Workbench Design, critique and suggestions appreciated!

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Forum topic by DrTebi posted 04-04-2011 02:05 AM 12794 views 2 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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267 posts in 3290 days

04-04-2011 02:05 AM

Topic tags/keywords: workbench canarywood white oak sketchup design three-board mortise and tenon trestle

Not having a proper workbench at all will hopefully be a thing of the past soon.

I have been spending a lot of time reading about different workbench designs, and browsing lumberjocks and other places to check out what others have built. Here is my design so far:

I consider myself still fairly new to woodworking, so I want to refrain from shoulder vises, fancy dovetails and similar.

In short:
- A trestle based support that is made with double tenons. Most of this joinery is accomplished by using a “three-board Mortise and Tenon”, only that the tenons are cut like lap joints to form double tenons. Thickness once laminated would be about 4 inches. The image explains it best I guess. This is based on a design that appeared in American Woodworker
- The trestle supports are connected via a stretcher with a short tenon that protrudes through the first “layer” of the leg. Fastened with Lag Bolts (the Veritas type)
- A “twin top”, each made out of laminated 8/4 pieces, 7 feet long, 11” wide, and three inches thick. Held in place by dowels from the trestle top into the bottom of each top.
- A face vise on the left front and dog holes along each side of each top (not drawn yet). I will probably have to move the legs a bit inward to accommodate the face vise. An end vise may be an option, but I may just live with Wonderdogs instead.

In Detail:
- A twin top will allow me to keep my tools below the work surface. It’s a problem now (on my counter-top work area), and I believe this will solve it. It also allows me to clamp boards vertically to the front of the bench with 11”+ clamps.
The inner strips of each top have a ledge on the bottom, 3/4” wide, 1/2” thick, which can support plain plywood boards, tool boxes of various sizes etc. I could also build small boxes tall enough to make the top flush, which would result in a 30” wide top.
If the tops get dinged and scratched, I can pick them up and run them through my 12” planer, and mount the flattened tops back on.

- A trestle support to avoid end grain resting on the floor. My floor is old concrete that is certainly moist. This will also allow me to add raisers, or even wheels later with little effort.

- Three-layer mortise and tenons to make construction easier—I figure as long as I can make precise cuts, I can put these together without error.

- A “modular” design, because I know I will be moving sooner or later…

- Last but not least, I think I have settled for using white oak for the lighter parts in the drawing, and Canarywood for everything else including the tops. From what I can gather, Canarywood is hard but not too too hard to destroy all my cutting tools, known to last, no serious health concerns in working with it, and—beautiful. It will certainly make this a bit pricey, but I think it’s worth it.

I would appreciate any critique, comments, suggestions. Be blunt, be hard on me… I need to learn, and can best from your experiences…


16 replies so far

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3021 days

#1 posted 04-04-2011 04:04 AM

It will be pretty but the layered joints will be harder to align than you are anticipating.

I think I would go for tusk tenons rather than crossbolts.

A skirt on the front would make it easier to clamp things.

I prefer a second stretcher up higher near the top. I have a similar one and you could park a car on it.

Overall, depending on the length and hight to suit you, it looks like a nice plan.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 2994 days

#2 posted 04-04-2011 04:51 AM

I built my bench using 5 layer legs, stretchers and cross braces. My joinery was accomplished much the same way you plan to. Make everything 1/16” over size to allow for planing and sanding to final size to get all the layers even.

I did not do a trestle and made my legs flush with the edge of the top. I like this arrangement for clamping. My face vise jaws cover the leg so I can stand a board up against the leg and clamp it with the vise. I can add a clamp anywhere up and down the leg for additional stability.

I wouldn’t want the trough in the middle of my bench, but that’s a personal call.

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 2863 days

#3 posted 04-05-2011 03:36 AM

I would recommend you watch this video from Logan,s cabinet workshop. He has some pointers on design that might save you some, if your like me, I wished I would have done that. The most important thing to me is holding a piece over 4 foot long. I do like your design the only thing I would change is the leg position. I would bring them to be flush with the edge of the top for clamping or bench hook holding. imho

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View DrTebi's profile


267 posts in 3290 days

#4 posted 04-13-2011 04:35 AM

Sorry for not replying earlier.

