Category Archives: Workbench

Downsizing the workbench

My workshop is in a single car garage that actually shares it space with a large car so everything has to be against the walls and out of the way each night.

I’ve got room for a proper workbench and have had one for years but the problem is the light and power are all over on the opposite end of the space so I always end up working over there on my portable bench instead.

This means the main bench ends up as a collection place for everything I can’t be bothered to put away properly and is generally a mess. It’s also been getting progressively worse to use when I do happen to work on it thanks to the construction timber I used warping and my rough joinery skills when I first built it.

I’m trying to optimise the space I’m using for my workshop to make it easier to get the car in and out and also to make setup and pull down time when I work quicker so decided to pull the old bench apart and upgrade the folding bench instead.

Over the years this bench has had a few upgrades and downgrades as needed, most recently it’s had a piece of plywood clamped onto it to serve as a false benchtop.

I had some spare MDF from another project so decided to give it a proper top. First I glued two sheets together and cut them to size then screwed a battern underneath to fit in the gap between the vice jaws


I added a piece underneath so when the vice jaws are closed it locks in place and can’t lift


I couldn’t mount my large vice as it would be too heavy on one side but I had this little vice that just screws on sitting around from when it used to be the end vice on my bench so added it to the new top.


I turned the top over and tested it out. The whole thing rocked forward when I used it because one of the vice jaws isn’t fixed. I decided to screw the whole thing in place permanently instead so turned it over and did that.


This was the end result. It still folds up but the top added enough weight that it’s probably as sturdy as my full sized bench was. I can also use it for my z-vice too which I couldn’t do with the other bench which should come in handy for some carving work I want to do.



Finishing the front vice

I’ve also finished the retrofit of the front vice face to take bench dogs. I cut a piece of thick scrap maple to size then screwed it to the existing face, then marked up the spots for the dog holes and drilled them. Once done, I tested it out with a couple of different sized pieces of wood and it worked great. Below, you can see the new piece being added to the existing front face. I used my trusty yankee screwdriver to do all the hard work!


Here I’ve marked the spots for the dog holes and used a nail to mark the center ready for them to be drilled


Here you can see the holes completed


and here it is in action, with two different sized pieces of wood and my newly made bench dogs in use.

Making wooden bench dogs

I’m finally catching up on all my posts, so here’s a little step by step to making bench dogs suitable for a bench with an MDF top. Since it’s only thin the normal approach of spring steel or bullet catches won’t work. Instead, I cut slices from a 1 inch dowel and screwed them onto the 3/4 inch bench dog to stop them falling through the bench.

Cut a length of 3/4 inch dowel to make the body of the bench dog. Mine are about 5cm long, as that’s as far as I drilled down in the thicker parts of the bench. You can cut these any way you want, but since it’s small parts I did mine with a bench hook and tenon saw.


Cut a 1-1.5cm slice off of a thicker dowel (I used 1″ because it’s what I had around). Mark the center point on both the cut pieces, using whatever method you have at hand. I have one of those $5 plastic things that does the job well. I used a small nail to punch the point I marked to center the drill bit, then drilled both pieces and countersunk the screw hole so no metal was above the dog. Plane/rasp/sand one side flat for grip.

Glue and screw the two pieces together, I just used a self tapping chipboard screw, and there you have it – simple and cheap bench dogs that work in MDF benchtops

Down the rabbit hole again

Ok, maybe it’s a dog hole….or a lot of them. I decided that I may as well go for the full swiss cheese effect on my bench so drilled a row of holes along the front of the bench as well. I do have a small tail vice installed so will modify it to work with the front row. I made a couple of bench dogs using 3/4 inch dowels and have already realised how useful this configuration can be so might end up with a second set of holes along the front as well.

The row at the front are going through the MDF top into 100mm thick douglas fir, so they are a lot stronger than the ones that are only in MDF. You can see in this picture that I’m also about to replace the front jaw on my vice with one thick enough to have dog holes of it’s very own.

For anyone not familiar with what bench dogs are, the best way to describe them is pegs that you place into holes in your benchtop. They sit proud of it and stop work moving around. They won’t stop it moving much by themselves, so you insert matching pegs into the front face of your vice and tighten it up until whatever you need to hold is wedged between the two bench dogs.

I’m sticking to the normal pattern for a bench with two vices – the ones running towards the back of the bench work with the front vice, and the ones along the front work with the tail vice.

Adding dog holes to the bench

I finally got around to something I’ve been meaning to try out for ages last weekend. I added 3/4 inch holes for bench dogs to my workbench. I’m sure they will come in handy for many things, but the primary thing I want them for planing against. We’ll see just how well MDF holds up once I start using them, if there’s problems I can add some scrap hardwood underneath to strength the holes.

