The Weekend Workbench

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This article is from Issue 66 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Take the shortcut to building a stout, cost-effective work center.

Designed by Jim Harrold

Overall dimensions: 60"w x 24"d x 37"h

For the up-and-comer woodworker, this bench is a must-build. I teamed up with my art director, Chad McClung, to build this full-service shop workhorse. Materials run about half the cost of a store-bought bench with the same quality. It consists of rock-solid hardware, a factory laminated top, and meaty maple rails, stretchers, and legs. Better yet, with the plan provided, you can knock it out in a just a few days, provided you have the bits, plywood, and hardwood on hand.

In addition to the burly construction, I equipped the bench with a front and end vise and dog holes to provide purchase on workpieces, both large and small. Two Baltic birch plywood shelves below the top offer plenty of handy storage. I bought plastic containers for keeping sanding and sharpening supplies at arm’s reach to add to the bench’s utility.

Figuring Your Bench Height

There’s no getting around it–tall woodworkers need a tall bench; short woodworkers, a short bench. And while most workbenches (base and top combined) stand between 32" and 38" high, the rule for arriving at the ideal height is to measure from the crease of your wrist to the floor. Note that a too-low bench height can lead to backache. There’s also the issue of sitting height, which you can adjust by choosing the right stool.

Set the jig against the leg, and drive the point of an awl through the holes in the jig to mark the bolt holes for the leg. If needed, darken the indents with pencil.

Nothing beats a great set of legs

1 Buy 3 × 3" squares found in the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide for the blanks for the four legs (A) shown in Figure 1. Or, glue up thinner stock, and then joint and plane the laminations to achieve the 3 × 3" blanks. Using a stop at the mitersaw, cut the leg blanks to the length in the Cut List, ensuring that the ends are square. See the box on page 28 for adjusting the bench to your ideal bench height.

Note: A few of the purchased squares may display rough-sawn surfaces or corners. If so, joint and plane all of the squares to a slightly smaller dimension.

2 Group the four legs together, and mark their top ends, as shown in the Leg Top Ends Detail in Figure 2. When doing so, have your best or “show” faces facing to the outside.

3 Make the Leg Holes Marking Jig in Figure 3. Lay out the hole locations on one face of the jig. (I made a 11⁄2"-wide spacer out of scrap to mark the holes 11⁄2" from the outside corners of the legs.) Drill 1⁄16" holes through the plywood at the marked locations. Label the holes on both faces of the jig to avoid confusion.

4 Fit the marking jig snugly against a front or back outside corner of a leg (A) and against its bottom end. Then mark the bolt hole locations for that leg face where shown in Figure 2 and as shown in Photo A. Turn the leg 90° and mark the bolt holes on the adjacent left or right outside face.

With the stop in place, drill the 1⁄2" through holes in each leg, centering the bit in the counterbores. Back the bit out as needed to clear the flutes of debris.
With the legs ganged together, use a hand-held router, chamfer bit, and straightedge guide to chamfer the bottom edges.

5 Install a 11⁄4" Forstner bit in your drill press, set up a stop, adjust the fence, and bore the bottom-most counterbores 3⁄8" deep in the outside faces of the legs where marked. Switch to a 1⁄2" brad-point bit, and drill the through holes at this location, as shown in Photo B. Back the workpiece with scrap to prevent tear-out. Adjust the stop and repeat the procedure for the remaining holes.

6 Clamp the four legs together side by side, ensuring that the bottom ends are flush. Using a router and a 1⁄4" chamfer bit with a bearing, rout the bottom edges. (I used a straightedge guide to prevent the bits bearing from dipping into the chamfered edges and cutting beyond the planned chamfered edges.) Remove the clamps, rotate each leg 90°, flush the ends, and re-clamp. Again, rout the bottom edges, as shown in Photo C. Repeat for the remaining bottom edges.

7 Using a router equipped with a 1⁄4" round-over bit, rout the long edges of each leg.

Secure the doweling jig on the end of a stretcher or rail, aligned with the layout line. Bore a 1⁄2" hole, 3" deep.
Using the bench bolts, attach the rails and stretchers to the legs.

Make the stretchers, rails, cleats, and shelf supports

1 Mill enough maple stock to 1" thick (or slightly under if starting with 1"-thick stock) for the front and rear stretchers (B) and the rails (C). Cut the stretchers and rails to the dimensions in the Cut List.

2 Lay out the hole locations in the ends of the stretchers and rails, where shown in Figure 2. Note that the holes are not centered in the lower stretchers and rails.

3 Mark the top edges and outside faces on each piece, and whether they are upper or lower stretchers or rails. Using a doweling jig and a 1⁄2" bit, bore the end holes in the stretcher (B) and rails (C), where marked and as shown in Photo D.

4 Cuing off the layout lines for the stretchers (B) and rails (C) and referring to Figure 2, drill the 11⁄8" through holes for the barrel nuts.

5 Using a 1⁄8" round-over bit, ease the outside edges of the stretchers (B) and rails (C).

6 Referring to Figure 2, lay out and jigsaw or bandsaw the notch in the top right-hand rail (C) to accommodate the end vise.

