My first workbench was made (thrown together) with minimal tools around five years ago out of cheap construction grade timber and around a million screws. It is very sturdy and would holds the weight of a tank but looks frankly like it was put together in a Soviet factory. It makes a special guest appearance in several of the subsequent photos. I think you'll agree It is a poor looking bench - and all two hours of its build time are far too apparent
I finally decided to make something nicer that used half lap joinery. I had several requirements apart from improved aesthetics: it had to be tall enough to "park" my lawn mower underneath, and long enough to sit between two brick piers on the back wall of my garage.
8 lengths 19mm DAR pine cut to 1500mm long (long stretchers)
8 lengths 19mm DAR pine cut to 900mm long (legs)
8 lengths 19mm DAR pine cut to 600mm long (short stretchers)
Large sheets of MDF or similar for the worktop and shelf
Dowels/screws and glue
I also used some spare off cuts to make some additional braces to support the shelf and worktop
Circular saw/mitre saw or table saw
Chisel and hammer
Framing or speed square
Lots of clamps
You could easily adapt the dimensions to suit your space and needs.
Step 1: Lamination of Bench Frame Pieces
Glue and clamp the boards lengthwise to yield four sets of legs, short stretchers and long stretchers with a finished profile of 38mm x 38mm
This was a tricky step as wood glue is not your friend - there is a real tendency for the boards to slip and slide as you apply clamping force. However you must use LOTS of glue to ensure a successful lamination process. The longer boards required about 10 clamps each. I recommend that you use clamps on all sides - some to provide downward pressure on the lamination and some to provide lateral "holding" pressure. Take care during this process as misalignment can't be fixed easily when the glue has dried and will mean a trip to fetch fresh timber and another round of tedious glueing and clamping.
Step 2: Half Lap Joinery
Use a circular saw set to 19mm cutting depth to create rebates and dadoes in the legs and long stretcher pieces. I stole the first picture from an image search due to the fact that trying to take a selfie while performing this step would be crazy dangerous.
Starting with the leg assembly the aim is to make multiple passes of the saw to create a 38mm wide rebate (at one end of each leg) and 38mm wide dado (lower in the leg to suit the shelf height you need) which will to hold the long stretchers.
Then repeat this process on the long stretchers- except in this case there is no dado - each end will need 38mm rebates.
Don't bother trying to hog out all the material using the saw as this will take forever, create a shed load of dust and probably annoy your neighbours. If you make several narrowly spaced cuts you can then use a hammer to bash out the waste material and use a chisel to cleanup any residual waste that remains.
Step 3: Dry Fit
Try putting it all together without using glue to check that all is OK with alignment/ squareness. If you cut accurately everything should come very close to square and only require minor adjustments at the assembly stage
Step 4: Glue Up
Assemble the bench frame is a modular fashion. Assemble two legs and two long stretchers together and then do the second set
I used wood glue and dowels to hold it all together but regular screws would be fine too
Step 5: Assembly
Put it all together adding extra bracing to help keep the shelf and worktop rigid. The two assembled parts are joined together by simply butt joining each piece using the short stretchers.
Only one piece of bracing is shown in these shots but I ended up using six cross braces - 3 to support the shelf and 3 for the worktop
Step 6: Attach Worktop Surface and Shelf
Anything flat and rigid will suffice for the worktop and shelf - plywood; OSB; MDF or even a door or large planks would do the job. I used some medium thickness MDF held down with countersunk screws - easy. Now you have flat surfaces that will magically and almost instantly start to attract tools, old bits of timber, etc