How to Build a Workbench – Intro and Laminating the Tops (part1)

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

Making the Workbench with Paul Sellers

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

This replicates my personal workbench, one I have used and preferred over all others for, well, actually, half a century. Let’s talk briefly about benches and specifically working workbenches and not images of what a bench should be. Anyone can build any bench type they like, regardless of whether it works well or not, is big and clunky and lacks versatility. I know at the end of the day when you finished making your workbench you will have fallen in love with it.

Aside from all of that, when you work at a bench there are several criteria that must be faced. Probably the most critical is size, this then comes down to you building into what you have available as your creative workspace. There is a lot in my earlier blogs on developing a Creative Workspace. This is a critical phase in that development so the allotted space is important and then there is you. You are tall or short or average. The bench needs to fit you. If someone will be using your bench and is a different height it is a simple matter to make a floor board or jack the bench up on a 2×4. I here many fallacious statements about bench heights. Fact is you must try to find one beforehand to try out. All of my benches at the workshop are 38” high. That suits me as mister average height but my friend Matt at 6’4” finds it too low, but not the 5” discrepancy between him and me. He likes the bench to be at 40”. You can make the bench taller, try it for a week and cut some off the legs if you feel doubtful at all. My 38” bench seems to suit everyone between 5’4 and 6’0”. Most men and women fall within that range.

My bench is a traditional British joiner’s workbench. My personal knowledge and research shows this bench to be typical of just about every workbench made and has been used by boat builders, joiners and furniture makers throughout history. Pine of some type be it pine, spruce, fir or a hybrid of each is an ideal wood for workbenches and a bench made using the methods and design that follow will last you for at least a century and more. So let’s get started.

As you know I do have beautiful workshops to work in and teach from, but making your bench presents several challenges not the least of which are planing, sawing and jointing the various components and then assembling the units as you develop the bench. That being the case, I am working in my own back yard (American for lawned garden) for the development of the whole bench. This is going to take a few days because of my commitments but it will be worth it. In my earlier blog you saw me picking the wood from the racks. Again, it is unreal to think that you have access to a sawmill and machines to mill your own. You must work milling sizes out for yourself. I know in B&Q and Home Depot or Lowes, you can find wood that is around the sizes I am using and so you must sort through that for yourself. If you have machines, all the better. And remember, no matter what anyone tells you, a machine is NOT a tool, it’s a machine. A tool is powered and directed by you and responds to your senses. All machines were developed for mass manufacturing so no matter which editor or author tells you differently, a machine is a machine.

The thickness of your bench top needs to be about 75mm. That’s 3” in imperial. I would say that the bench top needs to be a minimum of 63mm or 2 ½” thick if you have stock already or that’s a size you can find. Now in the US, Home Depot stocks a spruce type (they call it white wood, which is not a species at all) stud that is about 1 ½” x 2 ½” and this will work. It would be better to use regular 2×4 and rip to 3” if you can. These are a dead 1/12” thick, which works great.

Choice of stud

There are a variety pine-type choices. I have used Douglas fir and that worked fine, I have also used Southern Yellow Pine, which also works well but can be a little soft. Hemlock works well but is more difficult to hand plane and then there is Spruce, which I favour the most along with European redwood which is a true pine that is harder than most North American pines. This is my absolute favourite for weight, strength, colour and consistency as well as for working with hand tools. For my bench I used spruce and was able to find lengths that were fairly consistent in grain, straight and minimally knotted. Southern Yellow Pine is fine straight from the bundle but you must work with it quickly as it does distort unless laminated. It’s greatest advantage is that t planes so well with hand tools. Look for minimum amount of knots. hey tend to be big and this species of pine grows rapidly and can have soft aspects in the spring and summer growth which also makes it soft.

The boys and I set up a pair of sawhorses in the garden because we don’t have a picnic table. You could use a workmate or other collapsible temporary work station or a couple of garden benches. This is the challenge for you to work through.

We used a laburnum tree to push against and I think it took the three of us about an hour to surface plane the large flat faces ready for gluing up the laminated tops. This was fun even though rainclouds hovered overhead the whole time.

When all of the pieces were planed, I placed them on edge in position and squeezed them with arm and hand pressure to make sure the surfaces came easily together. It is not necessary to plane the wood dead straight or straight at all. Choose wood that’s straight to start with and look for warpage or twist ahead of time. Choose the best you can get. The act of planing is purely to smooth the wood and remove machine ,arks from planers and saws that might hold the surfaces apart and prevent good glue surfaces.

My bench is about 8’0” long, so I used 8’ stock. That means that after glue up and completion, my top may end up 7’10” long. You must think of the bench size that fits your situation. I often work from a 5’ long bench and find it most comfortable.

My bench has two laminated sections, on each long length, which allows for a well in the middle. The well hold tools during construction and nothing slips to the floor that way. The 12” laminated bench tops are more than adequate for all work and any wider will span to the other side.

So here we are, we have planed the meeting surfaces using only a smoothing plane. Forget heavyweights, a plain Stanley #4 or 4 ½ will do better than any other. You don’t need a longer plane, that’s unnecessary and will slow down the process though I can concede a #5 or 5 ½ if you insist. Also, you don’t need any retrofit irons with extra thickness, they take twice as much effort to sharpen, take twice as long and wastes twice as much steel for half the results of a regular thickness iron.

Set up your clamps and rehearse your glue up using the clamps. This will ensure you have the clamps set, the right number of clamps and that you have a procedure to follow that you feel comfortable with. It means that you have a strategy and a plan and that it works well. Once the glue goes on you have reached the point of no return and you must move efficiently and decisively.

Flush up the ends incase you want the fullest length possible.

 

I use a single clamp in the centre to start as I want to make certain there is no unevenness before I add glue. It is extremely hard to plane glued surfaces and far better to test beforehand.

 

 

 

 

I have rigged up a table with saw horses and a couple of boards. I place my underside clamps first and preset the clamps so that my wood will just slot straight in during glue up. Pre setting the clamps saves awkwardness and time. It should be come a habit. Also, though we call this a dry fit or dry run, it is really a rehearsal and helps look ahead for snags.

 

 

I zigzag my glue so that the glue is even. When I rub the joining faces the glue spreads evenly across both and I have minimal squeeze out and wastage.

