Introduction: The Split-Top Bench

About: Patrick Waters is an award-winning educator who brings the Maker Movement to new audiences. He founded The STEAMworks, a makerspace for individuals with neurological differences at The Monarch Institute in Ho…


This week in my home shop I finished up a new bench project I developed for class at Nova Labs in Reston, VA. While simple in design and execution, it does involve the full suite of woodworking tools and a custom jig to complete. This great intermediate project uses the Fab Five of a powered woodshop: table saw, band saw, miter saw, jointer and planer.

starred-photos1I built the entirety of this project at Nova Labs, Inc using their woodworking tools.

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Step 1: Tools & Materials

The Split-Top Bench


The Bench:

  • 2”x12”x6’ of untreated pine, found at most home centers. Pick a board that is clear and straight. Most centers sell these in 12’ lengths, so build two!
  • 32 2” pocket hole screws, coarse thread.
  • 4 #8 x 2” wood screws

The Jig:

  • 6” x 36” section of 3/4” plywood
  • 1”x2”x48” of scrap wood
  • Scrap wood for a wedge
  • Long, thin strip from a rip.
  • 1 1/4” screws


  • Table saw
  • Miter saw
  • Band saw
  • Jointer
  • Planer
  • Pocket hole jig
  • Drill
  • Driver
  • #8 Countersink Bit

Step 2: Milling and Dimensioning

Milling and Dimensioning:

1) Crosscut your stock to 36” lengths at the miter saw. The entire bench can be made from two 36” long sections of 2”x12”.

2) Use the jointer to joint an edge flat on two sections.


3) Use the table saw to rip one 36” length into 2 pieces at 5” wide. Then, use the jointer to face joint both work pieces. These two sections become the split top.


4) Rip the remaining section into 1 1/4” wide strips.


5) Use a planer to thickness everything to 1 1/4”.dsc_2685

If you do not have access to a table saw and jointer, consider joining your local makerspace. You can also get square dowels at your local home center or order online. Substitute a 2”x6” for the two bench top sections.

Step 3: The Planing Sled

Building the Planing Sled:

A planing sled create the sloped seat slats with a few passes in the planer. To create the sled:

1) Screw 1x2 strips around 3 edges of the plywood base as shown.dsc_2679

2) Place and fit a thin scrap against the edging. This acts as a shim to raise one corner of the slat.dsc_2687

3) Put a top slat into the sled. Tap the wedge into the end to secure the board.

4) Use the planer to plane the slats into it’s sloped shape. Go slow and check progress frequently. Both pieces should as close to the same thickness as possible.

Step 4: Construct the Base

Constructing the Base:

1) Trim the 1 1/4” square dowels to length.dsc_2744

You need:

  • 4 lengths at 30”
  • 4 lengths at 18”
  • 4 lengths at 8 3/4”

2) Use the pocket hole jig and drill to drill two pocket holes in the 30” and 8 3/4” sections.dsc_2747

3) Assemble a base end with pocket hole screws. Repeat for two base ends.


Its easier to assemble the short end first, into an H than the long sides first.

4) Assemble the base ends together with aprons & pocket hole screws.dsc_2759

5) Attach the middle struts with pocket hole screws.

Step 5: Constructing the Split Top

Constructing the Slats:

1) Mark cut outs using the base as a template.

2) Cut out the slots with a band saw.


3) Drill pilot holes with countersink bit at top apron and middle struts. Attach slats to base with #8 screws.

Step 6: Sand & Finish


Sand and finish as desired.

This look can be achieved by:

1) Sand every surface through the increasing grits, 80 to 120 to 150 to 220, with a 1/4 palm or orbital sander.

2) Unassemble the slats from the base and sand any hard to reach parts.

3) Using a simple propane torch, scorch the base.

4) Clean all dust from the base and top slates with a vacuum, tack cloth or air hose.

5) Apply boiled linseed oil with a clean rag to the base.

6) Reassemble the bench.

7) With a clean rag, apply boiled linseed oil to the top slats.

8) Let dry and cure.

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