How to Build a Workbench – Drawings and Measurments (part7)

NOTE

Just so you know, this is an older workbench series. Paul has a newer Workbench series. If you are interested in the updated version of Paul’s workbench please click the button down below. This page links to a cutting list, tools list, FAQS and much more.

Click here to go to the workbench page

Keep a journal.

 

I have posted on this before. Keep a journal on your work, especially those of you new to woodworking (less than ten years in it). It’s amazing how your drawing skills will improve, but more than that, you have a record of your work, measurements you would otherwise lose and so on. I have kept a journal for many years now and I can go back to pieces I have made that were important. Making my son’s cello with him, designing the White House pieces for President Obama’s Inauguration. So many things. And I know, you can’t draw, and you don’t like to write. Well, even a simple and badly drawn stick figure hand holding a tenon saw has the power and dynamic to record and project the image you have and the journal isn’t for others but for you to use it as a memory aid you can trigger every time you refer to it.

 

Here are some drawings from my journal re the workbench details. The sizes may need changing according to the resource of your materials, and also, you may want to change the size according to your creative workspace and so on. It is not so much definitive but clay on the wheel for you to work to as needed and shape and mould as necessary.

 

This drawing shows the basic end view of the bench from the main vise-use end. Beneath the bench top is a 1 1/4″ x 4″ bearer that secures the benchtop and well board from underneath. This prevents the use of metal on the bench top.

 

 

 

Here is the main leg frame assembly showing details of the tenons I used. You may want to change the details of the protruding tenon, but I prefer the Arts and Crafts roundover. which is fast and easy to achieve with a #4 bench smoother. The others we will show you how to form on the Youtube video soon.

This is a perspective sketch of the main leg frame assembly to show also the two tenon types used on the bench.

 

Specs for top and bottom rail tenons on main leg frame assembly.

 

Bottom rail tenons

 

 

 

 

Top rail (haunched) tenons

 

 

 

 

Alternative tenon detail options you might want.

The two leg frame assemblies would normally be identically made, this drawing shows an alternative and so please note here that I have made provision for a tail vise to be fitted now or later and you may want to consider this as a standard addition. Adding the tail vise has meant lowering the top rail by 2″ to accommodate the screw thread mechanism and parallel alignment bars of the vise beneath the bench top. This 2″ allowance may be too much or not enough depending on the vise you have or buy. I think that so far it has been adequate for a range of vises, but you may want to check if you are buying a vise in for the project.

 

 

 

 

 

54 comments on “How to Build a Workbench – Drawings and Measurments (part7)

  1. Great idea I hadn’t thought of as a newbie (only woodworking for 1 year).  I will have to stop somewhere and buy some journals soon!

  2. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for posting these sketches. It would be very useful if the links could show bigger versions.

    PM

    • (At least in my browser, Firefox), right-click on the image, select “View Image.” When the new tab comes up, zoom in (CTRL +) Can be a little fuzzy, but you can make out the details.

  3. Paul,

    When you are making room for a tail vise, do you use the hunched tendon or standard tendon on that leg assembly for the top rail?

    • A dovetailed cross rail works better; a dovetail at each end of the cross-rail into the top of the leg. One screw through the middle of the dovetails into the top of the leg secures as well if wanted or preferred.

  4. Paul, what exactly is the purpose of the well board? Is it a handy thing to have rather than just a flat bench?

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • I never understood flat topped benches. Even my narrow one is quite a pain but it gets the cameras in closer for filming. There are several reasons for wells not the least of which is the traditional legacy they bring to woodworkers today. Flat tops were far less common in the UK whereas wells with narrower bench tops were the joiner’s choice and preference. The well means that working on the bench with wide frames and cabinets and cases enables you to keep the tools close to hand during the work. A criticism I have heard is that the tools get covered up with the project and you can’t access them which is almost never the case at all. Flat tops leave no where for tools and a wide surface you rarely need for anything other than supporting the work. The work can be supported equally well on a welled bench. Why not have a safe and convenient place for your tools as well?
      Also, isn’t there a big question as why none of the commercial bench makers make proper welled benches anyway. And I am not talking about the cheapo Clarke benches (UK) or the Harbor Freight (US) models. I think most woodworkers do aspire to ultimately making their own workbench.

      • Thanks, really appreciate that little insight! I will be attempting this bench over the summer months! Would you recommend drilling bench dog holes into the work surface, or not really? Lastly, is a side vice possible even with the aprons on the side? Your videos are great, all the tips, tricks and knowledge for a novice woodworker. I honestly can’t thank you enough!