Notice my clamps alternate between top and bottom or underside of the laminations. This ensures even pressure across the width of each laminated piece and thereby even squeeze out of excess glue. You will need a minimum of 11 clamps but perhaps if you don’t have enough you can borrow them. Even pressure along the whole length is important.

Wipe off any excess glue with the shavings. This will help the glue to dry and prevent hard glue on the surface before you plane. This can damage the cutting iron. Set the tops aside for 24 hours for the glue to completely set up and dry.

 

We had a great day!!!

100 comments on “How to Build a Workbench – Intro and Laminating the Tops (part1)

  1. Paul,

    Your recommendation for a bench height at 38″ seems at odds with the advice being put forth by many US writers – they recommend a height that is level with your wrist/hand as it hangs by your side, which is probably more in the range of 31″ to 33″ for an avergae sized male.  They acknowledge that this is great for planing, but maybe not so great for joinery, and thus further recommend some type of bench top vise for joinery.  Could you share your thoughts on this?

    All the best,

    John 

    • Hello John,

      The jury is out on this one and it will never reach a verdict in my book. As it happens, I am 5’11” tall and the crease of my wrist sits at 37″. When I work at benches that little bit lower (36-37″) it’s OK but 38″ works perfectly for all that I do. Also, dare I say that my experience of writers is that they write. They often write authoritatively. In fact they almost always exude authority. To such a degree that people follow blindly and without personal responsibility for their actions. Bit like in the 50s to 60s when they replaced hand tools with machines in schools and kids had serious injuries, insurance went sky high and today woodworking for kids scarcely exists. How many people do you know that don’t follow the micro-bevel sharpening system or don’t use water stones? Who takes responsibility for these shifts no one now knows but they are well established I am afraid. There was little rhyme or reason for everyone to throw all other methods out but for the main part they did and that was as a result of writers writing with authority.
      I would like to sat that I didn’t just come up with an arbitrary height. I actually worked at it and I am pretty average for a male I think. I obviously have experience using my benches and others at this height and it has worked comfortably for almost 50 years. That said, when someone comes out with sound, proven practice I want to hear what they have to say.
      BTW; I looked at Veritas benches and Sjoberg benches and these seem to be around the 34-35″ height, which is way too low for me altogether and I have used both.
      As I said in my last post, if in doubt, make the bench taller and cut down to suit, incrementally if need be, until you arrive at your personal comfort zone. In my current class I have one man who is 6’4″ working on a 38″ bench and he needs 4″ more, that’s obvious. The remainder of the class all seem very relaxed and comfortable and that’s generally been the case for 2 decades now.
      Thanks for this. I appreciate your question.

      Best regards for now,

      Paul

    • Hello John,

      The jury is out on this one and it will never reach a verdict in my book. As it happens, I am 5’11” tall and the crease of my wrist sits at 37″. When I work at benches that little bit lower (36-37″) it’s OK but 38″ works perfectly for all that I do. Also, dare I say that my experience of writers is that they write. They often write authoritatively. In fact they almost always exude authority. To such a degree that people follow blindly and without personal responsibility for their actions. Bit like in the 50s to 60s when they replaced hand tools with machines in schools and kids had serious injuries, insurance went sky high and today woodworking for kids scarcely exists. How many people do you know that don’t follow the micro-bevel sharpening system or don’t use water stones? Who takes responsibility for these shifts no one now knows but they are well established I am afraid. There was little rhyme or reason for everyone to throw all other methods out but for the main part they did and that was as a result of writers writing with authority.

      I would like to sat that I didn’t just come up with an arbitrary height. I actually worked at it and I am pretty average for a male I think. I obviously have experience using my benches and others at this height and it has worked comfortably for almost 50 years. That said, when someone comes out with sound, proven practice I want to hear what they have to say.

      BTW; I looked at Veritas benches and Sjoberg benches and these seem to be around the 34-35″ height, which is way too low for me altogether and I have used both.

      As I said in my last post, if in doubt, make the bench taller and cut down to suit, incrementally if need be, until you arrive at your personal comfort zone. In my current class I have one man who is 6’4″ working on a 38″ bench and he needs 4″ more, that’s obvious. The remainder of the class all seem very relaxed and comfortable and that’s generally been the case for 2 decades now.

      Thanks for this. I appreciate your question.

      Best regards for now,

      Paul

      • I’ve noticed in some of my reading that those advocating a much lower bench (33″ to 34″) are talking about strictly planing benches. I think one source recommending this level for a planing bench also recommends about three other benches, all higher, for different activities along with saw benches that are lower still. I don’t have room or the desire for four benches plus saw benches.

        My utterly uninformed 2 cents says it’s probably as important to understand WHY someone recommends what they do as it is to know what they recommend.

        • It is a strange phenomenon this issue pf bench heights and as you point out, the luxury of multiple bench heights. In all of my life working in different workshops, we only ever used one bench height and it was the same for planing and making joints. When I did the articles on the Hancock Shaker Museum I was surprised the benches were as low as they were, but assembly benches are typically lower. I used a 36″ high bench for some time and when I switched to a 38″ the difference was night and day for all of my work. Perhaps the difference to is the fact that I see many office workers sitting down at their work which was a no-no for bench workers in my time. Most students are not manual workers but software engineers and computer workers of other kinds. They commonly sit at their work and so we provide stools and they perch on the rim as they cut dovetails. Planing is obviously an over the bench or vise job and so it should not be too high. Much of the bench height insight is more personal than we think and conjecture seems to enter in and so what we hear even from the experts whatever they are is likely to be little more than mere opinion I am afraid. Better to start high and cut down to height after a week’s trial if possible. You can do this in 1/2″ increments if need be.

  2. Great advice, as usual Paul.
    I sometimes… (usually) get in a hurry and forget to dry-run glue-ups and such. This has put me in many hurried and stressfull situations where i have to TRY to correct the work.

    An ounce of prevention is worth much more than a pound of correction.
    .

  3. Paul,

    I am a new woodworker looking to build my first bench. I thank you beginning your series on building the workbench you have used for so many years.

    The bench in my garage isn’t sturdy enough. When I hand plane the bench rocks. Terrible isn’t it. Thank you very much and I look forward to reading the remaining portions of your series.

    Brandon Avakian
    El Segundo, CA (USA)

  4. Hi Paul,
    After a bit of experimentation and frustration I can attest to your zig zag method working better than some of the new age gimmicks.
    I used the zig zag method on the first workbench top glue-up as I am making two sections similar to what you’ve built in the tutorial on this blog. It worked great and I didn’t feel pressured for time. Today, on the second section I gave in to a friend’s suggestion to use a glue bottle with a roller on top. What a mess! I gave up half-way down the first board and went back to the zig zag method. The roller combo was slow and applied way too much glue, it might work OK on a small project but not almost 8″ X 10″ laminated workbench tops.
    My one suggestion would be to use a smaller bottle of glue (as you did in the videos) and not the larger sizes that still come with the application nozzle. The larger size really takes some grip strength and while working against the clock you don’t have time to rest and regroup. On the first glue-up I used a medium sized container that had a handle on the side… should have been an indication that the plastic would be thicker. For the second glue-up I used a smaller size w/o the handle and bought a large refill bottle, (which is how I’ve glued in the past… why change something that works? I scare myself sometimes) and the plastic must be thinner because it flowed easier and wasn’t a problem to apply at all.
    Thanks again for all the expert advice, you’re simply the best!

  5. Hi Paul,

    The local lumber mill saws out spruce into 3″ x 12″ planks, which are then resawn and milled to make 1″ (+) stair treads. They would be willing to sell me a couple of these – could they be used for top and apron – leave the underside rough and plane the top smooth?

    Since my space is limited I would use two planks for the top and leave out the tool tray, using another for the aprons.

    Or are laminations of 2×4 better?

    Would appreciate your thoughts.

    Regards – Miles

    • They would work. Make certain that they are dry to around 10-12% +-. Lamination gives a little greater rigidity and stability, but spruce is a stable wood when dried properly so it will work. As for the aprons, they would be too thick, but if they can split them for you to two aprons that will work also id that is your plan.

      • Thanks Paul – we’ll see what happens this week. I may just buy the planks, section them to 7 ft, and prop them up to finish drying. The folks at the mill will put them through the kiln to ensure that any brown spruce longhorn beetles/larva/eggs are killed.

        That’s one of the side benefits of that little critter landing in Halifax. It’s presence was confirmed in Point Pleasant Park, adjacent to the Halterm container pier, in 1999. Any lumber mill wanting to export, including Europe where the critter came from, has to kiln dry its timber.

        Cheers – Miles

        PS Did some more self-education last night – just cutting and cleaning out square notches in the end of test pieces. Figured I’d do that before tackling anything angled – i.e. dovetails. If the board was part of a costume, the notches would be monster-ready teeth. More practice tomorrow.
        Incidentally I’m getting the greatest support in this from my wife – she’s delighted that I’m clearing up my shop area and attempting this stuff. /mt

  6. Hi Paul,

    I’ve just finished planing two 4 x 4 doug fir posts for a
    workbench top. Since these are too thick to be able to push together
    with my hands, I decided to take no chances and plane them so that they
    mated to within 0.004″ before any clamping. That was quite hard to
    accomplish! Would it work in the future to plane them only until they
    can be clamped to within 0.004″? I have the feeling that I am letting
    the perfect interfere with the good here.

    Thanks,

    Aaron

    • One problem with squeezing 4x4s is the greater resistance in thicker stock. I know you probably can’t, but it would actually be easier if you split the 4x4s to 2x4s. $x4s will work and using clamps to remove so small a gap is no big deal. Not excessive at all, so, yes, it will work fine. Thinner laminated sections will work better in future though.

  7. Paul,

    I’m rehabilitating a Stanley plane to use in building my workbench. As part of the process I’ll be stripping the rust from the metal of course. I was planning on using a carnauba car wax to protect the metal afterward but I got to thinking if I use that on the sole I’ll be transferring the wax to my glue surfaces and that won’t do. I’ve seen a number of videos where people apply paraffin to the sole of their plane prior to use and that seems to have the same or similar issues with contaminating the wood.

    What do you suggest for protecting the metal of the plane in general and the sole in particular?

    • Go ahead and use the wax. It’s never been an issue. The first waxing gets superthinned and will have minimal effect. I use oil from my rag can and that’s never had any negative effects either. I think this is much better. Tak a 4ounce tomato can, fold and roll up some cotton cloth (old t-shirt) about 2 1/2″ wide and wedge it tightly into the can. Fill with oil and repeat over the months or when it dries. After a while you will rarely need to replenish and it will impart exactly the right amount of oil to the sides of your saw and the sole of your planes.

  8. Hi Paul,

    I was given your great DVD series this past Christmas. I have a really rickety homemade workbench that I’ve realized is not nearly sturdy enough for hand tool woodworking (its baltic birch plywood top cost more than your entire workbench!). I’m about to get started on your workbench, and picked up a number of nice straight spruce 2x4s today. I wanted a thicker benchtop than a 2×3 would have provided. You mention in your post that 3 inches would be ideal. Rather than find someone who owns a tablesaw to rip my 2x4s to exactly 3 inches, could I simply go with a 3.5 inch thick bench? Any significant downsides?

    Also, the lumber is “kiln-dried” from home depot, although I noticed that there is some weight difference between boards, suggesting different levels of water content. How long would you recommend letting it acclimatize before starting construction?

    Thanks!

    Ryan

    • Actually, the one I just made for using at the Woodworking Shows’ shows was made from 2x4s and finished out at 3 1/4″. No problems at all there.Leaving them to dry through will not take too long. I leave them for three or four days. The will never resaturate to greenwood levels. Once they are surface dried again they are likely to be somewhere around 12-14%, which is fine. Weighing is deceptive as we are not usually dealing with a pure-wood species but usually a hybrid and so we get variance in weight from piece to piece.

  9. Hi Mr. Sellers,
    This is a great series. It really helps amateurs like myself get ready to work some wood seriously and get rid of our workmates. The videos are even better. They are comprehensive, no “umm…” or “uhh…”, just straightforward.
    It’s a shame that non-English-speaking enthusiast woodworkers are missing out on this. Therefore I took the liberty of translating it to Chinese. I’d like to ask your permission to let me distribute the translated version of the blog entries. This English bench is basically unheard of over there in China as almost all woodworkers there use Continental European benches (more traditional woodworkers don’t use benches at all) and I think it’d be nice to give the Chinese enthusiast woodworkers an extra option
    After finishing translating the blog entries, I’d also like to add Chinese subtitles and upload it to a website that can be accessed from China (as you know the government had Youtube blocked…).
    Sam

    • We have been discussing this very issue because we are concerned that many non-English speaking countries will not have access to this because of language barriers. This is exactly what we are about and of course you are welcome to translate this. Please keep us up to date with progress and if we can help at all, please let us know.

