I have many tools in my shop, but the most important one is my bench. It has a classic design,
favored by cabinetmakers for generations.
I've spent a long time refining the details of this bench. I've built 15 of them over the years, simplifying
and improving the design each time. At Philadelphia Furniture Workshop, where I teach, I've helped students
build dozens more.
The materials are top-notch. I've used the best wood (3" thick hard maple), the best tail vise hardware
(imported from Germany), and made the bench plenty big and very heavy (it's 7' long and weighs 250 lbs).
The materials aren't cheap, but for a lifetime of service, they're worth every penny.
• Thick top. It will always stay flat.
At 2-5/8" thick, it won't bend when you
plane a board or bounce when you
• Robust, knockdown base. It will
stand stiff under any pressure. It can
easily be disassembled or retightened.
• Strong, versatile vises. You
can hold work in nearly any position:
between dogs, using the tail vise; vertical
or horizontal, using the face vise;
perpendicular, again using the tail vise;
and flat–anywhere on the top–using a
Build the base
Before you begin building, decide
what height is best for you. It's easy to
make this bench taller by adding thicker
pads under the feet, but hard to make it
shorter, once it's built.
Be picky about the wood for the entire
bench, which is all hard maple. Reject
boards that are twisted; they may never
stay flat. Machine the pieces in stages,
over a few days, so they have a chance to
stabilize before you mill them to final size.
Mill the legs (A1; see Fig. A, below). Mill pieces for the feet (A2). Note
that each foot is glued up from two
pieces. Cut dadoes in the feet (they will
become mortises for the legs; see Fig.
B). Remove most of the waste using a
bandsaw. Next, square the dados on
the tablesaw, using a stop block and
spacer (Photo 1). Finally, angle the ends
of each dado (Photo 2), so the tenons
can flare when wedges are inserted into
them. Make two blocks the size of the
leg's tenons to register the feet. Glue
the feet together (Photo 3). Bandsaw a
radius on the front end of each foot.
Cut tenons on the legs. Begin by cutting
the tenons' shoulders all the way
around each leg, then cut the cheeks
using a tenoning jig (Photo 4). Only one
setup is needed, because the legs and
tenons are square. Drill 1/8" dia. holes
in the tenons (they prevent the wedges
from splitting the legs). Cut slots for
the wedges, up to the holes, using the
bandsaw. Cut the wedges (A3) on the
bandsaw, making them extra long. Lay
out the open mortises on the top of
each leg. Remove most of the waste on
the bandsaw and finish the joints using the tenoning jig.
Mill the top stretchers (A4).
Assemble the legs and feet, without
glue. Clamp a board across the legs
to keep the assembly square. Mark
the position of the dadoes on the top
stretchers directly from the legs. Cut
dados on three sides of each joint.
Note that the top stretchers will be
1/8" proud of the top of the legs.
Rout mortises for the rails (A6) that
connect the leg sets. Make a template
and cut the mortises using a top-bearing
pattern bit. Drill holes in the legs
for the bolts that will fasten the rails to
the legs (Fig. D). Drill holes in the top
stretchers for the lag bolts that will be
used to fasten the top. Make the rear
holes larger than the front holes, to
allow the top to expand and contract.
Plane, scrape and sand the legs,
feet and top stretchers. Glue the two
leg sets and drive home the wedges
(Photo 5). Fasten pads (A5) to the feet.
(Don't glue them. This allows you to
change the bench's height later on.)
Mill the rails. Cut their stub tenons
using a dado set. Clamp the rails
between the leg sets. Continue the
bolt holes by drilling as deep as possible
into the rails with a 1/2" brad point
bit. Disassemble the rails and continue
drilling. Insert a bolt into each hole
and mark the location of the nut holes
in the rails. Drill these holes. Assemble
the base (Photo 6).
Start the top
Make the main top (B1) in two sections
of approximately equal width.
Each section may be built up from any
number of boards you wish. When
cutting these 3" thick boards to width,
I use an 18-tooth rip blade to ease the
load on my cabinet saw's motor (see
Sources, below). Joint one face of
each board and plane the opposite
side. (At this point, it's OK if the planer
skips over some areas.) Joint one of
the board's edges, rip the board to
width, and joint the sawn edge. Glue
the boards together. Mill and bring
to final thickness the end caps (B2)
and the long dog block (B3), but leave
them 1" extra long. Plane the two
glued-up top sections to the same
thickness as these pieces (Photo 7). Glue the two top sections using strong
bar clamps (Photo 8).
Use a circular saw with a guide to
cut the top about 1/8" longer than its
final size (Photo 9). Saw from both
sides. This top is heavy! To aid in flipping
it, clamp a 4' long 2x4 to one end,
across the top's width, and use the 2x4
as a lever. Cut the ends of the top to
final length using a router and a guide
Trim the end caps to final length.
Using a slot-cutting bit with a 4" long
arbor and a top bearing (see Sources),
cut slots in the end of the top (Photo
11 and Fig. E). Work from both sides of
the benchtop to center the slots. Using
the tablesaw, cut tongues on the end
caps to fit the slots, again working from
both sides. Drill three holes in each end
cap for the bolts that secure the caps
to the top. Make the front holes tight
(3/8"), and drill the two rear holes at a
larger diameter (5/8") to allow the top
to expand and contract. Clamp the end
caps to the bench. Lengthen the holes
for the bolts by the same method you
used for the rails above. Drill blind holes
for the captured nuts.
I use holdfasts and other clamping
devices to secure work to my bench.
These generally require 3/4" dia. holes,
drilled all the way through the top and
end caps. I use a Colt Forstner bit for
this work (see Sources).
Install the tail vise
I've searched long and hard for sturdy
tail vise hardware that's not too difficult
to install. The best I've found is made in
Germany (see Sources). It consists of a
plate that's fastened to the bench and
a cage that's fastened to the tail-vise
assembly. Note: this hardware is righthanded
Begin by fastening the plate to the
bench. First, glue a block (B4) under
the bench, flush with the top's edge, to
increase the top's thickness (see Fig. F).
(Don't apply glue under the end cap,
though.) I fasten the plate with machine
screws, so it's easier to remove for
cleaning and lubrication. Alternatively,
you can use a self-centering (Vix-style)
bit and #14 FH screws. In any case, the
plate must be installed precisely parallel to the top of the bench. Make a spacing
jig to locate the top of the plate
(Fig. G). Clamp the jig and plate to the
bench, then drill a pilot hole for one
screw at one end of the plate (Photo
12). Install the screw, then drill a second
hole and install another screw.
Remove the gauge block and doublecheck
that the plate is parallel to the
top using a combination square. If it's
not parallel, remove the second screw
and use a different hole in the plate.
Drill holes for the remaining screws
and install the plate.
Build the tail vise. Mill the top (C1)
and short dog block (C2) to thickness
and width, but leave them 1/4" extra
long. Mill the front jaw (C3) and rear
blocking (C4). Drill a hole for the vise's
screw in the rear blocking. To assist in
gluing these parts together, make a
20-1/4" long spacer (Photo 13). Clamp
this block between the front jaw and
rear blocking, and then glue up the
four pieces you've made. The top and
short dog block should overhang 1/8"
on both ends. When the glue is dry,
trim the top and short dog block flush
using a crosscut sled or flush-trim bit.
Next, cut the dog holes in the tail
vise. They're angled 2° to the left,
while the dog holes in the bench top
will be angled 2° to the right (Fig. A).
Cut the dog holes with a dado set
using a sled with a 2° wedge screwed
to the fence (Photo 14). (To help you
make this wedge, a 2° angle rises
about 3/4" over 20".) Make the wedge
long enough to extend off both ends
of your crosscut sled. You'll need this
extra length later on, for the bench
top's longer dog block. Note that the
thin end of the wedge is to the left of
the blade, to lean the dadoes the correct
way. Clamp the tail-vise cage to
the tail-vise assembly, and as before,
drill and tap to mount it (Photo 15).
Cut, drill and install the end cap (C5),
leaving the overhang on the left, and
mount the tail vise. It should be slightly
proud of the benchtop, for now.
Complete the top
Next, install the long dog block on the
front of the benchtop. To begin, screw
the tail vise all the way in. Measure
the distance from the front jaw to the left end of the bench–this will be the
actual length of the long dog block. Cut
the block to length and mark the locations
of the dog holes. Be sure to take
into account the guide bars and screws
of your front vise–you don't want dog
holes directly above them. Cut dados in
the long block. Reverse the 2° wedge you
used above so the dados lean the right
way. Glue the dog hole block to the top
Mill the front caps for the bench (B5)
and vise (C6) and glue them on (Photo
17). Fasten the top to the base, then
plane the caps and the top of the tail vise
flush with the top. Make the bench dogs
(E1 and E2, Fig. H).
Install the front vise
I used the Veritas Twin Screw vise on
this bench (See Sources). This vise has a
16-7/8" opening between its two screws,
which are connected by a chain. Turning
one of the vise's handles also turns the
other handle, which keeps the front of
the vise parallel to the bench as it clamps
The Veritas is just one option; many
other types of vises would work well on
this bench. Whatever vise you use, its
front face should be flush with the front
of the bench. If your vise has iron jaws,
cut a recess in the back side of the front
cap for the vise's rear jaw before gluing
the cap to the benchtop.
The Twin Screw comes with complete
mounting instructions, but you'll have to
add an additional piece under the bench
top, a rear jaw (D1), to accommodate the
vise. Mill this piece, then clamp it to the
top and mark where the top's dog holes
are located. Cut dados in the back of the
rear jaw to align with the dog holes–note
which way the dados should lean. Drill
holes in the jaw for the vise's screws and
glue the jaw to the bench. Plane the jaw
flush to the top (Photo 18).
Make the front jaw (D2). Taper it from
top to bottom using the planer and a shim
(Photo 19). Install the front jaw, screws
and chain (Photo 20). After everything is
tight, plane the top of the front jaw flush
with the benchtop.
Finish your bench by applying a light
coat of thinned shellac. This gives the
maple a pleasant amber tone, offers
some resistance to stains, and prevents
glue from adhering to the top.
(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)
Freud, freudtools.com, 800-334-4107,
10" Thick-Stock Rip Blade, #LM71M010.
Whiteside 4" Long arbor, #A220; 1/4" Slot
Infinity Cutting Tools, infinitytools.com, 877-872-2487, Colt Forstner Bit, 3/4" dia., #101-123.
Dieter Schmid Fine Tools, fine-tools.com
(located in Germany), Large Tail Vise, #300650.
Lee Valley, leevalley.com, 800-871-8158,
Large Veritas Twin Screw Vise, #05G12.21.
Fig. A: Exploded View
Fig. B: Base Joinery
Fig. C: Plan and Elevation
Fig. D: Leg-to-Rail Bolts
Fig. E: End Cap Bolts
Fig. F: Tail Vise
Fig. G: Tail-vise Plate-setting Jig
Fig. H: Bench Dog
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker June/July 2010, issue #148.
June/July 2010, issue #148
Purchase this back issue.
Click any image to view a larger version.
1. Start with the
base. The legs are
joined to the feet
with large, through
mortises (see Fig. A, below). Each foot is
composed of two
pieces, which will
be glued together
later on. Begin making
the mortises by
dadoing each half of
2. Angle a portion
of each dado using
the bandsaw. This
creates a flared
opening for the leg's
tenon, which will be
secured by wedges.
3. Glue together
the two pieces of
each foot. Insert a
mock tenon, covered
with clear cellophane
into the dadoes.
Clamp small, taped
blocks above and
below the feet to
align the pieces.
4. Cut tenons on
the legs using a
tenoning jig. Using
the bandsaw, cut
two slots in each
tenon to receive the
5. Add stretchers
across the top of
the legs, then glue
the feet to the legs.
Drive wedges into
the slots to flare the
ends of the tenons.
These joints will
never come loose!
6. Bolt the base
together. The bolts
engage square nuts
inside the rails.
7. The benchtop is
made from 3" thick
hard maple. Glue
the top in two sections.
Run each half
of the top through
the planer to even
the glue joints.
8. Glue the top.
Support it on
bars. Clamp the
ends to help align
the two halves.
9. Rough-cut the
ends of the top. Use
a guided circular
saw or a standard
circular saw following
the edge of
a board. Cut from
10. To make the
ends square and
smooth, follow up
with a router and
straight bit. Use a
board to guide the
cut, which only goes
halfway deep. Flip
the top and finish
the process with a
11. Using a slotcutting
bit with a
long arbor, make
a series of passes
to cut a 3/4" slot
in each end of the
make end caps to
fit the slots. The
end caps keep the
top flat, and are
attached with bolts.
12. Move on to
mounting the tail
vise, whose metal
parts are available as
a kit. The vise travels
on a steel guide
plate, which must
be precisely located
using a shop-made
13. Glue together
the top, ends and
short dog block of
the tail vise. Use a
spacer between the
ends to ensure that
they're the correct
14. Cut dadoes,
angled at 2°, in the
tail vise's dog block
and top. Use a long
wedge to create the
angle. These dadoes
will become holes
for the bench dogs.
15. Fasten the
mating part of the
guide plate inside
the tail vise, then
mount the assembly
on the bench.
16. Cut dog-hole
dadoes in a long
block, leaning the
opposite way from
the dadoes in the
tail vise. Glue the
block to the benchtop.
17. Complete the
benchtop by gluing
a face piece on top
of the dog block.
Glue a similar piece
to the front of the
18. Glue an additional
the top in order to
mount the face vise.
Plane the piece so
it’s level with the
edge of the bench.
19. Make the front
of the face vise. Use
a sled and shim to
taper its inside surface.
This 2° taper
ensures that the vise
will pinch at the top
when it is fully tightened.
20. Install the
front vise. You can
use any kind of vise
here–I’m using the
Veritas Twin Screw.
Its unique design
amount that the vise
will rack from side