7 Cut two top rail cleats (D) to the size listed in the Cut List. Referring to the dimensions in Figure 2, lay out the 3⁄8" slots and through holes in the parts. Drill 3⁄8" holes in the end of the laid out slots and the hole locations. Using a jigsaw or scrollsaw, cut out the waste between the slot holes. Now, glue and screw the cleats to the top inside edges of the top rails, flushing the top edges.

8 Cut enough 1 × 11⁄4" material for the front/rear shelf supports (E) and the side shelf supports (F). Cut the front and rear shelf supports to the lengths in the Cut List minus 1⁄8". Cut a small scrap piece of plywood from the material you intend to use for the top and bottom shelves (G, H) to serve a spacer when locating the supports. Now, drill centered countersunk clearance holes in the shelf supports.

With the spacer held flush to the top edge of the stretcher or rail, bring up the shelf support and screw it in place.

Assemble the base and add the top

1 Gather the legs (A), stretchers (B), and rails (C), and bolt the parts together, as shown in Photo E and where shown in Figure 1. Attach the rails to the legs before attaching the stretchers by holding the barrel nut centered in the through hole while threading the bolt in its hole. Install the top rails flush with the ends of the legs. To ensure proper positioning of the remaining rails and stretchers, strike lines on the inside faces of the legs indicating the top edges.

2 Using a spacer equal to the shelf thickness, position the shelf supports (E, F) so that the shelves sit flush with the top edges of the stretchers (B) and rails (C). Clamp the supports in place, drill 1⁄8" pilot holes into the rails, and then join the parts with glue and #8 × 11⁄4" screws, as shown in Photo F.

Drill pilot holes in the bottom face of the benchtop for the 3⁄8" lag screws used to attach the base.

3 Measure the openings for the shelves (G, H), and then cut the plywood to fit. Drop the top shelf into place to check the fit.

4 Lay out the notches on the bottom shelf and jigsaw out the waste. Drop the bottom shelf into the opening to test the fit. Remove the shelves and set them aside.

5 Solicit a helper to flip the base assembly and place it upside down on the bottom face of the benchtop (I). Guiding off the 3⁄8" holes and the center of the 3⁄8" slots in the top rail cleats (D), mark the lag screw locations with an awl. Slide the base out of the way. With a drill and a 5⁄16" brad-point bit, drill 3⁄4"-deep pilot holes in the top, as shown in Photo G.

6 Secure the base to the bench top with 3⁄8" lag screws and washers.

Ratchet down the lag screws to firmly secure the vises in place.
Using your drilling jig and backer board to prevent tear-out, drill dog holes in your benchtop.

Add a pair of vises

1 Lay out the locations of the vise spacer blocks and the bench base legs, referring to Figure 4. You want the vise screw centered in the notch in the upper right rail.

2 To ensure that the vises are mounted flush with the bench top, mill a blank to 111⁄16"-thick for the vise spacer blocks (J). Now cut two spacer blocks from the blank using the dimensions in the Cut List. Locate them where shown in Figure 4, and clamp them in place. Ensure the outside edges are flush with the bench top (I). Drill pilot holes and then secure the spacers in place with #8 × 21⁄2" screws.

3 Place and center the vises on the spacer blocks on their intended outside edges, and mark the 1⁄2" lag screw holes. At the drill press, drill 1⁄2" through holes at these locations. Drill the smaller countersunk pilot holes for attaching the spacers to the benchtop. Now, screw the blocks to the edges of the benchtop.

4 Guiding off of the clearance holes and using a 7⁄16" brad-point bit, drill 1"-deep pilot holes for the 1⁄2" lag screws in the bottom face of the benchtop. (Wrap tape around the bit to serve as a depth gauge so you don’t drive it through the top.) Using a socket wrench, temporarily secure the vises to the benchtop with lag screws and washers, as shown in Photo H.

5 Open the vise jaws, insert an awl in the holes in the inside jaws, and mark their location on the edges of the bench. Remove the vises and bore 1⁄2" holes 1⁄4" deep at these locations to accommodate the cheek hardware.

6 Mill and cut a pair of outside vise jaw cheeks (K) and a pair of inside vise jaw cheeks (L) to the sizes in the Cut List. At the drill press, bore 3⁄4" through holes centered 1" in from the ends of the 11⁄2" outside cheeks. Clamp one inside and one outside jaw cheek together between the jaws of one vise, centering them from side to side and flushing them with the top edges of the jaws. Drill pilot holes at the screw locations and then screw the cheeks to the jaws with #14 × 11⁄2" panhead screws and washers. Repeat for the other vise. Bolt both vises to the bottom of the benchtop.

7 Do a final sanding all around the base with 220-grit sandpaper. Then, solicit a helper to flip the completed bench onto its legs.

8 Make a drilling jig out of a 11⁄2 × 11⁄2" piece of scrap. (A 2×4 would work equally well.) At the drill press, drill vertical through holes in the jig. (I bored three 3⁄4" holes, spaced 6" apart.) Strike layout lines for the dog holes that are centered on the vise cheek (K) dog holes. Now, center the jig over the hole locations, and clamp it in place. Drill the dog holes as shown in Photo I.

9 Wipe clean the surfaces of the base and apply a finish. (I used Waterlox Original Sealer Finish.) Finish the plywood shelves as well. Let dry.

10 Locate the bench in your shop, and drop in the shelves. Pull up a stool, and take a few minutes to enjoy this new workhorse addition to your shop.


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