  10. I can get architectural grade glulam beams in 3 1/8″ x 12″ in Doug Fir for fairly cheap, do you see any problems with using these and skipping the lamination step? Maybe it is cheating, but I live in Seattle and I’m not sure I can find 3 days without rain in my back yard!

    Thanks,

    Evin

  11. Paul,

    I just puchased Working Wood 1&2 from Amazon. The book is outstanding and love all the great pics to go along with the text. I’ve also watch your workbench video series numerous times over. Well done! I’m thinking of making my workbench from Ash and curious if you know how many board feet I should be purchasing. I may have missed it somewhere but wondered if you might have a rough idea.

    Thanks Again,
    Matt

  12. Just been to Wicks and brought all wood, bolts and glue for 170 pounds. Spent an hour sifting through the timber looking for good pieces. Now comes the fun part …

    • You are right. Sorry the costs so high, but that’s UK pricing. V expensive for wood in the UK. But the sanity of working to build your own bench and then using it for decades makes the cost minimal. Bit like my using a #4 and #4 Stanley that cost me a weeks wages back in the 60’s. It was hard to find back then and my parents supported me when I was buying a boxful of tools to work with, but now I am so grateful. I have literally gone through three to four plane irons per plane since them and I never grind them on electric grinding wheels, so I think I got good value for my money. Especially is this so when I consider that they show no signs of needing any repair or failure. They will all see me out I am sure.

      • I had a machine shop for most of my working life and like you found tools incredibly expensive. Now that I have retired I find that what cost me a weeks wages in 1970 is now less than a days wage, and although the quality might not be quite as good tools generally, are of reasonable quality and much more affordable.
        I am embarking on woodwork as a hobby and fine your input most inspiring. Thanks very much

  13. Right I have glued up the first top. Quite challenging and I have to say! I’m so glad I did the dry run first. There was a slight twist in one of the central beams and I thought I would squeeze it out in the sandwich having it in the centre. This proved to be a lot more challenging than I thought and required a huge amount of clamping to get a tight bond between the timbers. Any how I’m now planing down with the laminate with a #4 plane and have discovered that there might have been some sense in trying to get all grain in each timber lined up in the same direction. Obviously there will be some variation along the surface of the laminate but I’m sure it would make the planing easier if the grain direction wasn’t at 180 degrees difference between each piece. Plaining at 45 degrees to the direction of the board helps reduce tear out but I wondered if I missed a trick here when setting up the timbers for laminating? If anyone can shine some experience on this I would be interested to hear your views. I only done woodworking for 2 days now 🙂

    • Also remember this is a workbench. Time was when prissy workbenches didn’t exist because they were for work, heavy, hard clean dirty, staining gluing work. They don’t need to be smooth, perfectly flat and trued either. That’s what people are lead to believe by the modern day gurus. It’s not true. make your bench and work on it and enjoy it.

  14. A little tip: My hands don’t have the same strength as Paul’s. The only regular exercise they get is typing on the keyboard at work. Squeezing out all that glue out for the laminates causes the muscles in my hands to give up, so I came up with the idea of using a quick release clamp which gives me the on/off control I need without my hand getting knackered. In fact I can adjust the rate very well and make sure that the delivery is more consistent on the surfaces giving me time to make sure the distribution is uniform.

    Just a thought for the less regular woodworkers doing this.

  15. I think the whole issue regarding bench is totally subjective as Paul suggests, if you are 5 11 and built like paul then 38 inches is right, if you are like me and have a bad back and are 6 2, i just completed my latest bench top at a height of 46 inches, it is fabulous as i do not have to bend…….

    As Paul also suggests, writers write that is their job, people read – people also still need to use their own intelligence when reading things…..

    By The way i would also like to thank Paul at this point for an excellent video tutorial series, one that i have watched several times and am still not bored yet – many tips and techniques have been acquired and are being ploughed back into my own woodworking – thank you Paul Sellers

  16. Hello, Mr. Sellers,

    Thanks for all you do. I’ve been following your videos on YT, and they are a breath of fresh air, especially for a beginner like me.

    I have two questions about the workbench you built in the videos. First, do you find there is much difference between attaching the front vice flush with the apron (in effect making the apron the rear jaw of the vice) and attaching it such that the whole thing protrudes beyond the bench’s skirt? The only thing I can think of is that making the vice flush with the apron would allow one to clamp a board lengthwise against the apron (with something to hold the other end of the board) in order to joint its edges.

    Second, do you use dog-holes on your benches? Do you think they are necessary?

    Thank you again for your generosity.

    Jacky Griffin

    • Hello Jacky,
      This is a good question and I am asked it regularly enough to think it of interest to others too. I will answer here, but would like to answer on my blog so that we can help others see the reasoning behind what has helped me.
      Situating the vise face flush to a continuous apron seems to make sense and in fact most everyone does it. Usually they do it because they never tried leaving the vise forward by about 1 1/2″ including the wooden drawer liner and then use the vise for about a month or so to get used to it. If they did, I doubt that they would go back to a flush vice. Perhaps they would.
      For the few times that I might consider it to be an advantage to clamp the other end to the bench face I would feel it definitely NOT worth it. Placing boards of anything less than say 6′ works fine by centring the piece over the jaw and simply planing from that position. Most quick-release vises grip like a bulldog and will not turn lose of properly torqued. When boards are indeed long, there may well be a need to support one end as you say. In that case I place a 1 1/2″ spacer between the apron and the workpiece and clamp away happily. Were I too adopt the flush method, I would lose what I consider to be a wonderful advantage over flush-facing. I can’t hold my wood with avery comfortable and strong overhand grip and cinch the vise shut without gripping my hand between the wood and the apron or bench top. In reality, the half dozen times I have wood long enough to warrant clamping to the bench top is of such little significance compared to the hundred and more twists and turns of dozens of smaller pieces (up to 4′) I do throughout each day. This gives me such freedom in my work. It’s fast efficient and highly effective. I think many people use face flush vises because of the type of vise they install. Many front vises have no second jaw and rely on the bench top or the apron as the second jaw. If they did want a second, protruding jaw, they could add a 1 1/2″ piece of wood and try it by double taping one to the bench front. If they like it they can make it permanent and lose nothing if the like their flush face.
      This my best shot at convincing people to at least try it. I find flush faces very, very awkward when I am forced to work on them. if I use a bench when I am away from home I simple double-tape an extra jaw.
      With regards to dog holes. I think that they are handy to have. I just don’t like them too much. I use a clamp in the vise and can handle almost everything. I have several benches in my workshop and I do have a dogging system on one of them, but again, I so rarely use them I wonder why I have them. I think it was peer pressure that made me do it. Every one I met had dogs and couldn’t seem to live without them. I don’t know if you have seen my clamp in the vise method but it works for everything I can do with dogs and then much more. When I passed 60 a few years ago I learned one thing, it is a true saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
      If you are near North Wales you can stop in and try the school benches.

