Adjustable Height Workbench

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Project by Lenny posted 12-03-2011 04:37 PM 38605 views 35 times favorited 45 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Hi folks! It has been quite awhile since I posted anything on LJ. Several D-I-Y projects, including a family room renovation, kept me busy most of the summer and fall but that is behind me and I recently finished this project that I started in June.
Years ago, when I did not have the space for one, I often envisioned what my one-day workbench would look like. After my workshop expansion last summer I began to seriously consider what bench to make and started researching. I ran searches for “workbenches” from the online indexes at Wood magazine and other such sites. I located a nice bench in Wood’s November 2005 issue (#166). They referred to it as “rock-solid”, “easy-to-build” and “traditional”. It incorporated 3” square legs, a face vise, an end vise and bench dogs. They made theirs from ash but it could be of any hardwood species. The plans also offered the options of making an under-bench cabinet or just a shelf. Perhaps most importantly, the article suggested that buying the laminated maple top might be easier and as cost effective as making one yourself.
I liked the features of this bench and resolved to make it. However, I really wanted to have an adjustable bench so it could serve as an outfeed table and assembly table as well. I find that table saw height is not the most conducive to a comfortable stance for bench type work (e.g., planing or sanding) or assembly work (e.g., glue-ups or pocket screw work). I searched “adjustable workbench” and among the results was an adjustable height assembly table project in the December/January 2010 issue of American Woodworker. The author, Alan Schaffter, designed and created this table. I began to wonder if this could somehow be adapted to a workbench. As I continued to research it, I learned that Alan had in fact carried his idea over to a workbench. He designed an outstanding workbench that is not only functional and sturdy, it also looks great. I am inserting a link to a video of Alan discussing and demonstrating his workbench. His demonstration of the adjustable height feature doesn’t occur until around the 5:00 minute mark. “Workbench”:

In early June of this year I contacted Alan by e-mail via American Woodworker magazine and got some particulars from him pertaining to dimensions, sizes, etc. Alan was very patient and generous with details of his design. With the needed information in hand I resolved to make Alan’s workbench but, as suggested in the Wood magazine mentioned earlier, I bought an already completed laminated top. I got mine (36”x60”x 1-3/4” thick) from Grizzly with a 10% off coupon. I contacted Alan a number of times since June and each time he was patient and helpful in his responses. The overall appearance of Alan’s workbench is quite different from mine (his looks nicer) since he added aprons, and different type vises, but the height adjustment feature is the same.
The tedious part of making this workbench is cutting the ratchets in the legs. The ratchets are the key to the adjustment feature and must be precisely cut in all four legs. Alan’s instructions in the AW assembly table article clearly indicate how to make an indexing jig to accomplish this task. Much like cutting box joints, you run the legs through a dado blade making repetitive cuts and then switch to a saw blade to make the angled cuts.
One change Alan made from the assembly table to the workbench was to switch from a sliding dovetail to a mating V surface. A V is cut along the length of the lower legs (female) and a corresponding V (male) is made on the upper legs, on the opposite side of the ratchets. Cutting these mating surfaces was also a bit challenging and required precision.
The upper legs are held in place to the lower legs with hardware that Alan calls the “ratchet arm assemblies”. They consist of a corner brace on the outside and a piece of flat bar stock or a mending plate on the inside. Half-inch bolts serve as pawls and washers and nylon nuts hold it all together. Holes must be precisely cut in each of the braces in order to keep the unit balanced and level.
I made my table from maple and in several places, laminated it to get the required thickness. Most of the joinery is mortise and tenon and I had my first attempt at wedged tenons which are used to join the stretchers to the upper legs. While not perfect, they aren’t bad for a first try. I used walnut as a contrasting wood for the wedges.
When it came to vises, I already owned a quick-release vise mounted in my counter type general purpose shop bench. I removed it and used it as my end vise. I bought a Jorgensen quick release vise to serve as my face vise. I added 1-1/2” thick maple jaws to both vises. Both vises have a metal stop that can be raised for clamping purposes. I drilled 3/4” dog holes and chamfered them. I bought some Pinnacle (made in America) mini bench dogs (2-3/8”).
To raise the workbench you simply lift one side to the desired height, then move to the other side and do the same. To lower the bench, you lift slightly and step on the pedal. The pedal releases the pawls and you lower the bench to your desired height and release the pedal. My workbench goes from about 30” to 40”. I used some golden oak stain and a couple coats of satin polyurethane as finish.

Thanks for checking in and comments/questions are welcome.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

45 comments so far

View patron's profile


13721 posts in 4456 days

#1 posted 12-03-2011 04:49 PM

what a great bench lenny

well worth the extra work

good to see you back again

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View SPalm's profile


5338 posts in 4997 days

#2 posted 12-03-2011 04:57 PM

Hey Lenny, nice to see ya.
That is sweet. What a clever idea. And the workmanship on the base is top notch.

I guess I don’t see how you can raise one side without the whole thing racking. Seems like the stretchers between the sides are solidly attached with your wedged tenons. I guess I got to think about it some more.


-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 4788 days

#3 posted 12-03-2011 05:15 PM

Lenny thats a great bench, you is really a find craftsman.

