Simple Workbench

As I started getting into building and making things, I realized that I could probably benefit from a dedicated work area so that I would have more room to work in and could also leave “in-progress” projects out until I had time to finish them.

Because I have a very limited amount of space in my garage, I needed my workbench to be mobile so that I can use it when I need it, but store it against the wall of the garage in order to make room for my boat. Also, because it will take up a significant amount of wall space, I need to be able to store things on/in/under it. I also wanted it to be inexpensive and made of materials available at a local hardware store.

I searched for designs online and couldn’t find anything exactly like I wanted, but I did find a simple design on instructables.com that I could modify to fit my needs.

STEP 1: MEASURE AND DESIGN

I started by deciding where I was going to store my workbench and measuring the depth and width of the space, rounded down to the nearest inch for simplicity, being sure to write it down in my notebook and label what each measurement was.

Next, I decided at about what level I wanted the top of the workbench to be and measured from the floor to that level. This didn’t have to be exact, so I rounded to the nearest inch and recorded it in my notebook.

Once I had all the necessary measurements recorded and labeled, I started drawing out the design for the frame of the workbench. Since I was planning on keeping this as inexpensive as possible I decided to only use 2×4’s, plywood, and hardware. Because I planned to use 2×4’s (which are actually 1.5″ x 3.5″) and didn’t have a lot of extra room for error, I needed to take into account where and how the 2×4’s attached to the top and bottom frame and include the space they take up in the final design.

The basic design of the workbench I found on instructables was a top and bottom frame attached to legs made of 2×4’s. Each leg was made of two 2×4’s put together to make sort of an L-bracket that went around the corner of the two frames. Also, the bottom frame was raised up a little from the floor in order to make a shelf.

The design I was following had actually used a door to make the top of the workbench and left extra room hanging over each edge. Because I opted to go the cheaper route and use plywood for the top instead of a door, and also because my space I was building the workbench to fit into had different dimensions, I decided that I should put the legs on the very edge of the workbench and attach the frames on the inside of the legs, that way I would have a little bit of a hangover on each side that I could use clamps on.

Here you can see my final design and measurements:

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*Note: The final design and measurements shown above already have the added height from the casters taken into account and subtracted from the length of the legs.

STEP 2: GATHER MATERIALS

Before heading out to the store, I looked over my design one more time to verify measurements and start making a “shopping” list (shown below). For the frame I needed 2×4’s and long screws. For the top and shelf, I needed plywood. I figured that 3/4″ plywood should be strong and thick enough to use for the top. And in order to make the workbench mobile, I figured that swivel casters should work well enough. In order to account for the height the casters would I add, I subtracted 4″ (an estimate) from the lengths of the 2×4’s that would make up the legs.

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I decided to go to Lowe’s for the materials since I knew for certain that I would be able to have someone there cut the wood to length for me, since they had done it before. Home Depot is closer to my house, but I wasn’t sure they’d cut it for me. I wanted to be lazy and I knew the cuts done on a machine would be straighter anyways since I only have access to a circular saw. Work smarter, not harder, right?

Because I purchased materials for another project as well as some tools when I purchased the materials for this project, I don’t have an exact amount that I spent on the workbench. However, I know that it cost no more than $100 for all of the wood, hardware, and even the swivel casters. There was even some scrap wood left over to use on future projects.

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STEP 3: ASSEMBLE TOP AND BOTTOM FRAMES

To make the top and bottom frames, I took two 2×4’s that were going to be the length of the workbench and attached them to two 2×4’s that were to make up the sides of the workbench, making sure that they went between the long 2×4’s as I had designed. Then to strengthen the frame I attached another 2×4, the same length as the sides in about the middle of the frame. I didn’t expect the placement of the middle 2×4 to need to be exact, so I just eyeballed the middle of the frame and put it there. I used 2-1/2″ exterior screws to put everything together.

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STEP 4: ATTACH THE LEGS TO THE TOP FRAME

For each leg, I attached two 2×4’s together long ways to make a sort of L-bracket shape. Then, I laid the top frame down on the floor to keep the legs and top frame flush and attached each leg to an outside corner of the frame. For this, I also used 2-1/2″ exterior screws. To make it easier to attach the bottom frame, and also make more surface area for the casters to attach to, I had the guy at the store cut one of the 2×4 scraps into four 6″ long pieces. These 6″ long 2×4’s were attached to the legs on the inside flush with what would be the bottom of the legs. Here I went ahead and attached the casters also, using some shorter screws I had laying around, since the frame was already upside down.

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STEP 5: ATTACH THE BOTTOM FRAME

Because I attached the 6″ pieces of 2×4 to the bottom of the legs, all I had to do in order to attach the bottom frame was flip the workbench over onto the casters, slide in the bottom frame, and attach it to the legs using 2-1/2″ exterior screws.

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STEP 6: ATTACH THE TOP AND BOTTOM SHELF

Now that the frame was done, all I had left to do was attach some sheets of plywood for the top work area and the bottom shelf. I placed the 3/4″ sheet of plywood that was to be the work area on top of the frame, lined it up with the outside corners of the legs, and attached it to the frame using more of the 2-1/2″ exterior screws. I drove the screws in close enough to each other to flatten out the slightly warped sheet of plywood. Again this was not exact since there really was no need for it to be. Next, I slid in the 3/4″ sheet of plywood for the bottom shelf and attached it the same way as the top sheet.

STEP 7: FINISHING THE WORKBENCH

After attaching the plywood sheets to the frame, the workbench is essentially done. But to make it a little more pleasant to work with, I went ahead and sanded both the top work area and the bottom shelf using my orbital sander. Since the workbench will be kept inside, I didn’t see any need to stain or seal it.

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Some things to remember:

  • 2×4’s are actually 1.5″ x 3.5″. I had to do some last minute calculations at the store to account for this.
  • The plywood sheet for the bottom shelf will be smaller than the plywood sheet for the top. I ended up having to cut the bottom piece at home because I had the guy at the store cut it the same size as the top sheet.
  • Have the pieces of scrap 2×4 that get attached to the bottom of the legs cut at the store so that you don’t have to do it at home.
  • Measure twice, cut once. (Double check your measurements before you have anything cut, just in case.)
  • Always plan ahead as much as you can, it makes any project go as smoothly as possible.

 

So far, this simple little workbench has been extremely useful and has held up really well. If anybody is looking for a simple and relatively cheap workbench, this is certainly a great option. This project only took a couple of hours to complete, was relatively inexpensive (especially compared to pre-built workbenches) and met all of the requirements I needed it to meet. Also, I only needed a drill and the materials to build it. As a simple workbench, this is perfect for me, but I will most likely make some upgrades to it here in the near future, making it even better.

 

*Note: After finishing this project, I sketched it up in Autodesk Inventor. This was only to make it easier to design the upgrades.

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