threaded rods went through both grooves; now I get that the grooves "on top" are for the s-clips.

standard2110 months ago

Very impressive job's

zenbooter1 year ago
gotta check out SA's book and AC's video for comps,but this work of yours has me second guessing tapered wedge tenons and bed bolts for sure...man you are indelible
Navy1331 year ago
I am a Builder (Seabee) in the Military deployed to Afghanistan. I found you site I love this site I have my own work shop at home can not wait to start building again.  While deployed we have used some of  your projects. Thank you for this site.                                                                           
lainna6661 year ago
My goodness, I'm exhausted just reading this. Can't wait to get out and try it myself tho. Great job, man. Mad props.
White_Wolf1 year ago
One word, BRILLIANT!
Go to finewoodworking.com and watch the video series Getting Started in Woodworking. Download the project plans, then come here to get details.
I'm turning my old class A RV into a portable shop. Not much room so this will fit perfectly. I can't wait to build it. Bookmarking this and finewordworking. If this was in a contest, you'd have my vote!
tyreedaddy1 year ago
beautiful
great Ible, thought i can't help but notice those benchdogs of yours are round. i believe square benchdogs are the more common as they do not indent and bruise the wood as much, as they spread out the weight more. not to mention it's easier to hold something against a flat edge than a round one. that's my only problem with this ible though. otherwise, great stuff, very handy, shall make my workshop plenty more efficient :)
jdege (author)  awsomenesskid2 years ago
Square benchdogs were traditional, but most benches are using round benchdogs, these days. Round holes can be drilled after-the-fact, square holes have to be built into the construction of the top. With round holes you can use the same holes for benchdogs as for hold fasts, instead of having to have separate holes for each. And with round holes you can change the orientation of the benchdogs to hold angled and odd-shaped pieces.
KentM2 years ago
The effort you put into this Instructable, not to mention the workbench, illustrates a real talent that I'm sure will be evident in all your woodworking projects. Congratulations!
wow,
Thanks for the detailed ible, answers a few questions,
I’ve searched the net for a detailed how to and yours is the best diy I’ve found so far.
Thank you so much
Twobits3 years ago
Great bench, I intend to study your instruction and build a similar base unit. For my top I was able to buy a 8 and 1/2 foot of bowling alley lane, it was the approach section and is all hard wood Maple, 42 inches wide by 2 1\2 inches thick. I purchase it in Warsaw, Indiana for $12.50 per linear foot. He also tossed in some smaller pieces that will make some good projects. I guess I can give you his phone number since he has it listed in Trader magazine. 574-551-5914

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jdege (author)  DELETED_hoffmanjoe3 years ago
1) You can build whatever you like. It's all a matter of what is important to you. If you build the bench with an overhang, so that the front of the legs are not in plane with the edge of the top, you lose the ability to clamp large pieces to the front. Look at the pics of the door - you can't do that if your top has a lip.

2) Hold downs pretty much require a through hole. They work with a three-point wedge - the work and the top and bottoms of the hole. You can use a bench dog with a non-through hole - the holes in the vice faces are non-through - but you need a short bench dog (what Veritas calls a "Bench Pup"), in order to set them deep enough to hold shallow work. I find the shallow holes more difficult to work with. It's hard to get the bench dogs out, when you've set them shallow, and they tend to collect sawdust.
This is an amazing workbench. I will probably build something like this for myself once I buy a house. I get the impression that it's a royal botch and a half to move, and I like my friends too much to ask them to help with something like that, and I move safes for a living. Maybe I could use a pallet jack...? How much does this beast of a beautiful bench weigh?
jdege (author)  mightywombat4 years ago
How would I weigh it?

I'd estimate the top at something like 150 pounds, and maybe 50 pounds for the base. I figure it will stay in the basement when I move - It's not something I'd ever try to carry up the stairs.

Still, it's lighter than a grand piano, and there are folks who carry them around every day.
I have a gig-bag for my grand piano so it's no big deal. Lots of dirty looks on the bus though...

