Help a newbie learn and design a workbench - Lots of pictures

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Forum topic by BradO posted 01-08-2014 04:42 PM 2366 views 1 time favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View BradO's profile


7 posts in 2523 days

01-08-2014 04:42 PM

Topic tags/keywords: bench workbench new learn design 4x4 notching half lap sketchup cleveland ohio oh

Hello to the wonderful LJ community! Thank you so much for all of the information you’ve provided so far as I lurked through your forum archives.

I’m 99% new to woodworking (I’ve built a few rickety skateboard and bike jumps as a kid) and I’m trying it out as a new hobby as well as a way to keep me busy through these cold Cleveland winters. My first project is a workbench. So far I’ve done a lot of research on woodworking (mostly here) and using SketchUp. It’s been a lot of fun so far and a great departure from what I’m normally into. I know I can simply go to the big box stores and pick up a kit but I want to use this project as a way to learn a few different techniques and I like the added bonus of it being custom to fit my garage space. I’ll be using it as a general purpose bench for projects like changing the brakes on the cars, putting together things for the kids, fixing pieces from around the house, throwing a vise on it to “adjust” some bent pieces on my truck and probably a lot of other things.

Here’s what I’ve drawn out:

The basics are:
3×3/4” MDF + 1/4” sacrificial tempered hardboard top with trim around it and a 3/4” x 2” backsplash to stop any stray hardware from falling to the floor. I’ll glue and screw the MDF together then lay the hardboard on top maybe held in by double sided carpet tape so it’s easy to remove.
6’x30” main bench top with a 4’x2’ side bench top (so I can cut each layer from the same piece of 4’x8’)
Front of the bench will be 36” high (Sloped garage floor means it’s shorter in the back)
4×4 legs and side supports
4×4 back support attached to the studs so it doesn’t tip
2×4 framed lower shelf
1’ overhang on the right for a vise in the future that’s supported by the 4×4 into the studs
8” overhang around the front for ease of clamping and knee clearance when sitting

Here is the top:

Here is the frame:

I tried to avoid butt joints everywhere so the stringers, legs and supports are connected by half laps:

The side support 4×4’s are connected to the legs with 1” dowels:

What this results in is a frame that looks really intimidating to me:

And legs that look like even more fun:

Note that I also have a sloped garage floor for drainage (measured it to be roughly 1 degree) so the legs will also be different lengths and have angled bottoms:

I want to settle on the design before I worry about how to make it. It looks over-engineered to me but I like the idea that it would be rock solid and hold up to anything.

What I need from the community are your opinions. What do you see here that may be causes for concern in relation to the design?

What would you change?

Are any of these joints going to weaken the structure? The legs have half laps cut into both sides and I’m curious if that’s a bad idea.

Would I be looking at issues with the top over time with this much overhang?

I have no problem with this project being a stretch for my abilities. I want to use it as a learning opportunity. That being said, have I bitten off more than I can chew with this design?

I think it would be really cool not to have to use any fasteners to hold the frame together but I’m assuming these joints won’t be strong enough without them (but what do I know??). Does this need fasteners? If it will need them, what do you suggest?

22 replies so far

View PurpLev's profile


8601 posts in 4572 days

#1 posted 01-08-2014 04:50 PM

if all joints are glued, this will be as strong if not stronger than if you had used hardware instead for the joints.

that said, it seems a bit of an overkill construction for what it appears to be, but an pretty cool design otherwise. if you feel comfortable building it – I see no reason why you shouldn’t. I don’t think the legs would be ‘weak’ for this size of an overall bench given everything else included as long as the joints are tight.

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

View BPatterson's profile


43 posts in 2524 days

#2 posted 01-08-2014 07:46 PM

I think it looks like a really solid design. The only thing I might change is look into buying levelers to put into the bottoms of the legs instead of trying to cut them at different lengths and some on an angle.