      • How I wish that I could stop in! I’m in Texas, alas, and it may be a while before I can cross the pond. Your help and insight are invaluable. Thanks very much again.

  17. New to woodworking, but learning a ton from you! Thank you!

    Quick question: Here is the US, the 2×4 framing lumber (“Whitewood” often) at the big box store has eased or rounded edges. This makes a perceptible gap during clamping. Do you recommend joining and planing this rounded edge out before glue up for the top, or after?

    • The question of whether to plane before or after glue up was bothering me as well, but I’m not super accurate at planing large areas so they match up well for glueing sooo..glue them up then plane would be my idea as well . Far be it for me to say anyone is right or wrong, but one thing I know for sure about my bench is it’s never going to be a bowling alley nor have a mirrored finish. In fact since I haven’t given up on my vice of smoking yet it’ll likely double as an ashtray from time to time. My old bench certainly has and does.
      I know…quit..

      • Hi Marty,
        I took the time to cut 1/4″ off one side of each piece to give a square corner. Unfortunately, when I did the glue up, I could not get them all aligned properly, so I had about 1/8 variation anyway. I was able to plane the tops flat within about .005, using number 4 plane as Mr. Sellers has shown. I drew lines about 6″ apart perpendicular to the bench and “planed by pulling” on a diagional until a .010 piece of cardboard would drag under a straightedge placed over the line. Then repeated the process using a piece of paper.(.003) It took about 3 nights (8 hrs)
        Good luck
        Andy

        • Thanks Andy and I’ll definitely give this some serious thought. Right now I’m awaiting the arrival of a decent plane I purchased instead of trying to plane anything smooth with my dreaded SB4 which is ok for knocking down rough stuff, but it ain’t made to use the word smooth in the same breath.. Right now I’m fighting with tenons. I might even win!

  18. Sorry to revive an old thread but has the How to Build a Workbench series been codified anywhere? You have to search for the next step every time your done with a post. It would be awesome if there were links to each step or at least the next step at the bottom of each post.

  19. I have been working on this project to build a workbench. It took longer to smooth the faces that would be glued together. Will I have to sacrifice the wood that is warped and work with only the most straight? It happened fast that the wood was no longer straight then I anticipated.

  20. I have what is probably an obvious answer. I have some pine that I was going to use for the first steps in building this workbench. The time to smooth the surfaces took longer than I thought because my sharpening skills need improvement. Can a bowed piece be laminated with straighter pieces? Or would this ruin the integrity of the whole piece when done or would it just not glue together at all? Thanks Paul.

  21. Mr. Sellers,
    I have so enjoyed your videos and website. I have been planning to make one your inspired workbenches. I have two questions. First, if I wanted to customize my bench by adding some color would there be a negative affect? By “adding some color”, I mean to put some strips of mahogany that I have laying around into the mix when laminating my bench top. I appreciate your advice.
    Secondly, when watching the youtube video, I watched you construct legs with a particular type of tenon that became the top of the legs, (sorry I forget the technical term at the moment). Yet the legs in the videos seem to be extending up further and there is a board a few inches up beyond the cross brace that you use to put screws through and secure the bench top and well pieces to. Did I miss something?

  22. Hey Paul,

    I’m making the saw horses, then the work bench. How tall were the saw horses you used in the videos? You said in the saw horse posts you had different heights. I’m wondering if taller ones would make planing easier.

    Thanks,
    Vic

    • No, not really, provided you flatten the faces well and glue up as soon as they are flattened, that day anyway. That means the faces mate well and the glue surfaces are good.

      • Thanks Paul. I’ve got the top glued up and am flattening away. Unfortunately, I got more aggressive on one side than the other and have @ 1/8″ difference in height across the top. I suspect this is from planing only from one side instead of both. My guess is that the plane bites deeper into the leading edge of the top than when I exit the other side. I’m going to make both sides accessible to see if that helps get the top to a uniform thickness.

  23. Just a hint for those of us who are totally new to woodworking…

    Try flattening and gluing the legs and then the aprons before tackling the top. The first time I tried gluing the top I thought I was trying to glue snakes together. I think it was a combination of my shop being in a partially heated garage in Wisconsin (in Feb), my inexperience, and me waiting two days between the flattening and the gluing.

    Starting on the smaller pieces first, I built some speed and confidence. I will try the tops again next week end.

    At any rate, thanks for the great series. It got me digging grandpa’s chisels, saw, and plane out of the attic and tuning them up!

    • For my next hints.

      Using a hand plan is hard work. Paul makes it look easy 🙂 A new person with no technique is going to burn some serious calories. I found 15-20 minutes per day over the first week more enjoyable than a couple hours on a Saturday. By the second week 30 – 60 minute sessions were pleasant. I must confess I tended to pull out my square more than I really needed to make sure my surfaces were flat:)

      Start by fixing up dad’s or grandpa’s tools. But be prepared to buy better tools if those don’t work well. The frog was flexible in my grandpa’s plane. It would work great in nice wood with a clean grain. However the iron would flex down and bite deeper when ever it went over a knot.

      • All good advice. I was only at the beginner end of the exercise curve with regards to planes 50 years ago now. It’s good to remind me that working a plane for three or four hours takes a build up of stamina through upper-body exercise I now take for granted.

