Front left side of bench

Portable Bench Build (Part 2) Layout and Design

Over the years I have done a lot of research into designs, read books, magazine articles, blog posts, watched videos, DVDs, and stood behind quite a few benches. I have built and used what I would call a work surface but never an actual work bench. So taking some of that knowledge, some of that experience, and some initiative I have come up with my version of a portable work bench.

The top will be made up of two pieces that are about 12″ wide, 64″ long and  4″ thick. This totals up to about 165 lbs for just the top, give or take a bit on my calculations and approximations. Two pieces so that I can actually lift each section alone and hopefully not hurt myself. Possibly building hidden handles into it, to make it a little bit easier to carry.

The legs will be nearly 4″ square. I am struggling a bit with the location of the end vise and how it will affect the front legs. The back legs will be splayed to add some stability when cross planing. The legs on the ends will be attached with a pair of stretchers. The top stretcher will will be mortised into the bench top, the lower will be as close to the ground as practical. The legs will bolt to the top, so they can be removed for transport and storage.

There will be a removable shelf between the legs to help with stability and provide space to store tools so they don’t clutter the bench top. It will have rails slotted to allow tongue and grove slats, to allow the wood to move a bit with the seasons.

Portable bench sketch
Portable bench sketch

I intend to have no bolts or nuts showing, which is a totally aesthetic choice. This makes it an interesting challenge in a few places! Of course if you stand on your head and look hard enough under my bench you might see them, but be careful of the frying pan when you stand up as it just might be held directly above your head. I sketched up a couple of different ideas and finally stopped scribbling with this design.

Front left side of bench
Full sized drawing of front left side of bench where the leg vise will be located.

Last weekend in a friend’s shop I did a full sized layout. My friend and I laid everything out on some red rosin paper. We took some odd stock around the shop, put it in place where the legs will go. While moving them around and looking at them we came up with an alternative to the double set of splayed legs that I had originally sketched. Discussions ensued and we confirmed that the alternative is probably a better choice for stability. We shall see if that actually holds true or not, but it looks good on paper!

Front right side of bench
Front right side of bench where the end vise will be located.

We drew in the vises, the square dog holes, leg locations, stretchers, just about everything we could think of. We even added a few flashy ideas that you will see later when we get to the build. While it was a fair amount of work, thinking, planning, and patience to do the full sized drawing it was well worth it. I was even able to put a typical plane on the surface and see how much support there will be when one is in the end vise. This full-sized drawing should save quite a bit of interpretation later and allow us to move forward quicker. I would suggest this to anyone building anything large for the first time. Besides it was a bit of fun experimenting, just make sure you have a good eraser!

Next is to design and start building an end vise.

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