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Building a small bench

Bench in an existing well used workshop for a small lathe

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JA23/02/2021 13:05:40
1129 forum posts
71 photos

I am building a small strong bench and intend to write a blog, posted here, on the work. I realise that there was a long thread on a bench of an ML7 lathe some months ago but I hope that this will not be out of place.


I will soon be taking delivery of a small lathe (length 500mm, depth 300mm, weight 30 Kg) and it needs a bench. This must be strong, rigid, well lit and house all (or nearly all) of the lathe’s tooling


The bench must fit into the existing workshop, which is a “brown field site”, without seriously disrupting its use. Moving the existing lathe and milling machine is unacceptable. The workshop is one half of a double garage. When I bought the house I had a second garage built alongside the existing garage to be used as a workshop. Planning a workshop from nothing is easy. The garage door was blocked by a false wall. A sturdy work bench was built at the other end under a window that looked south at the neighbour’s garage. The pre-war Myford was put on a good bench against the wall dividing the two garages next to a heavy rubber topped steel table up against the false wall. Shelving was put up on the long fourth wall. Simple.

Over the next twenty five years the lathe has been replaced, twice, by Myford S7s on industrial cabinets, the heavy table was given away and replaced by a bench with storage underneath and a milling machine arrived. During these years lots of very valuable things have been acquired which take up all the available horizontal surfaces including the floor. Every so often I try to tidy up the place with some success. Usually I manage to evict the motorcycle bits back into the garage and chuck out real junk like old kitchen things left over from the fitting of a new kitchen a few years ago. Even so a lot of what can only be described as rubbish migrated to one corner of the workshop, between the milling machine and the false wall.

I am going to stop here and continue in a day or two. I attach three pictures of the workshop taken two months ago.

Workshop December benchWorkshop December latheWorkshop December milling machine


Edited By JA on 23/02/2021 13:08:32

Oily Rag23/02/2021 16:10:19
370 forum posts
131 photos

I like the ex-school laboratory stool! I had a load of those given to me about 25 years ago, they were made from a beautiful yellow oak with a strong grain. I cleaned them up with white spirit and wire wool then treated the wood with gunstock oil. I preserved the graffiti as it added a bit a 'class' (and I'd like to meet Carol one day!). The last one I now have in the workshop and is my 'thinking stool'. An essential piece of workshop kit!


Iain Downs23/02/2021 17:13:54
750 forum posts
668 photos

I don't have any answers for you. I've built my benches out of 2 layers of 18mm marine ply on (mainly) 4x4 wood legs.

What I've done wrong is not to have treated the wood with oil or varnish or something. I'm not sure what the right treatment is, but it's certainly not nothing. My main bench is now rather dirty and it won't come off.


Ady123/02/2021 17:17:28
4292 forum posts
641 photos
Posted by Iain Downs on 23/02/2021 17:13:54:

I. My main bench is now rather dirty and it won't come off.


That's the patina and is very trendy

larry phelan 123/02/2021 19:30:16
976 forum posts
14 photos

I bet there,s a floor in there somewhere ???

What,s wrong with angle iron ?surprise

Grindstone Cowboy23/02/2021 19:58:30
560 forum posts
49 photos

What,s wrong with angle iron ?surprise

Not a lot - my first ML7 had a very nicely made stand made from welded 2x2 angle topped off with what looked like an old school desk lid. Not sure if the elderly gent I bought it from had made it or if he had got it from a previous owner. The legs were cut and welded to splay outwards at the bottom to make it more stable

I added an upright sheet of ply between the back legs with various pegs and screws to hang things on, and a shelf at the bottom ( about a foot from the floor) held just about everything else.


Frances IoM23/02/2021 20:15:35
1072 forum posts
27 photos
"I'm not sure what the right treatment is, but it's certainly not nothing" -
a good sanding followed by a couple of coats of polyurethane floor varnish should protect against most things but thin stainless steel on top of the ply makes a good work surface for metal bashing - for woodworking real hardwood is unbeatable for just its beauty + feel but don't let oil anywhere near it.
Howard Lewis23/02/2021 20:23:57
4683 forum posts
10 photos

I was going to suggest angle iron for the basic framework, (40 mm x 40 )

The ends and back can carry other pieces of angle to carry internal shelves, say 10 mm ply?. Heavier, locally, if used to store lathe chucks.

The outer cladding, sheet steel for preference, will greatly increase stiffness.

Weld if you can be sure of keeping things square. It not bolt together, (assemble in situ ) so that things can be made square to each other before final tightening. If you have any doubts about the floor being absolutely flat / level, weld a tapped plate across the bottom of each leg for levelling bolts and preferably locknuts, to prevent things going out of adjustment..

