Classic Workbench

A big shop bench built with small-shop tools

Builder/Writer: Matthew Teague

Overall dimensions: 72⅞"w × 28⅝"d × 34½"h

Whether you’re a hand tool purist, a power tool junkie, or, like most of us, somewhere in between, chances are that you log more hours at your bench than any other workstation in the shop. Because the workbench serves as the cornerstone of a comfortable, efficient workshop, it’s worth investing time to construct one that you’ll use for a lifetime of woodworking.

When we found these plans in the Woodcraft archives, we knew we had discovered a true classic. Designed decades ago by Carlyle Lynch, a renowned teacher, draftsman, and woodworker, this bench fits the needs of woodworkers from any era.

Lynch’s midsized bench provides woodworkers what they need, without excess or over-ornamentation. Resting on a rock-solid base, the heavy-duty laminated wood top includes front and tail vises that hold stock of any shape or size for hand tool or machine work. The tool well and drawer keep your most-used tools out of the way, yet close at hand.

Our only departure from the original is the knockdown hardware in the base. We wanted to make sure that you can bring the bench to your next bigger shop.

Note: It helps to have the bench hardware in hand before you begin building, especially the parts for the face and tail vise. For a complete list of materials and supplies, see the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide on page 38.

Material Tip

It’s easy to see why Lynch chose beech. This stable hardwood is not only heavy and dense, but also a real pleasure to work—the perfect choice for a workbench. (For more info, see “WoodSense” on page 76.) If you can find it, thicker 10/4 and 12/4 stock will trim construction time, but you can cut costs by laminating 8/4 stock. Can’t find beech nearby? Substitute with hard maple or birch.

Plunge down so that the top-mounted bearing rides against the jig. Rout in ¼" increments.

Build the base

1 Mill enough stock to make up the trestle posts (A), tops and feet (B), and stretchers (C), referring to the Cut List. Trim the tops and feet to length, but leave the posts and stretchers 2" to 3" long.

2 Lay out the mortises on the tops and feet (B) where shown in Figure 1. Use a plunge router, a ½"-diameter pattern bit, and the Mortising Jig shown above, to rout the mortises (Photo A). Once you’ve routed to the maximum depth, as shown in the Three-Step Through Mortise, (Figure 2), remove the jig and plunge deeper, using the mortise to guide the bit’s bearing. To complete the mortises, flip the stock over and drill through the middle of the remaining waste, and then insert a flush-trim bit into your plunge router. Plunge down so that the bottom-mounted bearing registers against the routed face of the mortise, and take light passes to remove the remaining stock.

3 Clamp the four posts (A) side by side and lay out the beginnings and ends of the tenons, referring to the Post Detail in Figure 1, on the previous page. To cut the tenons, use the Tenoning Collar, shown below. Outfit your plunge router with a 3/8" upcut spiral bit. To set the router’s bit height, test-rout a tenon on a piece of scrap stock and test-fit it in the mortise. Now, fit the legs into the collar and position the collar so the router’s base rides against it and the bit aligns with the shoulder line. Also ensure that the collar parallels the shoulder line. Clamp it in place.

Mortising Jig

This U-shaped jig helps you cut identical mortises at the exact same location. Assemble the top as shown from four pieces, ensuring that the opening matches the desired size of the mortise and the total width of the jig equals that of the workpiece. Attach the sides, and then trim the ends of the jig so that the mortise is automatically positioned 2¾" in when aligned with the ends of the trestle tops and feet.

Rout along the tenoning collar to remove the waste. The extra inches at the post ends provide support to prevent the router from tipping.

Tenoning Collar

Tenoning collars are routinely used for cutting breadboard ends, but this plus-sized version works equally well for thicker parts—like the trestle posts (A).

To make a perfectly fitting collar, we used the post offcuts as spacers. Adjust the length of the face strips so that the collar opening is about ⅛" longer than the total width of the clamped-together posts. (The extra length makes it easier to adjust the jig.) Once the collar is assembled, rip both edges to ensure the top and bottom align perfectly.

4 Rout the posts (A) in ¼"-deep increments, until you reach the desired tenon thickness as shown in Photo B. Repeat the same process on the other ends of the posts.

5 Trim the posts (A) to final length. With a dado set in your table saw at 1/8" high, and the posts on edge and against your miter gauge, cut the tenon shoulders.

6 Using a file, round the corners on the tenons to match the plunge-routed mortises.

7 Referring to the Trestle Top and Foot Detail (Figure 1), make a ¼" plywood pattern. Now use this template to lay out the end profiles on the trestle tops and feet (B). Bandsaw the ends and clean up the curves, sanding blocks, and files.

To cove the feet, place one end at the infeed stop, lower the other end onto the cutter, and move it forward until it hits the outfeed stop.

8 Cut the ¼"-deep reliefs in the bottom of feet (B) at the jointer. To do this, clamp stops to the fence above the infeed and outfeed tables (Photo C). Lower both tables in 1/16" increments until you reach the final cut depth.

9 Referring to Figure 1 and the Stretcher Detail on page 29, lay out and then router-cut the mortises and tenons used to attach the stretchers (C) to the trestle assemblies, making a fresh mortising jig and tenoning collar to fit.

Dry-fit the stretchers in the leg assemblies on a flat surface. Following this, clamp the assembly and drill the holes for the bench-bolt installation.

10 Chuck a 11/8" Forstner bit into your drill press and drill the bench nut holes through the stretchers (C). (The stretcher’s access holes are intentionally drilled 1/8" oversize to make it easier to align the nuts and bolts.)

11 Set the fence and stops to drill the 11/8 × ½"-deep bolt head recesses on the outside faces of each post (A), where shown in Figure 1. Without moving the stops, chuck a ½" bit and drill a clearance hole through each recess.

12 Glue up the trestle leg assemblies (A, B) on a flat work surface. Measure the diagonals to make sure the assemblies are square.

13 After the glue has cured, dry-fit the stretchers (C) and clamp the base together, as shown in Photo D.

14 Chuck a long 9/16" bit into a drill and bore through the posts (A) and into the stretchers (C) (Photo E). Add the bolts and nuts. 

Use the post clearance holes as drilling guides. Bench bolts tie the leg assemblies to the stretchers. 

Apply glue onto mating faces with a 4" paint roller. Gluing up the benchtop in sections minimizes the frenzy associated with large assemblies.

Build the top

1 Referring to the Cut List, mill enough stock to make the three top sections (D, E, F), the end battens (G, H), and the filler blocks (I, J). Leave your stock about ¼" oversize in thickness to allow for planing after glue-up. Using leftover material, make eight clamping cauls, roughly 1¾ × 2¼ × 26". Joint one edge, and then mark the jointed edge for use in subsequent glue-ups.

2 Cut the tool well bottom (K) and mill the backboard (L).

3 Rest the parts for the 1½"-thick rear section (D) on a flat work surface and begin applying glue to the parts as shown in Photo F. Set the workpieces on four waxed cauls, position the four mating cauls on the opposite face, and attach the clamps. Use just enough clamping pressure to hold the cauls in place.

Apply clamps from the center out to the ends. Use the cauls to keep the assembly flat.

Planing the subassemblies that make up the benchtop quickly eliminates irregularities that may have occurred during glue-up.

4 Starting at the center of the slab, apply a clamp across the width of the assembly. As you tighten the clamp across the width, tighten and relocate the cauls to keep the assembly flat. Continue adding more clamps across the width and gradually tightening the cauls as shown in Photo G.

5 Glue up the 3"-thick center and front sections of the bench (E, F), using the same methods outlined in Steps 3 and 4.

6 Face-laminate stock to make the long and short end battens (G, H).

7 Plane the assembled rear section of the benchtop (D) to 1½", as shown in Photo H.

 Plane the center and front sections (E and F) to 31/8".

8 Using a mitersaw, cut the front right end of the front section (F) square. When deciding on the length of the cut, note that the square end of the shorter front section is offset in from the end of the longer section by at least 9¾" to allow for the tail vise.

The router-cut grooves allow you to use a spline to align the top sections.

9 Equip your router with a ¼" slot-cutting bit and cut a 5/8" deep groove, 5/8" down from the top faces of the top rear front (D) and the matching face of the assembled center section (E) (Photo I).

10 Join the front and center sections (E, F) together using clamps and cauls. (Any excess length can be trimmed off after glue-up.) Once the glue has cured, plane both assemblies and the end battens to the final thickness of 3".

Inserting a spline between the top sections ensures that the parts do not shift during glue-up.

Saw against a guide to ensure a straight cut. A thin-kerf blade prevents the saw from stalling in the thick wood. Finish with a handsaw and plane.

11 Mill the top spline (M) to match the groove. (Mill extra spline stock for the end battens (N and O). Dry-assemble the top (D, E, F), and then glue these parts together (Photo J).

