Compact, All-Purpose Workbench

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This article is from Issue 54 of Woodcraft Magazine.

A simple, solid, small-shop solution

Overall dimensions: 24"w × 60"l × 341⁄2"h

Space is a luxury that many woodworkers, especially those living in the city, cannot afford.

At the Philadelphia Furniture Workshop, I designed a bench to accommodate those who want to do serious woodworking, but who don’t have enough space for a full-sized workbench. This compact copy of our school’s traditional bench is perfectly suited for cramped garages and basements.

This bench solves another problem faced by woodworkers: mobility. Remove a pair of lag screws in the top and four bolts in the legs, and this bench is ready for transport. But don’t let the knock-down hardware fool you; this bench is meant for serious work. Even under heavy hand-planing, it does not rack.

Pre-built components and modern vise hardware make for a fast and easy build. For example, the laminated butcher-block top saves days of milling and assembly. And the metal front and end vises can both be attached in a few hours. My students finish their benches in six evening classes; working at home, you can complete this bench in a couple of weekends. To fully accessories your bench, make the complementary cabinet shown on page 55.

Set the sled foot half against a stopblock and cut the inside shoulder of the dado.

Start with the leg assemblies

1 From 8/4 (2"-thick) stock, mill material for the sled foot halves (A) and top rails (B). Mill the uprights (C) from 10/4 (21⁄2"-thick) stock, or laminate thinner boards as needed.

2 Cut the sled feet (A) to the size listed in the Cut List, leaving the ends square. Lay out the dadoes where shown in Figure 1.

Next, install a 3⁄4" dado blade in your tablesaw. Using a dado sled, or a miter gauge ,with an auxiliary fence, set a stopblock to cut the shoulder that’s farthest away from the end (Photo A), and make the first cut. Next, insert a 1⁄2"-wide spacer block (the spacer size is determined by subtracting the width of the dado head from the desired dado width) and make the second cut (Photo B).

Insert a spacer and cut the outside shoulder. Using a spacer – instead of moving the stopblock – ensures perfectly consistent dadoes.
Guide the blade just below the top edge of the dado, and flare the bottom edge for the wedge. Tilt the table in the opposite direction to cut the opposite edge.

Use tape-wrapped spacers to keep the sled feet halves in perfect alignment. Gluing the dadoed halves together creates clean through mortises.

Use a tenoning jig to cut the slot mortises and a bandsaw to remove the waste.

3 Tilt your bandsaw table 5° and flare the bottom edges of the dadoes on the sled feet halves (A), as shown in Photo C. Remove the remaining waste with a chisel.

4 Cut a pair of 13⁄16"-thick scrap blocks to fit the width of the dadoes exactly, and wrap them with packing tape. Using these blocks for alignment, glue and clamp the sled feet halves together as shown in Photo D. 

Allow the glue time to dry, remove the clamps, clean up the assembly at the jointer and planer, and then angle the ends at 15°.

5 Cut the uprights (C) to length. (Feel free to adjust the length to suit. Refer to “Build Your Bench To Fit,” on page 51.) Lay out the tenons, mortises, and the slot mortises and dadoes for the T-bridle joints, where shown in Figure 1.

6 Set up your tablesaw with a 3⁄4" dado head, and adjust the cutter height to 1⁄2". Set the bottom end of an upright (C) against the rip fence so that the first cut establishes the tenon’s shoulder, and make a series of dadoes, shifting the upright away from the fence until you complete the tenon’s face. Cut each face in the same manner; then repeat the sequence with the remaining three uprights.

7 Replace your dado cutter with a standard saw blade. Using a shop-made or commercial tenoning jig, cut the T-bridle slot mortise on the top end of each upright (C), as shown in Photo E.

To ensure a centered slot mortise, do not reset the fence. Instead, rotate the upright so that the opposite face is against the jig, and make the second cut. Remove the remaining waste at the bandsaw, and then clean up the slot bottom with a sharp chisel. While you’re at the bandsaw, kerf the tenons for the wedges, where shown in Figure 1. (Be sure to orient the kerfs so that the wedges push against the end grain of the feet.)

8 Chuck a 1" Forstner bit into your drill press, and bore a row of overlapping blind holes to create a 1⁄2"-deep × 41⁄2"-long mortises in each of the uprights, where shown on Figure 1. Clean up the edges of the mortises with a sharp chisel. Next, drill a 13⁄8" × 3⁄8" deep counterbore and 9⁄16" through hole on the opposite face of each upright, where shown.

Inserting a spacer repositions the rail for cutting the opposite shoulder of the dado, while keeping the stopblock in place for the first cut on the next piece.

9 Cut the top rails (B) to the size listed in the Cut List. Next, install a 3⁄4" dado blade in your tablesaw. With the stopblock/spacer technique used for the sled feet halves, cut the shoulder that’s farthest away from the stopblock; then insert a 11⁄2"-wide spacer block and make the second cut (Photo F). Now nibble out the middle waste. Flip the workpiece over, and do the same on the other face. Repeat the process for the remaining three ends. At the drill press, drill the 9⁄16" hole for the top lag screw, where shown in Figure 1.

