Canadian Woodworking

Build a bench-on-bench

Author: Carl Duguay
Photos: Carl Duguay
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: June July 2022
bench on bench
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This versatile, handy workbench addition will bring your hand work up close for increased accuracy and comfort.

  • DIFFICULTY
    2/5
  • LENGTH/TIME
    2/5
  • COST
    1/5
Bench on bench
bench on bench

A lot of workbench tasks – particularly hand work – can benefit from having the work closer to your eyes. This not only helps you be more accurate, especially when it involves detailed work, but can also take the strain off your back and neck. A Moxon vise is one way to elevate your work, but another option is with a bench-on-bench.

A bench-on-bench (BOB, for short) is essentially a mini-workbench that sits atop your main workbench or any other work surface. It’s easy to make and is a great learning project if you’ve never built a full-size workbench before.

Extra Blocking
Duguay had to make a notch in the underside of the top to allow the vise to be positioned properly, though each vise is a bit different. Here the vise is shown with the support block in place, ready to be screwed to the underside of the top and the rear face of the apron.

bench on bench


Make it personal

While I’ve provided an illustration and material list, I encourage you to use it only as a guide. Build your BOB to suit your height, the height of your workbench and the type of work you do. Nothing is sacrosanct; make your BOB taller, wider, narrower or longer. Mount the vise to the front of the bench, to one side or install vises at both sides. Add dog holes. Install folding legs so you can more easily store or transport your BOB. After using my bench almost daily for several months, the only change I made was to add dog holes. My BOB and I have now become BFFs.

The build

I made the top out of 1-1/2″ thick maple. Another option is to use two layers of ply glued together.

I installed an Irwin 6″ vise in my bench. You probably want to avoid installing a heavy vise as it will likely put too much weight on the front of the bench, causing it to tip in use. A BOB isn’t really for heavy work, so a large vise isn’t needed. A groove on the underside of the benchtop was needed to allow the vise to sit at the proper height. A support block screwed to the underside of the top provides extra rigidity for the fixed jaw screwed to the back face of the apron. After temporarily installing the fixed jaw, I marked the locations of the guide bars and threaded rod, removed the jaw, and then drilled clearance holes in the apron. I reinstalled the fixed jaw and then glued the apron to the top.

Before making the legs, I propped the top onto my workbench, trying out different working heights. A low-profile scissors jack works well for this (or small cardboard boxes and cut-offs of plywood). For me the sweet spot turned out to be 11-1/2″, neces­sitating 10″ tall legs.

Each leg consists of two rails with a 3/4″ vertical slat assembled in an “I” style. There are a lot of options when fastening the slats to the rails. I cut a 1/2″ deep mortise into the upper and lower rails, then sized the tenons on both ends of the slat to fit. Other options could include lag bolts or long screws holding the parts together, or a series of dowels or Dominos. Use whatever approach you’re most comfortable with.

The leg assembly is bolted to the top with 2″ lag bolts counter­sunk into the upper rails. Fairly wide feet add stability. I applied self-adhesive, high-friction tape (Lee Valley #99K3401) to the bot­tom of the feet. The tape works extremely well on reasonably smooth surfaces. Occasionally, when doing a bit of aggressive chis­elling or planing, BOB gets a bit feisty, so I clamp his feet to the workbench.

Mark and drill holes in the front jaw for the guide bars and threaded rod, then screw the vise’s movable jaw to the front jaw. If you intend to put dog holes in the top, ensure the front jaw is at least 1-1/8″ thick to accommodate a 3/4″ dog hole. I neglected to do this and had to beef up the front jaw when I finally installed dog holes.

Apply a finish

While applying a finish isn’t required, it will help keep glue and other gunk from sticking to BOB. I applied two coats of OSMO POLYX–OIL, but just about any penetrating oil will work. Really, almost any finish will do the trick. To keep workpieces from slip­ping about I use a piece of yoga mat that I picked up at the local thrift store for a couple of bucks.

All Shapes and Sizes

Working comfortably and holding your work securely are important aspects of woodworking. Ergonomics has become even more relevant the older I get. While my main workbench is at a comfortable height for most operations, I was finding with some tasks that I was leaning over a lot more. Tasks like detailed work on small boxes or flushing solid wood edg­ing to veneered surfaces had me bending over to get closer to my work.

I’ve not only had the idea of building a raised bench for a while, but I even bought the materials more than a year ago. An aching back forced me to find a solution immediately and as a bonus it became a mockup to see what aspects I would like or dislike. Years ago, I had made a portable bench, a version of the milk man’s bench, that I could take to demon­strations and set up on a pair of Krenovian sawhorses. The bench was attached to the sawhorses via bolts into threaded inserts on the bottom of the bench.

Steve der Garabedian

To settle on the right height, I used a long pair of plywood pieces, cut­ting them shorter until I was happy. Then, using hardwood stock I had on hand, I built simple legs with stretchers lifting the top of the bench to a 9″ height. I kept the joinery simple with butt joints reinforced with Dominos, however, dowels, biscuits and other techniques you have the tools and comfort level for will work just fine. There’s nothing wrong with using a proper vise, though I’ve found the work I do on this smaller bench lighter in nature, and a simpler approach to a vise is perfectly adequate.

bench on bench

The raised bench is secured to my workbench using either clamps or hold-downs. I had made the bench with 3/4″ holes so I could utilize the same accessories made for my larger bench, such as bench dogs. So far, the height seems perfect but the width could use a bit more girth. Now, could someone let me know why I didn’t do this a year ago? —By Steve Der-Garabedian


Carl Duguay - [email protected]

Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.

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