What all comments seem to agree on is, that I should have either an apron or have legs that are flush with the table top edge. I see that this makes a lot of sense, and will try to redesign it.

I liked Logan’s video a lot, he describes really every detail of building the bench. I was a bit surprised to hear that he prefers softwood for the top. It does make sense in a way though I guess, but it makes me wonder why most other people use beech or maple then? I think I will stick with Canarywood for the top though. One of the reasons for this is, that it is known to be very stable during seasonal changes. I will have to pack up this bench into a container and ship it across the atlantic sooner or later… so for that trip it would certainly be beneficial.

@crank49: Thank you for the tip about cutting everything oversized. I will keep that in mind. Could you post some pictures of your bench? I am quite curious.

For now I have to see if I can get my hands on some nice wood first. Here in the Bay Area lumber is really expensive, I am debating if I should make an online order instead. Most lumber is about 40% cheaper at e.g. Steve Walls.

Anyway, thanks again for the responses!

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 2863 days

#5 posted 04-13-2011 05:23 AM

Just for ideas try here.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View Greedo's profile


473 posts in 2984 days

#6 posted 04-13-2011 04:17 PM

it sort of looks like one of my benches, though i left the ends open, not connecting the two top halves at the end.
but instead make a connection above the legs. that end gap is a verry practical area, you can clamp stuff over the gap and saw, rout or whatever into it without without damaging the bench, while still having your workpiece supported on both ends!

View KayBee's profile


1083 posts in 3270 days

#7 posted 04-13-2011 08:12 PM

I agree with Greedo about leaving the ends open. Personally, I don’t like having a wide apron on the front or flush legs. I hit my knees on the legs when they are that close and the apron gets in the way of clamping. Of course, I worked as a cabinetmaker and never had a use (or time) for vises either. Try looking at these benches, they seem smiliar to what you have in mind.

-- Karen - a little bit of stupid goes a long way

View Loren's profile


10476 posts in 3671 days

#8 posted 04-13-2011 08:26 PM

I don’t poo-poo the tray, but I do fill my tool tray up with junk that
gets in the way. If I did it over, I would make at least part of the tray
much deeper so I could put planes and sanders and things like
that in it without them sticking up over the top at all.

View DrTebi's profile


267 posts in 3290 days

#9 posted 04-17-2011 10:00 AM

These are great comments, thanks a lot!

It’s certainly debatable if the open area in the middle is a good idea. But according to the links posted by KayBee, I seem not to be the only one who had that idea… My plan was to make that area kind of “modular” so that I could put in short as well as deep trays, or shelves that are flush (as flush as possible) with the two tops. It’s maybe not that clear in the drawings.

I think the best suggestion however is, to just make one from cheap would and see how I like it. Then I would not have to sweat it if it doesn’t fit my style later.

View helluvawreck's profile


31363 posts in 2890 days

#10 posted 04-17-2011 02:26 PM

I don’t like trays and I would also recommend drawers under your bench. Also I don’t recommend starting until you have figured out what type of vises and dogs you will have.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View jcees's profile


1060 posts in 3822 days

#11 posted 04-17-2011 03:51 PM

As you note, it is important to consider what “kind” of woodworking you want to concentrate on. Give it some thought. My bench is a work in progress that’s been going on for over ten years now. I built the massive top first and put it to work on a secondhand jacked up table base that I rescued from a school renovation while I conjured a base unit. What I’ve come up with is what I call shop “furniture” and will be completed this year. I will be building drawers that can be accessed from either side and can actually be used as supports for work ala Robert Whitley’s bench.

Long before Mr. Schwarz from PopWoodMag became an expert on the subject, I perused Taunton’s “The Workbench Book” by Scott Landis. It is still the survey course in bench design and function. I still lust for that gargantuan Shaker bench. Anyway, your design is fine and not unlike Bob Lang’s 21st Century workbench with its center tray. Checkout his design for some pretty cool features, he’s an editor for Popular Woodworking Magazine and you can download a free Sketchup of it too.

