Plywood Workbench

This is the introduction for a free series. Want to watch the whole thing? It is free to do so, you just need to log into the site and you can enjoy this series and many other videos we think you will love.

Paul has come up with an alternative workbench design that matches his original for utility, stability and durability, but which can be made using a bandsaw, plywood and an ingenious approach to joinery. This is an excellent place to start for machinists looking to begin using hand tools, and for those wanting to expedite construction without compromising on the key characteristics of a good, solid bench.

164 Comments

  1. Jeff Mazur on 1 February 2019 at 10:31 am

    I like this design quite a lot. The stability of the top must be outstanding given that it’s effectively a glue-up of a zillion thin crossed-grain layers.

    I do love my holdfasts, though – have you ever tried them in a surface like this, where the holes are drilled into plywood from the edges? I’m guessing it would be okay but would hate to build one only to find the holdfasts don’t grip because of the large proportion of glue in the wood the holes are drilled through (or any other reason I’m not thinking of.) I have a workbench made of plywood, but the top is made of a few layers of plywood just laid together flat, and so the holdfasts work fine because the plywood plies form ridges perpendicular to the holdfast’s shaft, giving good friction. Thoughts?

    • Brian Hall on 1 February 2019 at 11:09 am

      You could always top this plywood bench with a sheet or two running horizontally, that would solve your dog issue. If this makes the top too thick just make the vertical pieces narrower.
      Hope that helps

      • Paul SellersTeam Member on 2 February 2019 at 8:16 am

        Personally I think this would ruin the absolute solid rigidity of the edge grain orientation when chopping and such.

    • Jim Thornton on 1 February 2019 at 3:19 pm

      My thought: Laminate a few pieces of scrap plywood together. Drill a hole for a holdfast. Try it out and you should have your answer.

    • Alan Hochhalter on 1 February 2019 at 7:31 pm

      I have a bench top made from what in the US is called laminated veneer lumber (LVL) and my bench dogs seem to work fine. I don’t have a bench with a solid wood top to compare against though.

    • Paul SellersTeam Member on 2 February 2019 at 8:14 am

      There would be no problem drilling directly into the benchtop for dog holes. In fifty plus years I never used them so not intending to start now. Never found them necessary at all.

      • jeffdustin on 16 February 2019 at 1:17 pm

        You called it right. If you are a north American you love holdfasts! I just like hitting thing with a mallet. Plus the holdfast is beautiful and handmade while the clamps are an industrial item and butt ugly though extremely practical. They often have unsightly and disposable cheap molded plastic. I have to buy a clamp from a 3rd world abusing corporation while the village blacksmith can hammer out a holdfast. I like the speed and feel of setup. I like the Romans used them. There is a pioneer bromance to a holdfast a clamp can never replicate. It is the difference between sawing a tree and axing down a tree. To each their own, no better or worse. I know Paul has forgotten more than I know not just about wood but life too. And I will keep my clamps too.

    • wallycox on 7 February 2019 at 8:29 am

      What about using thick hardwood strips of boards the length of the bench that could be drilled for holdfasts?

    • tomleg on 13 February 2019 at 9:35 pm

      I’m not a qualified woodworker, more of a hammer-banger. But I don’t see why the plywood would not grip the holdfasts. It isn’t plywood layers that hold the holdfast but the immense pressure when the holdfast is even slightly on an angle – as it would be if you bang the corner/curve.

      Take a few small scraps of playwood and drill a hole to hold the holdfast. If it doesn’t grip, try drilling a pilot hole all the way through, the standard hole part way down, and a wider hole from the bottom, so the bottom X% of the “top” doesn’t touch the holdfast. I bet it will help. Or for the experiment, you could simply saw off, 1/2″ bits from the bottom, until it grips.

      Report back your results so we all know 🙂

    • Reno on 19 February 2019 at 7:26 pm

      Years ago I saw a project in which dog holes were bored out, and then lined with bushing made from ordinary 3/4″ i.d. copper tubing. Supposedly it performed well and was attractive in appearance.

      I have no idea whether this would actually work.

    • ballinger on 22 July 2019 at 11:44 am

      I know I’m late to the party but I saw a method for the holdfasts where a centre punch was used to texture the shaft of the holdfast making it grip better in the dog holes.

  2. Chris May on 1 February 2019 at 10:50 am

    Just wondering why the bench in ply when we had one recent in timber whixh gives skills to learn the ply design is a shortcut to traditonal skills

    • Joseph Kesselman on 1 February 2019 at 12:37 pm

      1) Why not? 2) May be cheaper.3) May be more approachable for novices to hand-tool work, as explicitly mentioned in the description. 4) Paul has said he’s interested in exploring the adaptability of fine handwork to manufactured lumber and vice versa; this is a good first proof of concept. 5) As noted in another comment, that hyperlaminated top should be amazingly stable. 6) …

      Really, any of these would be reason enough. Not all projects will appeal to everyone in the audience; nobody will fault you if you skip this one. Personally, I’m interested in seeing what new insights Paul can give us about this humble material.

      (And I’m wondering whether he’s going to go with higher quality hardwood ply, construction grade, or a mixture to optimize for each component of the bench…)

      • William Hall on 1 February 2019 at 1:05 pm

        From the appearance of the ply in the short video clip, it looks like Baltic birch plywood. The advantage over the usual softwood and hardwood plywoods available at builders merchants and DIY stores is that all the layers of veneer are of equal thickness, rather than a face veneer of approx. 0.6mm thickness and core veneers of 2mm to 3mm. If you’re in the UK, a slightly cheaper alternative to birch plywood might be what Jewsons sell as “Wisa Twin”, which seems to be a softwood core with birch face veneers, but in the same even thickness multiply form as the birch plywood. I recall that when I last looked, the Wisa Twin was about 2/3 the price of birch ply.

        • Brian A on 4 February 2019 at 11:38 pm

          In the US we have something called “Purebond Birch” plywood in the DIY stores, which is poplar with Birch veneer. I have this as the wellboard on my bench. Not as bad as some plywood types but there still are a fair number voids in the edges.

    • Steve Petka on 1 February 2019 at 4:53 pm

      Well it is an option for people that may not feel confident in being able to create the joinery, which seems daunting when starting out. If that is holding them back then this is a good option. For example, when I was trying to decide on a bench build a few months back, I narrowed it down to a few, one being Mike Siemsen’s “Naked Workbench” where most of the “joinery” is created by laminating 4/4 material in different lengths to leave gaps for the other part, very similar to this plywoood design, but with solid wood. I was strongly swaying towards that Siemsen bench because I wasn’t intimidated by the joinery. Ultimately I am glad I didn’t because I learned a TON of skill by do