‘Bench Bull’ – The Jack of All Bench Jigs, Part 2 - Popular Woodworking Magazine

‘Bench Bull’ – The Jack of All Bench Jigs, Part 2

 In Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs

DSCN2915For Part 1, click here.

I crosscut our first batch of Bench Bulls from a 7-1/4″ x 2-1/2″ rough pine beam that we found on the street in front of our school. The beams were discarded by our school’s neighboring townhouse at the end of their home renovation. This is the kind of basic sawn pine beam that is used in construction, and I think might not be that easy to come by at Home Depot, Lowe’s etc. Our first Bench Bulls have only one clamping “eye” or socket. On the last one, which I built toward the end of our trimester, I bored two sockets to make clamping operations more versatile. I also built this bull a bit longer than its siblings…

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If you decide to work with that kind of lumber, I recommend boring a few sockets every 3″-4″. You might also want to make your bull longer than the one I built. It will enable you to clamp to it wider workpieces. Think about clamping hope chest parts for dovetail cutting. And don’t be stingy with the number of sockets along its length; they will prove themselves useful down the road.

In the first Bench Bull that I built for myself I included, in addition to the sockets, a few 3/4” through-holes close to the base of the bull and through its top. These holes accommodate some of my Veritas clamping jigs that I use on my portable workbench, such as Veritas Bench Pups, Fast-Action Hold-Down and Bench Blade. (You’ll find all of those at Lee Valley.)

Bench Bull 7-1:4x2-1:2 pine

The Bench Bull that I built for my own use is 14″ inches long. Its size and proportions allows it to work great with either a pair of 4″ F-style clamps, 2-1/2″ Pony #56 (3/4″) pipe clamps, or the Veritas Fast-Action Hold-Down.

The Fast-Action Hold-Down can substitute for the horizontal F-style clamps, while the Bench Pups can be great when chiseling or planing. The 3/4″ holes through the Bench Bull top can also be used by the Fast-Action Hold-Down to arrest workpieces from above.


A pair of Veritas Fast-Action Hold-Downs installed through the Bench Bull act as a vise.

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Veritas® Bench pups will clamp workpieces on the Bench Bull's surface for chiseling, sawing and more...

Bench Pups will clamp workpieces on the Bench Bull’s surface for chiseling, carving, sawing and more.


Veritas® Bench Blade together with a small shop-made T-square will prevent small parts from moving. Here I mounted one of my sandpaper sharpening blocks onto my Bench bull.

A Bench Blade, used with a small shop-made T-square, will prevent small parts from moving. Here I mounted one of my sandpaper sharpening blocks onto my Bench Bull.


If you don’t own the Veritas® Fast-Action Hold-Down (at $84 this little gizmo is not cheap) you have yet another option for an integral horizontal clamping system that will substitute for the F-style clamps. Consider using a 3/4” pipe clamp fixture. A pair of these installed through 1-1/16” holes just below the socket holes will practically act as a bench vise. Drill a few holes in a row to allow yourself to migrate or add more pipe clamps as needed for the shape and size of the stock.


If you decide to build your Bench Bull from dimensional lumber, you may choose to incorporate spaces or gaps in between the lumber segments to be used as clamping sockets. Choose this way if you don’t have a drill press and feel uncomfortable drilling long and wide holes by hand. To accommodate your pipe clamps cut a few 1-1/16”  x 1-1/16” dados across the second pine board (see drawings).

Here are a few Bench Bull build up configurations using 2x4, or 6x4 dimensional lumber available in any home improvement center.

Here are a few Bench Bull build-up configurations using 2×4, or 6×4 dimensional lumber available in any home improvement center.

One of the main challenges of making a wide Bench Bull with through-holes is drilling through 6” and wider laminated wood block. You can circumvent this if you drill each ply of pine (or wood of your choice) before sandwiching them together. To ensure perfect alignment of the holes, insert your pipe/stem of choice through all the holes then glue and clamp the block together. Once the glue cures, joint and plane your Bull.

What diameter drill bit will you need? You’ll need a 3/4” bit for the 3/4” Veritas jigs stems, a 7/8” bit  for 1/2” black pipe clamp and a 1-1/16” bit for 3/4” black pipe clamp.

Below are a two more sketches to help you build a Bench Bull from dimensional softwood. But of course, if you want to invest in a nicer, longer-lasting Bench Bull, build it from hardwood. Next time, I will show my latest Bench Bull; it incorporates 1/2” pipe clamps with a movable vise jaw.

Bench Bull Thick ply block

This Bench Bull is laminated from three pre-drilled vertical beams. After the core has been jointed and planed it is capped and bottomed with two additional beams.

Bench Bull hollow block

This Bench Bull has a hollow core.

— Yoav Liberman

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Showing 13 comments
  • Danny H.

    These “Bench Bulls” are certainly interesting for sure, although not sure that they offer much practicality in use since they, at least in all the demonstrated uses in this article, put your stock at too high a level to work comfortably, unless your workbench is adjustable in height . They may be more suited to use on a pair of saw horses or portable work station than on a regular height work bench. Thanks for sharing !

