Tired of working on a sheet of plywood thrown over a pair of
sawhorses? Had it with rolling benches that wiggle and wobble? Hate
running around your shop whenever you need a tool? Boy, do we have the
bench for you. Our dream bench starts with traditional workbench
features like a thick top, a sturdy base, bench dogs and a pair of
vises. Then we added tons of storage, an extra-wide top, and modern,
cast-iron vises. Last but not least, we devised a simple method to make
the bench mobile and still provide a rock-solid work platform. Our
bench is built to withstand generations of heavy use. Simple, stout
construction absorbs vibration and can handle any woodworking procedure
from chopping deep pocket mortises to routing an edge on a round
tabletop. The thick, butcher-block-style top is truly a joy to work on.
We'll show you how to surface this huge top without going insane trying
to level 24 separate strips of glued-up hardwood. Our top doesn't waste
wood—even the offcuts are used.
Tons of easy-access storage:
drawers and shelves keep your equipment organized and right at hand.
There's room for hand tools, power tools and all of their accessories.
Plus no bending down and fishing through dark cabinet interiors for the
tool you need.
Extra-wide, heavy-duty top:
This solid maple top can take
a real beating. Plus it's wide enough to double as an assembly table.
If you only have room for one bench in your shop, this is it.
You name it, this bench can clamp it down:
traditional bench dog system secures your work for machining and
sanding. The modern cast-iron vises are strong yet easier to install
than traditional vises. The generous overhanging top allows you to
clamp anything from round tabletops to benchtop machines anywhere along
It's rock-solid but mobile:
Under the base cabinet are
six heavy-duty casters that make the bench easy to move. When you're
ready to use it, lift the edge of the bench with a pry bar and slip
four 5/8-in.-thick, L-shaped support blocks underneath. This gives you
a rock-solid feel and unlike locking casters, there's no wobble or
Start the base cabinet by assembling
three identical boxes with butt joints and screws. Make sure all the
parts are square and the joints are flush. Use a flat area, like the
top of your tablesaw, to help keep things in line.
Screw the three boxes together to create the cabinet base. Use clamps to hold the boxes flush and even.
Glue and clamp face frames to
the cabinet. Start with the side frames. Then add the front face frame
so it overhangs the bottom of the cabinet to form a lip for the 2x4
base you'll build later.
Trim the face frame flush to the cabinet sides.
Use a stop block at the top of the cabinet openings to prevent the
router from cutting into the upper rail.
Tools & Materials
If you go all out like we did you can expect to pay about $900 for
materials. If you can't swing that much dough all at once, don't worry;
you can build an equally functional version for about $450. How? Save
$220 right off the bat by substituting common 2x4s for the maple top.
We made several tops this way and they work great. Just be sure you dry
your 2x4s to around 8-percent moisture content before you build. You
can save $75 by skipping the expensive birch plywood and hardwood. Just
stick with construction lumber. The inexpensive bench may not look as
classy, but hey, it's still a great workbench. You could build
adjustable shelves inside the cabinets instead of drawers and pullout
trays. They're less convenient, but it'll save you another $110 in
drawer slides.The best thing is you can cut costs and still get a fully
functional bench right away, even if you go with the least expensive
options. When you've got the extra cash, you can always build the maple
top or add the full-extension hardware. To build the bench you'll need
a tablesaw, planer, belt or orbital sander, a router and a circular
saw. You'll also want a flush-trim bit and a dado blade for your
Attach the drawer slides to the
cabinet. A simple T-square jig positions the slide for quick
installation. Stop blocks hold the slides 1/2 in. back from the front
edge for the half-overlay doors. The doubled-up box sides automatically
flush up with the 1-1/2-in.-wide face frame so there's no need to add
blocks for the drawer slides.
Cut pieces for the benchtop, making them 2-in.
longer than the finished top. Don't toss the offcuts into the firewood
pile. We'll build them into the top so nothing goes to waste.
Build the Cabinet
Cut the plywood parts for the three individual boxes (Parts D and E)
and assemble them (Photo 1). The three boxes are joined to form the
cabinet (Photo 2). Screw the two end pieces of birch plywood (H) to the
cabinet, placing the screws where the face frame will cover them (Fig. A).
