For 2015 (and this Weekend): The Knockdown Workbench

KD Nicholson Workbench

I’ve built a lot of knockdown workbenches in the last 15 years, but I’ve never been 100-percent happy with my knockdown mechanisms.

The problem: barrel nuts, bedbolts or whatever you want to call the cross-locking nut.

KD Nicholson Workbench_apart

When installed, these things work OK. But installing them so they work smoothly is a lesson in precision down to the gnat’s angstrom. This summer I’ve been noodling a bench design that is inspired by three things.

  1. Mike Siemsen’s Nicholson workbench that he built for “The Naked Woodworker” DVD (coming very soon!) and has been taking to woodworking shows.

2. Planemaker Caleb James’s knockdown version of Mike’s bench, which used hardware found in woodworking jigs. I saw this bench at a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event in Charleston, S.C.

3. McMaster-Carr part 94122A200.


It was No. 3 that pushed me over the edge. I have vowed to build a 6’ version of this bench this weekend using the surface-mount inserts and 3/8” hex-head bolts. Why are these inserts special? They can be screwed to the wood. Most tee-nuts use simple prongs that grip the wood. And these prongs have all the holding force of a fetal squid.

But these surface-mount inserts should stay put.

I’ll be documenting the build in my driveway and will post photos, a shopping list and several animal similes. And if you live in England, I’ll be teaching a class in building a bench like this for The New English Workshop next July. Peter Follansbee also will be teaching there at the same time (yup, read it here). And other yet-to-be-named people whom I like.

— Christopher Schwarz

KD Nicholson Workbench_underside

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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29 Responses to For 2015 (and this Weekend): The Knockdown Workbench

  1. ExCrusader says:

    Aren’t tee nuts supposed to be put into the side of the wood opposite the bolt so the little prongs just keep it from spinning, and have nothing to do with holding power? That’s how I install them anyway.


  2. John Switzer says:

    “the holding force of a fetal squid”. You sir really do have a way with words.


    • I’ve had them pull out of chipboard a la Ikea stuff. I’ve never used them in softwoods or when you needed to tighten and loosen them repeatedly. Do you think they’d hold?


      • steveschafer says:

        Anything will pull out of Ikea-substance.

        If the bench is SYP, no problem. They’re at least as strong as a decent lag screw. If it’s miscellaneous whatever-is-on-the-shelf at the big box store, I might be less inclined to trust them, but I’d feel the same way about the McMaster ones. The key, both with these and the McMaster ones, is to keep the joints snugged up as the weather changes. Letting the pieces “work” against each other is what really does damage.


  3. handtooldan says:

    I cant wait for a few pictures and a cut list to come out for this, although i rarely follow them its nice to have a rough guide.
    Ive being trying to work out what kind of bench i want to make myself and this seems ideal, not very fancy, but a bit more than a basic slab with a nail for a stop.
    One thing i cant work out, what is the item on the front left side of the apron ment to be? If anyone has an idea id be happy to hear it as i cant for the life of me work out what it is…
    Atb, Dan.


    • It’s a crochet. And is for planing the edges of assemblies and long boards. The front apron will be drilled with lots of holes for pegs to support pieces below.


      • handtooldan says:

        Wow thanks for the quick reply, now you say that it makes perfect sence.
        Now the hard part, do i make the workbench first or a modified version of the dutch tool chest? Decisions decisions….


  4. toolnut says:

    I’m going to predict that after this weekend there will be a run on McMaster-Carr part 94122A200.
    And the folks there will be scratching their heads.


    • bsrlee says:

      You have been able to get them at Rockler for at least the last 20 years that I know of. Plenty of 24 hour epoxy in the mounting hole is also a good idea with any inserts.


  5. wb8nbs says:

    With all that campaign furniture practice, you should be able to design a bench that folds up.


    • That was something rattling around in my head. But I wanted to make it crazy easy to build. Plus, it was really difficult to get the legs to fold into a 6′-long top. Now an 8′-long top is another animal….


      • joemcglynn says:

        Maybe you could make a fold-down version that would fit into the overhead carry on space on a plane. Itinerant woodworkers (and migratory beavers) everywhere would love you for it.


  6. I was thinking that I’d incorporate Paul Sellers’ “bolts & wedges” idea for my version of Mike Siemsen’s bench. Hopefully that combination would be easy to assemble/disassemble and the wedges would prevent any racking that would occur thru planing and what have you.


  7. jimeckman says:

    Roy Underhill has a folding bench in one of his books. Chris’s looks much sturdier. I’ve used the brass inserts in a poplar bed frame that I made, they are still tight, but I’m not abuser of furniture.


  8. Are the leg assemblies the only part that separates from the top?


  9. Are the two supports that are attached under the top also attached to the front and back aprons in some way Chris?


  10. kendewitt608 says:

    I like a bunch of others just ordered these, no idea when I will get around to using them.
    Learned from your days at the Mag to order early or be back ordered, no matter what the item is.


  11. jenohdit says:

    Hand drawn or is that a Sketchup style choice? If the former, then you have come a long way. If the later, then well, OK, that works too.


  12. theindigowoodworker says:

    With tnuts I’ve always clipped the prongs and drilled a few holes in the flange and used wood screws to keep them in place. As for barrel nuts I’m too cheap to buy them. Picked up some 3/4 x 3/8 mild steel and make my own. It doesn’t take long to drill and tap a screw hole and cut to length. Drill a hole in the wood, chisel flat the bolt side and tighten away.


  13. Very interested in this build Chris. Sounds like the perfect bench for me at our farm in east TX.


  14. As a shop-less apartment dweller I look forward to seeing how this project works, especially as I was leaning towards the Nicholson-style for the day I eventually get to build one.


  15. handtooldan says:

    Reblogged this on handtooldan's Blog and commented:
    Im wanting to make this bench, or something quite similar for myself in spring, im not going to bother now as i have to work outside and the bench would have to be outside under a tarp, and it makes no sense to make it to have it sat exposed to the elements all winter.


  16. bkbiggs says:

    I’m going to be building one for possible use at the woodworking show in towson maryland. I’m going to be one of the “booth babes” showing off the woodcraft handplanes. Here’s the part list I put together from that wonderful sketchup contribution (and current prices from my local home depot).

    4 6′ 2×12 top (2) and aprons (2) (cut down to 11 1/4″ wide)
    2 19 1/2″ 2×12 end aprons

    2 45″ 2×10 undertop

    2 22 1/2″ 2×6 leg spanners
    4 31″ 2×6 leg
    4 21 1/4″ 2×6 leg
    2 16 1/2 2×6 leg tops

    4 11 1/4″ 1×3 apron stop for legs
    4 6′ 1×10 inside aprons (2) and bottom shelf (2)
    2 16 1/2″ 1×1 shelf brace


    4 8′ 2×12 @ 12.59 50.36 each (0101512 #2 and better douglas fir lumber)

    1 8′ 2×10 @ 10.42 10.42 each (915564 #2 and better douglas fir lumber)

    4 8′ 2×6 @ 4.86 19.44 each (2069258UPPS Prime kiln dried Heat-Treated Untreaded SPF Stud)

    1 6′ 1×3 @ 1.42 1.42 each (164704 furring strip board)

    2 8′ 1×10 @ 12.98 25.96 each (2P1X10X8 common board)



  17. bkbiggs says:

    Reblogged this on Brian's Workbench and commented:
    I’m going to put one together… seems like a good idea to have one available.


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