English Workbench


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11 Jun 2019
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This is based on the English Woodworker's plans. It was a user on here that got me to give this bench a second look. I did intend to build a Roubo but costs (both the wood and the hardware) made me re-consider.

The main goal of this build is to provide a stable bench and plenty of surface area as I find I'm working using the floor in larger projects.

I've not done this before, but my plan is to update this as I build. In terms of design this is pretty fixed but I'll work a few things out as I go such as the final height. So feel free to comment or ask questions.


£290 for the wood - I ordered slightly more than needed as I wasn't sure if I was going with a wooden vice or not (spoilers - I'm not). First task was to get this into the workshop.


The boards are 2.7m long. I'm aiming to keep as much length as possible. For now this will be the size I'm aiming for. As for width the three boards come to 645mm, but this isn't accounting for the gaps I'll have between the panels. For now these panels will remain full width (215mm) and I'll rip them down as needed. I want to limit rips and laminations on this build to save time and stress but these boards were my best choice from my local sawmill.


This is where things are at present. One of the 9x2's was crosscut and ripped to form the two smaller rails and two of the larger rails. The offcut might be used for the vice chop. The only other change was to rip two of the 6x2's down to 95mm to act as the trestle bearers. The legs (4x4) were roughly cut to size to make handling/drying easier. The same was true for the bearers - these were cut smaller than recommended from the cut list that Richard recommends but as I had modelled this in Sketchup I knew I could split the boards into two easily.

This wood is all PAR to save time. My cut list is slightly different (but relative) to what Richard recommends.


Ignore my battered prototype MFT (this will be the next workshop project to replace) but here's the hardware for the build. £276.25 (including shipping). I've had my eyes on these holdfasts for a while, plus the Benchcrafted planning stop. The biggest change for me will be the vice. This is the Axminster quick release vice guide. It's very impressive even if the finish is a bit rough, the screw and mechanism is very slick. The nails and nail punch will see plenty of use later on.

For now there will be no action - I want the wood to acclimatize for another week before starting the joinery. Behind the scenes I'll do some boring tasks which I won't share such as moving things around and getting some space to work. I can use my old bench for some of the build. My intent is to use the floor to work on the aprons.
The wood has been resting for two weeks now. I'd prefer longer but need to get cracking.

I started by cutting the legs to their final height. I'm aiming for a finished bench height of 1000mm which is 100mm more than my current bench height.

This may be a bit high for some, but I have a planer/thicknesser so won't be planing rough wood. My main work is more detailed tasks, which I found my current bench too low for. I always have the ability to lower in the future. My goal is that my other benches/work areas will match the same height for in feed/outfeed.


I used my tracksaw to cut these to length, taking two passes as the max depth of the TS55 isn't enough for one pass.


The small and large rails for the trestles were cut to final length (645mm) and I spent the rest of my time just marking and laying out the half lap dovetail joints. I'd recommend keeping the leg offcuts handy as it made marking up easier, rather than moving the full size legs around.

It doesn't look like much progress but marking out and layout always looks like nothing has happened. My next session will be straight into cutting the joinery. For what it's worth, I have a toddler and five month old so my time is rather limited. Still this is my only project underway and is priority as I need the space back! So bare with me.

This is my current (soon to be old) bench by the way. It's 915mm high, by 915mm wide with a total depth of just over 600mm. So this new bench will be a huge upgrade. To be fair to this, I've massively outgrown this and it's done me rather proud.

My only complaint/faults were the vice install and top. I should have flushed the rear jaw to the front of the bench. Also I never added a middle bearer so the top has sagged after I stood on the bench to paint. The best tip for anyone with a small bench is to bolt it to the wall, doing this made this thing rock solid even though it's tiny. I am going to be quite sad to see the top go despite its flaws, all the marks/stains/writing is a previous project so seeing this history go will be a shame.

One aspect I won't be recreating is the shelf. While I really enjoyed using this for storing WIP parts, due to the size of the bench it would limit my ability to move this out of the door. I'm planning on some form of rolling storage underneath and storing my planer/thicknesser so the space won't be wasted however.

Next time I aim to get the rails cut and the legs marked up.
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Looks like a cracking start - I completely empathise with the limited time. 3 year old and 7 week old over here. Looking forward to the updates!

In the video series, Richard builds the bench without a bench and minimal tools (hand tools only). I'm not doing that. In fact having my old bench is making this a lot easier.

I used my bandsaw to rough cut the lap joints.


The faces of the joints needed only very minimal clean up if all. The shoulders however needed to be cleaned up with a chisel, as did the dovetail itself.


It was around this point I remembered why I dislike pine (redwood). It's horrible to use with handtools. Without turning this into a sharpening thread I found that 95% of the time things are fine, then suddenly you'll hit a really crumbly piece of grain, so while the shoulder is nice and neat thanks to the knife wall, the underside looks like a badgers buttocks. Still it won't be seen and doesn't effect the strength, it just doesn't look nice when compared to oak or similar. This is just a trade off using pine I guess.


The larger rails are worked in the same manner, only larger in scale. I did have a slight cock up here. In my haste to use my new mitre gauge on the bandsaw I trimmed into the show face of the board. No big deal as I just made the other side match. All it means is I have a knot in the middle of the second large rail, for a workbench this is fine but if this was something for in the house I'd have replaced the piece.


Time ran out at this point. I did end the session with two of the trestles roughly clamped up, which allowed me to mark the corresponding half of the joint with a marking knife. Next time I'll get these joints cut so the trestles can stand without clamps and cut the notch out on either side to accept the apron flush to the legs.

Note I've left the large rails oversized for now as it's easier to mark these with an offcut rather than work out and markout the cut lines based on dimensions.
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I started by using the tracksaw to cut the joints out, by setting the depth of cut to match the rail. I cut relief cuts after so I could chisel out the waste by splitting the wood. The nice thing about doing this is as soon as the line left by the saw is gone, you stop pairing back. Again this can all be done by hand if you wish.


I could have cut the upper joint on the bandsaw but as I needed to split the lower rail it made sense to do the same for both.


Super satisfying - just make sure none of the bits that split off land in your tea.


Just a test dry fit. It's quite surprising how strong this joint is. I've never cut a dovetail half lap before but the lower rail has a pulling effect on the upper rail so even though the larger rail can be removed, it is quite tightly pinched together. Once glued and nailed this should be even stronger.



I put a chamfer on all the pieces and will do so once glued. I'm quite happy with the joints overall, nice and tight.

I was just about to cut the notch for aprons on either side when I noticed a cock up. In the plans Richard supplies he uses slightly bigger timber than I had. Mine is also PAR. Despite this I based my larger rail size on his. What this meant is my upper rail slightly sticks down below where the apron would be. This means on the front you'd see the bottom corner of the two joints - not much but still, everytime I looked at it I'd see this. The reason for this mistake was when I laid out the large rail I didn't account for the bearer that will sit on top. The actual top is attached to the bearer. If I reduce the height of the upper trestle by 44mm (bearer thickness) I'll hide the corner of the joint and still have a high bench.

As mistakes go this isn't too bad, I was playing with the bench height the evening prior and was planning on reducing the legs by around 25mm ish anyway - the only difference is I'll be taking that length off the top now. The fix is a quick rip and plane and cross cutting the four legs again, so easy enough just a minor delay. When I've built tables before I often leave the legs longer and cut these to final length at the end - I just wasn't planning on doing this now.

My next session will correct this mistake and prep for the planing brace. The brace is an optional step but I'll be adding it next. It's the final piece of joinery before the trestles can be glued up.
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Things slowed down due to the new year and back to work. I was able to get a bit of time in during the start of the week at lunchtime to correct the upper rail, as well as rip and plane the planing brace.

The planing brace is optional as I said. I don't plan on doing on hard dimensioning of wood on the bench but I'd rather add this now than retrofit later on. Plus I think it looks rather cool.


The brace is a dovetailed half lap again. In this case the dovetail shape is purely aesthetic. It doesn't offer any strength as the force is from the opposite direction. The shoulder will take all the force from the apron.

You should be able to see a cock up. The final step was to chisel down the knife mark to clean up the shoulder. I was doing the standard "take half away from the line" proceedure when a huge chunk broke out. I managed to find it and put it to the side for a glue up fix after. I told myself "it's just a workbench". This is the downside of softwood (fast grown redwood in this case). The chisel was plenty sharp it was just one of those things.


More pairing. This joint was marked from the brace itself. The brace is much longer than needed at present to overhang the leg, and give plenty of wiggle room when it comes to marking the apron joint. It will get cut to final length once the aprons are attached.


A dry fit. The joint is a bit loser than I'd have liked but the glue and nails will sort that. It was at this point after a cup of tea I decided I couldn't live with that defect and trimmed a few more mm off the joint. I don't have a photo of this but the tracksaw was used to cut the front face of the shoulder too, I then cleaned up the inside with a chisel. This gave me a clean shoulder even if the half lap itself could be tighter. I just knew every time I looked down I'd see that mistake, so figured I had the length why not fix it.
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I should have shared what happened just before the end of the year. I cut both of the legs to accept the apron.

This cut kinda messed with my head at first, due to the angles.

In the videos comments Richard mentions that this joint has no benefit to being cut in a dovetail. Some of these benches cut these straight across at 90 degrees. He did mention it was a historic reason and that he'd publish an article on why, but I'm not aware this has happened. So if anyone knows, I'd love to know the answer.

The strength of this comes from the shoulder to stop the apron racking. So the high point. When it comes to fit the apron I plan on leaving a small gap intentionally to allow for wood movement - but we'll deal with that at the time.


The process here was the same. The tracksaw cut the shoulder, then I made a series of relief cuts and chiseled out the waste. After this I went over all the joints and just cleaned them up, checking for square and so on.
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With the planing brace complete early I was finally able to glue up today. Before this I sanded all the pieces at 220 grit to just remove the pencil and chalk marks.


Not many photos of this due to the heat of the moment and all that.

The clamps in this are doing nothing. I used them to just align the legs while I glued up

In Richard's video he used cut nails. I have very limited experience of these. My previous house had some and they were a real sod to remove so I know they work but I found sourcing them from Screwfix/Toolstation impossible other than a single size.

The comments on the video also include a few horror stories of people splitting their timber so I decided to use wire nails.

I didn't occur to me to countersink the nail heads. The heads are 8mm wide and you can see they compressed the wood when I used the nail punch to sink them. I'm a bit annoyed I never expected this but told myself "it's just a workbench" and carried on.

Once the first trestle was complete I remembered I'd being nailing the top down too, so I wanted a cleaner finish. It dawned on me to countersink the head with a drill bit first. So I decided to try this out on the second trestle rather than the top as my first attempt.


This worked much better. Way cleaner. So I'll use this on the top and face apron. It's not the end of the world about the first trestle, I learned something at least.


Today's session ended with attaching the two trestle bearers. These are nailed and glued again. What was really cool about this part was the difference between nailing on my old bench to nailing the bearer to the trestle. Every blow of the hammer went into the nail, these things are rock solid so I can't wait to see how the full bench feels.

The top will be fixed to these, with the idea being they even out any wood movement as well as providing a sound area to glue and nail too.


Things will pause again until next Saturday. I'll do some boring work during the week. The workshop needs a tidy up and I need to make some space to work on the two aprons. I plan to get the marking out done at a minimum so I can spend next weekend fitting the aprons.

The aprons are just a series of housing joints, so the joinery is much simpler and therefore should be a bit faster. My only concern is the length of them and my ability to work on them easily. The nice thing about this build is after this point we have something nice and strong to work off for the remainder.
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Looks like some great work here 👍 Watching with interest as this year I’ll be building a (close) variant of this bench.
The week started with a bit of a tidy up and I spent a couple of my lunch breaks/evenings doing a "dry fit". There's no photo for this but the apron was rested on the trestles and a few clamps to act as an extra hand.

The marking up was done on the floor, with some scrap studwork to raise it off the ground. I used a piece of a scrap as shim to help raise a board for marking out.


It was during this I noticed a bit of an issue. The rear apron I had chosen had a bit of twist. Given this was structural I decided with some trial and error to use the middle board that I had allocated for the top as the rear apron, and pull the rear apron to the front.

There is still a small amount of twist but nothing that some firm hand pressure/clamps won't solve. Plus the glue and nails will pin it down. I'm also going to need to reduce the width of the top planks, so potentially I can take all the width off this board and either put it in the middle or rear of the top. Reducing the width will also make it easier to flatten down. I'm swaying towards the moving it to the rear as there will be more gluing area but aesthetically the center seems to be more pleasing to me. I'll figure this out at the time however.

What this doesn't show also is that during an evening I played around with trestle and bearer spacing. The vice you choose dictates part of this as well. I laid this in place to ensure the bearer didn't get in the way. Again this is quite hard work on your own and takes a bit of time and faffing. Another quick job was to just flush the bearers on the trestles to the legs, there was a mm or so overhang that would effect the housing later on.