Cut the plywood top (C) according to the actual measurements of your
assembled cabinet and attach with screws. Do the same for the back (B).
Cut and assemble the three face frames (parts U through AA). Use the
actual measurements of your cabinet to determine rail lengths. The face
frames are built slightly oversize to give you a little wiggle room
when gluing them to the carcase. The extra overhang will get trimmed
off later. Clamp and glue the side frames first. Tack the frames down
with a couple of brad nails so they don't scoot around under clamping
pressure. Use a flush-trim bit and a router to trim the side frames
even with the plywood. Attach and trim the front face frame (Photos 3
and 4). To mount the drawer and pull-out shelf slides, turn the cabinet
on its back and use a square to mark centerlines. Use a simple T-square
jig to align the slides so the screw holes are on the line (Photo 5).
Cut dadoes for the bench dog holes
in one of your benchtop pieces. Use a dado blade and a miter gauge with
a long auxiliary fence to support the stock. The slots are marked on
the top of the piece. It's okay to eyeball each cut. Exact spacing of
the holes is not critical.
Glue together the offcuts end to end. Clamp them
between two full-length pieces to keep them straight. This yields a few
more strips for the top and uses up your offcuts. Waxed paper around
the joint keeps the segmented strip from sticking to the full-length
pieces. We used the back of the cabinet for a flat glue-up table.
Glue eight strips together to form
one 12-in. section of the top. Cauls keep the top pieces in alignment.
The bench dog piece is placed second from the edge with the dadoes
facing toward the front edge.
Plane each 12-in. section flat. Take light cuts
and make sure your planer knives are sharp, to minimize tear-out.
Outfeed support is essential when planing heavy stock like this.
This is the business end of your bench. You'll want to take extra care
in each step to ensure a flat, solid top. Start by rough-cutting your
top stock (EE) to length (Photo 6). Cut 3/4 in. x 3/4-in. dadoes for
the bench dog (JJ) into the edge of one of the top pieces (Photo 7).
Before you start to glue up the top, make use of the offcuts. Just end
glue them in a line to create a full-length piece (Photo 8). I know
gluing end grain is a no-no, but all you want here is to hold the
pieces together long enough to build them into the top. Each segmented
piece will get properly edge-glued to other full-length pieces. The
result is a strong top that doesn't waste precious hardwood. Here's how
to assemble the butcher-block top without facing a sentence of hard
labor sanding. Glue up three 12-in. sections of the top on a flat
surface. We flipped the cabinet face down and used the back for our
glue-up (Photo 9). Each 12-in. section should start and end with a
Clamp the 12-in. sections together
one at a time. You only have one joint to worry about so make it flush.
Extra effort here will pay off in the end. You'll only have to lightly
sand for a flat, smooth top.
Mount the face vise, then glue two strips on
either side. This will make the front edge of the top flush with the
wooden cheek of the vise.
The segmented pieces can alternate with full-length pieces. Once the
glue is good and dry (overnight is best), remove the top section from
the clamps and scrape off any squeeze out. Now you're going to put your
portable planer to the test. Each section gets planed down to 2-1/2-in.
thickness (Photo 10). Take light cuts for the sake of your planer, and
to minimize tear-out. Try wetting the top's surface before the last
pass for the smoothest possible cut. Some minor tear-out is inevitable
with a big glue-up like this. Remember it's a workbench, not a museum
piece. Once all three sections are surfaced, you can glue them together
(Photo 11). Do one at a time. This allows you to concentrate on keeping
each joint perfectly level. Before you use any glue, dry clamp your
sections to make sure the clamps can draw the joint tight. Even a
slightly bowed section will be hard for clamps to pull straight. (See
Oops!, below, for a nifty fix.) Once all the sections are glued
together you'll need to trim the ends to final length. Mark the ends of
the top with a square. Continue the marks around the underside of the
top as well. Set a circular saw for a 1-1/2-in.-deep cut and clamp a
straightedge to the top so the saw cuts on the line. Make the first
cut. Then flip over the top and set the straightedge for the second
cut. Complete the cut and smooth the ends with a power sander.
