The "Not Ready for Prime Time" Workbench

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Project by curliejones posted 10-30-2012 12:35 PM 2354 views 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

The “Not Ready for Prime Time” Workbench
There’s not one bench that will do it all, just read about the variety of tasks demanded in the wood shop. There’s assembly tables, outfeed tables, there’s the beautiful behemoths of benches for hand tooling with pristine hand saws, planes, drills and chisels. So where does one begin? Considering the widely-demonstrated construction methods such as torsion box, new-fangled, and traditional mortise and tenon, picking somewhere to start may be the hard part. One common need among newbies is the bench to help you build a bench. I decided that’s a good place for me to start.
My current workbench project will hopefully help me with table saw outfeed as well as provide a convenient surface for operations and assembly work. It should provide a good work surface for building other shop furniture and even that “someday workbench”.
I ordered quality locking casters with 4” wheels having a total height of 5 1/8” and measured the table saw height. I wanted to build a solid workbench and to use material already on hand where practical. The workbench top will be a very heavy solid core door that measures 36” wide and include a sacrificial piece of hardboard. Between the casters and top are two torsion box ends. The “stretch” of the bench is what I’ll call semi-torsion box, admittedly not brick outhouse strong, but this bench is not intended for years of hand-planing, chiseling, etc. One stretcher includes an opening for 2 drawers with plenty of material left for strength; the other stretcher is simply a 2×4.
The torsion box ends have an inner and an outer layer of 5/8 cdx pine plywood, chosen out of my “free material” pile for thickness (strength). Almost two years ago, I attended a yard sale at a local lumber yard that was housecleaning and came home with a healthy stack of sheet goods of various thicknesses and purposes. The “free” part came in when the seller wanted to sell an entire stack of 4X8 material that was over 3 ft high. I did not bring a trailer and several other folks wanted a few sheets of this or that present in the stack. I bought the stack and sold the other folks what they wanted for $2-4/ sheet. At the end, I bought a door for my garden shed and came home with about 18 in of various plywoods. I made several other shoppers very happy with their bargains and actually came home $25 richer. It all happened so quickly I didn’t recognize how well I was doing until I got home and took inventory. Some of the sheets had a little edge damage, a few were a bit dirty, but about 90% usable.
Torsion box ends – I ripped some SYP 2X6 material in half, ran them through the jointer, and nailed the ends for the frames. I screwed and glued a 2×4 onto the bottom of the frames and cut plywood to fit over the frames and rest atop the 2×4 runner at the bottom. You’ll notice how the 2×4 runners extend 3 ½” outside the frames to provide outriggers where the casters can be through-bolted. The top 2×4 extends a few inches outward to help support and fasten the top that will overhang 9” on that side compared to only 3” on the drawer side.
The stretchers – The two stretchers, call them A & B, are built differently, one side to accommodate two drawers and provide a wide panel for stability and strength. The frame for A is made of all 2×4 material with the vertical members cut out to accept the top and bottom chords. I made these joints very smooth to maximize glue strength, and used 3” screws for assembly. The 18”x46” rectangular frame fits between the two ends and is glued and screwed into place with fasteners reaching into the framing inside the ends for strength. The 18”x54” plywood cover (also 5/8” cdx) is glued and screwed to cover this rectangular frame and extends 4” longer on each end to cover the front edges of the torsion box ends.
The picture on the right (attempting to advertise New Balance shoes) shows one torsion box end, L to R, while the up and down part is the stretcher with drawer cut outs.
Stretcher B is a 2×4 that is 54” long and has a shoulder (rabbet) cut into it about 3/8” deep and 4” long, so it overlaps the two torsion box ends. Stretcher B is glued and screwed into the frame of the torsion box ends and placed at a height to match up with the lower chord from Stretcher A. This gives a level plane for placement of the drawer slides/shelf support that will reach from A to B.
The drawer slides (supports) are ¾” material ripped to 2 ¼” wide and glued and screwed into a right angle configuration. They reach from Stretcher A to B and are placed to accommodate the 16” x 19” drawers. The tool shelf also sits atop these and is accessed from Side B. As an afterthought, I put a 1×4 just inside the frame and just above the drawer height to help catch the drawer when open. I’ll wait until I spill the drawer contents once, then put a butterfly on the back of the drawer that can be turned to allow removal past the 1×4.
The top of the bench is cut from a 1-3/4” oak-veneered solid-core door that has a lumber core. I’m not sure what kind of lumber is inside, but these doors are very heavy and came from some old law offices in New Orleans (oh the tales they could tell). After lag bolting the top (door) down through into two countersunk holes on the drawer side, I drilled up into the 2×3 overhang on the vise side. I then put an edge band made of SYP and allowed enough reveal topside to capture 75% of the thickness of a 3/16” hardboard top. I screwed the band on (no glue) since I’m not sure what type of holding/gripping devices I may choose to attach to the side and ends of the bench. I already had a 7” Pony vise and allowed for it in the banding. The lighter wood showing on the vise is a sacrificial face for the vise attached with some magnets. This rear “jaw” is the same thickness as the edge band and has a front counterpart so workpieces don’t get marred from the vise.