    • Yoav Liberman
      Yoav Liberman

      Danny, the bulls are very practical. Let me begin by saying that the height of the surface you work on depends on a few factors. Your height, the woodworking operation you need to do, the dimension of your workpieces, and circumstances that I have not listed here and may arise. The Bench bull help me and my students when grooving, beveling and dadoing small work pieces. It is remarkably effective when clamping short box parts (from the inner face of the bull) to allow an uninterrupted beveling and grooving. Although I have a vise installed in my bench I often find the Bull very helpful in holding objects or workpieces high. It saves my back as I don’t need to lean over the work. The Bull is a fantastic first “bench” for kids, students, apartment dwellers, etc who don’t have the money/time/tools/space to build or house a proper bench. By the way, the combined height of a kitchen table + a Bull are not that far off than the height of a workbench. As I demonstrate in my three entries there are many bull designs to choose from, designs that will cater themselves to almost every situations and budget. Lastly, the Bull is a fantastic portable ad hoc bench “to go” when you know you will need to clamp stuff during installations or teaching and yet you don’t want to haul a full scale workbench with you.

  • huskiedad

    The sketches have a lot of character and as soon as I commented about the rays I realized that you were taking an artistic license with them. If you’re truly curious about a definitive id of the beam, saw off a slice and put it into the mail to Jeff Dubis.

  • Wardster

    Thanks for posting the info / drawings / photos on these, Yoav. I think it’s a brilliant design, and I’ll definitely be making myself some of them at some point, before too long. (But I’ll probably take a crack at your cool “Portable Workbench” first! Might combine the pipe clamp idea into it, though … we’ll see!) Thanks again!!!

    • Yoav Liberman
      Yoav Liberman

      Thanks Wardster, and don’t forget to check part 3 of the bench bull saga. There I show how a 1/2″ pipe clamp fixture is installed.

  • bsrlee

    Lots of questions about one thing: What is the source of the two cam operated clamps showing at the top of picture DSCN2858, above the Veritas quick cam clamps? Antique I’d guess or a supplier I haven’t heard of yet? Why hasn’t Rob Lee (or yourself) started making them? Can we have a photo of them fully revealed?

    • Yoav Liberman
      Yoav Liberman

      The clamps in the pictures were made by Colt Batavia NY. I saw my first Colt clamp in an antique store in Cincinnati a few years ago. What attracted me to it was the clamp’s fascinating cam mechanism — so I had no choice but to buy it. For a while I followed an eBay search for “Colt Batavia Clamp”, which yielded a few more specimens. The Colt Clamp Company, Inc might still be in business, as I just did a google search for them (33 Swan Street, Batavia, NY, 14020-3233, Phone: 800-536-8420). I don’t know if they still make/sell the style of clamps that I own, but it is definitely worth investigating. Other sources for the Colt clamps are eBay and flea markets. Bare in mind, although the cam mechanism is a joy to use I am not so confident about its longevity. Its achilles heel, literally, is a small heel at the top of a moving piston that presses down on the swivel head. There is a lot of pressure on that surface and I am afraid it is prone to faster erosion than a good quality acme screw such as the one found in quality clamps. That said, I love my Colt clamps and I will write about them in a near future blog.

  • jwaldron

    Do you really measure to 1/6 inch? Or did no one proof your work when you meant 1/16 inch? Or maybe it’s a typo and you meant 1/8 inch?
    Or is the difference so slight it really doesn’t matter?

    • Yoav Liberman
      Yoav Liberman

      Thanks for bringing this to my attention. The 1-1/6″ is a typo. The correct measurement is 1-1/16″, as can be seen in my drawings. To many readers this diameter might seems a bit finicky for a hole that houses a 3/4″ pipe clamp but I think that this diameter will provide the best cylinder for the pipe to travel with minimum slack. Of course, if one doesn’t have a 1-1/16″ drill bit, he or she can use a 1-1/8″ bit instead.

      • no57644

        Yoav :
        Thanks for the info, i may build one in the future, the career keeps me busy presently. Hope this doesn’t sound to critical but the wood shown in the above photos is not pine , rather it is Douglas fir one of the strongest of the soft woods in North American building industry.
        Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience with us.

        • Yoav Liberman
          Yoav Liberman

          Thanks for your important comment. I always find it difficult to identify one needle tree lumber from the other. Next time if I am not sure which species of conifers I am using I will just write “Softwood”.
          Good luck with building your bench bull.

          • huskiedad

            Not so sure it’s Doug Fir, looks more like Hemlock, common/traditional framing lumber. The knot and white sap wood doesn’t look like Fir, and your sketches show “rays” in the wood which Fir doesn’t have but Hemlock does. Fir has a distinct smell. Does it smell like plywood? Jeff Dubis, Instructor of Forestry at UM Fort Kent has a good site, manuals on wood id, with good info, pix and notes that Hemlock and Doug Fir are confused with. http://woodidentification.net/contact/

            • Yoav Liberman
              Yoav Liberman

              Thanks for your comment and the great link that you shared with us. I visited http://woodidentification.net/contact/ but unfortunately I still don’t have a definitive answer if our beam is fir or hemlock. By the way, The rays that I drew are not present in our softwood. I illustrated them to enhance the readability of the sketch as wood cross section or end grain.

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