Screw the cabinet onto the base and
nail on the base molding. If your bench is going to be mobile, use glue
as well as nails to prevent the molding from being inadvertently pried
off when the bench is lifted.
Place the benchtop on the cabinet. This top is
heavy, so get a friend to help with the lifting. Check for an even
overhang on all four edges. Then secure with lag bolts.
Build the Base
Build the base flush with the bottom of the cabinet. Pick the
straightest 2x4s you can find for the frame. If possible, we recommend
starting out with 2x6s that have been dried to about 8-percent moisture
content. Then joint and plane them to make straight and true 2x4s.
Assemble the 2x4 frame with screws. A plywood base top (A) is fastened
to the frame to finish the base.
If your bench is going to be stationary, go ahead and shim the base
level before adding the cabinet. If you want to make a mobile bench,
attach the six casters to the underside of the plywood base's top (Fig. A).
Leave just enough room for the casters to rotate freely inside the 2x4
frame. Six casters allow the bench to glide smoothly, even if your
floor is uneven. Add the base molding to finish the bench (Photo 13).
Doors, Drawers & Pull-Out Shelves
Start by cutting three door blanks (J). Add the 1/2-in.-birch edging on
all four edges. Put a 3/8-in. round-over all the way around the outside
edge of all three blanks. On the tablesaw or router table, cut a 3/8
in. x 3/8-in. rabbet on all four inside edges. Crosscut the drawer
fronts (K, L and M) out of one of the blanks and use the other two for
doors. Build and mount the drawers and pullout shelves according to (Fig. C)
Now all that's left is to secure the top to the cabinet (Photo 14).
Accommodate the expansion and contraction of the solid-wood top by
elongating the two outside holes on the angle-iron cleats under the top
(Fig. A). A simple oil finish completes the job. There, now you've got all the support you'll ever need for your woodworking.
Download Plywood Cutting Diagram
It's possible for the edges of the laminated top sections to end up
with a slight bow. With 12 in. of width, you're not likely to
straighten them out with clamp pressure. So what should you do?
A jointer is out of the question; the 12-in. section of top is just too
big and heavy, even for two people. We used a simple two-step process
with a router and a straightedge to joint our bowed top section.
Cut a straight, shallow rabbet on the
bowed edge of the 12-in. top section. Chuck a 1/2-in. straight cutter
with a 1-1/2-in. cutting length into your router and set it for maximum
depth. Clamp a straightedge to the top section so the router shaves off
just enough material to leave a continuous straight edge.
A second pass with a flush-trim bit removes the
ledge created by the first pass. Just flip over the top and rout. The
result is a clean, straight edge that's ready for glue-up.
Download the Cutting List
Home Center, Four sheets 3/4" AC fir plywood, $27 ea. ($108 total), One
sheet 3/4" birch plywood, $37, Three 8' 2x4s, $3.50 ea. ($10.50 total),
9 ft. 1-1/2" x 1-1/2" angle iron, $1.50 ea. ($14 total).
Wall Lumber Co., (800) 633-4062, 90 bd. ft. 8/4 soft maple, $3 ea. (total $270), 25 bd. ft. 3/4" birch, $3 (total $75).
Woodworker's Hardware, (800) 383-0130, Ten 24" full-extension drawer
slides with 1-in. overtravel, KV8405 B24 ANO, $11 ea. ($110 total) Two
3/8" inset, self-closing hinges, A07128 3, $1.50 ea. ($3 total), Six 3"
swivel-plate industrial casters, rubber, $10 ea. ($60 total)
Five 2" birch knobs, SBKR 200, 75¢ ea. ($3.75 total), 1/2" x 1-1/2"
straight cutter, CMT812.627.11, $17, 1/2" x 1-1/2" flush-trim bit,
Highland Hardware, (800) 241-6748, 9" quick-release vise, 199152, $100,
7" quick-release vise, 199151, $70. Grand total: $899.25.