My First Workbench

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Project by cakman posted 10-15-2013 06:47 PM 5444 views 17 times favorited 27 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I recently decided it was time for me to build my first proper workbench. I have been working off of sawhorses and plywood for a while and thought it was time I step up my game with a workbench. My first hurdle is that I live in an apartment and my “workshop” is a fairly good sized patio. I am very happy that I have a big patio, but as you can Imagine, it limits what I can do in the space given. My second hurdle is that I want my neighbors to like me so using all power tools is out of the question. This will be mostly made by hand with the exception of short uses of a router and circular saw. I love using hand tools and was very excited to tackle a larger project mostly by hand. The journey begins.

I came up with a design using google sketchup. I decided that the top would be about 2’ x 4’. This is small by workbench standards, but would be a good size for my balcony. I am currently using a workmate and plywood so a real bench is an upgrade in function and looks. I decided that I wanted to try to make a laminated top of some kind of hardwood. This would help the small bench weigh a little more and it should be stable. The base would be made from construction grade lumber from the big box store to help with cost. I purchased the medium quick release vise from Rockler and a couple of Gramercy Holdfasts. So far so good.

Step 1: Top

I was able to purchase a couple of boxes of cutoffs from a cabinet shop in maple and cherry. They were cheap so I went for it. I decided an alternating maple and cherry top would look great. With the cutoffs in hand I built a simple jig out of mdf and a fence to aid in the glueup. The largest of the cutoffs I bought was about 12” and most were in the range of 4” to 6” long. This means A LOT of pieces to be glued up. Needless to say I did the glueup in steps and eventually came up with a top a little larger than the size I was after. I wish I had some pictures of the glueup but I think you can imagine.

Step 2: Flattening the Top

The top was to be flattened by hand of course. The glueup jig helped keep it reasonably flat, but it needed work. I sharpened a medium to heavy camber on my #5 and went to work planning across the grain. This worked beautifully. Luckily as you can see the sun darkened the wood so it was easy to see where the high and low spots were. Once I was happy with the initial flatness, I moved on to the #7 and the BU Jack for final smoothing. There was a little tearout but that is good because who wants a perfectly smooth surface on a workbench? Wood would just slide all over the place. I also roughed up the surface with some sandpaper which helped.

Step 3: The Base

I purchased 4×4 posts of KD Doug Fur for the legs and KD 2×4 for the rails and stretchers. The posts were cut to length and then planed square to remove the factory radius on the edge. I guess I didn’t have to plane off the radius but these things weren’t exactly square so I didn’t have much choice. I think they look better square anyway. I cut the mortises by first drilling the waste and then chiseling the walls square. This went very well and I ended up with nice holes. The tenons were all cut by hand and individually fitted into the corresponding mortise. Each side leg assembly was glued first and then both were joined by the side stretchers for a finished base.

Step 4: The Final Bench

I cut the mortises in the top with a plunge router. I got a nice router for Christmas with a plunge base and was eager to use it. It is one of my favorite tools right now. It worked very well. I glued the top and bottom together and wrangled the bench back to right side up and enjoyed looking at what I created. Of course I had to flip the bench back on its top to install the vise but you can’t blame me for wanting to check it out first. The vise installation was easy and I made up a vise chop with some curly maple I had on hand. I drilled three rows of dog holes across the top for the vise and purchased some of the plastic dogs from Rockler to use to aid in clamping. They work really well so far and are surprisingly strong. I did a slight roundover to all of the dog holes and epoxied some leather pads to the tips of the Holdfasts. I put on some leveling feet because there isn’t a level surface on this patio. It also keeps the legs off the ground to help prevent too much moisture transfer. For the finish, I used a light coat of Danish Oil followed by a couple of thinned coats of Spar Varnish to protect it from the weather. I might look into a cover at some point.

Step 5: Use the Darn Thing

The funny thing is, I actually used the glued up top for a few other projects before I finished building the bench. I love using it and end up with a smile on my face every time I clamp something up. Between the vise, holdfasts, planning stops, and clamping across the width, I have been able to securely hold every piece I have tried.

Firsts for this project:
1. Laminating a top (next time I wont pick small pieces to work with)
2. Flattening by hand
3. Large hand cut mortise and tenon joints
4. Using my plunge router
5. Finishing a project this large in my small “workshop”


27 comments so far

View luv2learn's profile


3109 posts in 3318 days

#1 posted 10-15-2013 06:54 PM

Beautiful bench Cory. It ought to serve you well especially given the restraints of apartment living.

-- Lee - Northern idaho~"If the women don't find you handsome, at least they ought to find you handy"~ Red Green

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 3500 days

#2 posted 10-15-2013 06:59 PM

Superb work! Looks like it will treat you well.

-- Brian Timmons -

View jim65's profile


1020 posts in 2948 days

#3 posted 10-15-2013 08:39 PM

Great bench, your game is already on the way up! It will serve you well for many years.

-- Jim, Marostica Italy

View MasterSergeant's profile


1441 posts in 3703 days

#4 posted 10-15-2013 09:17 PM


-- Kelly, woodworker under construction

View baileyst's profile


50 posts in 2788 days

#5 posted 10-15-2013 09:33 PM

Great bench. You are a very patient man to glue up all those cutoffs.

-- Bailey Indiana

View triviasteve's profile


225 posts in 2715 days

#6 posted 10-15-2013 10:36 PM

great job! hope it will serve you well for many many years to come! (where did you get the vise hardware?)

I have plans to build a workbench, too and am getting a lot of great ideas from seeing what everyone else is doing.

I like how you’ve made the multiple holes for the bench dogs. great idea!

-- You know I'm on the level 'cause my bubble's in the middle.

View hoss12992's profile


4178 posts in 2908 days

#7 posted 10-15-2013 10:37 PM

Great job

-- The Old Rednek Workshop

View Greg72's profile


69 posts in 3127 days

#8 posted 10-15-2013 10:38 PM


View WhoMe's profile


1568 posts in 4258 days

#9 posted 10-15-2013 10:50 PM

Great looking workbench and congrats on getting it finished. That top must have taken a long time.

You should go post this over in the workbench thread.
WB thread

Lots of good stuff on that thread.

-- I'm not clumsy.. It's just the floor hates me, the tables and chairs are bullies, the wall gets in the way AAANNNDDD table saws BITE my fingers!!!.. - Mike -

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 4688 days

#10 posted 10-16-2013 12:04 AM

Nice workbench.

View kocgolf's profile


408 posts in 3193 days

#11 posted 10-16-2013 12:40 AM

I think it’s just awesome that you are working from a balcony! That is just amazing, beautiful bench. I inherited a 3rd stall of a garage when we moved, with old kitchen cabinets for storage. I am always internally complaining about storage and clutter, but you have inspired me to suck and it up and build better stuff with what you got. What an inspiration that little bench is to the “just work the wood however you can” attitude.

View SamuelP's profile


793 posts in 3661 days

#12 posted 10-16-2013 12:52 AM

Nice job.

-- -Sam - FL- "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns somthing he can in no other way" -Mark Twain

View NormG's profile


6508 posts in 4019 days

#13 posted 10-16-2013 01:10 AM

Looks great, wonderful bench, appears you should be able to take it with you when you move, congrats on the wood find

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

View LeroyTheLips's profile


248 posts in 3262 days

#14 posted 10-16-2013 01:34 AM

Love it. Good job.

View cakman's profile


30 posts in 3705 days

#15 posted 10-16-2013 01:54 AM

Wow thanks guys. I’m proud of it.

And thanks to lumberjocks for making it a top 3. Didn’t expect that.

The vise is a medium quick release vise from rockler. The lag screws came from the hardware store. I have enjoyed this vise so far.

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