A Seriously Nice Hand-Tool Workbench

I have a workbench in the garage that came with the house. It’s an L-shaped thing and the top is made of real 1X lumber (not 3/4″ commercial) but the slabs have lots of space in between.  At about half the height of the bench, are shelves made of MDF.  It gets horribly dirty under there. Doors around the bench would keep the dust out some.  I also have a metal vise that came with the house and I have to use shims for any wood work that I do.  All things considered, this called for a real wood-working hand tool workbench.

I found one on PaulSellers.com .  He’s a craftsman that’s been doing wood working for 50 years now. He’s taught in the US and teaches in the UK.  I watched 11 youtube videos on how to construct this bench entirely by hand using tools that many people keep in their home.  I was hooked.  I had to have one and now I do.

I’d like to discuss how I made this bench and refer to the areas where I used power tools for convenience. But first let’s discuss the prerequisites and materials needed.

Mr. Sellers used saw-horses to cut and plane material.  I had none.  I ended up making these first. I found plans at another great site here. This design is strong and the stackable aspect I liked very much. Once they were done it was time for some wood.

The bench is made entirely of (2×4)s from Home Depot. I purchased enough to make the bench tops first. There are 2 laminated top sections, each require 7-(2×4)s. My bench is 6′(feet) end-to-end but you could go the full length of the standard 2×4 or 8′(feet). Notice in my picture that the lumber edges are rounded some and would look funny laminated with the round-overs. IMG_1403This is where I used a table saw to remove the round-overs. My final pieces were 1-1/2 X 3. I also chopped the lengths to 6′-2″. This left me with 1″ of material on either end of the laminations.

The next step was planing the tall sides of the studs with a smoothing plane.  I have a No. 5 Buck Bros. and I used it throughout the build here.  You’ll want to dry-fit the studs as you go and kind of pick and choose which ones will lie side by side. When you’re confident with the planing you should do a dry clamping exercise or rehearsal as Paul Sellers calls it.  I did this with each laminate section.  Here’s a picture of a dry clamping. The studs were fairly straight as purchased and the thin edges were ripped on a table saw.  I haven’t planed these edges at all and they look pretty close in size.

IMG_1407The real glueing event needs to be done quickly.  The PVA glue sets pretty fast and I used a zig-zag of glue down the entire length and then lines about 1/4 inside of the rectangular shape of the stud side. Be liberal in your use of glue.  I went through 2 large bottles of Gorilla Wood glue from Home Depot.

Visually go around the entire lamination.  Be sure that one or two studs aren’t lifting off of your work area or top on your sawhorses. I used a folding table for my workbench during this build. The glue once it’s fully coated the stud side will cause floatation.  This means that either of the stud sizes are not touching anywhere and the only thing that separates them is a hydraulic thickness of glue.  As you clamp the lamination, this hydraulic layer will thin.  And, the glue you wanted to save on will come out.  This is okay.  In fact, it’s best for these joints.  IMG_1410If sufficient contact is not made between the laminations, the joint will be weaker than the wood.  I know for a fact that I have some joints that 1) should have been planed more, 2) should have had more glue, and 3) should have had more preparatory attention.

Once you’re satisfied with the fit, the alignment, and you’ve clamped as many of the imperfect spaces from the laminations, you can clean up the glue with shavings from the ground.  The shavings and dust from your shop floor will soak up the excess glue and also act as filler between the lamination imperfections if any.  Also, the glue joints will cure faster if the excess glue is removed.  Please remember that the glue is a mess but … over-glueing is better than under-glueing.  I know this from experience. Don’t think you know best unless you’ve done this yourself.  I continually tell my sons that just because you’ve seen a YouTube video doesn’t mean that you know “how-to” do something.  It doesn’t. I made mistakes with this and years ago I provided engineering instructions to tradesmen that built nuclear submarines for the US Navy.  When you go in the house and your wife says, “blow yourself off before you come in the house” and you have glue from one end of you to the other, then you’ll get it. I’ll admit I said “I can do that” after watching Paul Sellers’ workbench series.  I did it.