12 Using a circular saw and straightedge, trim the benchtop to length (Photo K). When trimming the tail vise end, make sure that the center (E)-to-front (F) offset is exactly 9¾", as shown in Figure 1, on page 29. Use a handsaw to finish the cut and trim the end with a hand plane.

13 Using a router with a ¼" slot-cutting bit, cut a 5/8"-deep groove 5/8" down along both ends of the top assembly and along the inside faces of the end battens (G, H). Stop the grooves ¾" shy of the ends to prevent them from being seen after assembly. Trim the splines (N, O) to length.

14 At the drill press, drill the 1 × 3/8"-deep counterbores and 5/16" clearance holes in the end battens (G, H) where shown in Figure 1 for the lag screws used to attach them to the top assembly.

Use the backboard as the dovetail pin template. Hold the piece in place, and then scribe the pins onto both battens.

Clamp support blocks onto the end battens to help steady the router as you rout away the pin waste.

Test-fit the mating dovetail pieces together. Then apply glue and clamp the dovetailed backboard into the end battens.

Add the backboard and tool well

1 Referring to Tail Detail in Figure 3, lay out the dovetailed ends on the backboard (L). Cut the shoulders using a miter gauge at the table saw, and then use a bandsaw to finish the angled edges.

2 Insert the batten splines (N, O) and clamp both battens (G, H) to the assembled top. Now lay the backboard (L) on top of both battens and scribe the pins, as shown in Photo L.

3 Outfit your router with a straight bit and set the depth to the thickness of the backboard (L). Rout as close to the scribe line as you feel comfortable (Photo M), and then remove the remaining waste with a chisel.

Two-Step Dog Holes

To prevent drill burnout, I started the dog holes with a plunge router and a ¾" upcut spiral bit, and then completed the holes with a Forstner bit. Begin by making a sturdy base like the one shown at right. Position the router over the first dog hole (refer to Figure 1 for hole locations) and then screw the fence to the base so that the jig can slide along the front of your bench.

To rout holes, clamp the base to your top and then slowly lower the bit. Once all the dog holes have been routed, clamp a piece of scrap to the underside of your top (to prevent blow-out) and finish the holes with a corded drill.

4 Lay the assembled top (D, E, F) face down on your work surface. Clamp both battens (G, H) in place. Trim the long filler block (J) to fit and attach it to the benchtop with 2" screws as seen in Figure 3. Dry-fit the backboard (L) onto the end battens. Using a router equipped with the ¼" slot-cutting bit, cut a 3/8"-deep groove along the well-side edge of the filler block, the end battens, and the backboard to house the tool well bottom (K).

5 Remove the backboard (L) and end battens (G, H). Now insert the tool well bottom (K) and then reinstall the end battens, using 5/16 × 4½" lag screws. Apply glue to the tails on the backboard and fit it in place, as shown in Photo N.

6 Bevel-cut and install the sweep out (P) at the end of the tool well. Rout and drill the dog holes now (see “Two-Step Dog Holes,” page 34).

Drill the mounting holes, and then screw the front vise to the bench; adjust the location of the base so it does not interfere with the dog holes.

Use cauls to align the vise face with the top. Slightly oversized rod holes in the face provide the necessary wiggle room.

Install the front vise

1 Mill and glue up stock to make the front vise face (Q). Use the template you made for the trestle tops and feet (B) to draw the end profiles. Make the straight shoulder cut at the table saw, and then complete the profile at the bandsaw.

2 Referring to Figure 4 above, drill a 11/8" hole through the face (Q) for the vise screw and slide the vise in place. Locate the centerpoints for the 7/8" rod holes, remove the vise, and drill these holes at your drill press.

3 Slide the front vise face (Q) onto the rods and thread the nuts that hold it in place.

4 With the top upside down, position the base of the vise so that the face (Q) is flush with the end of the top. Adjust the vise’s base as needed, so that it does not interfere with the dog holes and then screw it to the top assembly (Photo O).

5 Flip the top right side up and add the handle. Using cauls, as shown in Photo P, clamp the vise face (Q) flush to the top of the bench. Drive #12 × 1¼" screws through the plate on the front of the vise and into the vise face.

Attach the main plate and then test the fit of the metal top vise plate that rides in the groove to make sure it doesn’t catch.

Fit the core block and vise hardware into place and check the action of the top and bottom plate on the main plate.

