Introduction: Building a Sliding Deadman

After finishing our Roubo-inspired workbench and adding an inexpensive leg-vise, I decided to go ahead and make a sliding deadman (sometimes called a board jack) for it as well. The deadman helps support the end of longer workpieces held in the leg vise and that comes in especially useful when hand planing the edges of long boards. It's fairly easy to build and can be made from a 4' long 2" x 8" board and a short 3/4" piece of dowel.

Step 1: Routing the Groove in the Workbench Top

I did get a bit of a head start during the workbench build when I had the top upside down. I routed a groove for the deadman in the bottom of the bench top while I had it flipped over. I made two passes to route a groove that was roughly a 1/2" deep and 1/4" wide that will hold the top of the sliding deadman in place.

If you've already completed your workbench, it might seem easier to skip the groove and attach a piece of track under the top similar to the one that will be added to the front stretcher. The downside to doing it this way vs. routing a groove is that it will interfere with using clamps along the front of the bench top.

Note that I'll be making my deadman "permanent" which is why the groove only needs to be 3/8" - 1/2" deep. Some designs route a deeper groove so that the deadman can be removed by lifting it up enough to clear the bottom guide rail. I didn't want to weaken the front edge any more than necessary as I do use clamps there, but it's certainly an option. (I'll also mention an alternative in just a bit.)

Step 2: Preparing the Board

With the groove out of the way, I ran a 4' long 2" x 8" board through my jointer and planer. Then I surfaced it down to match the thickness of the front stretcher as part of the board will be used for the guide that the deadman will slide along.

Step 3: Cutting the Bevels for the Guide

Next, I headed over to the table saw and set it to 45 degrees to start work on the guide. To do this I made two beveled cuts to form the ridge and then cut a small piece off of that. This left a flat top that was slightly wider than the heads of the screws that I'll later use to attach the guide.

Step 4: Completing the Guide

To finish the guide, I made one final rip cut to remove it from the board. I then double checked the length between the front two workbench legs and cut the guide to final length at the miter saw. Note that if you wanted to make the deadman less permanent, you could also leave the guide short at the vise end and simply slide the deadman off when it isn't needed.

Step 5: Cutting the V-Groove

Next, I squared up one end of the board and then cut it to rough length leaving about 2" extra for test cuts before starting on the V-shaped groove that will straddle the guide rail.

To cut the groove, I set the table saw blade to 45 degrees and raised it just enough to reach half the board's thickness. I then added a piece of tape to the saw's top to make repeating the cuts easier. Then I cut the notch out along the bottom edge by making a cut on each side.

The cut ended up needing to be a little deeper (thought a file would have likely worked as well), so I squared the edge back up at the miter saw and then repeated the cuts at the table saw after raising the blade slightly.

Step 6: Sketching the Final Shape

Once I was happy with the cut, I took it over to the bench to mark the height of the front of the deadman as well as the tongue that rides in the groove in the top. I then started sketching the final shape using a few Forstner bits as guides for the desired curves.

Step 7: Cutting the Tongue

After that was done, I took it over to the table saw and cut it to length leaving just a little extra to dial in the depth for the tongue. To cut out the remaining waste for the tongue I just made several overlapping cuts using a clamp to secure the board to the miter gauge.

After a little sanding, I took it over to the bench for a test fit together with the guide rail. To do this required combining the rail with the deadman and sliding them both into place together since it's a tight fit. I also needed to trim the tongue at the top a little since I left it a bit long at the start.

Step 8: Holes!

Next, it was time to drill a bunch of holes! I started by drilling out holes for the curves in the sides and then finished up by drilling out all three rows of holes in the center.

Step 9: Adding Some Curves

I then took it over to the bandsaw and cut out the waste on the sides and then cleaned up the bandsaw marks with my sander before routing a small chamfer along the outer edges. Besides making it a bit lighter and easier to slide, the removed area makes it easier to grab when the deadman is pushed up against one of the legs.

Step 10: Applying Finish

After rounding over the edges of the holes slightly with a piece of dowel and some sandpaper (a trim router with a small round-over bit would work great as well), I wiped on a little boiled linseed oil. And to help it slide a little smoother I applied some paste wax to the guide rail and the top and bottom of the deadman.

Step 11: Notching the Tongue

Since the groove that I routed in the top didn't extend all the way to the edge, I cut out a small notch in the top-right of the deadman to allow it to slide all the way to the right side of the workbench. The same could be done for the left (vise) side, but there's usually no need to slide it all the way against the leg vise.

Step 12: Attaching the Guide Rail

I then finished up by inserting the deadman and rail together onto the bench and countersinking a few screws in the rail to attach it in place.

Step 13: Testing the Deadman

Finally it was time for a quick test which, and it ended up working really well! A short 3/4" piece of dowel is all that is needed to support the end of long boards while edge planing. I definitely recommend making one if you plan on doing any hand planing at your bench. In the next video, I'll finish this workbench series by adding an end vise and some other small upgrades!

Step 14: Materials and Tools

Be sure to check out Our Workshop page for more details!


  • Guide Rail & Deadman: (1) 2"x8"x4' Southern Yellow Pine Board
  • 6" - 3/4" Oak Dowel