        • You can install every type of vise to aproned benches. I didn’t invent this bench at all. I just developed a working version of it that anyone regardless of skill level could make. It’s just dead simple, practical and it goes back hundreds of years. I would install some dog holes too.

          • Hi Paul,
            I can’t tell you how excited I am to have only recently discovered your instructional videos. This workbench brings back many fond memories of working on one just like it while in woodwork class at my old high school in the UK in the early 1960’s. I was lucky enough to have been introduced to the art of woodworking by my teacher Mr. May, who, like you was a master craftsman. I still remember how to mark out and cut dovetails and mortise and tenons.
            It was a proud day when I was allowed to take home the walnut end-table I had made during classes. That end-table was in use in our home for decades and ended up in the nursing home with Mum.
            Mum recently passed away aged 93, but we left the table at the Home, to be used in some other resident’s room.
            My woodwork classes were over 5 decades ago and on another continent, but I can’t wait to carry on where I left off – but this time with you as my teacher.
            Thanks for all the inspiration….
            Many thanks,
            Phil

  5. Paul
    I’m about to make a workbench and have visited two local timber yards who have differing views on the timber to use. One has some air dried Douglas Fir and the other has unsorted Redwood. Do you have any particular views?

    Getting back into woodwork after a 30 year break …. love your straight-forward and down-to earth approach and the videos are so helpful. Have recently picked up an old Stanley jack plane on Ebay for £40.00…(rather than spending £2-300+ on a Lie Neilsen) and am about to follow your instructions on sharpening
    cheers

  6. Paul, what is the minimum height for the aprons? Since I have some back trouble, I like to be able to get my front foot well under the bench top when planing. A full 12″ high apron interferes with that. Thanks, Aaron

  7. Hi Aaron,
    I was also planning on aprons less than 12 inches when I build my bench. I found this comment in Paul’s earlier blog “How to Build a Workbench – Gluing Up Aprons and Legs (part 2)”. “The aprons can be as narrow as 9″ but no less and as wide as 12″ is amply sufficient, both in strength and appearance.”

    Hope this helps, Happy Building!
    Darrell

  8. Thanks for everyone’s comments on apron height. Let’s see, if a 9″ apron is ok, and 4″ of that is bench top and riser that the legs don’t go through, then as I figure it the aprons contact 5″ of leg (and only 4″ of leg if I were to use Paul’s minimal apron height figure of 8″).

    This leaves me wondering if I can get away with being “apronless” on the front. Instead, of and apron I would pass the legs all the way through my planned 3″ top, and put, say 2″ or 3″ corner blocks under the top at the junction with the legs. So it would be sort of Roubo-esque in the way the front legs, at least, attach to the top – with the drawback that in the wet months the leg tops would be slightly recessed relative to the top proper. Unlike the Roubo and like the English Joiner’s bench, the bench would still be front stretcher-less so that I would be able to get my lead planing foot under it.

    • Hi Aaron, I’ve been researching bench design and just last night came up with this idea of an apron on the back and tenon-thru-top on the front. The apron on back give one the option of rolling something beneath the bench for storage, as well as feet-under-bench as in your case. The tenon-thru-top on the apronless front would probably need a stretcher between the legs at 7-8″ from the floor. My plan is to make a 3″ thick top and this 3″ may overcome the shortcoming of not having an apron on one side to offer the rigidity afforded by the “angle iron effect”.
      SO….. It’s Nov, 2016 and I’d like to know did you build it that hybridized way and what is your opinion of the result?

      • also Paul if you see this and consider an answer, BTW, my plan is for a 6 ft long bench and the end leg assemblies to be about 4 ft apart.

      • Thanks for this. I was just about to start on a 5′ bench which fits into the end of my garage but am unsure whether to use Douglas Fir or Redwood …the only readily available timber near to me. 2 different sawmills,…. both selling different timber ….Any views?

        I find your views, comments, practical tips and videos to be superb and its been one of the key reasons for me re-kindling (sorry!) my interest in woodwork after leaving teaching craft design and technology behind in the early 80’s when the move in secondary schools was away from traditional skills to working with paper and straws!!!!

        • I would go for the redwood. More ven density and more stable. Hard enough and consistency through the growth rings. Don’t blame you for getting out. If it was bad then then it’s much worse now. Politics and management. Why we ever, ever think we can trust politicians and bankers to make the right decisions for our futures and economic business sense for us I will never know.