Install the tail vise

1 Use a slot-cutting bit to rout a 5/16"-wide × 3/8"-deep groove in the front of the tail vise cutout, 5/16" down from the top face of part (E) ( Figure 5). Position the top plate in the groove, slide the main plate into the top face of the plate, and then mark the screw locations for attaching the main plate to the front of the bench. Remove the top and main plate and mark the location of the bolt on the inside face of the main plate. Use a ¾" Forstner bit to drill a 3/8"-deep recess to fit the bolt.

2 Mill the parts that make up the core block (R, S, T, U, V), the tail vise filler block (W), and tail vise return front and back (Z and AA), according to the Cut List.

3 Using a table saw and dado blade, cut a 11/16"-deep groove along the inner core block (T). Lower the cutter height and cut a ½"-deep × 7¾"-wide notch in the outer core block (U) to house the vise nut. Now cut a ½"-deep channel in the core block where shown in Figure 5 for the vise screw.

4 Glue the inner core filler (V) and the inner core block (T) to the outer core block (U). After the glue sets, remove the clamps and add the core block top and bottom (R, S).

5 Attach the threaded vise nut to the plate with the bolt and reinstall it onto the bench with two screws (Photo Q). Make sure that the edge of the main plate is parallel with the top of the bench. Add the plate filler block (W) behind the main plate.

6 Set the top and bottom vise plates on the core block assembly, as shown in Photo R. Position the core block assembly against the main vise plate so that the plate grooves bottom out on the main plate. Now mark the location of the bolts used to attach the plates to the core block. Chuck a 5/16" bit into your drill press and bore the core block assembly.

Rout a recess in the top cap to fit over the top plate, notch the end to fit around the return, and then glue it in place.

7 Attach the top and bottom plates to the core block assembly with the supplied bolts, referring to Figure 5. Check the fit of the core block on the main plate. (This step can be fussy. To adjust the fit, you can run the core block across the jointer or insert shims under the plates.) Once the core block slides smoothly, remove it.

8 Remove the top and bottom metal vise plates from the core block assembly. Referring to Finger Joint Detail (Figure 5), lay out the variably spaced finger joints on the end of the core block assembly. Using a table saw and dado cutter, cut the finger joints in the end of the core block. Scribe the fingers onto the tail return front (Z), and then cut the fingers to fit.

9 Glue the tail return front (Z) to the core block assembly and then attach the tail return back (AA). Finally, drill a 11/8" hole through the fingers for the vise screw.

10 Fasten the main plate to the top, using six #12 × 2" screws. Reinstall the top and bottom metal vise plates to the core block assembly and slide it onto the main plate. Now attach the tail dog strip (X) with glue and clamps.

11 Position the tail vise top cap (Y) in place, scribe a line where it offsets around the tail vise return (Z, AA), and make the cutout at the table saw. Next, transfer the measurements from the assembled vise to the top cap and mark the recess for the tail vise’s top plate. With a router and a ¼" straight bit, cut a 5/16"-deep recess in the bottom face of the top cap. Glue the top cap on the core block (Photo S).

Building the storage drawer and finishing up

1 Cut the drawer sides (BB), back (CC), front (DD), drawer runners (FF), and slides (GG) to size. Groove the inside faces of the drawer parts for the bottom (EE) where shown in Figure 5 and then use a dovetail jig to cut the corner joints.

2 Groove the drawer sides (BB) and drawer runners (FF) to accept the drawer slides (GG). Now assemble the drawer. Finally, rabbet the drawer bottom (EE) and slide it into place. Attach the bottom to the back (CC) with a single screw.

3 Attach the drawer runners (FF) to the underside of the top with 2½" long screws. . (We centered our drawer between the vises, setting the runners 3¼" back from the top front edge.) 

4 Position the filler block (I) on the underside of the bench so that they do not interfere with dog holes or vises. Make sure that the spacing matches the centerto-center distance of the leg assemblies, and then attach them to the bottom face of the top with 2" long screws. Lay the top on and then drill counterbored holes for 5/16 × 4" lag screws to attach the legs to the top. 

5 Apply two coats of Waterlox to seal the wood, followed by a light coat of paste wax. A bench won’t stay showroom pretty for long, but the sealer will help it look its best and provide some protection against glue and stain.

About Our Builder/Writer

Matthew Teague writes and builds furniture in Nashville, Tennessee. The former managing editor of Fine Woodworking magazine is the author of Projects for Your Shop (The Taunton Press, 2005). When not at his workbench, Teague spends his time wrangling his three-year-old daughter, Ava Jean, and his new son, Locke.

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