Clamp the sled feet to the uprights; then tap in the wedges to lock the leg assembly together.

10 Finish-sand the assembled sled feet (A), top rails (B), and uprights (C). Using the wedge-cutting tip on page 15, cut eight 5° wedges (D). Working one leg assembly at a time, glue and clamp the top rails into the uprights. Next, glue and clamp the sled feet onto the uprights, and then drive the wedges, as shown in Photo G. After the glue dries, trim the wedges flush.

11 From 6/4 stock, mill two stretchers (E) to the size listed in the Cut List. Using a tablesaw outfitted with a dado head, miter gauge, and auxiliary fence, cut a centered 3⁄8 × 41⁄2" tenon at each end, where shown in Figure 1.

12 Fit the stretchers (E) into the leg assemblies (A, B, C), and clamp the base together. Using a 1⁄2" corded drill and 9⁄16" bit (don’t use a Forsnter; it will wander), drill through the holes in the leg assemblies and into the ends of the stretchers (Photo H). Remove the stretchers from the upright, and finish drilling the shaft hole.

13 Lay out the nut holes in the stretchers (E), where shown in Figure 1. (Before drilling, insert a dowel or metal rod into the shaft hole. If the rod tilts up or down, adjust the location of the nut hole to suit.) At the drill press, drill the 11⁄2" nut holes. Assemble the base with 6" machine bolts, washers, and nuts, and then put it aside for now.

14 Mill stock for the foot pads, (F) but put them aside until after you’ve assembled the base.

Clamp the stretchers between the leg assemblies, and use the predrilled uprights to guide your bit. Remove the uprights, and finish the shaft holes.
Rest the dog-hole strip against the tapered stock, and cut the slanted dado. Orient the strip so that the dog holes tilt toward the inset vise.

Build the top

1 Unpack the laminated maple top (G), joint an edge, and then rip the top to 21" wide.

2 From 10/4 stock, mill the dog-hole and front-edge strips (H, I) and cut them to the sizes listed in the Cut List. Make the vise spacer (J) from any available piece of scrap.

3 Lay out ten 3⁄4"-wide dadoes on the dog-hole strip (H), where shown in Figure 3. (If you prefer round dog holes, skip steps 3 and 4 and refer to the Online Extra on page 53.)

4 From 11⁄2-thick scrap, make a 2° tapered strip. Now equip your saw with a 3⁄4" dado head, and raise the stack to make 3⁄4"-deep cut. Clamp the tapered strip to the dado sled, position the dog-hole strip against the tapered piece, and cut the dadoes as shown in Photo I.

5 Referring to Figure 2, lay out the mortise for the front vise on the inside face of the front-edge strip (I). Using a handsaw, make angled cuts at the ends of the mortise to establish the length. Now using your drill press equipped with a 1" Forstner bit, remove the bulk of the waste; then clean up the mortise with a chisel.

6 Glue and clamp the dog-hole strip (H) to the front-edge strip (I). Make certain to clean out any squeeze-out that oozes into the dog holes and vise mortise.

7 Apply the front-edge and dog-hole strips (H, I) to the laminated top (G) with glue and clamps. Allow time for the glue to dry, and then use a plane and scraper to correct any misalignment on the top face.

8 Referring to Figure 3, lay out the main mortise cavity for the inset vise. Using a router equipped with a 1⁄2" straight bit and edge guide, gradually rout out the main cavity to 15⁄16"-deep.

Then rout the shallower 1⁄8"-deep recesses on either side. Finally, drill a 11⁄2"-diameter hole through the workbench so that chips can fall through before interfering with the vise. Test-fit the vise and transfer the mounting screw locations. Drill pilot holes; then install the vise with the screws provided.

Final assembly

1 Lay the assembled top (G/H/I) on a pair of sawhorses, face down, and position the assembled base on its bottom face. Attach the base to the top using 1⁄2 × 4" lag screws and washers.

2 Attach the vise spacer (J) with screws. Position the vise on top of the spacer, and transfer the mounting-hole locations using a pencil or punch. Drill 1⁄4" pilot holes, and then install the front vise with 3⁄8 × 21⁄2" lag screws.

3 Attach the four pad feet (F) to the leg assemblies (A, B, C). (Consider the 3⁄4"-thick pads as a starting point. You can adjust the thickness of the footpads for comfort.)

4 Apply a protective finish. To bring out the color of the wood, I rubbed on a coat of Odie’s Oil to all surfaces. To resist stains and glue, I applied two coats to the top.

5 Using 3⁄4"-thick scrap hardwood, make yourself a few simple bench dogs, and then put your bench to work. 

About Our Designer/Builder

Alan Turner has been a woodworker for 50 years. He teaches at the Philadelphia Furniture Workshop which he founded in 2006 to provide woodworking instruction to woodworkers of all skill levels. For information on classes, visit


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