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AW Extra 3/6/14 - Wedged-Base Workbench

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Wedged-Base Workbench

Tablesaw joinery locks it together.

By Tim Johnson

This workbench has a top ready for hard use. But it’s the base that catches your eye. The interlocking joinery, with its dovetails and wedges, is rock solid, yet it knocks down quickly for moving.

Although it looks complicated, the base is surprisingly easy to build. It’s made from multiples of only five parts that fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. The fancy joinery that locks the pieces in place is nothing more than strategically located rabbets and dadoes, and they’re all made on the tablesaw.


Unlock the Joinery

The key to successfully building this base is knowing the sequence of the saw cuts, shown here as lettered steps. If you approach building it one cut at a time, following the steps, you’ll have it assembled before you know it.

First, fit the brackets to the tops of the legs with slots and dadoes (Steps A and B). Set the brackets aside.

Next, fit the end rails to the legs with half-lap, dado and bevel cuts (Steps C - F). Before gluing them together, make dadoes in the end rails to house the side rails (Step G).

After the end assemblies are glued, cut the tenons on the side rails so they fit between the end rails (Step H). Then cut dadoes in the end assemblies (Step J) for the wedges.

Make the wedges (Step K) and then lay out and cut the angled dadoes on the side rails that hold them (Steps L and M). Assemble the base, lock it together by tapping the wedge home (Step N) and slide the top brackets in place.

You’ll need 25 board feet of 8/4 and 15 board feet of 6/4 stock. Additional 6/4 and 8/4 scrap stock in any wood is helpful for test cuts. Your shop needs to be equipped with a well-adjusted jointer, planer and tablesaw. You’ll also need an accurate, adjustable try square. For layout work you’ll need a stack dado set that cuts flat bottoms, a tapering jig for the wedges and brackets, a sharp chisel and a router and chamfering bit.


Make or Buy the Top

When it comes to the top, you have two choices. You can buy one ready-made (see Sources, below), or make your own. Manufactured workbench tops are hard to find, come in limited sizes and are expensive to ship. Butcherblock countertops are widely available, but are always only 1-1⁄2-in. thick and often include short butt-joined pieces.

Making your own top is a lot of work and you won’t save yourself much money. Satisfaction, quality control and choosing specific dimensions, especially the thickness, are good reasons to do it.

I made this one from plainsawn 8/4 boards, all 8-ft. long and about 6-in. wide (72 board ft.) I milled them to 1-3⁄4- in. thickness and ripped them in half. After jointing the edges, I ripped the boards to a consistent width, as wide as the narrowest piece. Then I glued them together face to face, quartersawn edges up, in three sections, each about 10-1⁄2-in. wide. I ran these sections through the planer to make them smooth and of uniform thickness. Then I jointed the edges and carefully glued these sections together to make the top. I cut the ends square with a straightedge-guided saw.


Other Possibilities

Upon seeing it, one of my friends said, “That’s not a workbench, it’s a table.” He’s right—half right, anyway. The bench could also be used as a kitchen or gardening work table. And with minor modification it would make a great dining or coffee table. Just imagine the base under a glass top. But be prepared to keep the glass clean of nose prints from guests seeking a closer look at your exquisite joinery!


Sources

(Note: This information may have changed since this story's original publication date.)

Woodcraft Supply, woodcraft.com, 800-225-1153, 1-3/4" Thick Laminated Maple Bench Tops, 30" x 60", #145686, $270, 1-3/4" x 24" x 60", #145685, $250, 24" x 84", #145687, $300.

Your local home center or lumberyard, Butcherblock Countertops.


Bench Dimensions and Cutting List


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker October 1999, Issue #75.

Click on any image to view a larger version.


Make the Top Bracket


1. Cut slots centered in the top of each leg for the brackets that hold the top (Step A).To keep the leg steady, attach a tall auxiliary fence to your saw’s rip fence and clamp the leg to a good-sized rectangular block. Use a featherboard and make the cut in several shallow passes until you reach the maximum depth your dado set allows (21⁄8-in., in this case).


2. Cut dadoes on both sides of each top bracket so they can slip into the dadoes in the leg tops (Step B). Stop blocks at each end of the miter fence control the width of the cut.


Make the End Assemblies


3. Bevel the edges of each end rail at a 9-degree angle (Step E).These cuts turn the tongues into big dovetail pins. Leave a 1⁄4-in. wide flat on the back edge of the rail to ride against the fence.


4. Make angled cuts at the reference points, turning the leg dadoes into tails (Step F).Then nibble away the remaining waste. After cutting the angle on one side of each dado, flip the leg over and stand the end rail on the leg. Align the pin with the unfinished tail, and mark the leg for the remaining angled cut. (Inset) Set the height of the blade for cutting the dovetail corners by raising it so that its teeth barely nick the top of the dado.


5. Pare the waste from the angled saw cuts with a sharp, wide chisel to finish the corner.


House the Side Rail


6. Cut a dado (Step G) in each end rail, starting from the shoulder of the half-lap. Make it wide enough to house the side rail.


Final Assembly


7. Mark the location of the angled dado in the side rail that will hold the wedge. Slide the side rail into position and use the end assembly dado for reference.


8. Lay out the side rail wedge dado from the L-shaped mark you’ve just made (Photo 7). Its leg gives you the depth and its stem marks the back of the wedge. Extend the dado a bit behind this line for clearance. Draw the angled front using one of your wedges held tight against a try square.You can remove most of the waste from this dado with straight, 90-degree cuts (Step L).


9. Make the final angled cuts in the side rail (Step M). Use one of the wedges clamped between the rail and the miter gauge to guarantee that the angle of the dado and the wedge match perfectly.


The Wedge


10. Slide the wedge home (Step N). Once it has engaged the dado in the lower end rail, tap it securely into place.