Workbench Construction #1: Joinery for the legs/base

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Blog entry by Richard B posted 11-12-2011 09:16 AM 28819 reads 10 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Workbench Construction series Part 2: Building the benchtops »
So the purpose of this blog post was to help show how I built my bench. There are several things that might be of interest to a new woodworker (like myself). I worried for a long time that I wouldn’t be able to afford a nice bench, or that I would need another 2 grand worth of tools to build a decent one.
  1. the bench was built with material that was available at my local home store. Only the vises and the last few board feet of wood for the vise chops came from woodcraft.
  2. I did not have access to a planer or jointer, only a cheap tablesaw, a circular saw, a hand drill, a router, a handplane (cheap but well tuned, with 1 blade for scrub planing and another for flatteneng/smoothing), and a handsaw were necessary. (I have a bandsaw and a drill press too, but didn’t make meaningful use of them for this project.)

    The base (image 1) was 4 legs arranged in 2 arrays of 2 legs tenoned into mortised sled feet & a top. (Image 2)

    These arrays were then joined to one another using rails/stretchers. (image 3)

The lumber for the base was 2×4 material from home depot. In my area this is usually some variant of pine or aspen.
I chose the flattest, best boards I could. I also flattened them some with my hand plane before laminating them face to face to create thicker boards.

A lot of the joinery, however, needed to be cut separately—prior to laminating the pieces. Here is an example of a finished mortise pair ready to receive the legs with their tenons.
Notice the unsightly butt-crack caused by joining the faces of two 2×4 boards together. This had to be fixed later with a simple inlay technique.

Each half of the mortise was cut on a separate 2×4 using my table saw & the two halves were later married. First I defined each edge of the mortise, then nibbled away the middle area.

After that, I cleaned up the bottom of the mortise with a chisel. This half-mortise is now ready to be married to its mirror image.

Here I am cutting a tenon by hand. Like the mortise, these were done by cutting a half tenon on each 2×4, then marrying mirrored pairs together as a lamination to make a complete piece.

To join the two leg arrays together to form the base, I needed some stretchers. For these I decided to use 2×4 lumber without laminating them into larger pieces. I didn’t feel like chopping mortises in the legs the hard way, so I went with a large dovetail arrangement, then added pins as a decorative and structural (I hope) element.

Here is the end result.

You can also see in the above picture how I handled the butt-crack problem mentioned earlier. I discovered that the 1/4 inch diameter red oak dowels at my home store matched a little round router bit that I had, and so cleaned out the butt crack with the router, then dropped in the dowels. After the glue dried I planed the dowel to the surface of the leg. Instead of butt-crack I had a decorative inlay that matched the detail wood used elsewhere on the bench.

Here is how I finished the joinery:

I used a template made out of hardboard, and then a pattern router bit to form each tail. A chisel cleaned up the corners and eased the fit. The same template, carefully laid upon the leg faces was used to lay out the socket (integral pins, perhaps?). I cleaned out the socket by defining the edges with a handsaw, nibbling away the middle with a tablesaw, and then cleaning up with a chisel. It went by pretty quickly.

In the end, the bench wasn’t quite as heavy as I wanted, so I built a box sized to straddle the two sled feet across the length of the bench, and then filled the box with sand. It added another 70 pounds to the bench.

Thank you for reading! I hope that this information will be either entertaining or helpful to you. Even better, I hope that someone gets inspired to bite the bullet and try building a bench. You don’t need thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Most entry level woodworkers have the tools I used for this bench. This bench isn’t the best bench in the world, but it looks pretty good, is stable, & holds my work pretty well so far, so I am pleased.
The bench has some flaws. Notably, I will build my next bench with legs flush to the face. Also, I will use heavier wood. Even southern yellow pine, which is cheap where I live, is much heavier than the white pine I made the base out of. So far the bench has been super stable, but I do worry if the white pine is strong enough to make it through years of use. We’ll see, I guess.

Sometime later this weekend a second post will follow, showing the steps I went through to make the benchtop.

-- Richard B, Birmingham Alabama

7 comments so far

View RussInMichigan's profile


600 posts in 3787 days

#1 posted 11-12-2011 02:42 PM

Good work on both the bench and the blog. I need to do something better for work surfaces in my shop area and an actual bench would be a good starting place.

Now I’m anxious to see how you do the top, dogs and vises.

Thanks for sharing, RichardB.

View jim C's profile

jim C

1472 posts in 4105 days

#2 posted 11-12-2011 03:04 PM

Thanks Rich.
Great blog and good looking strong bench.
I read somewhere about a guy that gave up on buying 2×4’s from the big box stores due to twisting, cracks etc.
He buys 2×12’s of douglas fir (joists) and rips them down. It’s much better quality, heavier and arrow straight.
Next time I build something requiring 2×4’s, I’m going to try it.

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 4791 days

#3 posted 11-12-2011 04:51 PM

Excellent documentation of your process. I really enjoyed reading it! Well done.

-- Eric at

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 4719 days

#4 posted 11-12-2011 06:25 PM

Good documentation of the process. This looks like the sort of bench I may be able to build, thanks for the inspiration!

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View Richard B's profile

Richard B

30 posts in 3510 days

#5 posted 11-13-2011 06:39 PM

@ Jim C:

Yes, you have to be extremely careful when using 2×4s. If I were to rebuild this, I would use SYP instead of white pine (our local construction equivalent to fir), also I would use the method you describe: buying a large board of something better & rip it to desired size.

My use of white pine led to certain problems (it doesn’t like router bits, and tends to explode easily when it meets a router). It is also too light, which is a problem since benches are better the heavier they are.

At the time I was able to find a satisfactory number of very straight (essentially 90% had quarter sawn grain orientation) 2×4 boards by searching through hundreds (literally hundreds) of boards. I probably discarded 20 boards to find one perfect one. Cost was the central factor, as was need to avoid boards that might require a jointer or planer. So I made do with the 2×4 material at the time. The lumber for the base you see above cost me 25 bucks, plus 45 minutes at the home store sorting through 2×4s.

I chose the boards very carefully, and left them to acclimate in my shop for a few months before cutting them to size. It was really amazing to me how stable and straight these boards were. But then an extra 30 minutes at the lumber yard pays dividends when it comes to straightening cupped, bowed, or warped stock. I wish I could say that the board acclimitization time above was a reflection of my own personal serenity and patience, but it really was more a product of being busy at work and being afraid to start cutting the joints.

If someone needs to roll cheap & easy, one could duplicate my method. However, my advice would be to do the maneuver you describe to obtain the working stock.

-- Richard B, Birmingham Alabama

View Bigrock's profile


292 posts in 3969 days

#6 posted 11-14-2011 06:16 PM

Nice looking start to your own Workbench.
I have a question for you. Are you going to add feet of cut out the middle area of the bottom of the legs? The reason is to make the bench set flat on the Floor. Not many concrete floors are flat.

View Richard B's profile

Richard B

30 posts in 3510 days

#7 posted 11-14-2011 09:00 PM

The answer is (more or less) yes.
I have a square of 3×3 x 1/4 inch cork underneath each of the 4 corners of bench feet. This ended up being the right amount to level the bench and eliminate rocking/wobbling.
It’s funny but I can’t remember right now if I took a pullshave to the middle area or not. I think not. If the bench had continued to rock a little after trying the cork, I would have bitten the bullet and coved out the middle area of the sled feet, just as you were suggesting.

-- Richard B, Birmingham Alabama

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