Finally Saturday rolled around and I was able to do more work. I used the tracksaw to cut the trestle housings. These are only 11mm deep but on the floor quite tough to cut. With a few relief cuts I roughly took this down to depth with a chisel. Finally a shoulder plane to clean up the shoulders - once I saw the saw kerf disappear I stopped. Then the middle was cleaned up with a number four.


All four where done in this manner. I used my own body weight for the most part, but this wasn't a comfortable job to do. I don't have a set of saw horses yet but if you do, use them. Still it's possible to do this job without a bench.
I dry fit the trestles while the apron was on the floor. This was fine if a bit tight for space. Only one needed a slight second pass with the tracksaw to just nibble off less than half a mil or so. They fit nice and tight and are surprisingly hard to get out once in.


After a dry fit with everything stood up right I began marking the dovetail joint so that the apron sits down with the leg. Similar to the planing brace this is not structural. I still don't know why this isn't cut square, my only thought is that it's easier (in olden day times) to cut this with hand tools as if this was square on both sides you'd have a chiseling vs pairing maybe?

I marked out the joint using a pencil. This is not going to be a tight fit by design. The shoulder will be tight but the slopped tail will have a mm or two gap which is fine if I mark up using a pencil. This is to allow wood movement as the apron may want to expand, it's better for this to go down rather than push up on the top. If this was being built during drier months you may want to increase this gap but as it's wet and winter now I'm fine with a small gap.


Having learned my lessons from before I will be reducing my use of handtools on this wood as much as possible, at least for cuts. I used the tracksaw to get a nice shoulder and then finished this off with a handsaw.


This worked well. Only a small part at the end needed a clean up with a chisel. This is the first one I did, the others looked better. Ignore the chip out on the right, this got planed away after when I put on a chamfer. Also ignore the marking out above, I always do this when doing mitres or whatever as if the real marking out I'm doing doesn't look like this, something is wrong.
Next up another dry fit. I used this chance to mark down the face sides of the aprons where the bearers will sit. This is so I can cleanly nail and to ensure when I fit the dog holes I don't hit a bearer.


The apron will sit proud a mm or so which is fine, this will get planed flush once glued and nailed. For now this is good.

It's a bit hard to see but the right leg in this photo is wedged. Richard comments that the frame should be wedged when the top is fitted to remove any twist, not at this point. No matter what I did here I couldn't get this trestle to sit flush with the floor. My workshop used to be a car port, then was converted into a garage, so the floor is the old driveway. I suspect this may be part of the issue. They are the same height and leveled off left to right, so until I can move this into its final resting place there is not much I can do.

The aprons may be introducing this though due to the slight twist - but again there's not much I can do. This wood is PAR I can't reduce it any further. I've decided to press on - there's a few comments about this on Richard's video but no answers. Either way, once the top is on and the twist taken the wedge(s) may need to live permentantly anyway as I'm not going to cut the legs independently. At the next dry fit I'll try this test with some sheet good underneath and report back.


This knot turned out fine, even if it was in a terrible place. This is the downside of this wood. It's fine for a workbench, but for furniture you'd be better of laminating wood together to ensure a clean set of faces. Still this is another win for the tracksaw, I dread to think how I would have tackled this cleanly with handtools.


The final task of this session was to cut the planing brace to length and mark up the half lap for this. A straight edge is run from the low point of the leg and then you mark up on the brace. If done correctly the combination square should match this mark at 45 degrees, which it did thankfully. I ran out of time here so I cut a few relief cuts in the brace ready for next time.

I'd have loved more visual progress to show - and would have loved to have ended on a glue up today but there's still the bearers to sort. These need a housing as well as the planing brace so rather than rush this - I'll sort this next weekend. One thing that these photos don't show is the time between dry fits and moving boards around so you can work on them. It all adds up. So while I still have two trestles and two boards on the floor, I'm not far off a bench. In fact I did hang off the middle and end of the bench and it was rock solid. I only expect it to get heavier as we go. Pushing right to left also had no racking.

The plan for the coming week will be to finish the planing brace, mark up the housing for this and after a final dry fit glue up the brace to the left trestle. These are all small jobs that aren't too messy or noisy so I can do these during a lunch break or evening. If all goes to plan this time next week we'll have a frame, ready for the top after another session.
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Why is the twisted apron going in the front? I'd put it on the back where it's hidden!

