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I'm finishing up plans to build a rather large, and relatively rough (i.e. this project is more carpentry than woodworking), workbench out of standard 2x4 SYP lumber and MDF for the benchtop and shelves. This will mainly be used for electronics work, but as I don't have a proper general purpose workbench, I'm sure it will see the occasional drilling and cutting.

I'm trying to figure out how to join the posts and horizontal beams - all will be standard 2x4s. I'm considering using a joint I've used on shelves before, essentially half-lapping the beams and posts, and then also (is this still called a half-lap?) half-lapping the ends of the perpendicular beams over/under each other.

See the joint in question in the foreground here, but the same will be repeated at all other corners and lower framing.

enter image description here

The workbench will be significantly larger than the doorway to the room. I'm not sure how long it will stay in this room, and I rent, so I want to make sure it can come back out with a minimum of fuss. So, I want to fasten with screws/bolts, no or minimal glue, so that it will disassemble enough to get it out of the room (ideally in a re-assembleable state, not as cut-up scrap). So, construction-grade SYP fastened with screws or bolts, MDF desktop, probably leaving the wood bare (what's the point of a finish if the desktop and shelves are just going to be MDF?). So... nothing beautiful. Intended to be functional, not overly expensive, and not overly complicated or time-consuming.

What are your thoughts on this type of joint? I've used it with quite a bit of success on utility shelves in the past, but I'm wondering if there's something else I should be thinking about that isn't much more complicated or time-consuming, and fits with the look of something that's... more construction-grade carpentry than woodworking... but will offer some advantages.

PS - In terms of "easy", "quick", etc... I only have handheld power tools plus a compound miter saw and a workable collection of hand saws and chisels. I'm likely going to buy or borrow a router, because I'm not cutting this many joints by hand again. In general, I'm looking for something that can reasonably be done by a novice with a router/miter saw/circular saw, and maximizing "strength per minute of work".

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  • There are loads of ways of doing this, many much simpler than the joint pictured. But how about NO joinery required? Just use metal hanging plates (sold under various names) and you'll be golden here. You can even use them for a full-on woodworking bench and get it rock solid, if you choose a decent one and use enough fasteners, i.e. more than the minimum required. – Graphus Oct 6 '20 at 6:23
  • Hmm... I hadn't really thought of going that route. I suppose I could start looking at what's available - I've worked with Simpson Strong Tie products before, but only for much larger lumber. I suppose I was exaggerating a bit when I said that how it looks doesn't matter at all, because the idea of visible metal plates doesn't seem very appealing to me... – Jason Antman Oct 6 '20 at 10:19
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    "Strength per minute work" is not a metric I'm previously familiar with, but it is one I'm finding interesting... :) – FreeMan Oct 6 '20 at 14:28
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    "I've worked with Simpson Strong Tie products" The very thing I was thinking of. *"the idea of visible metal plates doesn't seem very appealing to me... *" Paint to unify the look? Here's a video on YouTube from the cleverly named wortheffort with a good example of how they can be used, youtube.com/watch?v=Kz0hCakh800 Anyway, say the aesthetics of these just don't work for you, build this like a standard workbench tied together with long bolts and captive nuts, but substitute dowels for the M&T joints — you'll end up with something pretty much identical in terms of stiffness. – Graphus Oct 6 '20 at 16:34
  • Yet another no-joinery option if you don't mind enclosing the ends is to build using plywood (or particleboard, or MDF) sheets to tie end leg assemblies together. Cost may end up slightly higher for this than using something like Strong Ties, but it depends on the pricing of sheet goods where you are (and the thickness you choose of course). These require virtually zero skill to make since the attached board takes up any slack from slightly miss-cut pieces, and an entire workbbench could probably be assembled from the base material in a short afternoon. – Graphus Oct 6 '20 at 16:41
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What are your thoughts on this type of joint?

It's needlessly complicated and fussy, for the job it has to do.

There are numerous other ways of doing this (understatement!) many of them much simpler and more straightforward than the joint pictured, while still allowing easy breakdown of the material back to individual boards for transport, or to reuse the wood for something else. Many plans for woodworking benches rely on mortise-and-tenon joints (usually stub tenons) along with bolts and captive nuts1 to pull the thing together tightly, but M&T joints require a lot more work and skill to do to a reasonable standard. And although you can substitute dowels for them there are even simpler options than this.

How about a bench where NO joinery is required?
You can just use metal hanging hardware (sold under various names), screw the whole thing together without a drop of glue and you'll be golden here. You can even build full-on woodworking benches this way and still achieve the necessary rock-solid result, if you choose a decent metal fixing and use enough fasteners, i.e. more than the minimum number of screws required. An excellent example of this type of bench is The "No Skill" DIY Workbench from the channel wortheffort on YouTube.

Yet another no-joinery option if you don't mind enclosing the ends is to build using plywood (or particleboard/chipboard, or MDF) to tie end leg assemblies together2. Cost may end up slightly higher for this, but it depends on the pricing of these products where you are, plus the thickness you choose of course. Workbench 'legs' like this require virtually zero skill to make since, as with the previous method, the attached board takes up the slack from any slightly miss-cut pieces. And even though there's more cutting it's still very quick to put together3.


1 Square nuts if you go back far enough, then hex nuts and more recently barrel nuts as an option. See also bed-frame fixings for similar functionality.

2 Making what in effect are torsion/tortion boxes.

3 An entire workbench could probably be built from the unprocessed stock in a short afternoon.... let's call it about 3 hours if power saws are available to break down the sheet goods, although this is very doable with just a single hardpoint panel saw.

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  • Sounds good, thanks so much! – Jason Antman Oct 7 '20 at 23:21
  • "torsion" boxes will yield better google results... – Aloysius Defenestrate Oct 8 '20 at 18:02
  • @AloysiusDefenestrate, thank you, good note. – Graphus Oct 9 '20 at 9:09
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Lazy man here:

4x4 legs. 2x4 under the top, carriage bolted to the legs (4 sides). Diagonal stretchers (~1x4) on the two short sides and the back of the long side to prevent racking.

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