          • Thanks for this and I’ll be off to the timber yard today! In the meantime I’ve taken up other suggestions as I’ve ordered a new Veritas Dovetail saw and after following your You Tube videos I’m busy honing and sharpening a few old Stanley bevel edged chisels now I’ve acquired the Veritas honing guide. I intend using these to chop out the mortise joints on the bench rather than spending additional cash on mortise chisels …so thanks once again

  9. I’m going to start my workbench any day now. I’ve done much video watching on Paul’s workbenches, including the one built on the YouTube videos and also the working wood DVD series.
    The two different video series give instruction on building two different bench sizes; one has a well in the centre of a larger table and one a well on the edge of a smaller table. Aside from the afore I’ve noticed Paul uses a slightly different bench again in his latest video streams; larger table with a overhanging well.
    I’m at a real loss as to which to build; space in my workshop isn’t a big issue but I would rather not build something thats larger than needed.
    Any advise would be greatly appreciated.

    • Depends on what you want. Bigger benches hold a lot. Wells in the middle are better. Too wide a bench top gets cluttered. The bench I use in the videos is designed to allow closer camera access for filming. Its one I had but don’t particularly like because there is no space to stow the tools out of the way but close to hands. Work out what you need and make the bench to that end. Flat tops are very impractical because of tools. I would nor could ever work on a daily basis on a flat topped bench. They just don’t work for me. They get too cluttered. I can however work with them for making the films because I can put up with anything for an hour or so. If you do have space go for the youtube one. 3′ x 7′ is a great size, maximises stability and gives room for someone else to work alongside you or you can work around it if you like that thought too.
      Hope this helps,
      Best for now,
      Paul

  10. Paul – what a joy to watch you work! Inspirational and spiritual!

    Do you have any guidance on the maximum depth of the well? In your design the well is limited by the bearer and well board dado depth. I wonder if there’s any merit in a thinner well board to allow for easier temporary storage of planes or other bulkier tools, or does a plane laid on it’s side fit in your design?

    Secondly, I have seen some well boards designed to be removable for easy cleaning or sawdust and other debris. Can you see a way for that to fit into your design, or do you feel it is unnecessary?

    • Yes it does. You will have your tools closer when working on single boards, which usually do not require a lot of depth, but when you do work across the bench, you will still have support for your piece on the other side of the tool tray. This is also true during glueups. It also still has the advantage that you can remove it for clamping, and lessening wood movement on your two bench tops, since they are not joined together, but individually fastened to the framework.

    • For one I would never lay my planes on their side, I just scoot them off to my right at the far end and that leavers the bench free enough for 99 percent of my working. As to depth, an inch and a half is deep enough for most of the tools I like closer in so by that I mean chisels, chisel hammer, square, sliding bevel, screwdrivers and such Some of these are the ones that can roll off onto the floor on a plain flat top. You can of course gain depth by thinning down the well board but the gain is so minimal I question its real validity. Again, I cannot see the point in a removable well board. It overcomplicates what is perfectly simple. You simple brush out the sawdust to one end into a dustpan or bin.

  11. Has anyone had success mounting one of these benches on casters. My shop doubles as a garage. Being able to roll out of the way when not being used is pretty important.

    Thanks for the helpful videos. I stumbled across them a couple of months ago when I had to sharpen my dad’s old hand saw to repair a piece of furniture.

  12. Hi Paul, and THANK YOU. Watched most of the bench video last night, what a joy and a blessing.

    I’m new to wood (by your definition). For the last several years have been using the nasty old 4×2 bench that was left behind in my garage when I bought the house.

    It’s not procrastination; I’ve been telling myself that generations of workmen did just fine without fancy benches made of figured hardwood, $500 vices, etc. And since at this phase I do more tool and furniture restoration than I do joinery, and I do more lumbering than cabinetwork, it wasn’t much of a liability.

    But now I’m starting to do more detailed work, and more from-scratch work, and the old girl is letting me down. The only way I can make a face smooth and steady enough for planing is to clamp on old laminated MDF/OSB pieces scarfed from Ikea throwaways.

    I knew years ago I’d want a traditional bench, and that I’d build it. But I have been stuck for several months between:

    a. if I don’t do a classical bench that’s extremely stout I’ll really regret it
    b. I’m not going to have $1000+ to spend . . . . I’ve seen tops made of maple slabs, US$2000 right there before you buy the vice

    THANK YOU for offering a classical but pragmatic bench for those of us who weren’t born into a trust fund! I can now build a bench that honors the tradition, but doesn’t require me to sell one of my kids to the circus. I don’t need to be ashamed of my bench. I can’t wait to get started.