        Just on the last issue about a frog being flexible though. I am sure this is very much more a rarity than a norm and I don’t want anyone scared off. Of the many, many hundreds of #4 Stanley and Records I have reworked (and all the other sizes too) I have never had one that failed to conform to complete solidity. You may have had the only one.

        • The first plane was a no name plane that grandpa got for free when he opened a checking account at a local bank 🙂

          I have settled into a pretty good routine. Each evening I try to spend: 15-20 minutes sharpening and tuning one or two tools, 15-20 minutes practicing squaring up a random piece of wood, and 20-30 minutes practicing a joint. It takes me back to my childhood doing warmups and scales before practicing my pieces for next weeks piano lesson.

        • Another hint for those of us how are not lucky enough to have Paul Looking over our shoulder:)

          Get to know your No. 3 plane. Even after a couple of months of daily practice with hand tools, It felt like I was muscling the no. 4 across the surface. The slightly smaller size and lighter weight of a No. 3 made it easier to feel how the iron was reacting to the grain of the wood. Once I developed a feel for the small plane, it transfer quickly to the larger 4 and 5 planes.

          • Great advice. I initially thought I was doing something wrong because my plane wasn’t sliding around effortlessly. But let me tell you exercising via my hand plane as a heck of a lot more fun than exercising via the gym or going on long walks. I get bored easily. 🙂 Great advice though all around. On the #3, interesting thought. I only have two #4 and one #5-1/2 so far.

          • I’ve completed the workbench top glue up, have flattened the bottom and am now most of the way through flattening the top side. I’m using a combination of my #3, #4 #5 and #7 planes. This is mostly experimenting with the different planes. One lesson I’ve learned clearly is the awesome benefit of a truly sharp plane iron. Also, the amazing benefit of a light lubrication of the sole. I polished the leading edge of the #4’s chip breaker and found I was getting less clogging of the mouth. And finally, the surprising discovery of how a gentle but firm touch on the plane can work so much better and easier than a muscleman grip. When it works right it almost floats across the surface held down by the interaction of the iron and the wood fibers.

            I was so tempted to run the bench through the power planer to speed up the task of flattening the top, but fortunately poor weather prevented that. I decided to just try out a section – and it was easier than I expected. I got into the flow of planing and discovered I was actually learning how the plane and wood were interacting, got better at detecting the sound of the plane shift as the benchtop flattened and when it was getting time to resharpen the iron.

            I feel like I’m going to be disappointed when done – because I won’t have more flattening to do… I suspect I’ll get over it – because I still need to build legs and aprons.

            I truly appreciate Paul’s online instruction articles and videos. It has helped me focus on woodworking instead of wood machining. I love knowing how the tools work, how they work together, why there were designed, the interaction between the dimensions of the tools and the dimensions of the wood parts (e.g. use 3/4 inch chisel for a mortise and then use 3/4 inch stock for the tenon, that the chisel is designed to shear the fibers as you chop the mortise). I feel like I’m constantly learning the body of knowledge of woodworking here, not just tricks to complete select projects.

  24. hi paul

    i’m choosing the wood fr my workbench top and legs. i have come up a store that sells cheap oak that is freshly cut and not dried completely. is it true that oak gets cracks when it is dry? and is it the case when i glue them thogether?
    now, we have pine hee in belgium, but i am still doubting for the durability, weight,..
    also beech is on my list. what is your take on the materials?

    • Green oak is a bad choice. It will crack badly and you cannot laminate green oak. I made 12 benches from very light pine and they are still being used every day. I am not sure why anyone would want to use hardwood in particular but if you want to use beech then go ahead. All I can tell you is that craftsmen have used pine for benches for centuries. The choice is yours.

      • thank you for the rapid reply

        i was wondering what the best dimentions were for lamnating the boards? so basicly should i get 2″x4″ or 4″x4″?
        and i am planning to do a mortis on the laminated top, could that bring up any problems?

      • I’m not sure I shouldn’t have gone for hardwood based on the supply/demand in the US, at least where I am (mid-Midwest near St. Louis).

        Where I’m at in the US I still cannot find decent pine/spruce/fir anywhere.

        The dimensional stuff at the big box store and the chain lumber companies is AWFUL quality meant for the construction industry. Even the “premium” southern yellow pine is bowed like crazy, and that’s after they let me sort through a stack.

        It’s still bowed and twisted like crazy, and that was getting wider boards and ripping them with a machine rather than smaller boards so I’d need less # of half-decent boards from the stock.

        The decent lumber mills simply don’t carry softwoods around here. I guess because of demand. Everybody builds everything with oak or some such hardwood. Of course oak and maple are very popular because it is domestic.

        I can find 1-by lumber in pine at big box store and I’m sure it works fine for small projects.

        I looked through an entire section of the 2×3 / 3×2 at a big box store and found zero flat. I picked up 3 or 4 that are passable, but it would take a year of going there to find enough. And what I can find, there’s like 4-5 annual rings. Despite planting 3 for every 1 we cut down the construction industry keeps it all quite young and probably less dense than you’d expect pine/SPF to be from a text book perspective / compared to other countries.

        So at least in my part of the US, it’s get hardwood or plan to spend hours upon hours planing after the bench tops are laminated. I couldn’t laminate it flat/straight/untwisted if my life depended on it. As it is I have to clamp boards that are bowed “opposite” in hopes of countering some of that, which will result in some small gaps to hopefully fill. Hopefully they will still be 2-21/2″ thick when I am done in like 2017. It’s so twisty planing it a small section at a time may not work to my advantage either.

        Almost two years after going down this path and still struggling to get a workbench together. So frustrating. I persevere but I suggest if a US newcomer can afford it to buy whatever they can find locally that they can find in half-decent shape, even if that means skipping the softwood and paying more for the hardwood.

        Misconceptions about softwood definitely can completely take over the market and the organizations that supply the industry, I guess. Ugh.

        • Ben, you should look up custom Sawyers in your area. The Woodmizer site has listings as I’m sure Google will work also.
          I have a bandsawmill and can cut any dimension required. My bench is made from an assortment of air dried hardwoods and after four years there is no sign of splitting. Stan Stevens

  25. Hi Paul,

    I’m a beginner and have been following your videos on youtube for nearly a month now. I’m trying to replace the “bench” I have now (3 planks of plywood nailed together on top of a folding table), but I want to make sure I have everything I need. Do you have a list of materials that you use for making this bench?

