Woodworking Benches: How to Make One

With constant use, a work bench top does, in time, become very worn-chipped and unsuitable to work on. An important feature of this bench is that the top can be turned over for further use and eventually replaced, simply by removing a few screws. It is strong enough to hold a large vice and you will be able to cope with sizeable handyman tasks.

The bench is strong enough to hold a large-capacity vice, and the top is big enough for tackling among the largest of home-construction jobs.

The height is 800mm-suitable for most adults. If you are taller or shorter than average, you may vary the height to suit your requirements.

All the timber widths (80mm) are the same throughout, but the legs are slightly thicker (28mm) than the rails (22mm), for strength and for extra glueing surface.

The screws are countersunk, and all surfaces which come into contact with each other are glued. Surplus glue is wiped off with a damp cloth.

Construction is based on a top and a bottom tray. Start by cutting the six cross rails, required for the trays. These must be exactly the same length (575mm), and the ends must be square.

These are marked out using the try-square and marking knife. The marking knife and a marking gauge fulfil slightly different roles. The marking knife is used to mark wood across the grain; the marking gauge is used along timber and across the end grain.

A knife gives a more positive line than a pencil and acts as a guide to the saw when cutting.

Cut six pieces 15mm longer than required from lengths of planed softwood. Place the pieces together and cramp them with a ‘G’ cramp or a small bar cramp.

Using a try-square and marking knife, next square a cut line across all pieces, 5mm from one end. Measure 575mm from this line and square a cut line across at the other end.

Unfasten the cramp and square the lines right round the timber with the marking knife. Using a bench hook and tenon saw, carefully cut these pieces to length, sawing on the waste side of the line. Place these pieces to one side and cramp the four front and back rails, cut to 105m, in two cramps.

These pieces are a little more complicated to mark out, so extra care should be taken.

The end rails are both inset 40mm. The cross rail is exactly centred. The top and bottom tray are made exactly the same. Housing joints are used to secure all tray rails.

A housing joint consists of a slot across a piece of timber, into which the end section of another piece fits tightly at right-angles.

Housings are measured and marked out with a try-square and a marking knife. Use one of the cross rails to provide a direct measurement, then square lines all round the timber.

Set the marking gauge to the depth of the housing joint and cut carefully to depth with the tenon saw.

Check that you cut accurately; it will assist if you keep the saw parallel as you near the end of the cut.

Remove waste with a 25mm bevel-edged chisel. First cut out waste on either side of the cut, holding the chisel at an angle of about 45°, with the bevel uppermost; do this on each side of the slot.

This will leave a ‘hill’ in the centre of the groove. With the chisel held flat, remove the centre waste and clean up the joint-first the corners, then the edge, and the bed.

Use one of the cross rails to mark out the width of the housing grooves by direct measurement, so that the housing is made to the exact width of the timber. Unfasten the cramps and square the lines across on the inside face of the rail and down the other edge.

Set the marking gauge to 7mm, and, between the pairs of lines now marked, gauge the depth of the housing. These housings may now be cut, taking care that cutting is to the waste side of the lines.

Saw one housing, remove the waste and test with a cross rail for tightness of fit. You should be able to knock the rail gently in with a hammer and a piece of scrap wood. If the joint is either loose or tight, make the necessary adjustments to your sawing when cutting the next housing.

Again, clean out the waste and test. Repeat this for all housings, making a tight but comfortable fit.

When all housings are cut, prepare the glue blocks required-eight for each ‘tray’, 22mm2 x 70mm long. Spread glue in all housings and on the end of each rail. Assemble the frame, using 50mm oval nails, and secure each joint by dovetail nailing.

Spread glue in the corners of the frame and on each glue block. Put the blocks in place, using a ‘rubbing’ action, to squeeze out as much glue as possible. This action brings the surfaces close together. Secure each block with 38mm panel pins.

Try each frame for squareness by measuring the diagonals with a steel tape and checking that these measurements are identical. Any slight differences can be corrected by hand pressure. Leave the frames on a level surface to dry.

Check the overall length and width of these trays and cut panels of 12mm birch ply, 885mm x 604mm, to fit. It is important that the panels are an exact fit, so adjust the sizes slightly, to allow for any variations which may have occurred during construction.

All panels should be cut with a fine-toothed hand saw, to minimise splintering or breaking out on the underside of the panel. Trim the panels to an exact fit with a smoothing plane, mark out for the second countersunk screw holes and centrepunch the position of each.

Countersinking is the process by which a shallow depression is made in the timber, so that a screw head will finish flush with the surface. This may be done with a counter-sink or rose bit, held in a hand brace or in an electric drill.

Spread glue on the edge of the tray and on the underside of the panel. Place the panel in position and secure with four panel pins, placed on opposite sides. You may drill and countersink the holes in the conventional way, or use a tool such as the Stanley Screwmate, a small tool which drills and countersinks for matching steel screws.

