how to extreme

Build a Classic Workbench

Woodworking - Directory January 2, 2008 Sonia


A good, solid workbench is a basic of any woodworking shop, and although workbenches come in many different styles, types and sizes, a “classic” workbench style has evolved. Typically, these benches have both a front and end vise with dog holes in the top, as well as in one or both of the vises. These hold pieces of wood to plane, carve, route or for other chores. A recessed tool shelf is also often included. The bench shown is a combination of traditional European styling with a bit of styling from an old-time bench I bought many years ago at an auction.

A Jet 9-inch vise with a wooden double dog-hole jaw creates the end vise.

A purchased Jet woodworking vise acts as the end vise. It has a quick-release lever so it can be pulled in or out quickly and easily. It also has threaded holes in the jaws. This allows adding the bench-dog wood option.

The front features an apron with dog holes that help the vise hold long stock or cabinet doors for edge planing.

The front vise is hand-made, using a bench screw and handle from Woodcraft. This vise also has an adjustable “foot” that allows you to adjust the vise to hold non-parallel surfaces. Dog holes in the front of the bench provide a means of holding doors or stock to be planed.

The solid top is constructed by gluing together strips “butcher-block” style. Cut the strips to correct width and joint both edges.

Note the bench shown is constructed for the method in which I work. You may wish to reverse the vise locations if you work from the other direction, especially when planing on the front vise.

Create the dog holes by gluing short strips to one long strip. Repeat for the second dog-hole assembly.

Benches of this type range from smaller than the bench shown up to monster benches 8 feet long and 36 inches deep. You can readily adapt the construction techniques to suit the bench size you desire. A bottom shelf can be added to store items. Heavy items on the shelf will actually provide weight to help hold the bench solidly in place, although even the small bench shown is quite heavy and solid. You can also add drawers or shelves if desired.

Make sure the strips are positioned squarely. Glue and clamp securely until the glue sets.

A major key to these workbenches is to construct them of dense, solid hardwoods to provide rigidity and also a smooth, hard-surfaced top. Typical woods include oak, maple or ash. The bench shown was constructed of both oak and walnut. Although walnut may seem extravagant, I had some extra hanging in my barn (curing in the rafters), so I decided to build an “Extreme Workbench.”

Once the glue has set, use a belt sander or surface planer to smooth the glued-up surfaces.

Start Construction

First step is to glue-up the working top. This is constructed butcher-block style, gluing 2-inch strips side to side. First rip all strips, then joint their edges smooth. The dog holes in the top are created by first cutting strips to allow 3/4-inch spacing and gluing them on one of the top strips. Clamp them solidly in place and allow the glue to set overnight. Then repeat for the second row of dog holes.


The leg trusses are made of 2-inch-thick stock, joined with mortise-and-tenon joints. First step is to cut the stock from wide stock if necessary, resawing on a bandsaw.

Lay a newspaper on a smooth, flat work surface and position bar clamps in place over the newspaper. Make sure all strips are cut to the correct length. Then dry-lay the strips in place, leaving the clamps loose. Remove the second strip and apply glue to its side surface. Position in place against the first strip. Repeat for all other strips, including the dog-hole glued-up assemblies. Make sure you don’t get glue in the dog holes. Once glue has been applied to all strips, tighten the bar clamps. Tighten them all equally and make sure the strips are all lying flat and positioned correctly end-to-end. Allow the glue to set overnight.