Projects #4: John White FWW Workbench - Planning and Milling

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Blog entry by Jeff posted 07-16-2007 07:25 AM 23128 reads 26 times favorited 21 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: Completed Father's Day Gift Box Part 4 of Projects series Part 5: John White FWW Workbench - Base and Half of Top Assembled »

This is my interpretation of this cleverly designed bench by Fine Woodworking’s shop manager, John White. There have been a few mentions of this bench on the site and I have been eagerly anticipating having the time to build my version of the bench.

I’ve had the lumber for about a month but had to sacrifice time in the shop to get our condo ready for sale this summer. Those preparations are all behind KT and I now and I can finally work in the shop when I want to. We’ve had stellar weather here this week and I basically lived in the shop this weekend. I ripped most of the 2×8 and 2×10 Douglas Fir stock 3 weeks ago before the condo tasks became overwhelming. This is good because it had plenty of time to do any weird warping, cupping, or bowing that it needed to do because as with most construction lumber, the moisture content was still pretty high when I got it home from the big box.

Link to a video about the bench on Taunton’s website:

Forum topic started about the bench by Osconer:

This weekend, though, I was bound and determined to mill all my stock and at least get the base assembled. I almost made it. I was really close to meeting this goal. No worries, it will still be there tomorrow or the next day. I milled all the stock, did all the drill press work and now I just have to do some quick chamfering on the router table (yes, I will do most of this mechanically since the main reason for building the bench is to have an appropriate tool for working with my planes.) This is the reason I didn’t meet my goal. I got so excited to have all the milling done and jumped right in to assembly before chamfering all the hard edges on legs, feet and etc. I was half way through screwing in the last lag bolt on the left side of the leg assembly when I realized what I had done. The day was getting short and I was just so excited… Grasshopper must learn patience… I’m a little perturbed with myself for this because I really don’t want to take out the lag bolts since this is Fir. I’ll have to see what I can do with the block and bullnose planes by hand. It will slow down the process but not getting anxious is what I should have done in the first place!

Since the FWW design in the article is very loose, I thought it appropriate to do a Sketchup rendering based on the space where I plan to use the bench. This proved to be a very good idea because all I had to do was figure out what pieces of stock would get used for what part. (That was quite the challenge but I feel a better woodworker for it.) Hear is the rendering. Funny thing is that despite using Sketchup as a tool, I still made a major error… For some silly reason, I had 5 feet stuck in my mind instead of 6 feet as originally planned for the length. Fortunately, I had only worked on the benchtop supports and leg components prior to making this realization. I got lucky and avoided a potentially disheartening mistake.

Rendering of bench design

Here is a pic of 98% of the milled wood. The big slab of super-thick particle board is from an industrial strength office door that I was lucky enough to salvage. That is actually the offcut from the piece that I originally intended for my bench top. I cut down the door prior to seeing the article on Luckily, it was just the right width to work with the design.

Milled stock for bench project

Finally, here is the almost assembled leg support for the left end of the bench. This is as I left it when I realized I hadn’t cleaned up the edges as I wanted. Next posting should be about a completed base…

Partial leg assembly

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

21 comments so far

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 5244 days

#1 posted 07-16-2007 09:55 AM

That’s great that you got crackin’ on this over the weekend! Looks good! – This’ll be fun to follow…

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1823 posts in 5333 days

#2 posted 07-16-2007 10:30 AM

This is great. I think i’m going to build the same one. Looks like a very versatile bench. Hehe…is that BD Workmate your current bench? It’s what I use…only mine is about 30 years old.

Even with Sketchup you have to measure twice push/pull once…..:)

-- Bob

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5408 days

#3 posted 07-16-2007 03:28 PM

the joys of learning.
now, the trick is to remember the lessons, Grasshopper, and use them in the future!!

I’m looking forward to watching this being built

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 5341 days

#4 posted 07-16-2007 07:30 PM

I’m glad you guys are interested. There’s a few other bench blogs going on too so thanks for reading about it.

Bob – basically it’s my bench for work I do at the condo. Now that I have to keep the place ship shape for showings I took it to the shop. How is your standing up after 30 years? I bet the gauge of metal is a liiiitle more stout than mine. They’re supprisingly handy. I picked up shop projects book for 50% off the other day that has a simple but effective idea for making a torsion box that you clamp into the WM. It probably takes an hour to build and you have a quick-and-easy outfeed table/expanded worksurface that is easily stored for those with smaller work areas.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 5341 days

#5 posted 07-16-2007 07:32 PM

You are most wise, Master P… <bow>

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View jsheaney's profile


141 posts in 5236 days

#6 posted 07-16-2007 07:59 PM

Hey, that’s great. I actually just built this bench recently. In fact, this weekend I replaced the quick and dirty planing beam I had with the real deal. I’m a beginning woodworker and this was, by far, the biggest project I have accomplished to date. Actually, I’m not 100% done with it.

