Plywood Workbench: Episode 3

Plywood Workbench Episode 3 Keyframe

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We’ll kick off this episode by getting our legs into shape. Paul removes some excess glue and trims and planes the legs square and flat. He then works on the corners to ensure long term durability. Paul moves on to the rails, adjusting the fit of the through tenons and shaping their accompanying roundovers. Finally, the components are brought together in a test assembly.


  1. Edward Kopczyk on 8 March 2019 at 11:24 am

    Looking really nice now. Welcome to the Paul Sellers line of zebra furniture 🙂 There are endless possibilities with this method of construction.

  2. Paul Whoknows on 8 March 2019 at 3:02 pm

    Nice to see Paul “plyning” plywood 🙂

    • Tim Beaton on 8 March 2019 at 3:50 pm

      What happens if it really is “impossible” to get the dry fit apart, again? How would you do that? Or am I pre-empting the next episode?

      • Cindy Thomas on 9 March 2019 at 1:25 am

        Spreader clamps

      • Izzy BergerTeam Member on 11 March 2019 at 12:10 pm

        Hi Tom,

        Paul says:
        A good beating always separates the two components provided you take the precaution of using a block to prevent damage. You could also combine the hammer blows with spreader clamps as mentioned above.

        Kind Regards,

        • Paul Rowell on 11 March 2019 at 5:48 pm

          Just don’t do what I did when I was doing exactly the same thing with my (solid wood) workbench. I used my thumb instead of a block of wood – ouch.

      • Mark Fielding on 22 March 2019 at 8:24 pm

        drill and dowell the legs to the stiles, very strong and looks good aswell.

  3. woodpa1 on 8 March 2019 at 3:26 pm

    I have been in that situation where I couldn’t get the dry-run to come apart. Had to reverse the direction on a couple of pipe clamps to finally spring it loose. Knowing what clearance is necessary between rails and stiles has been a learning curve that only flattens out with experience.

    • roger dudra on 10 March 2019 at 8:07 pm

      That single concept was with me through 10 Mission tables I made. The sizing of the tenon to the mortise can be done well to start I guess. Hundreds later I now understandbthat I must continue to learn.

    • joeleonetti on 11 March 2019 at 7:42 pm

      I might be able to help. At a local annual woodworking event in the San Franciso Bay Area, Kevin Drake from the Glen Drake Tool Company is often there. He has a system he uses for dovetails so you can get a proper tolerance right away. He talks about how machines it’s have tables so that if they have a half inch hole in steel, they know how big the round piece must be to fit.

      He uses this approach to dovetails. For hardwoods, the male part needs to be 6 thousands of an inch (0.006″) narrower than the female part. For softwoods that can compress, the difference is 4 thousands of and inch.

      Often a hand plane is taking thin shavings on the order of say 0.002″. As such, assuming the dimensions are the same, it is as Paul says, just a few shavings.

      I suppose you might be able to use digital calipers to measure all of this.

      I’m not advocating this. Just pointing out what I hear Kevin Drake say the three different times I’ve interacted with him. He’s a very nice man. He is responsible for greatly improving my sawing to a line with just one comment. When we are trying to saw to a line, if we are having troubles as a beginner, we are inclined to then go to a death grip on the saw. This causes your hand to twist inwards a bit (you can see this by looking at your pinky finger) and causes the saw to go even more off track. As such, I’ve found for sawing, we need to not over tense our hand. It sounds like a small thing but I found it made a huge difference. Knowing this and just sawing for some time, I can now easily saw to a line or stay away from a line quite easily.

  4. Ric Lloyd on 8 March 2019 at 4:26 pm

    if you measure to exactly 19″ (or any measurement for that matter) and then plane the ends, how exact is the resulting project?

    • Joseph Kesselman on 9 March 2019 at 11:28 pm

      Or a piece a bit short of the opening and opposing wedges, or borrow a car jack… making sure you use a block wide enough on each end to spread the force so you don’t dent the wood.

      Remember that the fit is going to be tighter in humid weather.

      • Joseph Kesselman on 9 March 2019 at 11:34 pm

        Whups, that was a response to another question.

        A well tuned plane can take off remarkably thin shavings… Thin enough that the change in length really isn’t significant for that measurement.

      • southofnonorth on 11 March 2019 at 8:38 pm

        Thanks for that – I have a small dovetail box that I can’t get apart and no room for spreader clamps – wedges should do it!

    • Izzy BergerTeam Member on 11 March 2019 at 12:11 pm

      Hi Ric,

      Paul says:
      We’re taking off such small amounts generally that there will usually be inconsequential difference.

      Kind Regards,

  5. Thomas Angle on 8 March 2019 at 4:41 pm

    I always enjoy watching you work. You are the most graceful worker of wood I have ever seen. You make everything look so easy. The look in your eyes when you work is similar to grandfather’s (he was a machinist). You can tell this is what you where meant to do. Thanks you for the videos.

  6. Richard Waldman on 8 March 2019 at 5:08 pm

    One of the joys of woodworking is watching a Paul Sellers video. He says out loud what we are thinking.

  7. Christopher Johnston on 8 March 2019 at 5:50 pm

    If it is such a great tight fir why not just peg the mortice and tenon joints . that way you can always dismantle it if need be in the future?

    • Joseph Kesselman on 9 March 2019 at 11:38 pm

      For some pieces, that would be fine… And there are knock-down workbench designs. Personally, given how I use and abuse a workbench, I think I’d rather make it permanent, at least now that I don’t plan to move any time soon and will hire movers if I do.

    • Izzy BergerTeam Member on 11 March 2019 at 12:13 pm

      Hi Christopher,

      Paul says:
      Personally I prefer to rely on glue rather than pegs as this is more permanent.

      Kind Regards,

  8. Julio T. on 8 March 2019 at 10:18 pm

    Great as always, Paul. Thank you very much. I’m only sorry that my own workbench, made from birch, don’t leave free space for one of these… hmmmm…. I need a bigger garage.

  9. grover on 9 March 2019 at 10:37 am

    Dear Paul,

    Could you finally get it apart? And how, perhaps using reverse clamps?


  10. abtuser on 9 March 2019 at 10:06 pm

    Regarding the work holding in the Workmate, what about putting another of your stretchers in on the other end of the Workmate to help keep the pressure on the piece you’re working on? I usually have to do that, put a same thickness piece at the other end, to keep the worked on piece tight. Legs looking good.

  11. Petrus Swart on 10 March 2019 at 7:36 am

    Good day Mr Sellers
    I am watching and learning.
    Thank you.

  12. James Light on 11 March 2019 at 1:29 pm

    Paul, Can you please share what Dust Mask you are using? Having grown up on a farm using absolutely no hearing or dust protection, and then using power woodworking tools with the same no realization of what was happening, I now have developed an allergy to saw dust, getting sinus infections easily. I have started using more hand tools since finding your site, but I love making hand carved wooden bowls which still require sanding. I’ve tried different smaller respirators, but they do not completely eliminate my problem.
    Thanks and once again, I love what you are doing. Keep up the teaching.
    Jim Light

  13. Michael Safreed on 11 March 2019 at 5:10 pm

    Regarding the height of this bench, or any bench for that matter, I have what I believe is current, pertinent information. I’m in the process of building a new bench, which shares many features of Paul’s benches along with those of other designs. Last night, I spent some time planing the legs for my new bench. I set up a couple of saw horses, at 36″ tall, and proceeded to plane the legs square. The legs are 3″ X 5″ so when planning 2 sides I was working at a height of 41″, and the other two sides at 39″. I’m 72 years old, and in good physical condition except for the fact that I’ve had 3 back surgeries. Working while bending over is an issue that usually results in really sore back and hip muscles. Well, today is no exception. My lower back is really hurting. Nothing structural, but my muscles are screaming at me. Like I said, last night I was planing at heights of 39″ and 41″. I would hate to think of how I would feel today had I planed those legs using the height recommended by many of the other “experts” currently posting videos on YouTube and writing books and articles on workbench construction. My advice to anyone with a back issue – build your bench as high as you can. What I learned last night is that the new legs I spent all that time planing are WAY TOO SHORT. They are 36″. They need to be much longer. I am 6′ 1″. I think I need a bench that is around 40″ tall. That way, when planing as I did last night, I would be working at a height of nearly 43″ or 45″. I would much rather work my arms than to put unnecessary strain on my back and hips. Listen to Paul… Build your bench higher than you think might be necessary. If you don’t already have back issues, working on a bench that is too low will certainly increase the risk of developing back problems…

    • joeleonetti on 11 March 2019 at 7:16 pm

      I completely agree with this. The bench I bought came at 36″ and it is too short. I plan to add wooden shoes to each of the legs to raise it to 40″. I might go even higher by another inch or two. I’m 6′ tall.

    • Larry Geib on 11 March 2019 at 7:34 pm

      You might look into stretching and deep tissue massage.

      As you get older and less active, you QT muscles get short and give you that stooped over countenance and what feels like spine compression.

      I’m not kidding about deep tissue. Though the muscles connect the back and hips, they are massaged face up on the table.

    • Benoît Van Noten on 13 March 2019 at 10:59 am

      – If you think the leg frames will be too short, you can glue a few plywood layers on top of them ( look for the “bearers” on the previous workbenches) before assembling the top and apron on them.
      So don’t throw them away.

      – The finer/lighter the work to be done, the higher the bench.
      The height recommended by Paul Sellers was the lower height recommended for light work taking into account the worker average height in the 60’s.
      I think now health and safety would ask a bench customised to each worker.
      If you don’t plane a lot of rough saw wood with a wooden plane, the P.S. recommended height makes perfect sense.

      I tried to find an universal criteria.
      This 38” height “for an average man of the 60s” corresponds approximately to the addition of the anterior superior iliac spine height and the shoe heel height.
      It seems the recommended height correspond to what is pointed in the picture in the link hereafter (when wearing your shoes)
      This “universal criteria” should work whether you are tall or small, with short legs and long torso or long legs and short torso because it is related to where your back is articulated.

      Now I am no medical doctor.

  14. Norm Coutts on 11 March 2019 at 6:15 pm

    Phew! That was exciting. I was worried for a bit. 😊.

    • joeleonetti on 12 March 2019 at 2:37 pm

      I was worried a bit a plane was going to fall to the floor. That top was narrow.

  15. Donald Green on 11 March 2019 at 6:57 pm

    What is musical instrutment being used in background at start of video, Beyond that your videos are top notch, Thanks for your time.

  16. Corné Gelderblom on 8 April 2019 at 11:49 am


    I was wondering if the table would still be as sturdy and rigid when I make the rails only 14 cm?


    • Benoît Van Noten on 8 April 2019 at 2:31 pm

      On my recycled pine workbench, the rails have a section about 45 X 75 mm. It is rock solid. Making yours (3X18) X 140 is about twice as much.

      • Corné Gelderblom on 8 April 2019 at 3:26 pm

        Thanks for the info! I have made some modifications to the technical drawing/cutting list. so I can get all the strips for the legs and rails out of one sheet of plywood. Had to narrow down some bits though!

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