:-)

great instructable, awesome table! thanks for posting
ten on ten
a perfect instructable/tutorial/guide
hats off
and
thankyou
tinker2343 years ago
wow gona need some
vincent75204 years ago
why didn't you use hugh quality plywood (marine grade for instance) as a base for your oak top instead of MDF ?
As you say MDF is very responsive to moisture which will contribute to your oak top distortion. Quality plywood is much more stable.
My suggestion would have been (and this is the project I have in mind…) to use marine grade plywood as a base and epoxy the whole panel (as we do in boat building) and glueing the oak top altogether with the same epoxy coat. This should greatly reduce the risk of distortion of the top and will allow not to oil the top. Any work surface that is coated will inevitably at one point or another mark the piece you'll be working on … a good bench top should be bare wood… But I understand that a top with a 5cm thickness made of absolutely dried oak is something impossible to find and too expensive these days (and quite heavy too : but that is also the quality of a good bench : that is why I do not intend to fix levelers at the bottom of its legs)…
This question apart, this is a great job and I can only hope that mine will approach yours ! …
jdege (author)  vincent75204 years ago
I used MDF because the plans I started with used MDF. Why would they choose MDF rather than ply? I figured it was because it was denser and cheaper.

I'd not have used levelers, if I'd not needed them for the floor I was putting it on.
Eye Poker jdege3 years ago
You don't get splinters from MDF.
true
but you get plenty of dust in your lungs from MDF !!!…
Thank you so much for your quick answer.
Actually I felt I made somewhat a fool of myself when asking this question to someone who made such a great job.
If I had written it in my mother tongue I know I would have found a way to talk that would have been less "up front", but I'm not sure I would have been understood ! …
Have a nice week.
1010tbone3 years ago
Great Instructable! This design is Not only sturdy solid it is cost efficient as well. I used mostly common construction grade lumber and then some exotics I had laying around...like TigerWood, Brazilian Cherry and the top is ? MustardWood...can't remember...got it from my Good Friend for $75 bucks...Thanks Rick....I went with a "Shoulder Vise" and an "End Vise" which suited me....although I might have thought better of the "Shoulder Vise" for 2 reasons 1) the amount of extra work in building it. 2) overall performance (there are smoother working side mount vises for pretty cheap now a days). So here are the finished photo's. I was only allowed 3 photos, but the base it just as it is in the instructable...I used "birch plywood" for the shelf...again because it was just laying around.... I have actually had it done for a couple of months and I have been using it. I had to clean it off and oil it up again so I thought I'd post it :) Excellent design Jdege!
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jdege (author)  1010tbone3 years ago
Looks great.
1010tbone jdege3 years ago
Thanks to you and your Awesome Instructable! Keep post'n my Friend.
guaps3 years ago
Great instuctable! Thanks for including enough detail so even I can do this. One question - why does the top need to be so thick? Why can't I just use the Oak countertop layer and skip all the MDF (or marine grade plywood as I read in one of the comments)?

Thanks again for taking the time to detail this out.
jdege (author)  guaps3 years ago
Why so thick? A number of reasons.

1st, the edge of the top forms the inner face of the front vise, and three inches is about minimum for a vice face. With a thinner top, you need a different kind of vise. Christiana used a vice with built-in metal faces, but he mounted it so that was not flush with the front of the bench. Not being flush means you can't use it to clamp flat pieces vertically across the front of the bench - and that just too important an ability to lose.)

2nd, holdfasts don't hold solidly in a narrow bench, 2" is about minimum.

3rd, a thin top will flex, it will give and then spring back as you hammer against something on it. A thicker top is more rigid.

4th, you want a bench to be heavy enough that it doesn't move when you lean into a chisel, plane, or saw. With a light bench you can spend as much energy moving the bench back and forth as you do cutting wood.

If I were to build it again, I'd use a doubled layer of countertop, rather than MDF. (And I'd use beech, instead of oak.) If I were trying to build something fast and cheap, I'd go with three layers of MDF topped with hardboard. Two layers of MDF (or ply) is just 1 1/2", and that's just not enough.
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