    I have some questions before I even put pencil to paper:

    — the example bench has a completely open architecture beneath the apron . . . . . is there a reason why I should NOT run a beam lengthwise between the legs on my bench? Does the apron’s lateral strength make it superfluous?

    (This may sound silly, but I’ve used my current bench since 2001 . . . it has a lengthwise beam between the legs, about 2″ off the floor….and I’m now in the habit of resting one leg then the other on that as I work. It’s so ingrained if I’m at another bench or a table I will in fact fall forward putting my foot on air. I suppose it’s bad practice to be leaning and that I should just break the habit.)

    — what does a haunch tenon provide that a normal tenon won’t? Is the haunch the equivalent of a key to avoid twistage, etc? Why not just do a larger “normal” tenon?

    — I’ve sourced and have been sitting on an old wooden vice, complete with wooden screw. I will need to bodge it a bit but have a mechanical background and think I can manage. My thought is that wood would be better on tools than metal . . . . and this cost $32 instead of $300 like the fancy ones . . . . .any general advice? Suggest twin screws or leg vice?

    • Personally:
      1) You can put rails in down below if you want to but that seems to complicate a simple design that doesn’t need them.
      2) A haunch is not really necessary on this structure type but it is quick and easy to do and ensures that the whole tenon across its width is constrained and the mortise surrounds the tenon. It’s up to you whether you use the haunch or not but what looks complicated or awkward is not.
      3) Your rationale seems fine but you really don’t expose your tools to danger of damage on a metal vise as the linings stand above and longer than the metal jaws anyway. I don’t have need for wooden vises and don’t use them. I do like quick release ones made by older makers because they do everything I want and more. I think that they were a brilliant development. I don’t have need for wide twin screw vises and always found them more clunky than I like. I certainly have found no advantage to leg vises either so I stay with what I know has worked well for me for fifty years.
      Regards for now,

      Paul

  13. Hello Paul, I would like to thank you for your generosity and kindness in showing your hand skills and knowledge of wood working to everyone, myself included.
    Although I am approaching 60 years of age I find myself staying up late at night to watch you build your traveling work bench. I intend to make my much needed bench as you have, hopefully, so that I can make the interior doors to my home, and a nice exterior front door.
    Thank You Kindly and Take Care, Michael

  14. Paul, I also echo the above thanks.
    In terms of economy of price could I get away with lminating 3″ by 1 1/2″ for the top slabs? And aprons? I made up a test lamination from 3 short offcuts and although thiner, would seem OK. Legs and frame would be as your design, more or less. I want to reduce the width by approx 2″. Either by reducing the well or back slab, which is best.

    Present bench was fairly crudly made, in a hurry, when we moved in. It has a flat MDF top, will probably keep this for metel work moving my 2 engineering vices from their small bench onto it.

    I have always pur vices on the left. I am sure that this comes from school. Benches had vices on left and a planing stop on the right. Even thpough I am right handed I can plane either left or right handed.

    Thanks

    Keith

  15. What a joy to watch the bench build: I was glued to the screen. After watching some of your joinery videos I feel I may actually have a chance at doing it myself. I always felt that hand made joints were the secret domain of master carpenters. I am looking forward to building my own workbench in the near future and am looking for a hand plainer and a set of chisels. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Your instruction is awesome. Thanks Ron\b

  16. Hi Paul,

    I’m digging your no-nonsense style of woodworking. It’s refreshing to hear I don’t need a dozen brand new Lie-Nielsen planes to get started.

    This is going sound fanciful, but I would like the challenge of using no metal fasteners on my bench. This seems easy enough with attaching the apron to the legs by boring holes and using dowels and glue instead of bolts, but I had a couple questions about attaching the top. I was thinking of losing the bearer board and laminating three pieces of wood together (as opposed to two) with the middle board longer to form a tenon. I would then chop a through mortise in the top for each of the leg tenons. I would further secure this apron/top/leg tenon stack-up with a dowel or two.

    Does this sound like a reasonable approach to an admittedly irrational challenge? And yes, I know I will blow the whole aesthetic when I attach my metal vise with carriage bolts.

    Thanks for all the knowledge!

    • Not really. Drilling and gluing dowels means any apron shrinkage will result in cracks in the apron. The tenon through the top will work but again there will be shrinkage and expansion around the tenon resulting in either protrusion or recess in the bench top surface.

