Intro: Woodworking Workbench: Sturdy, Inexpensive and Quick to Build
My makerspace needed a proper workbench for woodworking so I volunteered to build one. I have built a couple of benches in the past so I had an idea of what could work in a communal workshop. I knew I wanted a bench that was: 1) very useable, 2) large, 2) sturdy, 3) heavy 4) inexpensive and 5) relatively simple and quick to build.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
I used common construction and reclaimed lumber for my bench: fir for the legs and spruce for the top and stretchers. This keeps the bench relatively inexpensive and made of materials that are commonly available.
For the legs: one or several 6x6 spruce, pine or fir, long enough to make four 32” legs. I used a reclaimed 10 foot long 6X6 fir beam. When it was milled down, the legs were sized at a full 5” by 5”.
For the top and stretchers: nine 2X10, 8 feet long, in spruce, pine or fir. Select the best lumber you can find, free of bark, and big twists.
Lots of Glue
70-100 3/8 or ½ inch dowels
8 angle brackets
Joiner, planer, table-saw, miter saw, drill, doweling jig, router, wide router bit.
Step 2: Make the Top
I started by ripping seven of 2X10s down on the table saw. I ripped them all down to 4 ½ inches wide so I was left with 14 lengths. I then flipped all the lengths on their edges and glued them together in two sections, one section at a time. This requires lots of glue and lots of clamps (one every foot or so). Try to get everything together without any gaps.
Once the glue dries, you now have two sections, each 10 ½ inches wide. Put each section through a thickness planer to flatten out one side. Now glue the two sections together, aligning them for a flat top. You now have a top that is 21 inches wide.
Step 3: Make the Legs and Stretchers
The fir I was using for the legs was rough cut and twisted, so I milled it up on the jointer and planer to give me four square 5X5 legs. I cut the legs to 30” long so I would have a 34”high bench at the end.
I then ripped two 2X10 to 7 inches wide. I used a miter saw to crosscut the lengths.
Long stretchers: 7”wide by 54” long
Short stretchers: 7” wide by 11” long
Step 4: Attach the Stretchers to the Legs
The short and long stretchers must be attached to the legs to make the base of the bench. Ideally, you use the most bombproof joinery you can at this stage. There are many options here: mortise and tenon, loose tenon, knock-down hardware (such as bed bolts), threaded rods, etc. I decided to go with dowel joinery because for me this was a quick and simple operation. I have a fancy dowelling jig, but I also have an inexpensive one that works just as well. I used expandable dowel pins, and put 10 dowels at each joint, with lots of glue. We aren’t talking Ikea dowels here – this is strong joint that should suffice for this bench.
It’s important to note that the stretchers and top will all be flush to each other – no overhangs or shadow lines. This is by design – the bench works best at holding work when everything is flush like this.
Step 5: Attach the Top to the Legs
I put the bench together upside down on the floor. It should be quite heavy so this is most manageable way. I attach the top to the base, I simply used angle brackets, screwed to the top and legs. This gets the job done.
Step 6: Flatten the Top
One of the most important aspects of a proper workbench is that the top be dead flat. I order to accomplish this, I flattened the top with a router on a router sled. There are a number of different kinds of sleds you can build but I have found this to be one of the most user-friendly tutorials. I’ve used this method several times with good success. I used a 1 1/2 inch router bit.
Step 7: Crosscut the Ends and Add Vises
Crosscut the end to the bench to square everything up. I simply hopped on the bench and used a hand saw.
At this point, the bench structure is done and you have to add a vise or two to make it a fully functional workbench for woodworking. There are numerous options for vises: front vises, wooden vises, leg vices the list goes on. What kind of vise you put on your bench will depend on your budget and what you want to do. Hereis a sample of what is out there.
I opted for two quick release steel vises, one to go at the front of the bench and one to go at the side. If you add steel vises to your bench, it is important that you cut a notch into the top of bench so the inside vise jaw sits flush with the front of the bench. This makes work-holding much easier. If you put a side vise for work-holding, you will want to drill a row of dog holes in the top. See herefor how to drill dog holes.