Post some pics when you get started! :)

-- Brandon ~ Aim Small, Miss Small

View Tennessee's profile


2901 posts in 3438 days

#3 posted 01-08-2014 08:30 PM

The only thing I would think of changing is the sacrificial MDF. I used to use it, and went away from it due to loss of the pressed film top so easily by hardened glue, dropped clamps, etc. I ended up changing it too often and went to five ply 3/4” plywood, which I can scrape often and it still stays.
Otherwise, it looks like a very strong design that will only improve your talents with something you can learn in private on.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View RockyTopScott's profile


1186 posts in 4402 days

#4 posted 01-08-2014 08:40 PM

I would consider leg levelers.

I use carriage bolts and t nuts for this type of leg and dip the end of the carriage bolt in Plastidip. Works well.

-- “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.” ― Thomas Sowell

View cml's profile


1 post in 2523 days

#5 posted 01-08-2014 09:58 PM

I built a workbench a few years ago that I have been very pleased with. Features that your design omits (perhaps for good reason?) are under-bench storage and at least one vice. If you want detailed pics of my bench for ideas, let me know.

-- cml

View BradO's profile


7 posts in 2523 days

#6 posted 01-09-2014 12:19 AM

Purp: Glad to hear you think it would be strong enough with only glue. It would be really nice to be able to say there is no hardware on the entire piece. I agree on it being overkill. I’m focused on skill building so the extra joints and types of wood are intentional. I’ll have to do a few practice joints to make sure I get them really tight. The only woodworking related tool I have at the moment is a drill/driver. I can borrow a circular saw and jig saw for this project. What would be the next tool I’d have to reach for to get this project done?

BPatterson: Looks like the levelers are a common theme. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll certainly post pics as I go. with how LJ is designed, is that best done as a blog or should I continue this thread?

Tennessee: I hope the tempered hardboard top will be enough of a sacrificial top that’s easy to deal with. Do you think that will do the job? Glad to hear you think it looks strong. I took a good amount of time on it.

Rocky: Great idea. I’m familiar with what a t nut is but where would you put them on these legs?

cml: Are you referring to something other than a shelf underneath? Something with drawers perhaps? I certainly want to add a vice. I’m thinking of adding a woodworking vise to the right side and then build mobile bases for my other bench top tools to get clamped in.

Thanks everyone for the help so far. I am curious to hear what others think.

View cutworm's profile


1075 posts in 3717 days

#7 posted 01-09-2014 01:14 AM

Hey Brad,
I started with something similar but ended up building a new bench. You really need to be able to access all sides of your bench so you want it away from walls. It nice to clamp panels or boards from any side of the bench so avoid backsplashes if you can.

-- Steve - "Never Give Up"

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30577 posts in 3261 days

#8 posted 01-09-2014 01:24 AM

No 2 benches are alike. Your bench must serve your needs and be comfortable for you to work at. There are numerous designs available to you. Like any other tool, what will you be building? Small stuff, big stuff, power tools, hand tools, etc. All things to consider.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View RockyTopScott's profile


1186 posts in 4402 days

#9 posted 01-09-2014 01:29 AM

The tnut would fit into a hole drilled into the end deep enough to accommodate the carriage bolt. This is a pic of legs I made for a miter saw stand I am working on.

-- “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.” ― Thomas Sowell

View PurpLev's profile


8601 posts in 4572 days

#10 posted 01-09-2014 01:31 AM

you’ll want some clamps, a good combination square, and a long straight edge/guide for the circular saw.

you can gang all those cross brackets together with some clamps, then using a straight-guide gang cut all those notches in a single cut with a circular saw to make sure they are all the same dimensions. (or use a table saw with a cross cut fence and stops).

I would also recommend getting a nice block plane and sharpening supplies to touch up and chamfer all those edges for a more refined look and smoother touch.

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

View fuigb's profile


583 posts in 3881 days

#11 posted 01-09-2014 01:39 AM

“Next tool”? A square! You’re going to play hell trying to work off of that plan with almost no tools and a goal of tight joints. Maybe start with a smaller, even simpler version of your plan and thereby discover what you’re missing to pull this off. If this were my project I’d be using a jointer, planes, chisels, table saw, dado blades, etc. You get my the idea: a pile of crap that you don’t yet have. I don’t want to discourage you, so that less-ambitious version that I mentionedi s a great pplace to start because it will reveal what you’re lacking and thus help you to formulate a wish list.

