Effective workbench size, portability

  • Advertise with us

« back to Hand Tools forum

Forum topic by spclPatrolGroup posted 08-05-2014 05:10 AM 1548 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View spclPatrolGroup's profile


233 posts in 2920 days

08-05-2014 05:10 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question workbench

I am going to build a new workbench. It gets too cold in the winter to be in the garage to do much woodworking in the garage, and all the tools are ice cold. So I thought I would build a workbench specifically for working with hand tools in my basement, I don’t want to deal with the dust from power tools inside the house. I will also want to maybe bring it up to the garage in the summer, so I don’t want to go too large, and I need to make it easy to detach the legs and stretchers from the top for portability. I have 2 front vises, one 7” and one 11” I will use the larger as a tail vise. Everything will be made out of southern yellow pine.

So this is a vague question and I know it will depend on a lot of factors, but generally, what would be the minimum size top you would find useful?

Also what are some tips to make the bench come apart in pieces so I can move it between my basement and garage? I was thinking either tenons that protrude through the top, or some way to attach the legs to the top using bolts, then using a large dovetail to attach the stretchers to the legs and running a bolt through them, but I am not sure.

Thanks in advance!

10 replies so far

View BubbaIBA's profile


387 posts in 2402 days

#1 posted 08-05-2014 09:36 AM

Sometimes someone not close to the problem can break the tunnel vision and look at it in a different way. While a portable bench can be done well, see the Benchcrafted web site. IIRC their split top bench was originally designed to be transported to woodworking shows. A better option might be two benches.

You have already said you are building with SYP, construction grade SYP in 2X12 10’ length needed to build a workbench, last I looked was less than $0.40 USD/BF. To build a substantial bench you will need about 200 BF, even if the SYP is $0.50 USD/BF the material cost is $100 USD. As Winter is approaching, build one in the basement then over the winter build the second to be assembled next summer in the garage.

That way both benches can be optimized for their space, the second bench will be much easier to build than the first because you have a bench to build it on, and with none of the compromises in size, weight, construction, and design needed to make the bench portable.

Sorry I didn’t answer your question but… might be a better way.


View ksSlim's profile (online now)


1276 posts in 2915 days

#2 posted 08-05-2014 11:28 AM

My basement bench is 60” long and 15” wide because of space constrants.
I use primarily hand tools in the basement.
If need be, I can spend a few minutes in the cold garage to use table saw, router, planner or mitre saw.
Garage bench is 72” long and 24” wide.

Hope that gives you some idea.

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1317 posts in 1960 days

#3 posted 08-05-2014 01:04 PM

I built a portable bench because I new I would be moving a lot before I ended up settling down. It was a good call, as I have moved it twice in 3 years. It is just made of 2×4’s, plywood, and a MDF door I had sitting around.

Mine comes apart into 6 pieces: top, bottom, and 4 sides. It is all held together with 1/2 bolts. Where the sides all come together, there are 2×4’s that bolts go thru, and the bottom just sits in there. The top is attached to a 2×4 top rail and is held down by bolts. So, there are recessed bolt heads on my benchtop, but the biggest problem is just sawdust getting into them, they never really cause any problems other than that. I can take it apart and put it back together in about 45 minutes or so. I like it pretty well. It weighs in at about 250 lbs or so, but with all the junk in it, it is closer to 400.

As far as size goes, mine is about 24” x 72” and I would say that is too big. I think for a portable, 20” x 60” is about right.

Good luck

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View CL810's profile (online now)


3798 posts in 3013 days

#4 posted 08-05-2014 01:25 PM

This bench build might be of interest to you.

-- "The only limits to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." - FDR

View spclPatrolGroup's profile


233 posts in 2920 days

#5 posted 08-05-2014 02:39 PM

Thanks for the info guys. I do have a bench in my garage as it is, but its more of a large assembly table\out feed table for the table saw, not much clamping ability. Ill check out that link during lunch. I have a feeling I probably wont know how long it would be until I finally cut it to length, 20-24” seems to be the width most prefer.