View patron's profile


13721 posts in 4456 days

#4 posted 12-03-2011 05:18 PM


my guess is it just tilts
the other end
then go there and level it again

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View JJohnston's profile


1622 posts in 4406 days

#5 posted 12-03-2011 05:25 PM


Alan is, I believe, a genius tinkerer. He’s “Alan in Little Washington” on the North Carolina Woodworker’s forum, and he’s posted all kinds of ideas, particularly in dust collection. I’m trying to recreate his “broom bristle tablesaw dust hood” right now. You can see it in the upper left in the bench video when he’s talking about the base, and here. Mine won’t look nearly this neat.

Oh, and there’s no shame in cheating on your bench top (says the guy who bought a 30×60 from Grizzly).

-- "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 Lenny's profile


1700 posts in 4642 days

#6 posted 12-03-2011 06:03 PM

Thanks David, Steve, CJ and JJohnston. Steve, I am not sure of the engineering aspects of it. I just know it works. As David said, you lift one side and then go to the other side and lift to level the workbench. How/why you are able to do that without it racking, I don’t know. Perhaps it DOES rack for the time it is not level. JJohnston, I agree that Alan is a genius when it comes to ideas and innovations. He won the “Top Tip” prize in the current issue of Wood magazine.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

View Napaman's profile


5535 posts in 5192 days

#7 posted 12-03-2011 06:40 PM

wow…this is beautiful…forget the utilitarian strengths…this is just flat out gorgeous…and then throw on the top that it is so useful!

One of my first thoughts—-”remember when lenny was asking about how to configure his new table saw to fit in his little shop?” Now you have such a nice shop that you can add these amazing projects…


-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

View bobasaurus's profile


3714 posts in 4299 days

#8 posted 12-03-2011 07:29 PM

Fantastic idea. Looks complicated, but I may follow suit with a bench someday.

-- Allen, Colorado (Instagram @bobasaurus_woodworking)

View Bob Kollman's profile

Bob Kollman

1798 posts in 4306 days

#9 posted 12-03-2011 07:39 PM

Great bench Lenny, you’d make a good machinist! Showing the board across
the table top and the saw was a good idea, it looks like you could run a full
sheet of plywood across it without it tipping off the out feed side. I also liked
the rocking demonstration in the video, I imagine there would only be almost
no movement with the legs extended all the way down. The vee detail is hard
to see in the pictures, but I would imagine it would be more firm than a sliding
dovetail. Are the vee surfaces waxed or treated in any way to reduce friction?
the demonstration showed that the table went up and down very easy.

-- Bob Kenosha Wi.

View Lenny's profile


1700 posts in 4642 days

#10 posted 12-03-2011 07:59 PM

Thanks for the very kind words Matt. Re: retirement, you’l get there in a decade or so! Thank you bobasaurus. BobK, thank you. Yes, the lower the table, the more sturdy. Below is a close up shot of the mating V surfaces. Perhaps you can see the wax flakes? I coated the surfaces with paraffin wax. I should add that the point of the V is blunted slightly to prevent it from bottoming out.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

View SkolVikes's profile


39 posts in 3892 days

#11 posted 12-03-2011 08:32 PM

Nice! Aren’t you worried about the ratchet teeth taking the weight and snapping off? I like the wedged tenons.

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

7164 posts in 4309 days

#12 posted 12-03-2011 09:10 PM


A really beautiful bench…..Great workmanship on the build…I remember reading that same article, and thought “that looks extremely hard to build”.....but I guess not for you, huh?. I also enjoyed your great explanation on the build…..good story…The bench you referred to in Wood, and the build of the storage cabinet below I remember reading, also. This bench will take anything you throw at it, and used all sorts of ways…..should be the only one you’ll need…...Nah…you’ll need another one someday…maybe not this style, but you’ll need one…..I have 5 in my shop… Is that enough? By the way, how’s your dust collection doing on the router table you built a while back..? Did it turn out ok? Thanks for posting, Lenny…happy retirement….it is nice….me….retired for 39 years…....still going at it…...:))

-- " There's a better way.....find it"...... Thomas Edison.

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4418 days

#13 posted 12-03-2011 09:13 PM

lenny…...........was wondering if you were going to show up, come back or, something, and wow, when you do show up , your sporting thjis beautiful adjustable work bench…its very cool, so glad you had some great help, i love wood workers who share there ideas, so others can benifit …great job…are you happy with how it all turned out, i would think you are…to me it looks great….nice to see you back, hope to see more of your work here…take care buddy…grizz

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View Lenny's profile


1700 posts in 4642 days

#14 posted 12-03-2011 10:06 PM

SkolVikes, I trust Alan’s design implicitly and am not concerned about the rachet teeth breaking. Thanks for the comments Rick. Before making another workbench my attention would probably go to making this one more fancy. Adding aprons, taking out the end vise and replacing it with a twin screw type, etc. As for my DC at the router station, I couldn’t be happier. It is working like a charm. Retired for 39 years! Wow, that’s longer than I worked! I hope I share your longevity. Grizz! As always, great to hear from you buddy. Thanks for the comments. You were one of the few people I “leaked” this project to months ago. I am delighted with the outcome and look forward to years of use.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

View blackcherry's profile


3346 posts in 4938 days

#15 posted 12-03-2011 10:15 PM

It’s wonderful Lenny, I just love the versatility of this unique bench. All the extra time spend on design will pay off for you in the long run. A great bench in the shop is a must and I never regretted one day since I built mind, I just wish I’ve done it sooner. This one should serve you very well for so many applications, enjoy my friend and as always thanks for sharing your project..Wilson

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