it was time for a real workbench!

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Blog entry by Justin M Schmidt posted 03-15-2013 11:21 AM 3756 reads 2 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My current bench is an eight-foot long plywood and 2×4 monstrosity that takes up a huge chunk of space in my teeny attic workshop. It’s too high to get good angles when using hand tools. And it’s all wibbly-wobbly.

Time for a new bench! I’ve done some projects with wood before, but nothing this complicated. I started doing some research and got pretty freaked out by all the roubo-style benches with gorgeous woods and the hours and hours of blood sweat and tears (and money) pumped into them. I found Tom Caspar’s Torsion Box workbench. Hope! Still seemed a little too complicated for what I wanted. More research. I watched the early New Yankee Workshop episode where Norm makes a simple workbench with cheap lumber. Bingo, let’s do Norm’s!

I wasn’t crazy about his top design. I didn’t want to bother with square dog holes and having to plunge-cut the hardboard top. So… to SketchUp!

I compromised – my bench design has a top made of two layers of 3/4” MDF with a sheet of hardboard on top, framed with some maple 1×4’s from Home Depot, sitting on a pretty simple frame made of 2×4’s. Slap on some cheap vises, drill some dog holes, and boom – done. (Dog holes are missing from my model.)

I’ve struggled with this project – it’s taking a lot longer than expected (hitting the end of two weeks of a couple hours a night and weekends) and I’ve made some mistakes, tried to take shortcuts, and occasionally used the wrong tools. It’s coming along though, and every mistake I’ve made I’ve learned from.

I flipped the bench over, fully assembled for the first time tonight!

I need to re-do a couple things – I tried to get the maple flush with the hardboard top, but it’s not. I realized I should have attached it a little high and planed it down to meet the hardboard. I have to pop that all off and reattach it a little higher, then level it off.

The vise faces didn’t line up with the top either, so I’m going to remove them and cut from the bottom to the holes I drilled so I can adjust them.

-- Justin M Schmidt | Somerville, Massachusetts |

6 comments so far

View helluvawreck's profile


31417 posts in 2895 days

#1 posted 03-15-2013 01:09 PM

Nicely done. It will serve you well.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View 489tad's profile


3370 posts in 3040 days

#2 posted 03-15-2013 01:10 PM

Thats a big project as one of your first and the mistakes we make along the way is how we learn. Adjusting the apron and vises should be a pretty easy fix. I made a version of the New Yankee bench and it has served me well over the years. I eventually added the dog holes. I glued and screwed a piece of oak from a pallet on the underside of the bench top so the dog would have something strong to work in. Good luck.

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View Yamamaha's profile


20 posts in 3084 days

#3 posted 03-15-2013 03:15 PM

You are a man obsessed! I’m proud of you and the progress you are making.

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3677 days

#4 posted 03-15-2013 03:30 PM

no matter how you simplify the design, it always looks easier on paper than it does actually building it. then all sort of things pop up that you have to accommodate for and work around.

Looks like you are doing good on this one. just a few minor details to tackle, but it’s all there.

1 point that I noticed on this design, and I’m not sure what you are planning on using this bench for so it may or may not be of importance, but the 4 2×4 legs are all single board and all facing in the same direction which could cause some racking if you exhibit any shear force against the bench (hand planing and such). if you attach another board of same length at 90 degrees to each leg (making an “L” type leg if looked at from above) it would tremendously increase the stoutness of that bench. not a must, but something to keep in mind.

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

View Justin M Schmidt's profile

Justin M Schmidt

17 posts in 1929 days

#5 posted 03-15-2013 04:58 PM

PurpLev thanks for the feedback. It is wobbly and I do plan on doing hand planing. It seems to be more wobbly in the long dimension. I kind of expected it to have a little wobble, but I wanted to give Norm’s design a chance first. (to be fair it could be my handiwork and not the design that’s contributing to the wibbles.)

Since I have no idea what I’m doing I was going to try a couple different things. Once I get the old bench apart I was going to salvage some 2×4’s and try cross-bracing from the top of one leg to the bottom of the other. If that didn’t work, I was going to try a plywood panel across the back. The good thing about using cheap lumber is I won’t feel bad about drilling a bunch of holes to experiment!

I’m having a hard time visualizing your suggestion, but I’m totally down to try it. Any chance you wanna sketch it for me? ;)

-- Justin M Schmidt | Somerville, Massachusetts |

View Justin M Schmidt's profile

Justin M Schmidt

17 posts in 1929 days

#6 posted 03-16-2013 04:04 AM

oh wait…. you mean like this:

That makes a lot of sense. I will try it out tomorrow.

-- Justin M Schmidt | Somerville, Massachusetts |

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