View JayT's profile


5675 posts in 2236 days

#6 posted 08-05-2014 03:22 PM

I agree with the first couple responses on building two benches, but for some different reasons. After building and using one bench for a while, you will likely figure out changes you would like to make and want to re-design it anyways. Why not build one bench for the basement to use this winter and by the time spring rolls around you will have some other ideas and can build a different one for the garage.

If you do decide to build a knockdown bench, here’s my limited experience from building two knockdown workbenches. My main shop bench is a Holtzapffel design made from construction lumber, utilizing a bed bolt type attachment for the stretchers and lag bolts to hold down the top. Its designed as a heavy, full size workbench that is able to be moved if absolutely necessary. My other is a very small traveling workbench designed for portability first with just enough size and weight to be usable.

Seems like you are looking for something in between those two extremes. Here’s a few things I can take from those builds and using my main bench for a while now:

  • My main bench is 72×24. That’s bigger than I need 98% of the time, especially depth. The 6ft length is nice, but 18-20 inches of depth would be plenty for most of what I do and be much easier to move.
  • The catch 22 of the above is that reducing the size also reduces the mass. A heavy bench is better for stability and so that it doesn’t slide around while using it, but a heavy bench is pain to move. The smaller size probably wouldn’t matter as much with a heavy hardwood, but will make a difference using pine. A possible solution would be to make a split top, so that you could move the heaviest part in two sections instead of one.
  • If you are going to move a bench frequently, do not rely on lag bolts. Eventually the wood will give out where they attach. My main bench isn’t moved often (once since it was built), so there it’s not really an issue, but if I was taking it apart more often, I would use countersunk bolts in the top and washers and nuts below instead or some other mechanical connection, such as the sliding dovetails on my travelling bench.

If you do a Google search for knockdown workbenches, there are quite a few good designs out there. Looking them over may give you some other ideas, as well

Good luck with whatever you decide.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

View spclPatrolGroup's profile


233 posts in 2920 days

#7 posted 08-05-2014 03:33 PM

JayT, this is good information. your traveling workbench reminds me of my grandfathers now in my fathers possession, very similar design. I like the bottom stretcher being a shelf as well using the through mortise and peg system.

View Mosquito's profile


9354 posts in 2318 days

#8 posted 08-05-2014 04:01 PM

my bench top (not including tool well) is 11”x52” and it works well for what I do (I don’t do too many large projects)

I did a blog series on it here:

I basically built a traditional splayed leg french bench, and didn’t glue the legs to the top, or the long stretcher to the legs. I built it in a way that I could take it apart and move it, very similar to your requirements (though mine was because I was using it in my apartments spare bedroom). I take it apart into the leg vise, 2 leg assemblies (leg assemblies consist of the front and back legs, with the short stretcher holding them together), the long stretcher (I used tenons and a barrel bolt on both ends to keep it in place), the bench top, and a stack of short boards for the bottom of the tool-well.

-- Mos - Twin Cities, MN - -

View spclPatrolGroup's profile


233 posts in 2920 days

#9 posted 08-09-2014 07:28 AM

Mos that is a great design, I am going to have to steal some of your ideas, haven’t decided if I want a tool well or not, I think I may try making a detachable one using a French cleat.

View Mosquito's profile


9354 posts in 2318 days

#10 posted 08-09-2014 02:41 PM

that would be an interesting idea for the tool tray, to make it removable. So long as it won’t fall off I’d say might as well give it a go. Maybe a screw screw at each end just to make sure it doesn’t fall off would ease my mind, personally lol

I like having the tool well, but then I don’t have much space for tools that are currently in use. Anything not in the tool well gets put away. I usually have a bunch of stuff in it, like pencils, squares, scratch paper, marking knife, few small scraps (for protecting the bench while chiseling out waste or the like).

If you go with a tool well that isn’t removable, make sure that at least part of the bottom of it is, or you have wedges in the end. It’ll make cleaning it out a lot easier

-- Mos - Twin Cities, MN - -

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics