Plywood Workbench Update

I actually made two workbenches to the pattern we’re giving in the video series. It follows the same principle pattern as my earlier models made from solid and laminated wood because my research via questionnaires and such showed that we had hit the mark with regards to the important factors. Three decades ago we tackled the misinformation with regards to workbench work heights. After careful study our work showed that the majority of hand tool enthusiasts were indeed working at workbenches that were far too low and that in itself was causing severe back and neck pain. I already knew much about it because as a practising craftsman I kept coming up against super-low benches and found them so difficult to work efficiently at. Functionality wise 6,500 students over 30 years attested to the comfort of an average height of around 38″. They worked at them anywhere form a single day workshop to month-long classes. I never had a single complaint with regards to comfort or functionality. Having worked at every other kind of manufactured and home made workbench, I found that 99% of them were just too low for me and I am Mr Average height. Alternative heights proportionally for taller and shorter students than 5’10” always resulted in improved wellbeing.

My stowage for the sharpening diamond plates is convenient and near to task. The plywood is waterproof to so the layers will remain together. But I did give three coats of waterborne waterproof finish too.

I am still not certain why I am so enjoying the look of the plywood but more than that I like the functionality too. I doubt that you will ever see me use MDF for any of my work but plywood is extremely practical and long lasting if you buy the right grade.

The plywood diamond plate holder is impervious to water. I recess the plates in 1/8″ deep and set them with a squiggle of silicone to seat and cushion them. That way, if I ever want to remove them, I can pry them out just fine.

Making the second workbench for the series has been very well received with only the odd criticism mostly to do with personal preferences rather than improvement. Whereas the basic bench works totally well, my first bench was inline for my customary upgrades. End of bench shelving, sharpening plate holder stowage, Under bench shelf and then the bolt on tool well in addition to the regular well for daily-use tools.

Notice the plywood goes under the side rails and not on top as in my other benches. Reasoning? Well, I use a mechanical truck to raise the workbench to move it around . The plywood is undergirded by two strips of wood front and back so the truck readily lifts the whole bench even when fully laden so I can move as necessary. The positioning also gains me 6′ of storage space.
I liked the idea of plywood for the drawer components but never found plywood so good for dovetailing so I combined the two. It worked really well and I got a good match when the drawer is closed.
The dovetails look fine with the faux front. The end grain complements the ply levels too.

Of course I could not live without my apron drawer, a non-negotiable for me. I customised the handle and then the drawer front and dividers are also plywood, which I like too.

How about a tenoned drawer pull corresponding with the through tenons on the leg frames? Yes, this is tenoned through the drawer front.

Then there is a hidden element I have never added before. My tool well is not a continuous board. I cut it in two half way so that it slides in and out from either end.

Inside the sliding well boards I have a 2′ x 3′ by 9″ storage space for the more awkward, ill-fitting tools and other related equipment.

I added a board from the underside of the aprons to create a hidden tool storage area for the lesser used tools like plough planes, routers and much more. In this one bench I can hold all of the tools I might ever need to make any project I care to and they are really quite readily accessible.

29 thoughts on “Plywood Workbench Update”

  1. Stephen McGonigle

    Hello Paul,

    What an excellent mini series these benches have been. What I find so refreshing is your evident enthusiasm for what you do. No silly music or shouting, just excellent guidance and an assumption that your viewers have a modicum of intelligence.

    I’m still rebuilding my workshop so the bench will have to wait. There is a huge 10′ bench built it, however it is too low for me. I had intended to raise the height by fitting another top made from ply, however I may try and raise the bench instead due to the weight and cost of ply.

    Do you have any views on the ‘add-on’ Moxon type vice which can clamp into an existing standard type vice?

    1. I made my bench too low and raised it by fixing MDF squares to the bottom of the legs. No-one like MDF but it suits the purpose very well : easy, cheap and doesn’t split. I rounded over the bottom edges and glued on some thick scrap leather rough side down to mimic the grippy quality of end grain.

    2. “No silly music or shouting, just excellent guidance[…]”

      Very much agree with you! This blog/website/youtube-channel reminds me of the early days of the internet: loaded with information and no advertising. Before social media accounted for the majority of internet use. Nowadays when I open a new Youtube video, my first action before it starts playing is to turn the volume way, way down, as more often than not it starts with loud music for the first 10-60 seconds. And that doesn’t make for a good first impression. Fortunately, mr. Sellers’ videos don’t require to do so. On the contrary, so gentle and soft-spoken. A breathe of fresh air.

