Wednesday 11 July 2018
The bench is the heart of the woodworker's workshop and should meet all the criteria on an individual basis – height, width, length etc, but above all, it needs to be compact and functional. Ideally, and space permitting, the bench should be about 2.4m long by 630mm wide. I like bench height to be half my height. It is better to be slightly higher than this, rather than lower.
My bench is made from joinery quality softwood with an MDF top, and incorporates a Ryobi EMS1426L 250mm mitre saw, and an ART03 router table fitted into the top. Underneath are two sliding drawers where my power and hand tools are laid out for easy access. A cutting list is detailed below.
Legs & rails
The legs and rails are mortised together with the underside of the bottom rail being 100mm from the floor. This allows your feet to go under the bench when standing close to it, and also leaves enough room to retrieve items which have fallen under the bench. The mortise width is approximately half the width of the rail – in this case 20mm and 45mm deep – and is best cut out with a mortiser or a Ryobi EDP5530L pillar drill set to a depth 5mm deeper than required.
First, cut your legs and rails to length, and then mark out the mortise and tenon. I used a standard mortise marking gauge for the job
The mortise is drilled out with the pillar drill set to a depth 5mm deeper than required to allow for any excess glue or air being trapped, which will stop the joint going together tight and properly
Tenons are easily and accurately cut on the router table using a 6mm straight cutter fitted into the router, set to the depth of the mortise line. Note the scrap piece behind the tenon is to avoid breakout
I cut the cheeks of the tenon on a bandsaw or, alternatively, do it by hand with a tenon saw. I used a stop block behind the blade set to the point of intersection of the two cuts. The bandsaw is set up with the width of the tenon set from the fence, and with a travel stop in front of the workpiece to avoid travelling too far into the shoulder of the tenon
Where the two tenons meet at a right angle within the leg, it is necessary to mitre one side of the tenon to make sure that the tenons, when they come together within the leg, do so and not foul each other. It's always worth doing a dry fit of the joints as you go along
Prior to gluing-up the end frames, check all the joints for fit and squareness and then sand all the components, making sure all the edges are maintained at a perfect right angle. At this stage, do not soften the edges
When the two end frames have dried, the horizontal stretcher rails can be glued-up, joining the two ends to form the bench. It is important to make sure that when assembled the frame is square, so use a diagonal sash cramp. Before gluing together, sand with a palm sander using 120grit, and finish with 320grit on the random orbital sander. Use sash cramps to bring the joints together and set aside for the glue to go off
Technique: coach bolts
An alternative jointing method is to use a 25mm M10 dowel and 125mm coach bolt to hold the sides and rails together, rather like in a bed construction
The dowel bolt is fitted flush with the inside of the rail, with a 10mm slot cut with a tenon saw and chisel, which will allow the bolt to lay in the groove. This is best done on the pillar drill with a Forstner drill bit
Fitted dowel and bolt. When the bolt is engaged through the leg into the dowel and tightened, it will form a very strong joint. You can also apply glue for extra security
Now it comes to fitting the vice. First of all, the vice block needs fitting. Determine where you want your vice positioned. If you are right-handed it is normally fitted just inside the front left leg, or if you are left-handed, inside the right leg. A 7in quick-release vice is ideal for this size of bench and should be let into the front rail by the thickness of the jaw. The vice is then bolted onto the vice block and front rail. It is important to fit this level and square. The cut out in the front rail is best made before assembling the main frame. I used the Faithfull FAIVW175 7in quick-release vice
Recess the heads of the bolts below the level of the rail so the top can rest flat on the top rail. The vice should be recessed into the top rail and attached by four bolts to a vice block glued and biscuit jointed to the front rail. The bolts are sunk just below the surface of the rail. Note – use lock nuts and washers on the bolts, and check them for tightness every so often as the wood is bound to shrink
Top & apron
A perfectly flat surface for the benchtop is much preferred by professionals, as tools left at the back of a bench in a tool well always attract unwanted dents in the workpiece when the full width of the bench surface is required, so I always advocate the benchtop is made from a sheet of 18mm MDF.
The front apron is attached to the top by glue and biscuit joints 200mm apart. Fit the top assembly to the legs by screws through the apron into the front legs and the back of the top from underneath the rear top stretcher rail. Note – do not glue the top to the frame, as you may need to replace the top at some time
I made the drawers quite simply with lap joints, and with the drawer base glued and nailed to the bottom. The drawers are supported by runners, which are 13mm wide, so allow 25mm off the overall width of the drawers. I cut the half lap joints on the router table and then glued and cramped the frame. I have deliberately not put a groove in the sides to take the drawer bottom as I wanted to glue the bottom directly to the frame to give it added strength, as inevitably the drawers will get loaded up with heavy tools. Cut the 6mm MDF bottom and check for square before gluing and nailing it to the bottom of the drawer – this ensures the drawer is perfectly square – essential for the runners to work properly. The height of the drawers can be fitted to your own requirements, but make sure the top drawer clears the turn pin of the vice when the drawer is pulled out
I cut the lap joint on the router table, but make sure a piece of scrap is at the outfeed side of the cut, so as to avoid any breakout
After cutting the drawer components to size, do a quick dry fit to check all is well. Then glue and clamp up the sides, and nail the bottom into place. Ensure the frame and bottom is square before nailing up – this procedure should be very easy
Next, I fitted the drawer runners in place. I clamped the runners in place before screwing them up. Note the stop block at the front of the drawer, as it is important to make sure the drawer runner is exactly at the front of the drawer, otherwise the drawer will not run square to the frame
Mitre saw & router table extension
To get maximum use out of my bench, Iâ€™ve included an extension to the end of the bench which will take a mitre saw and router table, as well as space for a drum extractor. The mitre saw and router table extension is made in the same way as one of the end legs, and is attached to the main bench by a lower horizontal rail tenon and mortised together. The width is determined by the width of the router table – in this case the Ryobi ART 03. A frame is made to support the table exactly the same width, and is screwed to the sides, ensuring the tabletop is level and parallel with the bench top. A vacuum extractor will then fit conveniently under the workbench, ready to be attached to any of the power tools
The extension table is made in the same way as the frame ends, with the height of the mitre saw supports dictated by the model of mitre saw. This ensures lengths of timber lay flat on the work tabletop. The width is determined by the router table, as it is wider than the mitre saw
The mitre saw is bolted to a piece of MDF and is easily lifted off the frame when the router table is required, and vice versa
An extension fence to the mitre saw is clipped onto the bench when longer pieces of stock are being cut
Once the router table support frame has been fitted, the router table can then be lifted off, leaving a frame ready to support the base board for the mitre saw. Inner shelf support strips are fitted to the sides of the frame to enable the mitre saw to sit lower in the bench and level with the benchtop. A lift-on lift-off extension frame is made to complement the mitre saw fence, extending it to the length of the bench – essential when cutting long pieces of stock accurately. And now your bench is finished and ready for use. Enjoy!