I look at benches this way; no one design can be perfect for every job BUT it can be perfect for most. That’s why it’s important to consider what kind of work you might be gravitating to. To that end, whenever I either build or move into my next shop, I’ll probably build a couple more each one more perfect for a given aspect of woodworking, i.e. planing bench, carving bench and possibly one perusing a hydraulic lift as a base on wheels so I can put the work at just the right height and in just the right light.

Good luck.


P.S. I’ll be posting pics of my bench soon with a blog on the building of the drawers. BTW, it’s mostly SYP with hickory bench screws, teak vise guides, wears and wedges for the exposed tenons and a few small pieces of lignum vitae for the bench screw garters and wears. I also designed it in the Arts & Crafts vernacular, my favorite style.

-- When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. -- John Muir

View poopiekat's profile (online now)


4356 posts in 3758 days

#12 posted 04-17-2011 04:24 PM

Jeez, I dunno….If appearance is your paramount concern, then sure, do the trestles. Myself, I’m much more content with my block cabinet (made with 1 3/4” salvaged industrial doors) with adjustable shelves, on which my butcher block work-top rests. You’re under-utilizing 54 +/- cubic feet of space where you could be storing your most-used tools in drawers or shelves. Though I’ll admit, if space was not an issue for me, I’d certainly go the trestle route, and have a fine bench like your design.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View bigike's profile


4052 posts in 3312 days

#13 posted 04-17-2011 05:36 PM

I think that is a sweeeeeeeeeet idea, the only thing I can’t vision is where you gonna put the vise or vises?

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop,

View bubinga's profile


861 posts in 2691 days

#14 posted 04-17-2011 06:03 PM

I really like your leg design !!!
My workbench started out as a 1 3/4 thick solid core oak door, to which I added edging, and vises, it now has many drawers under the top, and a solid leg system, it will do anything I need to do.
The door was a freebie, it is now 20+ years old and I see no reason to replace it .
Although I have thought of making a new top, and making a whole new bench would be a lot of fun

-- E J ------- Always Keep a Firm Grip on Your Tool

View DrTebi's profile


267 posts in 3290 days

#15 posted 04-18-2011 09:53 AM

Again, thank you for the responses, it’s great to hear your opinions.

To clarify a few things:
This is basically my first draft, not a final design. I posted it hear to get suggestions and ideas. Many great suggestions have already made me realized that I will have to put some more thought into this design.

My “kind” of woodworking is hard to describe. I am still quite new to woodworking, and thus cannot predict if I will get into a lot of hand tool work. But I also need to think about other uses for the bench, because I do small metal work on a regular basis as well as restoration of just “old beautiful things”... Ideally I should have a separate bench for each type of work. I was able to get a dirt-cheap 5×5 foot table for assemble work, but most other work would take place on this bench.

I took the advise to get a vise before starting to build a bench. Here is a photo of the vise, which I have just restored (sitting upside-down):

It’s a Rock Island Manufacturing vise from 1906, with quick release, in great condition. It’s jaw is about 9” wide. My plan is to make enough space on the left side of the bench to mount it under the bench top, and add an apron to the front that lines up with a wooden jaw stuck to the back jaw of the vise. I believe this vise will be adequate for most of my woodworking. If I would want to clamp larger boards for planing or routing onto the table top, I would think that the Veritas wonderdogs would serve my needs (I am planning to add round dog holes rows to both table tops).

Regarding drawers and shelves under the bench—I believe it would not be too difficult to build a drawer cabinet later on and drop it into the space between the bottom shelf and top. I did have this already in mind when designing this bench.

One other reason why I do like the trestle legs is, that I like having the bit of food/leg room. I occasionally work sitting directly in front of the bench (especially for small metalwork), and also like standing close to the table (kitchen cabinets have about the same room for your feet…)

Well, I hope this explains a few things.

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