Workbench FAQs

The workbench is key in a lot of hand tool furniture making. But how do you make a workbench, when you don’t have a workbench to work from? This series shows every step and we wanted to provide some additional information here to help you on your way.

Frequently Asked Questions

These have been organised by topic and subtopic. They are compiled these from questions that we have received.

What is the difference between this bench and the previous bench series?

A: Here are the main differences:

  1. This bench is smaller, it is shorter, only has one side, and is easier to move
  2. This series is more thorough (we missed showing vise fitting last time)
  3. This bench build includes full measurements (you can still adapt it but you have a solid starting point)

What is the purpose of the wide apron?

A: Aprons help prevent racking, which is the bench twisting in use. So they make the bench much more solid.

Can I use a narrower apron?

A: A wider apron is certainly stronger than a narrow one. Paul has tried a 9”/23cm one, and said it wasn’t as sturdy but it worked.

Why isn’t there a haunched tenon on the top rail?

A: Paul felt like it complicate the joinery and didn’t add any intrinsic value in terms of strength. So not using a haunch simplified it.

Why is the top so thick?

A: Mostly it is practical to have weight that counters the forces of work such as chopping and planing. Laminating the apron to the heavier top also increases resistance to torque.

What’s the purpose of the well board?

A: Compared to a full width top, the well allows for the majority of tools to remain on the bench but out of the way of work in progress. Also, the wide solid-top laminated benches will expand and contract throughout the lifetime of the bench. So reducing the width of this surface can be beneficial.

Can the workbench be disassembled?

A: It is indeed disassemblable, as long as you make sure not to plug the two lag screws in the top of the back apron.

What are the wedges for?

A: If you look at the top drawing of the inside of the apron, each housing takes the leg and then a wedge to hold it in place. This is why the inside of the housing is slightly sloped. It can be tightened if there is any movement.

Why is the vise not flush with the bench?

A: It leaves space to handle pieces when placing them in the vise.

How can I attach the wellboard without the groove? I don’t have a plough or rebate plane.

A: You can do without the grooves and fit some edging on the internal corners where the well board buts up against the apron and benchtop.

Can I move the legs closer to the end?

A: You could move them closer to the end if you wanted. Paul has placed them where he considers them most convenient for work. There has to be enough resistance on the outside of the housing and other details are affected, but it is hard to be specific.

Can you advise me on a different workbench design?

A: It is hard for us to go though the details and advise whether it will work out for certain without trying it ourselves. We can’t really go into individual builds.

How do I get the right height for me?

A: We’re using a mean height of Mr Average of 5’10” and found that most people that height prefer a bench height of 38”. That being the case we suggest that you add or subtract inches according to your personal height. To be on the safe size you could make the bench an inch higher and then work at the bench for a short while, see how it feels and cut it down accordingly.

Why is the bench that size? Can that be altered?

A: The 5’ 6” x 2’ 3”, 168 x 68cm bench that Paul made here is his recommended size which will suit most people. You can scale down a little if your space demands it, or lengthen it and add another work surface as in the previous version of the workbench if you want significantly more space from the same bench, but that does make it significantly more difficult to move.

Can the bench be made smaller?

A:You can make the bench somewhat smaller without significant effect on the stability. It does decrease the overall mass. If this causes issue, you may want to add some weight over the rails or add a shelf where you can add weight. Sandbags work well for this.

I need to make it narrower. Where shall I take the width from?

A: Preferably lose some width off the well, not the work surface.

What do I need to look for when buying wood for this bench build?

A: Try to get dry wood, or if uncertain, store the wood at home in a dry place until it is dry. One way of testing whether the humidity level of wood you have bought is stable, is to weigh it regularly until the weight stays the same.

Concerning type of wood, Paul has used CLS studs, recycled timber and scandinavian redwood here in the UK, and spruce and southern yellow pine in the US, as they are affordable and readily available. Expensive hardwood is not necessary.

What can I do if my benchtop stock is bowed?

A: If you arrange the stock for the top to alternate bow or to use straighter pieces to constrain bowed pieces, can you clamp them straight without excess force? If so, you are fine as is. If not, you may want to replace the most badly bowed pieces. You can do some work to plane the individual pieces straight with a hand plane, but it will be a lot of work. See more on stock preparation here:

What would you use to fill gaps and defects in the wood?

A: Paul prefers not to use epoxy, but instead use a name brand wood filler. Wood fillers shrink and expand with the wood whereas epoxy doesn’t.

Are the cutting list measurements based on the size of wood as labeled in the store or the actual size of the wood?

A: We have used actual sizes on our cutting lists.

Can stock be laminated to make up the sizes I need?

A: You certainly can laminate together pieces to make up the correct width as Paul does as long as they are long enough.

What size stock was used to make up the…?
Benchtop – The bench top timber Paul used is all 1 1/2″ x 2 1/2″ (38 x 63mm) spruce, which is a standard size for studs in the UK. To make up the 12” width, you would need 8 or 9 pieces, depending on how much you plane the surfaces when laminating the bench top.
Aprons – These can be laminated if necessary to make up the width. 2×4’s or wider would work well.
Wellboard – This can be laminated if necessary to make up the width. 1”/25mm stock works.
Legs – The legs are the equivalent of 3×4’s, but you could also glue up two 2×4’s. Anything from 3”x3” (75x75mm) will work. If you make changes you may need longer bolts.
Rails – These can be laminated if necessary to make up the width
As the exact sizes of stock that is available to you locally will vary due to different international standards, we can’t give a list specifying exactly what you will need to buy. For those who aren’t as experienced, it might be more straightforward to get the stock milled to those sizes locally.

Can I make adjustments to the sizes of wood you use depending on what I have available?

A: You certainly can, however this does affect various aspects of the build. For example, if you increase the thickness of the bench by 1/2″ you may have to increase the overall width of the aprons by the same amount to allow room for bolting the apron to the leg.

Can I laminate stock for the legs?

A: You can laminate the legs, as long as you take into consideration where the mortise hole will be relative to the join.

Can I use full width boards for the bench top? How about wide boards?

A: You can use a full width or wide boards to make up the bench top as well as the aprons and others. There can be more expansion, contraction and other movement with wider boards than with laminated boards. Wider boards are often more expensive, which is another reason for the lamination.

When gluing up boards, do you try to alternate rings in the end grain.

A: Paul prioritises matching grain or where each board goes best regarding twist over alternating the rings. We don’t consider alternating the rings to have a significant effect.

Can you use 2x4s instead of 2x6s for the rails?

A: The wider the shoulders, the more rigid it is. But 2×4’s are plenty rigid enough.

When do you plane out rounded corners of the stock for the laminated top?

A: The rounded corners on the top surface will be removed through the process of planing the top flat. Some of the round is removed during the initial flattening, the rest once the apron is glued to the top.

Can I lower the rails to allow more shelf space?

A: You could indeed move the rail closer to the floor. The main reason for them being the height they are is that it is easier to sweep under the bench when there is a little more room.

How often do you sharpen?

A: Paul tends to sharpens up before each task or section. For surface planing between laminates it is far less critical to achieve the kind of levels you might strive for say than a tabletop or other exposed surface. That said, it is a good place to practice reaching near perfection. Paul cut all the mortises without re-sharpening his chisel.

How do I plane stock flat and straight?

A: The best thing I can recommend is to have a look at our stock preparation videos:

How do I make the trestles?

A: We are working on a series on how to make them now

Which vise does Paul use?

A: Paul uses a 9″ Eclipse Quick Release Vise in this series. He decided on this as the 9″ is easier for the majority of people to handle. He has extensively used old Record vises which are no longer made to the same standard. See more here.

Can I fit another type of vise? Can you compare different vises?

A: We probably won’t go into this as we don’t use any other type of vise. Paul has tried other styles of vise, but has always come back to these quick release bench vises, as they holds everything he wants them to hold without issue.

Tail Vise?

A: You can fit a tail vise to the bench, but it is best to take this into consideration when building the vise, as seen in our first workbench series here

How often do you check a bench top for flatness?

A: A new workbench will likely settle over the first year, and then need re-flattening

Can I store my bench outside?

A: You could store the bench outside but it will absorb atmospheric moisture and that can lead to distortion over long periods.

What finish did you apply?

A: I have used both and outdoor water based fence finish and an outdoor furniture oil based finish.

Who is the music written/recorded by?

A: The music was written and recorded for us by Henry Horrell. He can be found on SoundCloud here: