Little Lady workbench pt. 1

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Blog entry by bobro posted 11-03-2014 08:47 PM 2938 reads 6 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Okay, here’s Little Lady, my new bench.

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The bench features a bunch of joinery and construction approaches that I ve been using in furniture for some years now:

-All wood glueless joinery
-Through-dovetailed pegged cross-laps
-”Viktor” through-dovetailed breadboard/end
-Shouldered pins
-Ganged pins and tenons

I will put up some drawings, photos and explanations, of the construction techniques, and my thinking behind the construction in this “blog”. Vices, dog holes etc are in progress.

Minimal hand tools and cost of about 80 US dollars, about 30 hours into it so far.

The goals I have in mind for a workbench, and my opinion as to whether Little Lady and this design approach in general meet them are:

-Strong and Stiff

This is the first concern, and a success. No racking whatsoever. Not surprisingly, because at the heart of it, it’s basically just a big dovetailed box. There are several things I didn’t do on Little Lady, which you could do especially on a larger version to make it even stronger- I’ll describe them later if anyone’s interested.


No choice on this build- I’m pretty penniless.

At about 80 US dollars (without vise so far) and about 30 hours of work to build using only a couple of hand tools, the design most certainly can be built on a very low budget. That’s dimensioned white pine from the European version of “Home Depot” and some Douglas fir for the top, but even if you were to build with nice hardwoods the construction itself favors economy for a couple of reasons. First of all, the strength does not come from massive timbers, but from the way the whole thing is kind of “sewn together” from all directions. So, with hardwoods you don’t need the pricier big lumber. Second, the overall weight itself comes from many less massive timbers, so once again easier to buy the wood. And third, the top is deliberately designed to be made with flatsawn boards (the frame ends double as breadboards), also more economical than buying quartersawn or gluing up mass of boards on edge in order to make a quasi-quartersawn top.

In addition, not using glue or metal fasteners means saving time and money for materials, clamps, and clamping time.

-Easy and quick to build.

Hm… if you get a kick out of cutting literally dozens of piston-fit joints, it’s a blast, but if you don’t, this would be about the most painful build there is for you.

-Completely scalable in terms of size, budget and materials.

I think the design is mostly successful in these terms. Hopefully someday I or someone else will build a big bench, “Long Low Lady”, of nice hardwoods. The design will scale up- there will need to be more than one transverse support under the top (there’s 3×3 crossing the middle of Little Lady), and such details, but the design will be the same.

Sheer mass is scalable- the design I have for Long Low Lady would weigh about 500 pounds in maple.

However, I see one way in which this design is not fully scalable, and that’s in terms of aesthetics of materials. I think only Japanese benches, the ancient trestle types of benches, “Moravian” benches, and the simpler Roubo designs can be built of, say, a hodge-podge of salvaged and pressure-treated lumber and still look good. I just found a very beat-up looking but still-solid fair-sized board, a small beam, of larch from a 19th century building, which I intend for a very low heavy planing and sawing bench. This design is definitely not suitable for that.

-Flat surfaces all the way around

Except for the little feet sticking out, it’s “coplanar” all the way around. The clamping and general jig-attaching options are working out well so far but, with this design, the transverse support or supports under the top are always going to eat up some clamping space, even if you make them smaller than I did here. It’s the price that must be paid in order to enable a full-strength but relatively thin flatsawn top.

So, I’m very happy with the design, and it was great fun to build, and I think other people might dig it too.

But as a general principle I think certain purposes require distinctly different kinds of benches, depending on the person as well. My funk hip tells me in no uncertain terms that most of my work has to be done on a higher bench, with a dedicated very low bench for brute work. I can ripsaw and rough plane all day long if I’ve got my gamey leg up on the workpiece, but I can’t do anything fine down that low. And a clamping bench, in my opinion, should be a clamping bench, and that’s where torsion boxes outshine the fancy joinery I love. And so on.

For Pt. 2 I’ll get into the joinery.

Thanks for your time,

- Bobro

-- Lao Ma: You are so full of anger and hatred. Xena: Everybody's gotta be full of something.

7 comments so far

View knockknock's profile


472 posts in 2624 days

#1 posted 11-03-2014 11:20 PM

Thanks for posting this, it looks real interesting. Hoping you will post part 2.

-- 👀 --

View NormG's profile


6439 posts in 3455 days

#2 posted 11-04-2014 02:21 AM

Wonderful bench, great job, looks very strong

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View wseand's profile


2796 posts in 3492 days

#3 posted 12-28-2014 08:09 PM

Very inspirational. Exceptional blog. Well thoughtout and written.


View ruddhess's profile


117 posts in 1661 days

#4 posted 02-13-2015 06:21 AM

Wow! Very nice bench! Clever too! Look forward to seeing Pt II.

-- Rodney, Arkansas

View Buckethead's profile


3195 posts in 2319 days

#5 posted 02-13-2015 10:24 AM

It’s gorgeous! The joinery looks fantastic! Are you familiar with the bondo pose?

(Not limited to roubo inspired bench builds)


-- Support woodworking hand models. Buy me a sawstop.

View bobro's profile


320 posts in 1761 days

#6 posted 02-28-2015 11:27 AM

Thanks, guys!

Haven’t gotten around to part 2, but hope to asap, since I figured out how: scan drawings and have my kid take pictures. My camera expired and the smart-phone thingy doesn’t respond to my fingers.

-- Lao Ma: You are so full of anger and hatred. Xena: Everybody's gotta be full of something.

View Hammerthumb's profile


2952 posts in 2426 days

#7 posted 03-06-2015 11:30 PM

That’s a really cool looking bench bobro!

-- Paul, Duvall, WA

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