My Workbench Build - Hand Tools Only

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Project by Timmy2Hands posted 06-05-2016 10:35 PM 4789 views 20 times favorited 35 comments Add to Favorites Watch

In May of 2015 after a year of watching woodworking videos on YouTube and falling in love with the idea of working wood with hand tools only (the way grandpa used to do it), I decided to jump in with both feet.

By this time I had assembled a minimalist set of hand tools and I got to work. I had been looking at different bench designs and read Christopher Schwarz’s book Workbenches, I settled on a design that worked for me as far as material availablity and my own skill level, which I admit was close to zero.
Here is a link to my Begginers Tool List This list is by no means a recommendation, it is simply a list of the tools I started with and what I paid for them at the time.

OK, as far as the specs for this bench.

The wood that i used was construction grade Southern Yellow Pine.

I used three 12 foot long 2” x 12” for the top. I cut them down to 6 foot and then ripped them into thirds, I planed them flat and then turned them on edge and glued them together. Longer and wider 2”x material has many fewer knots to deal with.

For the legs I used four 10 foot 2” x 6”. I cross cut them into thirds, planed them flat and glued them together.

The short and long stretchers around the bottom are 2” x 8”.

All of the mortice and tennon joints are draw bored with 3/8” oak dowels

The finished size of this bench is 72” long, 21” wide, and 35” tall. The benchtop is 3 1/4” thick.

Here is a link to my SketchUp model for this bench

So here is how I got started.
Building a bench without a bench to work on can be tricky.

If you look in the background you can see that I have two saw horses (hand tools only too). I set them end to end to fully support the length of the board I was planing.

When I finished planing four boards I would glue them up and put them in clamps. Then I would get to work on the next four.

HOLY COW! what have I decided to do? This the most cardio I’ve done in years! Hand tool work is tougher than I thought.

At this point I had eight boards laminated and I was sick and tired (mostly tired) of planing long boards.

I used the the eight board lamination as a bench top of sorts and started working on some of the leg stock because they were smaller.

I clamped down stops and battons to hold my work without a vise.

These are the two planes I used for flattening and smoothing of the parts.

They are the new generation Stanley #4 and #62. I know now that they leave a lot to be desired, but they will get the job done if you have a sharp iron.

I would glue up four boards at a time and then add them to the others.

There is nothing like seeing that sweet even glue squeeze out.

When I cut the legs down I kept one of the three longer than the others. This piece went in the middle of the lamination and became the tenon.

Waiting for glue to dry on a rainy day.

Now that the top is all glued up it’s time to trim the edges.

The first thing I do is clamp a batton in place as a straight edge.

I use a cross-cut backsaw to start the kerf. It doesn’t need to be too deep, but it does need to be straight and it will help keep the through cut in line.

I switch to a heavier saw to finish the cut.

It’s not a vintage Disston, and it’s not very long, but it cuts great and gets the job done.

Finally I use a low angle block plane to smooth the end grain.

It’s time to move on to the joinery.

I mark out the mortise locations with a square and a marking knife. Then I use a brace and 3/4” bit to remove most of the waste. I used a scrap piece to count the number of turns that it would take to get the holes to the depth that I wanted. Then it was a just a matter of keeping the brace straight and counting the turns.

Once the mortises were finished and squared up with a chisel I cut the tenons to fit each one.

For a new woodworker (and maybe old ones too) there is nothing better than getting everything square.

All four legs are fit and square. They’re not cut to length at this point, but there are no gaps at the shoulders.

This is Roxy, she’s my shop dog. She loves the smell of shavings in the morning.

I had just seen a Paul Sellers video on cutting mortises by hand with just a bench chisel.

Well, I decided I’d give it a try. This mortise for the long stretcher is 1 1/4” wide, 5” long, and 2” deep. Sometimes I do something that makes me realise that I’m an idiot.

It worked fine, but it was not easy for a mortise this size.

The rest of the mortises were done with a brace and bit first and then cleaned up with a chisel.

Stretchers are fit and the legs are trimmed to final size.

So now that the joinery is pretty much done, I did a dry fit.

Everything fit great, but I could not get the pieces apart again do to the weight. I had to use a 2 ton bottle jack to lift the lower assembly out of the mortises.

Now that everyhting fits, it’s time to smooth the parts and drill for the draw bores. I also chamfered the feet to keep them from chipping out when moving the bench around.

Time for glue up.

I made sure to do a dry run with it so I knew I had everyhting at hand and ready to go. I layed everything out in a specific order and got my clamps and mallet put in place.

OK it’s time!

I know, I know, tight bond three has a longer open time than tight bond two, but it’s what I have and I’ve got a good plan for the glue up.


I got the glue up done as planned, by myself.

I mentioned earlier that longer and wider 2x material has fewer knots to deal with.

If you notice, there is only one visable knot in this entire bench top.

Here I have just finished flattening and boring the dog holes.

Stanley #7 type 9 from 1902 to 1907 with a new Hock blade.

This whole build was completed with nothing more than what is on the bench here.

I found a 10” Wilton cabinet makers vise for $50 on Craigslist. A little wire wheel, a can of spraypaint, and some oil gets it good as new. Two turns to tighten and two turns for the quick release.

I added a 19” chop and applied 9oz leather to the vise faces and I get just over 10” of travel.

It took me just over a month to get this bench finished and it’s the cornerstone of my little hand tool only shop.

Just a note: I put that corrigated rubber shelf liner under each foot, it levelled out the tiny bit of rock that I had, and keeps the bench solidly planted on the concrete garage floor.

It weighs about 250 lbs, I can move it when I need to, but it’s solid as a rock when I’m working.

This is the very first hardwood project I did once the bench was done.

I made a sweet walnut rack for my Sweetheart chisels.

-- Tim

35 comments so far

View BurlyBob's profile


3456 posts in 1684 days

#1 posted 06-05-2016 10:53 PM

Tim that’s a truly superb job. That looks like you could park you pickup on it. I can’t wait to start my bench.

View Andy's profile


208 posts in 245 days

#2 posted 06-05-2016 10:56 PM

I really enjoyed the walkthrough of your build and you did a really good job on the bench. I love using hand tools as well but I gotta have my table saw.

-- Andy Smith

View theoldfart's profile


7933 posts in 1869 days

#3 posted 06-05-2016 11:00 PM

T2H, really great job on the bench. I can’t imagine doing those mortises with a bench chisel, I went right for my biggest pig sticker! Excellent post on the build and enjoy using it.

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View Timmy2Hands's profile


108 posts in 383 days

#4 posted 06-05-2016 11:06 PM

Thanks Bob,
She’s just over a year old now and she’s as stout as the day she was finished.

Andy, I was half way through ripping the first 2” x 12” and I really started to dream about table saws.

Thanks so much Kevin, your encouragement means a lot to me.
If I had a mortise chisel at the time I would have used it. I only cut that one with the chisel though, all the others I used a brace and bit first.

-- Tim

View theoldfart's profile


7933 posts in 1869 days

#5 posted 06-05-2016 11:24 PM

Tim, even with a 14” brace and bit, my shoulder was killing me after a while. I also drilled the long mortise in my leg vise for the criss cross. Overheated the bit a few times!

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View Dan Wolfgang's profile

Dan Wolfgang

30 posts in 226 days

#6 posted 06-06-2016 12:36 AM

As a pretty new hand tool woodworker in need of a bench, thanks for your build details and process documentation. Maybe my skill is good enough to start on a bench!

View ShaneA's profile


6416 posts in 2017 days

#7 posted 06-06-2016 01:21 AM

Nice project post, reeally like the pictures and write up. Enjoy!

View Spelcher's profile


131 posts in 269 days

#8 posted 06-06-2016 01:24 AM

Great looking bench Tim, and done so quickly too! Those long ripping cuts must have been quite the workout…

-- Jason

View Timmy2Hands's profile


108 posts in 383 days

#9 posted 06-06-2016 01:30 AM

Dan, if I could do this as my very first woodworking project, you can do it too. Good luck to you.

Thanks Shane!

Spelcher, I learned really quickly not to over grip the saw, took my time, and only cut about 12 to 18 inches at a time.
I still almost died a couple of times.

-- Tim

View Adam44's profile


8 posts in 353 days

#10 posted 06-06-2016 02:35 AM

The bench looks great, and I really appreciated the walkthrough.

View waho6o9's profile


7115 posts in 1995 days

#11 posted 06-06-2016 02:46 AM

Thanks for the great pictorial and congrats on a fine build.

That’s a great skill set you have, keep doing the good work!

View TheTurtleCarpenter's profile


795 posts in 484 days

#12 posted 06-06-2016 03:50 AM

The final product looks awesome Timmy ! And it all started with a good solid plan and then you stepped each phase out. The chisel stand is a sweet design also. Congrats on your new bench


-- "Tying shoelaces was way harder than learning to Whistle",,,,,member MWTCA area K. Kentucky

View Timmy2Hands's profile


108 posts in 383 days

#13 posted 06-06-2016 03:59 AM

Thanks for the kind words, I really appreciate it. They always encourage me.

It’s not really a new bench, it was actually my very first woodworking project.
You have seen some of my other work that came after this build and none of it would have become reality without it.
This bench has just past her one year anniversary and that’s why I decided to write up the build. She has treated me very well and is just as strong and stout today as the day she was finished.

-- Tim

View Timmy2Hands's profile


108 posts in 383 days

#14 posted 06-06-2016 04:02 AM

Adam44 and waho6o9, thanks for the kind words.

-- Tim

View Dave G's profile

Dave G

300 posts in 1466 days

#15 posted 06-06-2016 08:51 AM

Really like your post – everything: the pictures, the project, the idea. I had a similar idea but had power tools to begin with.

I concede and use a power planer for that aerobic stuff (and I spent years doing triathlons). Hat’s off to you.

-- Dave, New England - “We are made to persist. that's how we find out who we are.” ― Tobias Wolff

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