-- - Crud. Go tell your mother that I need a Band-aid.

View Greg In Maryland's profile

Greg In Maryland

554 posts in 3921 days

#12 posted 01-09-2014 01:52 AM

Hey Brad,

Just some random thoughts:

1. Levelers are the way to go. I think that it highly unlikely that you would get the cut for all the legs correct (I know I wouldn’t be able to).

2. Why the aversion to fasteners? There is often a place for everything and this appears to be it.

3. Without knowing the dimensions the bench looks massive. When you move out of your current home, how are you going to move it? Will you be able to dissamble it into major components? Fasteners can permit this to some degree.

4. Where are you going to put your woodworking vise?

5. Most of the joints are well thought out and you shouldn’t have any problems. You might want to reevaluate the joint with the dowels though. You will get very little strength from gluing end grain to long grain, so that joint will be completely reliant on the dowel. Mortise and tennon would be far superior, though more work. If mortise and tennon joints are not going to happen, you mught consider using more than one dowel—3 or possibly 4 dowels. With only one dowel there is nothing to prevent the cross member from spinning.

6. You might want to consider getting rid of the inside corner leg. I’m interpreting your original post that the main bench will be six feet long and the side wing will be 2 feet long. It’s big, but not so massive that the structure couldn’t handle it.

7. If you are going to use dimensional lumber (2×4, 26, etc.) keep in mind that big box lumber is very wet and will twist and turn more than a politician under oath.

8. There is a great workbench thread here on LJ you might peruse.

Good luck and post pictures.


View RockyTopScott's profile


1186 posts in 4402 days

#13 posted 01-09-2014 01:56 AM

In thinking about what Greg just said I might build two benches that i could reconfigure as needed.

-- “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.” ― Thomas Sowell

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 3285 days

#14 posted 01-09-2014 02:17 AM

You’re on the right track, but keep it simple. Here’s one I recently made of 4×4, 2×6, 2×4, 3/4 ply, and particle board. Note the top is just 2×6’s on the flat spanning the 2×6 frame, with ply screwed onto that. Also, work benches don’t care about coolness, so use screws and lags to join things.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View BradO's profile


7 posts in 2523 days

#15 posted 01-09-2014 01:09 PM

Wow, great comments from everyone. Thanks so much. What I’m taking away from this is that I had fun designing but the practicality of it is a little far fetched. I may lose some pieces and adjust others. I’ll come up with a new sketch to see what you all think.

CutWorm: I’d like to be able to have a bench in the middle of the garage but we use that bay frequently and it needs to fit in the corner. I’m thinking something like a make shift bench with saw horses if I need something larger in the middle of the garage. Something easy to dismantle.

Scott: Thanks for the detail

Purp: Great tip! I’ll try that.

fuigb: Ya, I’m with you. Sounds like with all the wet wood, getting tight joints without fasteners is a pipe dream. I may have to go with hardware.

Greg: Thanks so much for this. I agree on every point. I’ll hit them one at a time.
1: Looks like Levelers are the way I’m going. Do you have any suggestions on ones to try?
2: I mostly just wanted to go all wood and glue for the learning experience and to be able to say if was held together without hardware. I think with the wet wood moving around and the dowel problem, I’ll have to get over that idea.
3: I like to think that I’ll never move from this house but that’s always possible. I’ll rethink it.
4: I plan to put it on the 12” overhang on the right. Would that work?
5: I’m with you. I think two lag bolts per side will be in my next sketch. Let me know what you think.
6: I guess that would be possible. Since I’m bolting the rear stretchers to the studs, I guess I may even be able to lose the back legs. Is that taking it too far though?
7: Good point. All the more reason to use fasteners, right?
8: Oh yes, I’ve spent a while looking at that. Such good stuff there.

Clint: Nice looking bench. I’m going to throw in some fasteners and try to simplify things a bit.

Thanks again to all of you for taking a look. I’m going to draw up a new sketch soon and I’m very curious to get your thoughts on the amended version.


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