A member’s comment on reloading benches, got me to wondering whether I could help a few people out, who would like to build their own safe and sturdy bench, but aren't sure how or whether they have the skills. I design and build things like large homes, restaurants, and commercial buildings for a living, so building a bench is, well...light exercise.
So I thought, what could I contribute to make it easier for others, or at least inspire a few who might not think that building their own bench (good enough to last 3 lifetimes), is within their capabilities. It definitely is!
I think anyone can do it if they want to. I also think there are those who hate anything that requires learning a new skill, using (ugh) tools, especially if it takes a little time, more than the smallest effort, and a just a tad-bit of patience. (I have two sons-in-laws that come to mind. If you're in that category you have my permission to ignore this thread and buy or pay somebody else to build you a bench. BTW, I do like my sons-in-laws, and have to remind my daughters, that everybody doesn't have to be "handy", specially if they make enough to hire those who are.
Anyway, here we go: This finished bench is 2' wide, 8' long, and 42" high. Obviously, bench legs can be adjusted in length for a shorter bench if you want.
The following cut list shows the 2x4 lumber required for the bench:
2x4x10' with 2 cuts: 7'-9" & 1-10 1/2"
2x4x12' with 2 cuts: 8'-0" & 3'-1 3/4"
2x4x14' with 3 cuts: 7'-9" & 3'-5 1/4" & 1'-10 1/2"
2x4x14' with 3 cuts: 7'-2" & 3'-5 1/4" & 3'-1 3/4"
Drawing below shows all the 2x4 cut list.
Make parts "G" and "I" your last cuts...leave them long until the bench support is otherwise done...you'll see why later.
You also need a 4'x8' sheet of 3/4" AC plywood for the top, a bottle of yellow carpenter's wood glue, 1 1/4", 2 1/2" and 3" deck screws. Unless you have access to a table saw, have your lumber yard or Home Depot, rip the plywood lengthwise to give you a 24" wide half. Have them rip what's left into two shelves to put above the bench. They will cut your lumber too, but you can use a power saw, circular or reciprocating, and do it yourself. It's easy with a good tool. Do yourself a favor and start with a new blade (carbide) ...makes all the difference in the world. You also need a level, and a chalk line...and a way to find studs. Stud-finder and/or hammer and nails........have fun!
Using the illustrations above for reference, put it all together in the following steps:
1. Lay 2X4 "A" against the wall exactly where you want your bench...but on the floor. Mark a vertical line at each end on the wall. Put a level on it at the left end. Read the level. If the bubble is in the middle, go to step 4. If the bubble is toward the left, the left side is high, so go to the other end of "A" andput your level on that end of the 2x4 and do step 3. If the bubble is toward the right side of the vial, stay where you are and do step 2. (that means the left end is low)
2. Make a horiz. mark on the wall at the top, left end of the 2x4. Then raise this end, slightly (with the level still in place), until the level reads "level" (bubble centered in the vial). Make another mark on the wall in the same place, but obviously higher as you've raised the 2x4. So now you have two marks, one above the other. The measurement between the marks is the amount you need to raise the left end on the wall to make the bench level. We will call it measurement X. Go to step 4.
3. Make a horiz. mark on the wall at the top, right end of the 2x4. Then raise this end, slightly (with the level still in place), until the level reads "level" (bubble centered in the vial). Make another mark on the wall in the same place, but obviously higher as you've raised the 2x4. So now you have two marks, one above the other. The measurement between the marks is the amount you need to raise the right end on the wall to make the bench level. We will call it measurement X.
4. Measure from the floor, up the wall at each end of the 2x4 41 1/4"...make a mark. On the side you made the two marks near the floor, make another mark above the 41 1/4" mark, measurement X higher. Now get someone to help you strike a line (with a chalk line) between the single mark on one end and the top mark on the other end. that gives you your level line to mount 2x4 "A" to the wall. Use the level to "plumb" your end verticals from the floor to the chalked line.
