This is, by far, the easiest way I’ve found to make super sturdy workbench legs from a 4×4.
You can use a circular saw to cut the notches for your 2×4 rails, but I found it was even easier to use my sliding mitre saw set to a specific depth. And no chiseling was required this way either.
See how I easily made mine.
Enjoying this series?
It’s all about my workbench build
See all the posts in order
Video Walk Through
Transcript highlights and images are below the video too!
Subscribe to Heartwood Art on YouTube
What You’ll Need for This Project
See the tools I use and recommend
Hand Tools You’ll Need
Power Tools You’ll Need
Safety Gear You’ll Need
Why I Used My Mitre Saw Instead of a Circular Saw
I first saw this notch technique using a circular saw.
- You set the saw to a specific depth and then cut a lot of strips close together.
- Then take a hammer and break them out.
- And then use a chisel to smooth the surface.
I was scared to even try this.
- First, I can’t always see exactly where my circular is cutting while I’m standing over it.
- Second, trying to balance the saw’s plate across such a short surface didn’t seem easy as far as keeping it square in all directions.
- Third, hammering out the pieces seemed easy, but I’m just not crazy about hammering a chisel across an uneven surface to try to make it smooth and square and keep it uniform.
Instead, I chose to use my mitre saw.
- I could just as easily set the depth of cut.
- More importantly, I could clearly see where I was making each cut and keep them super uniform in every direction.
- And the notched surface would be smooth without the need to hammer out chips or use a chisel at all.
There are pros and cons to both methods. Do what makes the most sense and works best for you.
All I know is that I won’t build bench legs any other way now.
SEE: How I doubled 2x4s to simulate this 4×4 notched method for the legs on my mitre saw station bench.
That’s an okay way to do it, but I now believe notching 4x4s this way is easier.
It’s definitely faster.
And it’s about the same cost in lumber either way.
Get Good 4x4s
There is no such thing as a 4×4 that is perfectly straight and without cracks running through it.
Choose the best that you can from your hardware/lumber supplier.
I used a stop block on my mitre saw station to cut each one to the same length, regardless of bow or warp.
And don’t assume that the factory cut end of the board is square. Mine weren’t. So I shaved off 1/4″ before making the cut to final length.
Choose the Face of the 4×4
Once I had the 4x4s cut to length, I stood them on end to ensure the bottom was square.
And, I rotated them around to find the prettiest face, as it will be on the front/back of the bench and will show.
That pretty face is also where I want to cut the notches.
Mark the Cut Depth
You only want to cut 1.5” deep, which is the thickness of a 2×4.
To get the correct depth, I laid my 4×4 on the floor with the pretty face down.
Then I laid a 2×4 flat, next to the end.
And then simply marked the 4×4 end.
Set the Mitre Saw Cut Depth
Most mitre saws have a cut depth adjustment.
Above is where it is on my 10” Makita compound, sliding mitre saw.
You simply flip the metal piece outward and then use the screw to adjust the cut depth.
Then, I placed the 4×4, pretty face up, on the mitre saw and used the line ensure my blade depth was correct.
Start With the Top Notch
I used a 2×4 to mark the notch width.
Then I placed a 2×4 next to it on the floor, standing tall, which is the way it will be mounted to this leg.
Then I just drew a line with my pencil.
Cut the Notch on the Mitre Saw
It’s so hard to find a 4×4 that is not warped or twisted all the way down the length of it.
So, lining it up for the notch cut can be a little tricky as it may not always be totally flat against the mitre saw bed or rail.
You’ll have to watch how you’re holding it so you don’t rock it out of square too.
I started at the end, to ensure my cut depth was correct.
Then I moved the 4×4 down to the end cut, and cut inside that line, meaning I ensured the edge of my saw was on the outer end side, toward the top of the 4×4.
Then I moved the 4×4 back so I could start chipping away from the end toward the center.
Making the Cuts
There are two ways you can do this.
If you can pull your blade all the way toward you and you have plenty of clearance between the blade tip and the 4×4, then you can leave the blade in the down position and use it sort of like a regular saw, by moving it in and out of the 4×4, scooting the 4×4 into position for the next cut.
If your blade tip touches the wood piece when fully retracted, then you’ll need to lift the blade, scoot the wood, and make a new plunge cut down, and then cut across to the back of the wood.
Width of Cut
There are two ways you can do this too.
You can scoot the wood the width of the saw blade and literally shave off more wood.
Or, you can scoot the wood in by 2-3 times the width of the saw blade and make less passes. But, you’ll need to use a hammer to break out the slivers, and likely need a chisel to chip out the bottom of them so you have a flush surface.
I chose to make more passes and shave off the wood.
The shaving method will create a LOT more sawdust.
And maybe some chips.
If I had emptied my bag more often I probably would not have ended up with a 4” pile of sawdust on the back of my saw.
But, I feel I got a far cleaner cut in the end.
Cut Both Sides
Because I’m using a 10” blade, it didn’t cut to the full depth on the back side of the 4×4.
So I had to flip the 4×4 over and do a few more cuts.
Actually, I did something that may be a little unorthodox.
I did the first plunge cut next to the stop point on my notch.
Then I lifted the blade just a little and pulled the board across it, away from the blade.
The blade literally shaved off the high spots.
Then I stopped the blade and repeated, but this time with the blade fully lowered.
I found making two passes was not at all stressful on my blade, compared to trying to shave off too much height at once.
Again, this makes for a lot more sawdust because you’re basically using the saw blade as a radical sander.
But boy, what a nice finish it makes for the notch!
Test the Fit
Before you go further, ensure your first notch is a good fit.
I placed a 2×4 in my notch and put a square on the end to ensure it was level.
Measure and Mark the Lower Notch
Once I got all of the top notches done, I lined up all 4 legs and used a 2×4 to ensure the ends were square and even.
Then I measured 4” from the bottom, which is where I want the bottom of the 2×4 rail to hit.
I laid a 2×4 across the top of the legs and used a speed square to check for square on both sides.
And then I just drew lines across the legs, using the top and bottom of the 2×4 as a guide.
Before cutting, I double checked the distance of those lines on both of the outer legs to ensure the lines were the same and square all the way across – measure twice, cut once, right?
Cut the Bottom Notch
I first did the two cuts on the inside of both lines.
Then I was free to do the shave, scoot, shave method through the interior between them.
Last, I checked that a 2×4 could slip into the notch and adjusted as needed. Usually, that was just the width of the saw blade or less that had to be shaved.
Check for Fit
I laid all 4 legs out and put 2x4s in both notches.
I checked that the top and bottoms of the legs were still in perfect alignment.
It took me all of 30 minutes to cut my workbench legs and make the notches.
However, the sawdust cleanup took me over an hour.
My saw comes equipped with a port for a vacuum. And you better believe I’ll be using that next time!!!!!!!!!
Your other choice, of course, is to do the cutting outside.
Just know that the fine dust will go everywhere, so ensure you’re neighbors are okay if their cars get covered in it!
I hope this makes it easy for you to create notches in your 4×4 posts too.
Be sure to visit HeartwoodArt.com for more helpful woodworking tips. And I’ll see you in the shop.