    Thanks,
    Spencer

  26. I’ve used “3 in 1” all my life for various things around the house, but it occurs to me, why is it “3 in 1”? 1 oil in 1 can, obviously, but what’s the ‘3’?

    • Like it says on the tin.

      Lubricates
      Cleans
      Prevents rust

      As an aside, WD40 water displacer, 40th try. According to popular myth.

  27. I am in the process of building a varient of Paul’s design. Using 68 by 36 mm for the laminated surfaces. Doing it using only 2 sash cramps. The rest are homemade, threaded rod through steel / aluminium bar lined with wood. These do pull up nicely. I did buy and modify one of the aluminium ones Paul uses. I already had the parts for my homemade clamps, so all they cost me is time. I think initially I used too much glue which made the timber slide too much. Using less reduces this, but it still extrudes from the joints showing that I have used enough. I really enjoyed creating the wood shavings, used a combination of 4 / 4.5, / 5 and 5.5 Stanleys. Settled on the no 5 for most of it. Already had a crude bench and wooden vice so easier than the method Paul demonstrated.
    I found that when clamping up the sections have a habit of sliding sideways. I put on all of the clamps loosly, but made the centtre one reasonably tight. Used 5 homemade ones plus 2 sash cramps on the ends. Near each end i placed 4 by 2 blocks across the laminations and used large C clamps to pull them into place. An alternative would be to put a bolt through either end. I used these to pull all of the blocks into place. Then I tightened all of the clamps. I left the positioning blocks in place until the glue started to go off, but removed them before the glue set. I guess if you waxed them you could leave them in place without fear of gluing them to the lamination.

    like someone above I have created the leg structures first. I was then able to use them as a base for the lamination process. I used wider sections to create the legs. for the main working side I have used 3 laminations rather than 2. Probably not necessary, but I liked the idea of really strong support to be able to hammer on.

    hope this ramling might be of use to anyone making it. I love old tools, my wife regularly tells me that I own too many, but I also love solving problems for 0 cost. The screw thread has to be one of my favourite inventions. It is just everywhere.

    A bench I made for engineering about 40 years ago had 6 legs of 6 by 4 ” RSJs. It was for a farm, we joked that you could support a tractor on it.

  28. Hi Paul,
    what do you mean for low grade timbers used for general house constructions?
    The great amount of soft aspect, knots and cracks?
    Is suitable a fir with a pale grain with a lot of space between the annual rings for furnitures, or there are a lot of problems? The wood that I can buy is for constructions, but the wood that I can find in th various Brico and Leroy Merlin (the “selected” wood, that should differ from the wood for general constructions) is often the same type of the poorest wood, with much pale grain and soft aspects, and it cost much much more, also if roug and not planed.

    • Mostly it’s to do with knots and growth speed and location. Here in the UK I can buy similar to the US where studs and two-by material is hybrid SP&F grown super-fast with growth rings 1/2″ apart but often soft and a little punky. Other woods I can buy are still softwoods but much harder, slower growing with growth rings 1-3mm apart and consistent throughout the section of wood. This wood is much denser, heavier and more even in texture. When I use the redwood pine you see me use here in the Uk on my projects, I think many Americans frown because they see the use of pine as somehow cheap or trash, but this is not at all like what you see in the US stores. It’s much harder than say Southern yellow pine or Eastern white pine. I recall as a boy using Russian redwood from virgin forests that was just stunning and with growth rings 1.5mm apart in 12″ wide boards 16′ long and clear of knots. This no longer happens. Of course The US once had millions of acres of Long-leaf pine (pinus palustris) all throughout the eastern savannahs but these regions were totally raped over for greed and can never be restored. This wood was magnificent but even the secondhand use from demolished buildings is just about gone. I recall in places like Austin Texas 25 years ago they demolished multi story warehouses for the bricks and piled up 12 x 18 beams 20′ long and torched it to clear the ground. We could buy it for 20 cents a board foot then. Then they discovered people liked it for flooring and the prices shot up and suddenly it was gone. Long leaf pine was incredibly rich and deep in colour and could be as hard or even harder than many native US hardwoods.

      • Yes, so much this. It’s sad but true. I’m not sure it’s not true for your EW pine or our spruce or Douglas fir either. I have looked for cheap-ish workbench wood in the SP&F categories for 2-3 years now and never found anything that is not super young/fast growth, poorly dried, twisted, and heavily bowed. I think for every big box store pile I go through I’m doing good to find 2 boards or so out of a few hundred that I may be able to use, but despite saying they kiln dry the moisture content is well over 14% usually and the stuff moves on me… their Southern Yellow is even worse, if not at least laminated to another board immediately it will try to turn into an S on me. =) Never giving up hope though. Maybe I’ll just break down and splurge on a bunch of poplar for the bench, and/or get a friend with a machine to rip and plane the stuff most of the way.

  29. Hi Paul
    Im building a workbench similar to yours but with a 30 inch top and a 6 inch well. I have most of the components for the base done and am working on the top. My problem is that after scrubb plaining the top, I found that I have a dip in the center for most of the 8 foot length on one of the top laminations. I started taking it down, but wondered what the method is. Do you map out a 2 foot section and keep going, or work ends against the middle or what.? I do have a 12 inch planer, but I know I’ll end up with 4-5 inches of snipe on each end, so determined to “plane it”/
    Any advise would be much appreciated
    Thanks
    Andy

    • Hi Paul and Others
      I thought I’d report my progress referencing my previous.comments. Since no one replied, I went at it (planing bench top) with some methodology. I first drew straight line in pencil across the top every 6 inches. Then I laid a good straightedge across each line with a light in back to view the contour of the unevenness. If there was a gap, I measured with a .010″ shim, and made a line where the shim started to bind up (in this case the center was varying degrees of low. I x’d out where I had to plane and continued marking until the end of the board. Then I planed with the #4 using mostly the pull method with the plane set at .002/.003. I checked with the paper and straight edge 3 inches on either side of the line until the .010 shim dragged, then moved on.
      Once this was completed, I repeated with a piece of paper (.003″)
      The upshot was that I got the whole bench in the short direction to come in < .003"
      Unfortunately the bench has a slight (and uniform) ~.010" bow down in the center over the 7.8 foot length, but I'm probably going to leave it.
      Any comments would be appreciated.