The internal ledges can carry shelves for storage, and if vertical walls are built in the shelves will have extra support, as well as sub dividing the space to store different items.i

lathe tooling,Taps and Dies or Reamers can live in separate subdivided trays on the shelves.


Bazyle23/02/2021 20:47:09
5834 forum posts
217 photos

Posted by Iain Downs on 23/02/2021 17:13:54:

What I've done wrong is not to have treated the wood with oil or varnish or something. I'm not sure what the right treatment is, but it's certainly not nothing. My main bench is now rather dirty and it won't come off

Sacrificial hardboard is the way to go, tacked not glued down along the back length where you won't risk hitting them with a knife or chisel. Replace al or parts as it wears.

Derek Lane23/02/2021 21:07:43
412 forum posts
85 photos
Posted by Bazyle on 23/02/2021 20:47:09:

Posted by Iain Downs on 23/02/2021 17:13:54:

What I've done wrong is not to have treated the wood with oil or varnish or something. I'm not sure what the right treatment is, but it's certainly not nothing. My main bench is now rather dirty and it won't come off

Sacrificial hardboard is the way to go, tacked not glued down along the back length where you won't risk hitting them with a knife or chisel. Replace al or parts as it wears.

This is what I have on one of my benches and the other has a 13mm ply sheet again can be replaced as needed. The edges are of oak but beech could be used.

bricky23/02/2021 21:57:05
483 forum posts
48 photos

I built my bench from 8'*3' pine with 4" legs with cross members to take an 8'sheetof 3/4"ply 2' 6" wide which I have now reduced to 6'.This bench is a mistake as one stores everything on top and one still works in a small space.I like the ply top as the tea does not get cold to soon and screwing items to the top is a bonus,and nicks in the edge are convenient for holding small items for filing.I have had this bench for 40 years and built it from spare materials off site when I was a site foreman.


JA24/02/2021 13:18:03
1129 forum posts
71 photos

Many thanks for the comments. I will sweep them up as I continue but, Martin, I do like the stool (the best Christmas present I have received from my little sister).


The only place I could put the bench was between the milling machine and the false wall. I needed at least 1m by 1m floor space. That is where the rubbish was. And most of it was rubbish. Clearance started before Christmas with two trips to the tip. The horrible band saw was dismantled, the motor kept, and the rest went, thankfully (I hated it). A little was kept, the metal and the LED strip lights. The bench grinder is being moved back to the garage today and the floor will be swept.

The milling machine table moved to the extreme right this gave me a floor space of 1 metre square, cramped (or cosy) but adequate. I thought about putting the back of the bench against the breeze block wall but provision for the milling machine table proved impossible. Putting the side of the bench against the breeze block wall with the operator looking towards the false was the answer. A 500mm wide work top (50mm narrower than a standard kitchen work top) would give just enough room for me and the lab stool between the bench and the milling machine. However I was likely to end up stand or sitting directly in front of the lathe, not a good idea. Therefore access to the adjacent metal store had to be reduced to allow an increase in bench length of 100mm. I could now be at the tail stock end.

The bench will be made of wood. I have used wood for all my other benches since I cannot weld. The instructor at my apprentice training school taught us mechanical engineering apprentices that we could not weld. I have been happy to take his word ever since. All these have used 4” square legs and two layers of 18mm ply for top (as Iain’s posting). The additional frame work had been smaller timber with very simple lap joints. Everything was held together by ordinary interior wood adhesive. Screws were used just for clamping the joints as the glue set. All builds have been against walls just to give support during assembly. Benches have always been painted with cheap household paint, white top and bright colour gloss for the base timbers. I have never had any problems with any of these benches and I do not intend to change my build method. A good bench will remain un-noticed for years while a bad bench will haunt you for the rest of its life.

The next episode will consider the actual design, delivery of wood and contain pictures.


JA07/03/2021 09:27:37
1129 forum posts
71 photos

First, a couple of photographs: The location for the bench, before and after the removal junk and rubbish. The bench grinder has gone back to the garage.


Generally I have used the local DIY supermarket for timber and sheet. The availability and quality has not been good so, during the last cold spell, I looked at timber suppliers’ websites. I made two discoveries:

  1. Most timber yards do not sell good planed all round (PAR) timber. They sell fencing and decking timber. A few specialist yards, I have in the past used one in Bristol, sell hardwoods. If you want good softwood you use a builders’ merchant.
  2. The timber sold at my DIY supermarket is not of the standard sizes! The standard sizes are based on rough sawn timber in inches, such as 3” x 1 1/2”. When planed this becomes 70mm x 45mm (one learns a little each day).

