Introduction: DIY Woodworking Bench
This woodworking bench is easy to make, and can be made entirely with hand tools (aside from a drill / battery screwdriver and electric sander). I ordered the timber from my local builders merchant and had them cut the plywood to size for me. All in it cost less than $120.00 US to build, including glue, finishing and screws. Please note that all sizes used are in millimetres. Although I have set this up as a step-by-step guide, please read it through right to the end before starting. There is an option to add it a bench vise into the bench top, which I will cover as well.
All measurements given are approximate - remember in woodworking, measure twice, cut once!
This project should take about a week from start to finish.
2 x 1800 x 600 x 19 mm sheets of plywood
1 x 1550 x 600 x 19 mm sheet of plywood for the lower shelf (1450 if you install the tabletop vise option)
8 x 3000 x 75 x 50 mm pine timber
1000 x 10 mm hardwood dowel
100 x 60 x 3.5 mm self drill woodscrews
100 x 30 x 3.5 mm self drill woodscrews
1 litre PVA or CA woodglue
1.5 litres polyurethane varnish
1 litre universal undercoat (suitable for wood) or at least 2 spray cans of wood primer paint
1 litre gloss enamel paint (for the base)
300 mm steel ruler for smaller measurements
90 degree square
Crosscut hand saw or table saw / mitre saw
No 4 Handplane or electric plane
Electric or battery drill / screwdriver
3.5 mm brad point wood drill bit
Counter sink bit
10 mm brad point wood drill bit
300 / 450 mm quick release bench clamps
38 / 50 mm paintbrushes
Sandpaper (80 grit, 150 grit and 220 grit), or an electric sander with the same grit paper
An old workmate clamping bench
25 mm spade or forstner drill bit
Extra scraps of wood
Step 1: Creating the Box to Support the Top
My builders merchant cut the plywood sheet to size for me (1800 x 600 mm). Examine the plywood, and decide which side you want to use for the top visible face, and which piece you want to use for the bottom. Remember that the top is the first thing people will see, so make sure its a nice surface. My builders merchant did not let me choose the pieces I ordered, so it was luck of the draw, but if you are able to select your timber, choose the nicest pieces you can find.
Using the crosscut saw, cut two of the lengths of pine timber to 1800 mm. Make sure to use the straightest pieces you have, as the faces of these pieces of timber are visible as the front and back pieces of the worktop. Using your bench plane (or jointer / planer if you have one), square up the sides of the timber to get a nice smooth finish. Using the bench clamps, clamp the timber along the edge of the plywood, with the 75 mm side at right angles to the plywood (the total thickness should be 94 mm with the plywood), and mark out the screw holes using even spacing. Along an 1800 mm length, a screw every 200 to 300 mm is sufficient.
Using the 10 mm brad point drill bit, drill out your holes about a third of the depth of the timber. Using a piece of masking tape as a guide on the drill bit helps. Spread your glue along the bottom edge of the timber, line it up with the edge of the plywood and clamp it in place. Then, using a battery screwdriver, screw the base to the bottom piece of the plywood. As you can see in the picture, I drilled and screwed the base from the inside - screwing the timber to the plywood, but you can do it the other way round if you like. The method I used hides the screw holes once the top face is added.
Repeat this process for the other side.
Once the two side rails are fitted, measure the inside distance between the side rails for your cross support beams. Mine worked out to 500 mm in length. From the left side of the base plywood, measure in 75 mm, and add in your first cross member, perpendicular to the side rails. I have a small metal working bench vise, so this space was made to accommodate that vise. Alternatively, you can mount the first cross member flush with the side of the base plywood. Use the same screw and glue method as above.
If you are installing the table top bench vise, measure in 350 mm from the right side, and mount the second cross member. If you are not installing the table top vise, your second cross member can be added 75 mm from the right edge of the base.
Find the middle of the plywood base - 900 mm (or 725 from the left side if you are mounting the table vise) and mount your middle cross member. Mount two more cross members in the spaces left, half way between the edges and centre (450 mm or 360 mm for table vise).
Measure out the distances between each cross member, and add in additional support members perpendicular along the length of the bench. Once done, you should have a pattern as in the third picture.
Step 2: Sizing and Making the Legs
Measure and cut 4 pieces of the pine timber to 850 mm, and plane the surfaces flat. This height is ideal for me as I am 1.75 metres tall, however you can make the legs longer if you are taller than me.
Mark out and cut 4 additional pieces at 180 mm, and 4 more at 500 mm in length.
Using the 10 mm brad point drill bit, glue and screw (using the 60 mm screws) the 4 180 mm pieces flush with the bottom end of the main legs - the total thickness will then be 100 mm. Measure up 75 mm from the 180 mm, leaving a gap for a horizontal support beam, and mount the 500 mm piece to the leg. When finished, the legs should look like the first picture.
Line up the outside edge of the leg with the inside edge of the left side cross member (approximately 125 mm), and mount it the side rail of the workbench top, with the plywood base resting on the step created in the leg, using the 10 mm brad point bit, drilling a third of the way in, and using the 60 mm screws. I used three screws to secure each leg in place. Make sure they are perfectly perpendicular to the plywood base, otherwise the bench will rock when finished. Mount the opposite side in the same way.
If you are installing the table top vise, mount the right side legs in line with the right side cross member. If you are not installing the vise, mount the right legs 125 mm from the right edge of the base.
Measure the distance from the outside of each leg to cut your long horizontal support rails - with the table top vise, that measurement is 1325, without the table top vice, the horizontal rails measure 1550. Screw these rails in place using the same method as above - they should slip into the 75 mm gap left on the inside of the legs.
Measure the outside width of the legs from front to back, it should be 700 mm for the side support rails, as in picture 3. Cut to length, and mount these in place. Then cut two more supports at 500 mm, and mount these on the inside of the side supports as in picture 4. Cut an additional support and install it in the middle - this will be the support beam for the shelf, as in picture 4.
Step 3: Filling in the Holes and Sanding
Your workbench should now start to look like a bench, but it will be full of holes where you drilled for the mounting screws. Using the 10 mm dowel, determine the depth of the holes on the bench, and cut the dowel to length. Sand the dowel slightly around the end so it fits into the hole easier, and smear glue around the end. Using a woodworking mallet, drive the dowel into the hole and allow to dry. Being careful not to damage the surface, trim the dowels flush with a flush-cut saw (I used a loose hacksaw blade for this). Note that you do not have to fill the holes on the inside of the short support beams or on the base box, as these will be hidden under the shelf and top of the bench.
Using a random orbital sander, or by hand, sand all surfaces smooth, through the various grits, up to 220 grit.
Step 4: Finishing the Base and Legs
Seal all outside surfaces that will be visible with either universal undercoat, or wood primer. Make sure to put a lot on the visible end grain, as this wood drinks the paint up.
Using a 38 or 50 mm brush, apply the gloss enamel paint liberally, and allow to dry according to the manufacturers instructions. Mine took about three coats to get to an even smooth finish.
If you prefer the look of the wood, you can leave this out, and apply the polyurethane varnish to the entire workbench.
Step 5: Fitting and Smoothing the Top
NB: If you are installing the table top vise, cut 350 mm of plywood from the end of the top before mounting. I will cover the vise in the next step.
Place your worktop sheet of plywood on the base. Mark out the screw holes from the base construction, as you do not want to drill into your previous screws and holes when mounting the top.
Clamp your top down to the base, making sure its flush with all the edges. If its not, you can sand or plane it down to fit, just note that plywood tends to damage plane blades, and they will need a good sharpening once you are done.
Using the 3.5 mm brad point drill bit, drill pilot holes for your 30 mm self drilling screws, and countersink the holes so the screws go in flush. The pilot holes are to ensure the plywood does not split when screwed into.
You can fill these screw holes in the top of the workbench. I used a quick set two part epoxy putty that you can purchase from a hardware store, and added in a few drops of the enamel paint to match the colour of the base. It is relatively inexpensive, and took about an hour to dry. The product can also be sanded smooth.
Smoothing the top is easier if you have a belt sander or random orbital sander. The plywood I used was not very smooth - it was pitted and very splintered. Using 3 sheets of 80 grit paper on my orbital sander, I brought it down to a nice workable surface. Then move on to 150 grit, and finally I did about 10 passes on 220 grit paper. The final finish was nice and smooth.
Step 6: Fitting the Table Top Bench Vise and Bench Dogs (Optional)
I had an old workmate clamping bench that served me well over the past 5 years, and I decided to include this clamping function into the end of my new workbench. It helps with planing wood by hand, and you can also add the functionality of bench dogs to clamp longer pieces of wood to the bench surface. I have included an Instructables article on how to make your own bench dogs below.
This vice is designed to fit into the 350 mm open end of the worktop.
I took the old workmate apart and took some measurements. The screw vise components were 65 mm in height, so I mounted in some 10 mm stock pine pieces I had left over from a previous project.
The inside measurement of the screw vise components was 25 mm, and I cut some pieces to size to fit in the gap and mounted these in the centre of the 10 mm boards.
I cut the removed piece of plywood into 3 pieces - 2 at 100 mm wide, and a third at 150 mm. The 150 mm piece is used as a gap filler when the vise is not in use (as in the 7th picture). It was easier to screw one of the 100 mm plywood pieces to the screw vise components before they had been installed, so I lined them up correctly, and attached the plywood using the original screws that came with the workmate.
Then I lined up the screw vise components with the end of the bench, and screwed them in place, as in the 4th and 5th pictures.
I then extended the bench vise so that the movable panel was against the end of the worktop, and added in the 150 mm spacer, and then screwed the fixed outer end of the bench vise in place.
I marked out the holes for the bench dogs, and used a 25 mm spade drill bit to drill out the plywood (NB: Drill pilot holes first). I actually made too many - you could reduce it to 4 holes per section.
NB: Be careful when using a spade drill bit in a hand drill - it can get out of control quite easily - a forstner bit would probably work easier.
I used some 80 grit sandpaper to smooth out the inside of the holes, and chamfer the edges.
DIY Bench Dogs: https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Bench-Dogs/. This article uses 3/4 inch dowels, I used 1 inch (25 mm) on my bench.
Step 7: Fitting the Shelf and Final Varnishing
Measure the outside distance between the horizontal leg supports - it should be 1450 x 600 mm with the tabletop vise, or 1550 without the tabletop vise.
Using your additional sheet of plywood for the shelf, notch out the legs on each end and slip the shelf into place. Drill out and countersink the holes for the 30 mm screws, and fix it in place.
I used about 5 coats of polyurethane varnish on the top. Like the end grain of the wood, plywood soaks up a lot of varnish. I masked off the blue painted base before varnishing so as not to spoil the paintwork. Give a light sanding between each coat after it has dried as per the manufacturers instructions.
Once finished, stand back and admire your work!