5. Mount the 2x4 (top even with the chalked line) to the wall with 2 - 3" deck screws at each wall stud. the easiest way is to use a hammer to lightly tap along the wall. Where the tap sounds least "hollow" drive a nail just below the line to find the stud. If no stud there, drive a nail a little left and right of the first one until you find it. Continue nail holes until you figure out the center of that stud and mark it. (all the holes hide behind the back 2x4 support) Then measure along the chalkline from your stud-center-mark and mark 16" centers all along the line (mark above the line so you can tell where to screw in the 2x4 when it's held in place. Screw it all in tight.
6. Screw 2x4's "B" & "C" to each end as illustrated above. (2 3" screws each side)
7. Making the torsion beam: GLUE & screw (2-1/2" screws) "E" to "F". Use a tape measure and make sure "E" in centered on "F" (duh, it has to measure the same on each end). Then glue & screw "D" to "E"/"F" to finish the beam. Again center it.
8. Now put "H" & "I" legs into place where the leg tops are even with the beam tops...one screw in each, 2/3's way in...as a temporary hold. Get a helper to help you move the beam/legs in place and screw them to the sides ("B" & "C"). Again 2 3" screws.
9. To level the front, start another permanent screw to go through leg "H". Making sure the leg is plumb, loosen the temporary leg screw at "H", place your level on "C", then raise/lower the beam end until the level reads level....screw-in the NEW screw...all the way in. Repeat for the other end of the beam. Add 3 more screws. You ought to have 4 screws in each leg, when your done. (you can screw in your temporary screws only after you have at least 2 new ones screwed in first, so things don't move.) Also in some cases of leveling, the legs may poke through the top a little..saw 'em or sand 'em.
10. Screw on side leg members "I" & "G". They keep the legs from kicking out of plumb and add additional support to the bench beam. (Notice that those members mount underneath, so the need to wait to cut them until things are level so you can measure them exact.)
11. Mount the top. I screw mine heavily with 1 1/2" screws...no glue. That way, I can change tops some day if I want, easily.
To mount a press you will mount it directly through the beam. That requires 6" carriage bolts, washers, large large over-sized fender washers and of course nuts. You can't mount a sturdier press.
Two things are different from most homemade benches: First there are no cross pieces except for the ends. With the beam being 4 1/2" wide plus the 1 1/2" back support, that only leaves an 18" open span front to back, so cross pieces definitely, are not necessary. Second, the "built-up" 2x4 legs go with and through the torsion beam. Commonly constructed benches rely on overly thick tops torquing over a small beam with the back of the top being the anchor point. On the design above, the top is only a contributor to stiffness, not the main source. The torsion beam is what torques, held by the ends, legs, and back support. If you think you'd need more massive legs to impress your friends, you can add more members to make them as massive as you want. See picture below. What I did in that dept. is totally optional...not necessary....just cool-looking in my mind. The drawers and extra leg to hold up the drawers are definitely optional as well. On my optional legs I added 2 extra 2x4's and quarter-rounds to hide the corners. The quarter-rounds make the legs look like a carved solid column.
My hope is that this How-to might inspire people who think they can't do this. Don't be intimidated, this is way superior than anything "Stack-On" will sell you...and it's easy...even Obama can do it.
BTW, I used this bench for 39 years with no finish, no edging and only the 2x4 el-shaped legs. Upgrades are easy even 39 years later. (or anytime new urges, money, and/or time comes your way).
P.S. This post may go on and on as I keep forgetting important tips that I take for granted, but others don't know. Like: See the Square on the right side of the photo above? That's a stairway layout square, but it looks like an over-sized framer's square which you need (the smaller framer's square), to get square and accurate cuts in 2X4's. Get one before you start this project and always strike a square line before you cut. Yes the cheap plastic ones are adequate as long as you don't plan on working on a house framing crew. (keep it out of the sun)
P.P.S. I'm bound to be questioned on the more massive legs on my bench. Cut 2 more "I" and "G" legs each, and screw them to the opposite 1 1/2" edges of "H" and "J" and in front of "H" & "J"...If you plan on doing this, don't screw legs together with deck screws...use "trim" screws made to be puttied and hid. Then cut 4 3/4" quarter-round mouldings, two of them "I" long and two "G" long. nail 'em on in each inside corner, with #6 finish nails and set the holes and putty....piece of cake. Illustrated below: