Making a workbench, without a workbench #1: Introduction and choosing wood, why I use pine

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Blog entry by Paul Sellers posted 06-10-2012 10:54 AM 16504 reads 16 times favorited 27 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Making a workbench, without a workbench series Part 2: Laminating the top (with video) »

This is a series that I have started that I will be doing over the next few weeks on my blog and on YouTube.

For those of you that follow my blog, there will be quite a bit of duplication but I really enjoy the discussions and questions on Lumberjocks so I want to replicate it on here in, possibly, a slightly different format.

Make your own bench

First of all make your own bench with confidence. I will help you through every stage and in a few days, no more than say four, you will have your new workbench ready to use. It will last you a lifetime and you will grow to just love it. I can make this bench in one day once I have my tops and laminated legs glued up and dried.

Who can you learn from?

Several people have asked me about recommending a bench to use that will cater to their needs. In the midst of mass information we must rely on people with active knowledge from a working background to pass on their skills and knowledge. Hopefully that information will be unbiased and free, easily assimilated into the new-genre woodworker and put an end to a pluralist confusion surrounding working workbenches driven and steered by gurus of woodworking who often pass on plans and information from lofty views and create a mystery in the offing. I see more and more that we live in a confused age even though we have such a mass of information. Dissecting and finding the truth is very difficult because we create unnecessary obstacles, conditions and complexities that make building workbenches an overwhelming task when a simple workbench can be completed in a few short days for under $100. Add a quick release, all-cast metal vise that will last for a century for somewhere around the same cost and you are in business. I address this article to new woodworkers, but my friends with more experience and skill can use it to help others get on the right track.

A bench-making course for you

The next few days is a course for you to follow and use and it’s free. It is an ideal workbench no one would be ashamed of using and owning and it has worked for me for 48 years. I have used this exact workbench everyday for that time. Over the years I have made many a dozen of these and so has Joseph who made them to sell when he was 13 years old until he was 20.

What you will learn

This workshop is a training workshop. You will learn how to laminate worktops, form mortise and tenon joints, create wedged housing dadoes and much more. You will understand the need to remove twist, cup and bow from your stock: Warpage must go. Truing up the benchtop laminates and legs will become a favourite and I will even include sharpening your Stanley #4 to do all of your donkey work first. No thick irons, no sales pitch on heavyweight planes, no retrofits and no nonsense woodworking. Watch this space!!

Hardwood in the red corner, softwood in the blue!!!

Firstly let me say that softwoods are not wimp woods at all. Spruce for instance per weight/strength ratio beats all other woods hands down. Myths I must bust is that the best so-called European workbenches (that term was to sell workbenches to Americans in the same way they created English muffins that are nothing like English muffins) came from Europe and are made mainly from hardwood. That softwood is unsuitable and should never be used is also a myth. That woodworkers throughout Europe including Britain used mostly hardwoods such as ash and oak is another myth and hardwood does not mean better wood than softwood and hardwood does not mean that the wood is hard though it can be and often is. Look how we are progressing already!! Hardwood is twice the price of softwood at least and it’s a waste of good wood to use hardwood when softwood is as good or better. That means half the cost at least.

Accepting the lesser species

In the US and Europe, pine is regarded generally as a cheap, low-grade soft-grained trash wood ideally hidden beneath sheetrock, painted or stained to some type of pseudo hardwood colour. Let me tell you about a few of my favourite woods—pine, fir and spruce. Within this range there are well over 120 different types of pine alone. Pine is a wood used to create a massive range of vernacular working tables throughout the Northern Hemisphere to help tradesmen and women in their work. From loom frames to scullery tables and saw horses to the woodworking bench, pine knows no equal in my view and the view of thousands upon millions of workmen and women through many centuries. In no way should it be relegated to the lowest class of workbench and in no way will you ever be disappointed should you make your first and last workbench from this mere wood.

Wood works best

Wooden benches have never been replaced by any other material with any measure of success.  MDF, pressed fibre boards of different types and even plywood have never come close and so I want to present a real wood for real woodworkers of any level.

Try first of all to think differently of pine and spruce. Put them together as one wood hybridised, both in reality and in your mind.


Now think of the two as a unique species—strong, resilient, elastic, absorbing. When I go to the wood suppliers I can pretty much tell my species, but many such woods are indeed hybridised and, as crossed species, less identifiably distinctive.  That’s how I look at pines and other softwood species. Workbenches made from pine are strong, resilient, elastic and absorbing. Throughout Scandinavia, mainland Europe and Britain, almost all woodworking benches were made and used by craftsmen for their own use and were never made for sale. As a woodworker I could never buy a workbench no matter how well it was made, how good it was or how little time I had. European softwoods were the wood of choice even when most if not all European countries had access to hardwoods. Pine or spruce, hemlock or Douglas fir, I have used them all with equal measure. You need have no fear that pine will not hold up to the wear and tear of everyday work no matter the weight or the demands you place on it, so let’s get down to the lumberyard and choose our wood.

-- Paul Sellers, UK

27 comments so far

View Tugboater78's profile


2796 posts in 3482 days

#1 posted 06-10-2012 01:48 PM

will keep an eye on this :)

-- "....put that handsaw to work and make it earn its keep. - summerfi" <==< JuStiN >==>=->

View AnthonyReed's profile


10184 posts in 3731 days

#2 posted 06-10-2012 03:33 PM

Thank you Paul.

-- ~Tony

View PurpLev's profile


8652 posts in 4939 days

#3 posted 06-10-2012 03:48 PM

fantastic write up – thanks for posting Paul.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View redryder's profile


2393 posts in 4392 days

#4 posted 06-10-2012 04:50 PM

I think you’ll be going against the grain here. But I like your write-up. I have a lot of Pine in my shop for many of the reasons you stated….................

-- mike...............

View jimmy J's profile

jimmy J

229 posts in 3669 days

#5 posted 06-10-2012 05:09 PM

nicely explained

View Sylvain's profile


1444 posts in 3790 days

#6 posted 06-10-2012 05:14 PM

I alredy looked to the video on your blog.

What was most impressive, is that you used a complete warped surface for the glue up.

I retain the following lessons :
- you really don’t need much to build your bench;
- don’t rely on the work surface to obtain a flat top;
- corollary : don’t blame the poor working surface if you get poor results.

I have two questions:
- how much glue was necessary for this half top?
- what type of glue did you use?
(the available standard available here are EN204 D2 “normal”, EN 204 D3 “water resistant”, or EN 204 D4 (exterior – polyurethane) [brand “BISON” or “PATTEX”], I would of course not use “top speed” for this.
Pattex is an HENKEL product and is probably marketed under other names elsewhere (Ponal in Germany?, Unibond in UK?).

-- Sylvain, Brussels, Belgium, Europe - The more I learn, the more there is to learn (and that is nice)

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4625 days

#7 posted 06-10-2012 08:25 PM

Thanks for this Paul. What you are saying will be considered heresy by some, but I am confident that you will be teaching us something new and true. I like hardwoods a lot, but I have found pine to be very strong and useful. I have felt for a long time that construction methods for most wooden products used for practical purposes are more important than the the wood type, with few exceptions.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View JJohnston's profile


1622 posts in 4582 days

#8 posted 06-10-2012 08:36 PM

You’ve piqued my curiosity. It does make sense to have a work surface softer than your projects.

-- "A man may conduct himself well in both adversity and good fortune, but if you want to test his character, give him power." - Abraham Lincoln

View Paul Sellers's profile

Paul Sellers

278 posts in 3861 days

#9 posted 06-10-2012 09:10 PM

Here in the Castle where I have my workshop, an aspect of the castle is actually a very prestigious home with 350 rooms. If you look back in my blog you will see. Anyway, the fancy rooms for the rich had oak every where, but most of the rooms used by staff and for support of the house had furniture, fitments and equipment made primarily from pine and other softwoods.

-- Paul Sellers, UK

View bondogaposis's profile


6069 posts in 3642 days

#10 posted 06-11-2012 12:49 PM

Thanks for doing this, I’m getting ready to build a new work bench and this is timely for me.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Brit's profile


8458 posts in 4133 days

#11 posted 06-12-2012 09:02 AM

Always nice to see a stimulating post from you Paul. I’m looking forward to the series.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Paul Sellers's profile

Paul Sellers

278 posts in 3861 days

#12 posted 06-12-2012 10:05 AM

Good to hear from you. Hope you are well. I have discovered something new about saw sharpening that knocks the socks of everything so far. Can’t wait to share. it, but will do so soon as my new book is done.
Best for now,


-- Paul Sellers, UK

View mafe's profile


13405 posts in 4380 days

#13 posted 06-12-2012 12:54 PM

Hi paul,
Looks forward to follow this blog, you are always a inspiration.
And also to her the sharpening news…
Smiles and wishes of a great summer to you and the family,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17571 posts in 3909 days

#14 posted 06-12-2012 02:17 PM

Paul – this is outstanding stuff, looking forward to seeing more. Nothing wrong at all using pine for a workbench. Dings and dents mean a workbench in use, nothing more. And isnt’ that what it’s for?

Yours is a great style of writing, too. Thanks for posting here!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View Paul Sellers's profile

Paul Sellers

278 posts in 3861 days

#15 posted 06-12-2012 03:25 PM

Thanks Smitty,

Gotta get people woodworking and get rid of all procrastinating that says you can’t do it this way or that way. I think I have likely made at least fifty benches this way through the years although not all of them in my back yard.

This is fun to do though. Not everyone has much more than a back yard to work in and I wanted the challenge to be as real as possible so I can forewarn those following what to look out for.

-- Paul Sellers, UK

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