Introduction: Carpenter's Workbench Build

About: I love to make things in the workshop. Find me at makerandco_ on Instagram

There's a million ways to make a workbench. If you want one for using hand tools, the experts seem to agree on two core features: it needs mass, and it needs a flat top. Without weight a bench will bounce, flex and potentially move around the workshop. If it is flat it makes a nice reference surface to work from.

The build uses construction grade pine and gets most of its weight from a thick laminated top. I'm bad at using hand tools but at least I now can't blame a flimsy bench for my poor technique.

Step 1: Materials & Design

Base frame:
90 x 45mm (the metric version of 2 x 4 construction/framing pine) was used for the base frame of the bench. Some of the darker/more aged wood in the photos was salvaged from a very basic earlier attempt at a bench which, while solid, looked as if it had been built in a Soviet era factory and wasn't really up to the task.

A note on measuring:

I live in Australia. We've been using metric since before I was born. I know nothing else. That being said, I know many of the potential readers will prefer the Imperial measurement system.

So I've tried to provide measurements and dimensions in both metric and Imperial. Two caveats - I don't "think" in Imperial, so if I've transposed a measurement I probably won't have noticed. If any measurement appears unduly massive or tiny, just assume I got it badly wrong. Also, my dimensions in metric have been converted using an online tool. So there may be some very slight rounding as a result - hopefully nothing serious enough to throw anyone off.

Legs - 4 lengths of 90 x 45 mm (3 9/16" x 1 3/4") cut to 85cm (33 7/16")
Long Stretchers - 4 lengths of 90 x 45 mm (3 9/16" x 1 3/4") cut to 120cm (47 1/4")
Short Stretchers - 4 lengths of 90 x 45 mm (3 9/16" x 1 3/4") cut to 51cm (20 1/16")

Laminated bench top:
17 lengths of 90 x 35mm cut to 1.8m long (70 7/8"). This is the length I'd have liked, but I had to fit the bench between two brick piers in the garage which limited me to around a foot (approx 30cm) less in worktop length.

The straightest boards, at least in my local home store, were 4.2m long (14 foot lengths) which I had cut down to size. As a bonus they also seemed to have fewer knots and defects.

Step 2: Half Laps

Simple half lap frames were made by rebating with a circular saw and cleaning up the waste with a chisel. The long stretchers have a rebate 90mm (3 9/16") wide at each end cut 22.5mm (7/8") deep. The legs pieces have a rebate 90mm (3 9/16") wide at one end cut 22.5mm (7/8") deep. At the other end, the 90mm (3 9/16") rebate is cut 76mm (3") from the end.

The short stretchers have no rebate as they are simply screwed in place

Step 3: Frame It Out

Interlock the long stretchers and the leg pieces which can be glued and screwed (or dowelled) together. I failed to take a shot of the next step - which is simply screwing the short stretchers together to create the bench base assembly.

Step 4: Laminate It

My construction pine came with a rounded profile on all edges - I ripped a few mm (1/16") off each edge using my tablesaw to make the boards square all round. I then laid them out so that any knots or imperfections were placed face down (this will create the cleanest looking worktop and helps when it comes to hand planing it flat later on). It helps if you number or mark the order of the pieces, as the top should be glued up in stages (and it's easy to lose track of which order and orientation the timber needs to be laid out).

Step 5: Glue Up

I had 17 boards to glue up which is too many to attempt in one go so I glued and clamped 5 together as my initial test of how it would all work. I then used the plane to knock off any high spots and dried glue that squeezed out during the glue up. Use baking paper or similar under the boards being glued to both catch any glue that squeezes out and to prevent your boards from ending up glued to whatever work surface you are using.g

Step 6: Glue Up Continues

Once you've got your laminated top glued into three solid sections (I did initial glue ups of six boards, six boards and five boards) then glue it all up. Use as many clamps as you have and apply more glue than you think you need.

Step 7: Plane It Flat

Get a hand plane (a Jack or No. 4) will work but a longer bodied version may be faster and easier. Then try to plane the top flat. This will take hours, and make lots of shavings but is far more satisfying than doing it with an electric sander or planer. Use a straightedge to regularly check for high spots and to make sure you aren't making any "valleys" or low spots. I found it easiest to make overlapping diagonal passes with the plane at roughly 45 degrees to the long end of the worktop, moving left to right. Once one sweep is done, repeat on the opposing 45 degree angle moving from right to left down the length of the worktop. Rinse and repeat. Once it is is close to flat you can make long sweeps straight down the length of the top in alignment to the orientation of the laminated boards.

Step 8: Final Assembly

Dry fit to make sure it all goes together as planned. Use carriage bolts to screw up through the frame (try to avoid screwing into your glue lines of the worktop) to hold the worktop in place. Wood nerds will tell you not to due this due to wood movement. I've found that my lamination barely moves and I've had no issues in 2.5 years

Step 9: The End

I used dowels to attach contrasting strips of red cedar to cover the end grain of the lamination and applied boiled linseed oil all over, and drilled 19mm (3/4") holes for bench dogs. Crack a cold one and think about how many more great projects will come off your new workbench.

Don't let anyone tell you that a bench is meant to be fine furniture or that it needs to be a work of art. I loved how it looked when it was done but it's now completely dinged up in service of other projects. And that's OK. There's no point building something so "precious" and perfect that you are scared to cut, chisel, and hammer on it. Mine is now honourably used (and appropriately abused) - as shown in the final image.

Woodworking Contest 2017

Participated in the
Woodworking Contest 2017