      Also am relieved to hear about mr. Sellers not disliking plywood. I’ve so far mostly worked with (used but high-grade) plywood. Compared to most other woodworking sites where they use the most exotic of woods, I wondered what I did should actually be called woodworking. So, these new projects come as a bit of a relief to me.

  2. I fitted a sliding tool well bottom to Pauls solid wood design and likewise noticed that this allows the whole bench to become a very large tool box. Access might look a little awkward but in practice is very easy and more comfortable than rooting around in a box at floor level.

    Might be worth noting too that deeper aprons give you a bigger toolbox : useful if you’re particularly short of space. And of course are structurally positive giving an even better grip of the legs.

  3. Here that type of plywood is special order, none of the big box stores carry it and only local specialty lumber yards can get it for you. The quality is quite apparent, the wood is very dense, strong and hard with no voids between the plys. The only downside is the glue is quite abrasive and will wear down sharp edges quickly but that is more of a characteristic of the material that comes with many types of wood. Beware of inferior imitation plywood, one store said they had “Finish” Birch where the better quality is known as Baltic Birch. I have a feeling prices are going to go up with the sudden demand that’s coming when the woodworking world starts to demand this material, that’s a real nice looking bench!

    1. I didn’t really find the plywood too heavy on my cutting edges. I used two planes and sharpened each about throee times for full bench make. I think that that is about what I do for other sizeable pieces too.

  4. not a criticism just my first impression is that I feel like I’m going to get splinters working around this even though I see all the rounded edges …. must be a phobia of mine from working around the coarse quality plywood used in construction.

    1. Well, I never queried getting splinters since I was 15 years old in the mid 60s when I apprenticed. I take out several splinters most days and I didn’t notice any more on this build as I have the 102,000 I’ve pulled out since I began woodworking.

  5. Would this design work up against a wall Paul? I can’t tell from the photo, but it looks as if the hidden draw comes out of the back?
    How many home woodworkers have the bench against the wall?

    1. I have had most of my workbenches against a wall for most of my life and have rarely ever had a problem for 99.9% of what I have made. My actual home workshops always have this same bench against a wall and I have never had the luxury of a walk-around workbench in my home workshop which a single car garage. Even the one we film with has a fictitious glass wall beyond which I never reach.

  6. I really like having the lower shelf under the side rails which is how I did on the standard wood bench. I didn’t think to add any undergirding and I just relied on the screws from underneath the shelf into the side rails. So far it is OK, but I may add it if the boards sag.

    I really love this bench design in wood or ply. I also like the bench height being higher. Maybe if one does a lot of planing on big stock, a lower bench would be beneficial? This bench is awesome for planing smaller stock and joinery without getting a backache!

    – Tom

    1. Personally I have always felt to counter the proponents of lower benches for planing as if needing to strain down to make the planes do as they are told. Never having had any issues planing ‘full height‘ so just used the single height without need for changing anything.

  7. Thanks Paul.

    I wish I would have found you before my first bench. It is too short. I need to make some peg leg sleeves to raise it up 3 or 4 inches.

    If I had to it all over again, there are several big things I would do differently in the shop. Having said that, I did catch you literally in the knick of time. I did a major shop remodel when I had a two month work Sabbitcal. I was all set for a machine tool shop. Even though I did most of the work myself, I needed to pause for six months to save for the first few machine tools. During that time, I researched what were quality machine tools. In doing this, I came across you YouTube videos. There are very few events in my life where I have had such an Epiphany. Going the route of hand tools was one such moment. I am embarrassed now to say I didn’t even know it was an option. In the USA, machine tools are so pervasive, I didn’t even know there was an alternative. Thank you.

    As for the look of plywood, I like it as well. It reminds me of some sort of wood that has nice vertical grain with sharp contrasting early and late growth rings.

    1. Strange how cultures and local practice differ so much in Western countries.

      A few days ago I was watching a video from German TV (ZDF, “Handwerkskunst”, lit. ‘manual labour art/craft’) about building a roof. Enjoyed that video very much and learned a few new things. The next video I clicked on was of an American gentleman who had his front-door replaced. By a fibreglass pre-hung door. I did not know ‘pre-hung doors’ existed. Or doors and doorframes made of fibreglass. I do know. Good grief. And it wasn’t even cheap.

      I recall another American show where they were also framing a roof. I nearly fell off my chair watching, amazed (not in a good way).

      Yesterday evening watched a video of a man building a shed, using actual joinery. But the joints were made using a battery-powered vibrating saw. He was pretty pleased it took ‘only’ 7.5 minutes to make a notch and he had to change the battery half-way. Wanted to scream to him, “get out a chisel and a mallet! You’d have finished long ago! Less noise, better result, no waiting for a re-charged battery!”

      No offence meant to any Americans, but watching US/Canadian home-improvement shows is always a bit of a shock to me. (Then again, a friend once told me (I’m Dutch) that I’m very ‘German’ – it was meant as both a compliment and an insult. I think he has a point.)

  8. Bench against wall vs. Walk around bench. I have had a bench that I could walk around for most of my woodworking days. I see no advantage to it at all. I have worked “on the other side” probably less than 5 times in 25 years.

  9. Stephen McGonigle

    When I finally build a bench, it will be on locking wheels. This will be so that I can wheel it out in fine weather. I love working outdoors when the weather suits, unfortunately in the UK that’s not always that often.

    1. I added the wheels for exactly the same purpose, but where I live (France) I get pretty decent weather, so virtually all of my woodworking is done outdoors.

      1. Working outside, now that’s a great idea I hadn’t been able to do in the past, because my old workbench wheels were too small to negotiate the rough garage floor. I’m almost finished with my new Paul Sellers workbench and will probably be easily able to move it outside. Cool!

        In addition the discussion re: wall vs not wall: I’ve always had my workbench in the middle of the floor simply because I’ve (frankly) got too much stuff stored on all the walls. No room for a workbench.

  10. Will there be a third video showing the assembly process or the changes for the drawers and other items noted in this blog post? I am a brand-spanking new woodworker and I think newbies like me would greatly benefit from such a video.

    I had planned to build Paul’s original workbench, but I am going to build this one instead, assuming I can get ahold of ply of sufficient quality. I’ll be calling the local big suppliers soon (NOT! the box stores).

    1. Hello Paul

      Thank you so much, it was fun working till the end of video 2. I can imagine more or less how to work forward, except the wedge thing im not really sure.

      If there is no video 3, maybe ading some aditional pictures (incl wedges) would be great. Or ist there a gallery somewhere?

  11. I do like the idea of using this deep well space for tools. But would it be better without being interrupted by the drawer right across the middle? Perhaps make the drawer shorter/wider.
    Also, I can see it becoming quite cluttered without some cross-separation plywood bracing that could double as stiffening for the board.

    1. It seems obvious to me that you can do whatever you want. Shorter drawer, dividers according to tools and so on. I’m not altogether sure what your point is here.

  12. My original idea was to build a solid wooden bench along the lines of Paul’s first offering. I gathered a lot of substantial timber which was redundant from a local house which was being re-roofed. The trusses and beams were white pine mainly 2x4s, 3x4s etc. But I now think I might create a hybrid with a solid bench top and ply elsewhere. I like the idea of being able to plane the bench top to keep it flat. My only slight concern is expansion and contraction of the top, although this should not be too great in my dry workshop. Any thoughts?

  13. Hello Paul. I have been watching with much interest your recent plywood workbench projects and and would like to build. I have often thought of using plywood for a workbench but was never quite convinced of the strength and stability of the final product. My question is regarding the construction of the top , specifically in the orientation of the boards. Would there be a significant or any difference in the strength if the plywood top was laminated from say 4 layers of 3/4″ ply on the flat , as compared to 3″ strips on edge as you have done ? Thank you for your very interesting and informative website. I am a longtime woodworker who has finally been able to get away from machines and can now focus on hand tool work.

  14. Hard to believe a man who once lived in Texas would go to the lumber yard in a French car and not an American pickup truck!

  15. I too have found that the 38″ height is optimal for my workbench but I came upon that dimension quite be accident. While building my workshop I needed a work platform to stand on while doing the insulation and drywall overhead. I stood on a stepladder and determined which step of the latter gave me the most comfortable height for working on the ceiling and it turned out to be 38″. So I built a 4′ x 8′ platform at that height.

    After the shop was done the work platform became my “workbench” and I found it to be very comfortable working at that height. So, when I build a proper workbench I know that I will be making it 38″ high. It was just encouraging to learn that what i found by accident was confirmed by your years of experience. Especially when so many workbench plans call for a 34-36″ height. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience with us!

  16. Paul Kispert

    Sir, Thank you for this video series. I built this workbench. Thou I did get a little impatient for the last few videos to come out, so I didn’t wait. just kinda winged it. Mine ended up nearly identical to the video series. I love this bench, have never had a bench that was comfortable for hand tool work (like a lot of comments above, usually too low). For those about to begin building this bench, it’s easy.

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