Here’s the bench before work started

First step was to work out where I wanted the holes and how many I wanted. I decided to start with two rows of four, in line with the vice. Note that I still have to replace the vice face with something thicker that can have dog holes in it as well. Below you can see the pencil marks, the crosses are where I wanted the center of the holes

I drilled them with a 3/4 inch forstner bit and my hand drill mounted in a cheap drill guide, it actually did a pretty decent job. I marked the centrepoint of the hole with a nail before drilling each hole so the bit didn’t wander, not that forstner bits tend to anyway.

and here it is completed. Now all I need to do is make some bench dogs…

A new life for the old bench

My old bench has had a piece of scrap MDF stuck on top for a few weeks, but I decided a few weekends ago to do it properly. I got a full sized piece and cut it to size and fitted it, then gave it a coat of linseed oil and beeswax.

The shelves are one of my first ever woodworking projects, from ten or more years ago. They were still sitting on my desk at my parents place so I grabbed them the week before Easter when we visited.

The shelves have since become home for any of my planes that weren’t in the plane till, and I’m looking at building a new plane till to fit the bottom of my unit given the other one won’t fit a #7.

Looking back at these shelves, I’m pretty impressed with what I managed with store bought timber, a blunt tenon saw and a drill.

The bench itself is coming in handy. I need to add a rail under the top to allow the z-vice to be used on it then I think it will become my primary bench for power tool work – routing etc. I’m going to add a second set of shelves beside these one’s as soon as I can get some pine that isn’t full of holes!


Update on the workbench

A woodworking friend said to me on Saturday that I hadn’t been updating my blog much recently. It’s both gratifying to know he thought it worth reading and a reminder that I’ve got a lot done since the last post and need to let you know about it.

First up, I finished off the workbench top to a state where I could fit the legs and have it stand on it’s own. Here it is being glued up, it still needs the middle pieces added between the legs but I needed to trial fit the legs first them fit to the gap.

Here it is with the legs fitted and temporarily screwed in for stability. This is where I noticed that either my floor isn’t flat or my legs aren’t right. I’ve remeasured and all seems OK but I’ll take it apart and check it all at a later date. For the moment this was enough to give me a work surface and to give me room to store some stuff while I worked on other projects.

Battle Scars

I noticed when working on the new bench that my little fold up bench is looking a bit worn. It’s got dirt and rust stains from where I’ve cleaned tools on it, it’s got a piece out from where a router bit slipped, it’s got marks from where I tested a tongue and groove plane becaus I was being too lazy to find another piece of scrap, and it may also have a little coffee on it. It does it’s job though – I’m very fond of this little guy!

Workbench Update – 6th February 2012

I got to spend a bit of time on the workbench Saturday, then again today. The majority of the time on Saturday went into stock preparation though, so there’s not much to see from then except that the rough lumber is looking nicer now.

I did get another leg built today though, with the second mortice in it, so that’s one complete, and two in need of some work. I’m much happier with the stock preparation this time and the finished leg is looking really good. It’s been planed, chamfered and sanded and is ready to go. It took a lot longer to do (about 2 hours compared to 30 minutes for the first two) but the difference was worth it. I’ll go back and re-plane the others then put the second mortice in them shortly.

I’ve also been looking at my mobile pegboard rack and have decided that the tool rack at the back of the bench will hold a lot of the tools it currently does – all the chisels, the combo square, the new marking gauges, and the tenon and dovetail saw. That means that all I need to find storage for is a few saws, the hand drill and the mallets. This has me thinking that I can put just one piece of pegboard up on the old bench and then dismantle the rest of the frame to reuse the wood in the new bench. It’s all the same 70 x 35mm construction grade pine I’m using so once it’s been planed should work fine.

This ties in nicely with my plans for the stretchers, which were originally going to only be one thickness but now will be three. This puts the front stretcher flush with the benchtop and legs for clamping and will add quite a lot of rigidity because it will have shoulders going into the mortices now. I’m not sure if the side rails will get a similar treatment but I’m thinking they should.

Here’s some in progress shots of today’s work. First up is the finished leg, ready to have the second mortise cut. The first mortise (for the main stretchers) was formed during the lamination of the three pieces of pine which make up the leg.

Here’s the mortise marked out. I used a combination square to make the cross lines using the first mortise as a guide, then used my new tenon marking guide to mark the side lines. Then I used a chisel to deepen the lines so I had something to work to later.

I drilled out the middle using a 32mm spade bit, but it didn’t want to go right through so I had to clean that up with the chisel as well

Here the mortise is completed, and I’ve given the edges and sides a light sand just to clean up the few remaining chisel marks. There’s a little piece split out from the inside but as that will be inside the join and shouldn’t make any structural difference that’s OK.

Then I test fit two pieces the same size as the rails into position, and they fit well. I haven’t decided yet if I will try and put a mortise through the front rail and a tenon on the side rail so they lock each other in place, I’m pretty convinced that both can just be glued in place without too much else being done. There’s a slight amount of room at the sides of the test piece shown, so I’ll just keep a bit more on the side rails when I plane them to get a tighter fit.