If you’re in the market to buy a new woodworking bench, no doubt you are facing high-end price tags. If you’re a beginner or hobbyist woodworker, you may be interested in building your own using dimension lumber. It’ll cost about $50 and you can save your money for tools and accessories instead.
At your local home center, purchase two 12' long, straight, kiln-dried 2" x 12" spruce planks. They are usually used as stair stringers and are strong and reliable. Reject any with end cracks or that are bowed or twisted. I suggest adding a pine board for an upper shelf, but this is optional as long as you mill tight, strong joints.
Cut your planks to length according to your needs and available space. Mine is 36" tall, and the top is 76" long. Sand your pieces smooth to remove any prints, marks or dirt. There is no need to plane these boards, which would be awkward anyway.
Mill tight-fitting dadoes under the top for the legs and in the legs for the lower shelf. I cut my lumber and made the dadoes at the radial arm saw. A circular saw and a router used with a cutting guide will do the same job but the set-up will take longer. Mill your dadoes about 1/4" deep.
After dry assembly, I decided to add an upper shelf (optional) to temporarily stow small parts, jigs and tools and to add rigidity to the structure. On the radial arm saw, I cut a 3/4" thick pine board and milled two appropriate dadoes into the upper inner part of the legs. To prevent the shelf from sagging, a middle partition is required (shown below).
I grabbed a scrap block to help figure out what length of pocket-hole screws to use and how far from the edge I should set my small pocket-hole jig. I ended up using 2" long screws and set the jig 1/4" away from the edge of the workpieces so the screws wouldn’t poke through.
Because I had to drill so many pocket holes, I devised the simple set-up shown below. I clamped a board to a work surface (left side of photo) in which holes were bored to accept a vise clamp. I dropped the jig on the plank aligned with both the vise clamp and drill. I repeated the process for each hole.
The first part to be glued and screwed was the upper shelf pine partition. A guide clamp (or a cleat) secured on the back (shown below) prevents it from shifting while driving the two screws on one side, which will later provide support when driving the three screws on the opposite side. All major joints require glue and five screws, but for the lower shelf all the screws are driven from underneath so the pocket holes don't show.
Next glue and screw one leg under the top. Notice the narrower dado in the leg for the upper pine shelf. By the way, I decided to overhang the top a bit more at the end just in case I wanted to add a bench vise later. (The end shown is the short end.)
Slip the upper shelf into the glue-filled leg dado and attach it to the partition with screws driven from underneath. To perfectly locate the pilot holes without spending time measuring, I used a homemade jig consisting of a U-shaped assembly. Lean the lower U-part of the jig against the partition and draw the line 3/8" away from the edge of the upper U-part. It's as quick and easy as that.
To install the opposite leg, set the upper shelf in the dado before driving the screws underneath the top. You definitely need a shorter driver bit, and I found the angle adaptor quite handy. If you don't have one, use a ratchet wrench and the appropriately sized socket for the driver bit.
Out of 2x stock, cut and round over the ends of the two feet. I used pressure-treated wood because I plan to use my bench outdoors occasionally. The feet should protrude about 5" from each side. By placing the feet inside the legs, the lower shelf provides more support than if the feet were attached outside. Using glue and screws to secure them ensures those feet won't go anywhere. Adding two pads on each foot helps stabilize your workbench on uneven floor. No glue here since they may have to be replaced later depending on where you set your workbench.
To give the bench a more robust look and to provide vertical grip for clamps, trim the top perimeter with 4" wide spruce furring strips. Cut to size, rip one edge square and sand all faces smooth, particularly the lower edges, which should be rounded over for comfort. Don't bother mitering the corners, which will open up anyway. And don't bother evening them out. For a better look, cut the longer front and back trim about ¼” longer so each end protrudes 1/8” from the end trim (see final photos).
Temporarily clamp the trim and secure it with 2" long screws. Ensure the square edge is upwards and don't forget to drill pilot holes. Because you may need to replace the trim eventually, don't use glue. Chamfer the perimeter to cut the sharp upper edge.
If you chose to bore bench dog holes, make the simple jig shown below. Use a 12" square 1/4" sheet good panel screwed to a longer cleat. Drill a 1" hole for a template-guide bushing and draw square center lines. Clamp the jig to the top where you want your holes to be located.
To bore my holes, I used two routers because my 3/4" straight router bit was not the plunge type; therefore, I equipped the second router with a spiral plunging 1/2" straight bit. Each router was fitted with a 1" template guide bushing. If you don't have two routers and two sets of guide bushings, you may want to borrow the second set. Alternatively, use a 3/4" brad point or forstner drill bit. Using one router after the other for each hole is a quick method to get the job done in no time.
You will end up with a nice, sturdy workbench that should last. You can add boxes or drawers on the upper shelf, and make or buy accessories to put the bench dog holes to good use. The final photo shows my workbench with three coats of boiled linseed oil.
Happy woodworking and work safely!
Text and photos by Serge Duclos
Serge Duclos started woodworking 46 years ago after purchasing a house. He soon found it was a way to relax from the stress related to his job as a human resources professional. Since retiring in 2004, Serge continues to enjoy his pastime and to update his bilingual woodworking blog http://atelierdubricoleur.wordpress.com with his projects, tips and techniques.