The second tray is then prepared in exactly the same way. Both are set aside to dry thoroughly.

Having completed the two ‘trays’ and ensured that they are rigid, check the measurements between the projections at the end of each. These should be identical, but if they are not, select the largest measurement and use this for marking out the two end (leg) panels. These should be 560mm wide and 690mm long. It is, however, more important to work to the framework dimensions, in case of variation.

Once these end panels have been prepared, plane them to an exact fit. These should go tightly into the space between the tray and the rails. Mark the panels and trays for ease of identification.

Cut the four legs to an exact length – marking these all out at the same time to a length of 750mm. Glue and screw these on to the end panels, using techniques similar to those in assembling the trays.

Once the legs have been secured, cut the top rail to fit exactly between the legs, glue and screw into position, and leave these assemblies to dry.

The top of the bench consists of double layers of 24mm Finnish birch plywood, providing a very solid and flat working surface.

Two panels cut from a standard l.22m sheet of ply allows for a ‘tool well’ at the rear of the bench. Make one panel 610mm and the other 460mm wide.

These should be screwed together from beneath. There is no need, at this stage, to put in more than two screws. With the two pieces together, mark out, on the front edge, the cut out required to take the rear cheek of the vice.

All vices vary to some degree in their construction, and some are more difficult to fit than others. The vice used was from the Paramo range and was easily fitted. This vice requires a cut out 230mm long x 17mm deep. This is marked on to both pieces of ply comprising the top and the cut out is gauged to depth.

Take out the screws and work on each piece individually. The cut .out is best handled in the following way:

Cut down the lines marked to the gauge line. At 5mm intervals along the length of the cut, make a further series of saw cuts. This is waste material which has to be removed. Then, with a 25mm bevel-edged chisel, remove this waste.

Repeat this on the second panel and fix the vice block in position with glue and screws.

When the end panels are dry, mark out the lines of the bolt holes. These should be 40mm from the bottom and 192mm from the top of each end assembly. Mark out the bolt holes and bore, with a twist bit, holes for 5/16in. (8mm) bolts.

Clean up the end (leg) assemblies with medium glasspaper and then similarly clean up the two trays.

Check that the leg assemblies fit into their respective positions. If not, adjust by using a smoothing plane, finely set.

Cover all contact-surfaces for the bottom tray with glue and bolt the legs into position, using mudguard washers on the inside. These are extra-large washers which help to spread the pressure when the nut is tightened.

Spread the glue and lower the top tray into position. Hold it in place with a pair of ‘G’ cramps on opposite corners. It will be easier to position this tray if the bench assembly so far is stood on end.

Once positioned, drill the holes and put the bolts into position. Put on the washers and tighten the nuts. Repeat this operation at the opposite ends, and check all nuts, making sure that all are really tight. Wipe off surplus glue with a damp cloth.

Rest the top on the bench assembly, with the vice block uppermost, and place the vice in position. Bore holes for the coach screws which hold the vice to the block. Use a 6mm bit in a hand brace to bore core holes for 2in x 3/8in coach screws. Insert the screws and tighten up with a spanner.

Turn the top over and screw it into position with 50mm countersunk No. 10 screws. These screws go into the top rail of the leg assemblies and should be firmly tightened. If the top of the bench can remain a fixture, the contact surfaces may be spread with glue.

Place the top layer of ply in position and secure with screws.

A hole for the bench stop (50mm x 25mm) should be marked and cut. This hole must have its edge hard against the leg to ensure a ‘frictional’ fit.

Place a try-square on the front edge, with the blade protruding under the bench, to rest against the leg. Mark this position on to the front face and square this line across the front edge.

Square a line across the top surface of the bench and, from it, mark out the 25mm x 50mm rectangle of the bench stop.

Fix a piece of scrap wood with a ‘G’ cramp on to the leg under this position and ‘chop’ this hole right through, using a 25mm bevel-edged chisel.

Place the front ‘cheek’ of the bench in position and screw it but do not use glue. Ideally, this should be made of hardwood, but good-quality softwood will suffice.

This is the part of a bench which usually takes the most punishment and since it is easily replaceable, it can be readily renewed whenever it deteriorates too badly.

The rear tool rack is made from two pieces of 12mm softwood, 48mm wide. Cut these to length and prepare three blocks from the same timber, each 75mm long. These are the spacers.

Glue and pin the first piece in place on the rear of the bench. Position the three blocks, glue and pin, then glue and screw on the outside piece.

Make the end blocks of the trays from offcuts of the 80mm x 22mm rail material. Plane a 45° edge slope and fix these blocks with two screws each. The bevel allows dust and shavings to be swept out of the tray.

Rub down all surfaces with medium glasspaper and give the bench two coats of a clear polyurethane varnish. Similarly rub down the top, which is given a third coat of varnish. This final coat should have the gloss removed with a piece of fine steel wool, or use a matt polyurethane varnish finish.

10. November 2011 by admin
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