The locking casters and the small vise should suffice to help me. I plan to build a place to slide in a pipe clamp from both the front and rear of the bench for when I might want to use an improvised tail vise. There’s plenty of overhang to allow clamping a stop across the table at just about any point, so I’ll procrastinate on dog holes and simply use quick clamps and scrap until I evolve ( takes several millennium, I’m told).
The top overhangs the vise side about 9” and 3” on the drawer side, and nearly 9” on each end. I wanted an easy view of what’s in these drawers since they are 5.5” deep. The wide overhang on the vise side allowed me to cantilever the 1×12” tool shelf outward a bit, keeping tools handy and (hopefully) off the top surface of the bench (good luck with that). The finished top measures 37.5” by 71.5”.
I gave all surfaces a good paint job to seal the open pores since our Louisiana air is, at times, best suited for amphibians. I through-bolted the casters, attached garage-door lift handles to the drawers, and laid on the hardboard top. So far, a little 2-sided tape is not keeping the corners from curling in the heat of the day, but they lay back to rest every night. Guess I’ll have to screw it down so I am not restricted to using only early and late in the day.
As mentioned earlier, this should be a good starting point – a good utility table that’s easily moved around my small shop. Built on a shoestring budget out of mostly material on hand, the Colson poly-wheeled casters were the major expense for the “Not Ready for Prime Time” workbench. It should serve my needs for the way I work now and be there as an aid to help build that “someday” workbench. It has heft and I’m guessing when I say around 160 pounds, it is flat and mobile, provides storage, and with some fiddling, it will hold work. My version cost under $100, but the construction-grade “free” lumber would add another $40 if you have to go buy it. Like others have said, shop furniture may be the most fun projects!

-- Like Guy Clark sez - "Sometimes I use my head, Sometimes I get a bigger hammer"

6 comments so far

View DIYaholic's profile


19657 posts in 2820 days

#1 posted 10-30-2012 01:05 PM

I was expecting to see John Belushi weilding a sword in Samurai ninja attire!!!

I think this bench IS ready for “prime time”, all be it, on a local access cable channel!!! Lol.

Looks like a solid “first bench” that will provide years of service.

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View Bluepine38's profile


3379 posts in 3231 days

#2 posted 10-30-2012 01:43 PM

Sounds like you had fun building it, and it should be strong enough to last until you get around to building that
perfect work bench some millenium. It will do the job for you, and that is the chief requirement. Thank you
for sharing this with us, and it may inspire a few clones.

-- As ever, Gus-the 79 yr young apprentice carpenter

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

29876 posts in 2484 days

#3 posted 10-30-2012 02:03 PM

Although strong construction is essential, in your own shop function counts for much more than beauty. YOU have to be able to use it comfortably. Personally I would be glad to have this in my shop as well. Looks like a darn nice build.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View mitchota's profile


48 posts in 2215 days

#4 posted 10-31-2012 12:29 AM

It looks like a good build to me. I’d love to have something like that in my shop since I do all my assembly on my table saw outfeed table and any other horizontal surface I can find, and that’s an improvement over my initial set up which was doing all my assembly on my table saw.

Great job, and I guess I better start drawing up some plans for my own workbench.

View curliejones's profile


179 posts in 2412 days

#5 posted 11-01-2012 09:36 AM

Thanks for the kind words, guys! Along with the occasional mystery novel, reading about the projects here on LJ is one of my favorite indoor pastimes. Any useful idea I can pick up from another LJ is “Lagniappe” (a little something extra, for those not familiar with the term).

-- Like Guy Clark sez - "Sometimes I use my head, Sometimes I get a bigger hammer"

View HorizontalMike's profile


7770 posts in 3059 days

#6 posted 12-03-2012 01:30 AM

I really like the combination of wood and paint. Very functional, and a great job!

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

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