Back in the 1980’s, I built my first workbench. It was short due to the lack of work space, but thick and heavy to take the work. I made it from laminated Southern yellow pine, a dense, soft wood that is easily available, and inexpensive. The top was made from ripped 2×8 boards, glued face to face. The legs were glued up from 3 of these home made 2x4s. My early attempts at mortise and tenon work to join the legs was crude, and the bench lost some stability due to that. But, it did what I needed, and I used it for almost 30 years.
Recently, I’ve wanted a new bench for two reasons. One, I wanted a longer work surface. The original was 4 feet by 2 and a half. I wanted to lengthen it to 6 feet. The added length would allow me to add a tail vise, something that until my experience at the Woodwright’s School, I never thought I needed. But the tail vise adds versatility to the bench, especially when planing a board face.
I needed to keep it inexpensive, and I’ve had great luck with the yellow pine, so that was my material of choice. I used 2x8s again, this time planing to rip them to two and a half inches thick, a full inch and a half thinner than the shorter top. This would allow me to cut the planks so as to avoid the heart grain as much as possible. I started with a small stack of 8 footers, cutting them to length and then ripping them on my bench saw.
After letting the cut lumber settle in the shop for a week or so, the next step was to laminate up the top. I chose to use a design from the Spon’s book, with a top about 20 inches wide and a tool shelf along the back. I started by gluing two boards together, then glued the six pairs together. This gave me a nice, strong, heavy top.
The glued up top had to be clamped to the smaller bench, then planed flat on both sides. I also planed the edges to make sure they were parallel. It looks like a massive job, but there wasn’t much wood to remove, so I had it done after a few hours work.
When it was ready, I attached it to the original legs using cleats on the bottom, just like Spon’s illustrations. I then attached the face and tail vise, using some 1/2 inch stock to space them to the proper height.
The vise I chose for a tail vise is pretty light duty. But, I was limited by the amount of room between the edge and the leg. So I had to use a small vise. I’ve used it to hold some boards for planing, and it works pretty well.
The last steps were boring holes for dogs and holdfasts, then adding a board along it’s side for the tool tray, and another the same height as the bench along the back edge of the tray. This gives me something to rest work on when working with larger pieces.
I’ve been using the bench for a couple months now, and so far it’s doing well. I need to level it a bit more on the far left side, but it hasn’t interfered with anything I’ve been working on so far. It’s a nice, heavy top. I can do some pretty heavy planing on it with little movement. The next step will be to replace the legs so I can make the mortise and tenons tighter to eliminate any movement.