Why not wait till the other half goes to bed (if you have one which you obvs do as your working outside and not in the kitchen!) Bring it into the kitchen and glue up load it up with all the pots, pans and plates. When it's seen in the morning blame the elves!!
The twisted board is going to be used on the top. I've pulled the board that was allocated for the rear apron to the front, and replaced the rear with one of the boards that had been set aside for the top. So yeah, I'm using the best two boards for the aprons. I may have worded it badly.

Yeah it's a fair point about adding some weight - I'll try this when I can get some OSB or something down first.
you could do with some sawhorses that would help with planing, but otherwise looks like there's some good progress, there is a point where if it twists too much you may just have to make a new piece, it's worth doing it again in some cases.
A bit of a funny week, due to the snow and ice I spent the earlier half of the week making a snowman among other distractions. So less progress than I'd have liked leading up to the weekend.


This was the planing brace. It's essentially the same joint as the leg end, except it's only 11mm and there is no need to dovetail it as you won't see this part, as it's behind the front of the apron.


Sods law there was a huge knot where the brace was to go. There was a bit of tearout but I couldn't really help it, it won't be seen and the rest of the joint has plenty of good glue surface.


The brace fit well, while you can't see it the shoulder was nicely square on the apron side too. I don't have a picture of the next part but this is where things went a bit wrong. Back when I marked out the cut I took this from the exact tip of the joint - not accounting properly for the few mm gap between the legs and the apron. I did realize this at the time but as I was actually cutting the joint the next day my plan to sneak up to the line with some trial and error was forgotten. I cut flush with the line. Whoops.

This meant rather than a few mm, I had this plus the 2.2mm from the kerf of the saw. I tried to clean this up by rounding the edge over but it looked naff. Yeah it's a workbench, but I don't know when I'll get to rebuild one and as this is in such as visible place it would annoy me for a long time. At this point I had a decision to make - remake this at a later date, I had a perfectly good template now at least, or spend the remainder of the afternoon on the frame glue up. I opted to go with the glue up on the principle that remaking this will be quick - and with the bench somewhat built I could even use it to make the brace. Thankfully the brace can be attached easily as both the leg joint and housing is cut.
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The housing for the planing brace wasn't too bad to make - I used the tracksaw for the shoulders, then paired away the middle waste. I planned to use the same strategy for the bearer housings.


Originally I said I wanted to limit rips and laminations with this build but it occurred to me the bearer housing joints would be a problem. They are in the upper right of this picture but are currently about 145mm. This would be troublesome to pair away with my standard chisels. I don't own a pairing chisel or similar. Based on this I opted to bring these down to about 95mm to make cutting them easier.


The ten of these were pretty quick to cut out, so I'm glad I went this route. Before gluing up I quickly gave them a buzz with the sander to clean up and remove any pencil marks.


Richard doesn't mention this, I'm sure he had some process but I had a plan when it came to the nailing. The two outer lines above represent the leg. The two inner lines fall between the nails in the trestle. I marked where the nails that were horizontal on the right side and made sure that the markings for the nails where not going to conflict. I've seen numerous builds where people mention nails colliding. I got lucky, of 32 only one got in the way due to a knot, this was on the rear. The same as before - I drilled a shallow 8mm hole to allow the head to sink cleanly. I should mention I ran out of nails here, so need more for the remainder of the build.


Time ran out for this weekend. I did managed to flush the aprons to the trestles though. I wasn't looking forward to this but it didn't take long at all and wasn't too bad. The only gripe was the front apron has a few knots in the upper edge. If I was doing this build again I'd probably flip this board upside down - but the face is nice and square, as well as flush so ready for the top.

This week I've very limited time so I plan to rip the bearers down and get them ready for install. The bandsaw will make this a quick job and even if I went with the original PAR bearers, the top needs flushing to the aprons anyway so they need planing regardless. It's very little extra work.

I did manage to plan out some of the vice install last night. The vice will make use of the same redwood. I've previously had the best luck with hardwood chops so I'm taking a bit of a risk here, but it would be about 44mm thick so should be plenty strong enough based on what I've seen elsewhere.

So while not the full progress I'd like, I've a strong and stable work area now so things should get much easier. Assuming nothing changes I hope to end next weekend with the top sorted.
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