After the two 7-stud sections, you’ll want to laminate the well-board.  I cut mine down and also cut dados in the board when I set it on the leg bearers.  I used 6 studs and ripped them all to 2″.  I planed and laminated these just like the others.  I didn’t surface plane any of the 3 newly laminated sections.  I did the legs next.

IMG_1422Each leg has two thru-mortises.  The bottom one will have an extended tenon but the upper tenon is haunched.  This gives a small amount of wider tenon but doesn’t weaken the leg by leaving the top open or split.  The cross-members on the top of the leg assemblies are flush with the top of the legs.  The haunched tenon is the entire width of the cross member just up against the leg but only a portion of the width goes entirely through to the outside edge of the thru-mortise. I’ll not go into dimensions here.  If you like all the dimensions are available on the Paul Sellers site.  My bench height is exactly as planned, however I forgot that the legs would sit inside of a housing dado and my well board was too wide and had to be ripped on the table saw.  If I had not missed this point, I would have only had the crosscuts on the ends of the laminations.  I did these by hand but ripping the well board would have been an undertaking.

IMG_1423Once the legs were done, I laminated 4 studs each, at the 1-1/2″ sides to make 1-1/2″ aprons for the sides.  I removed the rounds like the others with the table saw.  I think since the laminations are thinner, it’s more critical that the entire assembly remain flat when clamping.  I had slightly bowed aprons and this caused some issue during final assembly.

Once the aprons were done, it was time to get the chisel again.  You need to dado space for the legs but with a small section on the side of the dado for a wedge.  This will strengthen the bench with everyday use.  The dados were cut at 5/8″ deep.  I had not accounted for this when I measured the width on all three laminations, the two tops and the well board.  I made the leg assembly widths as if the dados would not be there.  When I cut the dados for the legs to sit in, the well board now required ripping.  I did, however spend quite some time planing the well board for a good fit.

IMG_1432Here’s a picture of the dados in the aprons.  Again, dimensions and more detail instructions can be found on the Paul Sellers site. The legs fit against the end-sides of the dado and the wedges are used behind the legs out of sight.  The wedge was used for Paul Sellers’ bench because he wanted his bench to be portable but strong too.  I followed his instructions even though my bench will probably never be moved.  The wedge is a slick way to strengthen the bench.  As the bench is racked, the wedge falls with gravity and only gets stronger with movement.  The bench did stop moving at all in a lateral direction with the aprons. Here’s the wedge in the dado.

Once the dados are done, the assembly begins. What you see is the apron set aside the leg assembly with the wedge.  This the first assembly step.  You may want someone to help you hold things here.  I used 1/2″ carriage bolts to go through the apron and the leg about 1-1/2″ from the bottom of the apron.  Once you drill and bolt the apron, you can move to the other end.  You should notice that the bench is pretty solid as you do this.  Finish the other side (apron) in the same manner.  I used a forstner bit to countersink the carriage bolt just below the plane of the apron.  This just provides a cleaner installation and also you may be clamping material to the bench and not want the bolt putting dimples in your work.

When the aprons are on, you will be clamping and gluing the tops to the apron.  This creates an angle-bar essentially of the top and the apron.  This is very strong.  My lesson learned was to spend more time planing.  I could have made adjustments even if the width of the laminated sections was off slightly.  But, any adjustment would be insignificant in comparison to the quality of the fit-up.

The well board got dados of a depth of 5/8″ to sit a little lower on the leg assemblies.  My leg assemblies have a bearer across the top leg cross-members.  This is detailed on Sellers’ site.  I also cut a bevel in the well board to match the lines of the top decks after the dados were done.

IMG_1450 IMG_1454I coated my bench with Amber Bullseye Shellac.


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