Plywood Workbench

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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.

166 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 doing the traditional joinery. But I can see where this makes it more accessible.

      • Alan on 2 February 2019 at 3:06 am

        It can’t be a cost factor. Bandsaws are £1300+
        I would have thought few people are daunted by joinery for a workbench, while owning & operating a bandsaw.

    • Paul SellersTeam Member on 2 February 2019 at 8:19 am

      I think the reasoning was well explained in my blog on it here: https://paulsellers.com/2019/01/my-plywood-workbench/

    • tomleg on 5 February 2019 at 1:34 am

      One reason is how much easier it is to wind up with a flat benchtop.

      I made my interpretation of Paul’s 2×4 bench but I had to leave it behind when I sold my house, just wasn’t able to move it. I went back to get rid of some stuff the new owner didn’t want, and he ridiculed the bench for being heavy, and the number of 2×4 it contained.

      I need a new bench for my new house, so I’ll try the plywood version.

  3. redwood on 1 February 2019 at 10:53 am

    Thanks guys, great project.

  4. David Alvarez on 1 February 2019 at 10:58 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Paul and team for this project. Although I realize its a niche market you’re appealing to, as a member of that particular niche I am overjoyed that you are tackling this head on. I do have a minor question, based on the one segment of this intro video you’ve posted so far with the screen full of (rather horrifying) shavings of plywood ends; how often can I expect to be sharpening my edge tools? Every hour? Every day? Every 5 or 10 minutes? Just wondering.

    • Alan on 2 February 2019 at 3:20 am

      Perhaps now there’s a use for that Record 735 Fibreboard Plane, which nobody seems to want to own?

    • Paul SellersTeam Member on 2 February 2019 at 8:21 am

      I am guessing you are talking about for planing plywood. I think I sharpened two planes three time each for this workbench. That is over about two days of making with no special irons or such.

  5. arobarge on 1 February 2019 at 11:04 am

    Having built a “modern” wooden boat out of mostly marine ply AFTER having watched Paul’s videos for years, I’m confident most people including myself will find this series really useful. There are plenty of times when things need to be built in ply (especially cabinetry), and although it is less fun to work with than solid wood it does have it’s uses and benefits. Thanks so much Paul for coming up with this – I may have to build another of your benches now!

  6. mcael on 1 February 2019 at 11:08 am

    Just what the Doctor ordered, Know I can downsize to fit within my little 8 x 6 shed. looking forward to the videos coming.

  7. Roy Turvey on 1 February 2019 at 11:27 am

    Will you have the drawings in metric also? I can convert of course but if you are going to do it I can wait, thanks

    • William Hall on 1 February 2019 at 12:48 pm

      If you download the accompanying drawing, on sheet three most of the imperial measurements have accurate metric equivalents already noted, both on the drawings of the sheet material, and in the cutting list.

      • Roy Turvey on 9 February 2019 at 10:51 am

        OK, thanks for pointing it out, I didn’t look close enough first time around.

    • Paul SellersTeam Member on 2 February 2019 at 8:23 am

      I think that we always do so this will be no different.

  8. Graham Fitton on 1 February 2019 at 11:50 am

    Great stuff Paul. I’m yet to build my workbench, and had contemplated making leg sand trestle sections out of laminated timber sections in a similar way; but using say 4×2 laminated 3 deep to make the mortise and tenon in a similar style.

    Reading the above comments why not mix and match if you are worried about blunting tools? Make the legs, aprons and tool well out of ply, but stick to a laminated timber bench top section instead of ply?

    Love the idea of making the aprons out of ply!!

    • Paul SellersTeam Member on 2 February 2019 at 8:27 am

      It’s funny how perceived ideas of laboursome things like sharpening become a daunting issue when in reality it is NOT a problem at all. The thing is, because fifty percent of the wood you are shaving is technically end grain, you just need to stay on top of what you should be staying on top of anyway and that is sharpening. Think about it. It takes two minutes to sharpen a plane to a pristine surgical sharpness and you need to do it three to six times per bench. It’s not an issue.

  9. Roger on 1 February 2019 at 12:13 pm

    I have watched other videos but have yet to tackle a project. I hope this is my first. I see the use of the bandsaw, can this be made with a tablesaw instead?

    • Joseph SellersTeam Member on 1 February 2019 at 3:01 pm

      Yes, it can. You will lose more material with each saw cut so you will need to account for that.

      • Steve Petka on 1 February 2019 at 5:37 pm

        I would also add to buy a good quality blade with enough teeth for clean cuts in plywood. If you don’t want to spend a bunch, the Freud Diablo blades at the big box stores work well, and they usually have the 80 or 90 tooth in stock.

        • Richard 1941 on 2 February 2019 at 2:05 pm

          The local iron mongers in California and Nevada will cut a 4×8 foot sheet of plywood. I have finally learned to only let them cut with the grain. Cross grain cuts have nasty tear-out extending as far as 2,54 cm into the material.

    • Paul SellersTeam Member on 2 February 2019 at 8:27 am

      Absolutely it can. Just more waste that’s all.

  10. Peter George on 1 February 2019 at 12:47 pm

    I’m wondering what the reasoning is for making the top by laminating the plywood in a vertical orientation. I made my bench top by laminating the plywood horizontally ( 3 inches thick) with a removable 1/8 inch layer that can be replaced if it gets too damaged.

    • Joseph Kesselman on 1 February 2019 at 12:50 pm

      I’m guessing so it can be planned to dead flat, but I’m sure Paul will tell us. Personally, I like the visual effect…

    • Paul SellersTeam Member on 2 February 2019 at 8:30 am

      the orientation on end gives the bench much greater resistance to flex and makes it tremendously more rigid; there is almost zero bounce with mallet blows. Besides, I wanted the appearance of the on edge look too.

  11. Joseph Kesselman on 1 February 2019 at 12:47 pm

    I can’t see any reason why not, if you have one available. Paul has said in other posts that he thinks the bandsaw is the one “machine” he thinks is well suited to the hand-work woodshop, and it’s the one he happens to have on hand… but if you have another way to get the same result, I doubt he’d object. The best tool for a task is the one that accomplishes the job to the needed quality, that you can (or want to learn to) operate well, and that you have a on hand.

  12. Tom Davies on 1 February 2019 at 1:34 pm

    For me, this sort of power tool domainted approach is exactly the thing I came to WWM to avoid. I can see how this would appeal to some people, but for me this is taking WWM in a direction I really don’t want to see it go.

    • Joseph SellersTeam Member on 1 February 2019 at 2:57 pm

      Hi Tom,

      I understand how this would feel like a change in direction but my dad has explained his logic in a blog post entitled ‘I Designed a Plywood Bri