I built the bench mainly because I want to use mostly handtools. I don’t have any power planer. I have a tablesaw and a router. This seems like a good, but inexpensive bench for handtooling. I’ve already gotten good use out of it. In fact, I used it during the building of it, kind of a bootstrapping effect.

I have a pretty detailed Sketchup file, which I already shared with ForestGirl. If you have any questions, I can tell you what I did. I’ll tell you now that one of the very first things I did was buy a drill press. I think you know what I’m talking about. :)

I’ll see if I can get a picture in here. If so, it’s an older picture. I’ve since added the planing wedge, the planing beam, the MDF inserts and the rest of the clamps. Mainly, the only tasks remaining are making a clamp face that works with the front clamps and doing some kind of finish. I’ve been too busy using it! :)

New Fangled Workbench

-- Disappointment is an empty box full of expectation.

View mot's profile


4928 posts in 5284 days

#7 posted 07-16-2007 08:01 PM

That’s a great bench plan. Very interesting. Thanks for including the video link.

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1823 posts in 5333 days

#8 posted 07-16-2007 09:04 PM

I wish I had room for it now. I really like the design of this bench. Very versatile.

The workmate has held up very well despite quite a bit of abuse. My Dad bought mine when they 1st came out. He was in the middle of building a home and bought it for its portability. That torsion box sounds interesting. I’ve mounted my small router table on a piece of plywood with a cleat on the bottom in order to clamp it to the workmate. Its been used extensively on every project I’ve built. I also clamp my drill press and spindle sander to it when I’m using them.

-- Bob

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 5341 days

#9 posted 07-22-2007 05:28 PM


I have a question about the clamp end of the mechanism in the well. I’ve been struggling with whether or not I’m assuming the correct functionality. Does it work such that then the clamps are tightened that the bar is actually moved the length of the bench rather than the stop block moved towards the opposite end of the bench?

I couldn’t find a definitive answer in the article. I assume that is why there is a 3 or for inch gap between the end of the bars (with the copper caps) and the support for the bars… With the work piece inserted between the drop-in stops, the user cranks the clamps and then the whole thing is made tight by the bars pulling the sliding half of the Pony clamp snug.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View jsheaney's profile


141 posts in 5236 days

#10 posted 07-22-2007 10:26 PM

That’s correct. The entire (two) lengths of pipe move, so make sure you have that extra length so they don’t fall out of the far support.

The article shows the clamp heads screwed into the support. I’ve never found pipe clamps with screw holes. I assume that John White drilled holes through the clamp faces himself. I chose to use a cabinet screw, which has a wide flat head, on either side of each of the clamp faces to trap the them. I screwed them in tight to anchor the faces to the support. He shows this sort of thing in the video to trap the clamp faces of the front clamps. I also did that because, otherwise, every time you loosen one of the clamps, the pipe just spins around and the face falls down. That was annoying.

Note that, because the clamp heads are attached to the support, the length of the clamp screw will determine how far inset that support can be from the end of the bench. Mine is 3 1/4”, which lets me twirl the clamp screw handle without it (or my finger) whacking anything.

-- Disappointment is an empty box full of expectation.

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 5341 days

#11 posted 07-24-2007 06:33 AM

Thanks for the feedback, jsheaney. I hear ya on the placement of the clamp heads. I was thinking I would do the same thing to save my knuckles. Great minds think alike. ;)

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Jiri Parkman's profile

Jiri Parkman

953 posts in 5060 days

#12 posted 01-10-2008 03:09 PM

Must be clever.

-- Jiri

View lancy's profile


2 posts in 4900 days

#13 posted 11-09-2008 03:40 AM

Hi there, i think if you use a hign precision calipers to measure the wood and you will do the job better.

View dusty2's profile


323 posts in 4676 days

#14 posted 10-14-2009 04:07 PM

This looks to be a very versatile wood working bench and a good project to build. I have a small shop so I would have to seriously reduce the size but I don’t think that would adversely effect the bench.

All I have to do now is talk myself into giving up the bench I already have in favor of this one. That might not happen….just because I have too many projects already in the works that require a bench.

Thanks for sharing this idea. It has prompted some comments that shall also be very useful food for thought. I’m looking forward to viewing the finished products.

-- Making Sawdust Safely

View a1Jim's profile


118261 posts in 4824 days

#15 posted 10-15-2009 01:10 AM

It will be worth all the hard work when done.


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