    • Your tools are always handy yet out of the way, they no longer roll off the bench, it’s been designed and traditionally accepted in England as an English joiner’s bench for two centuries and it works for other woodworking trades too. Oh, also, you don’t have the shrinkage and expansion problems you get with single top flat top benches either.

  17. Does it make sense to have the well board in the middle if the bench will be located up against a wall, rather than in the center of a room?

  18. Hi Paul,

    Firstly thanks for the tutorials and the amount of work you put into them. It’s truly made my working day a bit brighter knowing that I can give myself a “class” from you a bit later on and learn some new technique.

    In regards to your bench, I noticed on here that your measurements are for a 3 foot wide top, but from what I can see in the corresponding YouTube video, the top comes out slighty over at 40 inches (2 x 2″ aprons; 2 x 12″ sides/slabs’ 1 x 12″ well board). This is just a bit of a guess from watching the video but I was wondering if you might post your reasoning for going wider (if you did).

    Thanks again,

    Tom

  19. Hi Paul, Loving your Working Wood 1& 2 dvd series and book. I have a comment on vice placement. Is there a historical reason that the vice is placed to the bottom left of the table? I have seen a number of other tables, and it seems that many others focus on the same location. (Assuming right handed)

  20. Paul, I want to thank you for the impact you have had on my woodworking ability and especially on my use of hand tools. Since I have been following your approach to woodworking, I now use my power tools a lot less and my hand tools a great deal more.
    I am 73, live in Texas and have been an amateur woodworker since the 8th grade, when I was first allowed to take wood shop. I was introduced to woodworking by my uncle who lived next door, who had the patience of Job, and was a true craftsman. I have always considered myself a carpenter with a goal of becoming a craftsman like my uncle. I think in some ways that over the years I have improved on my skills by putting to work what I have observed, read and tried. However, I have to say that spending time with your videos, blog and your approach to woodworking has had more of an impact on improving my skills in helping me achieve my goal than anything else.
    My woodworking focus is building furniture, restoring antique furniture and designing / building children’s toys. I have to say that over the past year (time I have spent with you) these items have greatly improved.
    Again, thanks.
    I would love to take one of your classes here in the states should one become available.

  21. Hi Paul
    I built my bench a few years ago now and it’s still every bit as stout as it was one day one, probably moreso after settling on the shop floor, but now I want to retrofit it to add drawers on both sides. The final width of mine came to 31.5″ so I’m thinking drawers appx 13″ deep.
    I don’t know that you’re ever done a blog or article about this topic, but if you ever feel so creative I’d really love to see it and your approach . I’m thinking of using the approach I read about in FWW magazine and their shaker bench using basically a skeleton framework to insert under the bench.
    Any thoughts about this idea?
    Thanks

  22. Maybe I’m missing something. Could be missing a concept, or something in the drawings. What holds the top to the leg frames?

    I see the wedge dado, and I see the lag bolt below it. But what holds the top of the bench to the leg assembly? Thanks.

    • Coach screws go up through the top piece on the leg assembly into the top boards. Also coach bolts and coach screws hold the apron to the legs.

  23. Hi Paul. Thanks for all the work you’ve put into sharing your knowledge with the world. It’s greatly appreciated.

    I have been slowly working on constructing this bench but recently found the updated (V2) diagrams and cutlist. It seems the dimensions have increased and will now require stock larger than standard 2×4’s. In particular, the legs, and rails are going to require larger stock now. It seems that will also extend the apron beyond a standard 2×12 as well. Can you clarify these dimension increases? How necessary are they?

    • You don’t need to change from the old bench, just continue with those measurements. I changed for a couple of reasons one being this bench is smaller and narrower so increased to add a little extra weight. Also, I assume you are in the USA because you say “standard 2x4s” and “standard 2x12s” when that would only be standard to North American countries and not the world. A standard 2×4 in the UK is 1 3/4″ by 3 3/4″ for instance.

  24. Paul, after more than 25 years using a commercial bench (along with its associated difficulties), my son and I are building your latest version. We will be installing a tail vise in addition to the vise on the apron. I have looked at all the information (I think) you have provided about tail vises. I understand the reason for allowing the 2″ between the bearer and the top rail. However, (1) do you locate the leg frame closer to the end and (2) how specifically to you mount the tail vise (ie, what do you mount it too.) I can certainly figure out ways to do it, but would prefer your method. We will be using eclipse 9″ quick release for apron and tail vises.

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