      • Sorry, Andy. Some times I miss one or two. That’s a good plan, I mean to leave it for a while, even a year or so, as the bench top will move over that period and needs time to acclimate to its final home surrounding. Every bench i have ever seen moves over the period of about a year no matter the wood but in varying degrees.

        • Thanks, I guess that’s a good reason not to try take out that .010″ bow until it stops working. At that time I may build a router jig so I can true both tops to each other more easily.
          Andy

  30. Paul, thanks so much for your excellent videos. I discovered you on YouTube and have learned a great deal from you. Would you please point me in the direction of a full wood list for the workbench, if there is one? Thanks!

  31. Paul, when I first read about your love for the Stanley 4 plane I thought, ‘Well maybe it’s a bit of overkill and I’ll get by with a lesser plane.’
    Well, my old Stanley 4 circa 1941ish arrived in the mail today. I bought from a used dealer online and after a bit of maintenance and honing I can confidently say you ain’t lying brother.
    The difference is like trying to get to the moon stacking ball bearings up and taking a rocket ship.
    For the longest time I’ve stuggled with the newer Stanley’s never able to actually get things square, but the 1941 Number 4 slices through true and square in seconds without having to stop every few strokes for adjustments.
    I will never doubt a word you say again.

    I’m pretty sure this bench is going to go together much quicker than my original estimate of 12 years.. 😉

  32. I’ve toured most of the timber yards, DIY stores etc. and can not find the favoured Spruce timber for making the work bench here in County Galway Ireland. Most of the construction grade pine that’s available (mostly described as White Deal) is full of knots, shakes and twist. I did start to look at more expensive alternatives and was recommended either Beech or Poplar as suitable timers by one timber yard. Beech was 4x the price of Poplar. May I ask your opinion Paul, would Poplar be suitable for making your workbench? It looks very straight grained, quite tight grained and almost no knots. It is native Irish Poplar, or at least that’s what the timber yard man said. Appreciate your valued opinion. I wish there was a timber recycling place here similar to the one near you in Oxfordshire.

    • Poplar makes a great workbench. Very absorbing, resilient and inexpensive too, or it should be. It works easily with hand tools and you get a bench that looks great too.

      • Thank you Paul, Poplar it is then. I will go in with my cutting list and see what they can do. I’ll report on my purchase in case someone else is considering Poplar.

      • Holy cow poplar is expensive where I live, $2.45 per linear foot for a 3/4 by 6 inch board..At least that’s what it says on the HD site.. it could very well be a misprint though.
        At that price they must be growing poplar in Manhattan skyscrapers in the penthouse suites under the most expensive lighting in soil dug up from Donald Trump’s fancy schmancy hotels..
        I’m sticking with pine for the time being.

  33. Hi Paul,
    There’s currently a small garden shed in my garden filled with rough-cut lengths of pine to build my bench, stacked and stickered to acclimatise a bit (it was at 20% moisture content on some boards and others were dripping wet). I’m just wondering – you seem to have bought PAO stock as a demonstration in your videos; did you leave it acclimatise at all, and do you think that rough-sawn timber straight from a builders merchants (what we’d call RWD over here) needs much acclimatisation time?
    Thanks for the videos,

  34. Hi Paul,
    What brand of clamps do you recommend? Or should I say what brand did you use in the video tutorial. Thank you

  35. Mr. Sellers,

    I want to thank you for all of the great content you’ve put out over the years. I knew nothing about this craft until I found your YouTube page (quite by accident, actually). Two months later, I’m preparing to build your workbench. Trying to find each step here on your blog is hard (the pages don’t all link to each other), thus I was curious if you happened to know exactly how many pieces of lumber are needed. I can see that it’s 6 per side of the benchtop (12), plus 3 for the wellboard (15 total). Beyond that, though, I’ve lost count. Could you provide any help? Thank you!

  36. Varies with the side but:
    I piece for each leg laminated = 4
    cross bar for each leg = 2
    plus top piece = 1
    Total for legs = 7

  37. I have tried to find this out, you talk about glue surface….

    How “smooth” must this surface be?

    Also, I see that there might be “small” gaps in the laminations, not air gaps, but more glue gaps… will this effect the bench in any way?

    Would love to see a close up photo of your laminated top, and also what you consider a good glue face.

  38. Paul how many 8ft 2x4s are needed to complete this project. Want to price it all out. Thanks. Love watching your videos.

  39. IMHO 2×6 lumber if not remarkably more expensive than 2×4 would be the way to go. It’s often a somewhat better grade of lumber and the added mass to your bench is desirable – as long as you are not moving it often.

    • Actually, I tried this myself. The problem I ran into is that most of the wider lumber from HD tended to have cupping that bound up my saw when I tried to rip it. Plus, because of the cupping, I’d have to plane the sawn edge to get it square to any face In short, more planing than if I just got crappy 2x4s. I did this with one and the other few I got now sit in a corner waiting for a different project where they can be used.

  40. Mr Sellers First let me thank you for actually helping other wood workers and doing it without the disgusting air of superiority some folks show ,those people that act like clowns,and the tool salesmen plus those that should not be within a 100 yards of tools. That being said I will be starting a ( hopefully) good copy of your work bench .

  41. I hesitate to “stick my head above the parapet” but why not use use (“shuttering”) plywood for the bench top? In the UK it comes in 4’x8′ sheets (i.e. wide enough for 2×2′ wide bench tops) & various thickness (e.g. 12mm, 18mm, 50mm), which can be laminated together with PVA wood glue to make any required thickness (e.g. 18 + 18 = 36mm ~=1.4″ or 18 + 18 +12 + 12 = 60mm ~=2.35″).

  42. Dear Mr Sellers,

    I live in Scotland, near Stirling.

    I am trying to source an appropriate wood to use for a workbench. Spruce isn’t really available nearby here as far as I can tell. However, I have seen a number of local timber merchants selling “Scandinavian Redwood” / “Red Pine”. Are these two terms interchangeable and would the Redwood or Red Pine make a good bench?

    Alternatively, if you know of another species of wood that is common and available in Scotland at a reasonable price, could you please let me know?

    Thank you!

    Regards,
    Fahd

    • Redwood and red pine are one and the same and redwood from most European countries makes the best workbench. I love it. Its’s strong and resistant to stresses and stains. Its been used for window frames and doors for decades; all the way back in =to the 1700s.

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