The obvious timber to use was 70mm x 70mm and 45mm x 70mm PAR Redwood. The frame work of the bench was modelled on the computer using a solid modelling program.

bench assembly 4 open v17.jpg

The bench top would be two layers of 18mm ply glued and screwed together and to the top rails (sides) and runners (front and back) of the frame. I will avoid sitting the top on top of the legs since I don’t think the floor is that level. Other than the plan the major dimension is the height of the bench. If it was an ordinary work bench the height is such that the top of the vice fitted is same as your forearm horizontal when standing (think filing). Some have suggested a similar approach when operating a lathe. By such rules my Myford on its industrial stand is too high while the big Dean Smith and Grace at the place I volunteer is far too low. Thinking further I am more than like to be sitting when using the lathe (I use a stool some of the time at the Myford and milling machine) so the height of the bench would be determined by the ability to get my thighs under the front runner. Do I use a chair or the bar stool? The bar stool won since I would be able to get a good size cabinet under the bench. For information the height comes to 910mm.

The picture below shows the resulting bench as a solid model.

bench assembly 4 closed v5.jpg


derek hall 107/03/2021 09:48:58
148 forum posts

I think February 30th is the only day you can go to a UK DIY store and obtain timber that is not warped, bent, twisted or shaped like a banana!

Regards to all


Bazyle07/03/2021 10:18:32
5834 forum posts
217 photos

What is the 'solid modeling program' you use? Full CAD programs seem rather awkward for this sort of thing and that looks quite neat.
You didn't say if you have finished it and no photo implies it is still a work in progress.

Frances IoM07/03/2021 10:23:52
1072 forum posts
27 photos
I built my benches from a design in "The Home Handyman Encycopedia" which I bought in 1978 shortly after buying my 1st house - the benches (3 thereof in my cellar workshop) designed for woodwork but eminently sturdy enough for metal work has served me well for last 35 years simple to make and built using standard sizes of timber + ply - the only change I made was to go for thicker timber for the legs so that I could use larger feet on a M12 thread using a 6mm small plate at foot of each leg tapped for the M12 though the weight is born on the M12 adjusting nut with small screws into the end grain - much of their stability was achieved thru use of 12mm good quality ply panels (tho that is now both quite expensive and difficult to find - the chinese ply is cheap and usually nasty)
Guy Lamb07/03/2021 11:14:06
109 forum posts

Just finished a similar bench - perhaps a little heavier - to take a Warco Major, The only thing that I found helped the stability of the structure was to use halving joints on the lower rails and coach bolts. Also treated the bottoms of the legs with wood preserver.

JA07/03/2021 16:37:49
1129 forum posts
71 photos

Fusion 360 was used for the solid model. All the components were produced from primative solids, not sketches. The local engineering society seems to have whole heartedly embraced Fusion 360, so much so that we have two Zoom tutorials on it each month (which reminds me, I must do the set homework).

The bench is very much work in progress. This afternoon I almost finished the frame work. The bench, including lighting, should be finished within the week. Then I can get back to the serious stuff, metal not wood.


norman valentine07/03/2021 17:03:19
263 forum posts
35 photos

I am surprised at how much fuss is made about a simple workbench. I have a wooden workshop so my bench is fixed to the main structure. 3x2 cls for the main frame and 8x2 for the bench top covered with 6mm mdf. It is more than adequate and not too expensive. And no, I did not use fusion to model it, I just built it.

Edited By norman valentine on 07/03/2021 17:08:33

JA16/03/2021 13:04:00
1129 forum posts
71 photos


A month ago, at the depth of the recent cold snap, I ordered the timber and ply (5m of 70mm x 70mm PAR, 14m of 70mm x 45mm PAR and 2 sheets of good 18mm ply plus a few bits and pieces) from the local depot of a nationwide builders’ merchant. I had concerns about them accepting small orders from persons outside the trade. I need not have worried; the value of the order was way above that for free delivery. A delivery truck turned up two mornings later and I helped the driver put everything in the garage (socially distancing). Looking at my emails later I found that they had emailed when the truck left the depot.

All the timber was left for three days to “cool” down and for the weather to clear. The timber was then cut to length and pre-drilled. I had more fun with the plywood. Years ago I could handle a sheet (8’ x 4&rsquo of 18mm ply. I have great difficulty now. Work on the sheets was complicated by only having a good hand saw. Not quite true, I tried using a jig saw but that only made a mess of things.

After a couple of afternoons I was ready to assemble the bench. The back sheet and the vertical timber were screwed and glued together, moved against the false wall and fixed to the breeze block wall battens.

Back sheet against false wall

At this point the lathe was delivered.

After two more afternoons the timber frame work was complete. The top runners and rails were about 1mm proud of the tops of the legs and had been levelled using a spirit level. Everything was glued together except for the front runner and middle vertical (not really a leg). They were temporarily screwed in place so that they could be removed for ease of painting. There was only one error, the location of the front leg on the front runner was wrong.

Levelling rail/runner

Frame work assembled


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