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The best workbench: supremely easy to build, this big workbench goes together like a custom-tailored kit.

Put all those household fix-up chores on hold. It's time to be a little bit selfish, but in a very useful way. Time to build something important (and a whole lot of fun) for yourself - the best all-around workbench you'll ever own. One that's so easy to build, you almost can't make a mistake. You won't have to mortgage the kids to afford it, and only the most basic tools are required.

Understand that we aren't going to show you how to build the one in these photos. Beautiful as it is, it's probably not what you need. With this story, you'll learn how to design your own workbench, built with the features you need and customized to fit your workshop. We think it's more valuable to offer a design you can customize so it's exactly what you want, rather than one don't-change-nothing design that might not be so great for you.

Also keep in mind that this workbench isn't intended for the serious woodworker. There are plenty of specialized woodworking benches out there you can buy or build.

THE FEATURES YOU WANT

Give yourself plenty of room. Build your workbench as big as possible so you have room for lots of features, have plenty of bench-top space and are never crowded.

Get at tools and supplies in seconds. All storage is inside the workbench, and easy to get to, thanks to big, easy-opening drawers.

Position bench-top tools where you need them. An adjustable, drop-in section for infrequently used bench-top tools puts the tool worktable level with the bench top.

Have power where you need it. It's easy to install power strips or outlets almost anywhere on this workbench.

Keep the dangerous stuff locked up. A lockable storage cabinet helps keep your shop supplies kid-proof.

Use those workshop corners. A big lazy Susan makes for easy access and maximum use of corners.

Keep the shop vacuum at hand. Build in open space under the bench for a shop vacuum, air compressor or both.

Have more work room as needed. An easy-to-attach extension table lets you work on all sides of a project, and then stores out of the way.

Make your table saw work better. A roll-around cabinet positions the saw just a little higher than the bench top, to provide support for what's being cut.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Don't be scared off by this project. It's really a cinch to build. We spent as much time figuring out the simplest way to build it as we did coming up with neat features. This modular design is so easy to build that it's goof-proof.

The tools you need are a circular saw, jigsaw, drill/driver and basic hand tools. There's no fancy or expensive hardware - and we're providing mail-order sources (see p. 53) for the drawer slides just in case you can't find them locally. A table saw will speed up the cutting of some pieces, especially if it can handle a 24-in. wide cut, but we built ours with just a circular saw.

Because all the drawers easily pull open, and final height is determined by the user, someone in a wheelchair can probably use this workbench design too.

Finally, because it uses common materials, mostly 2x4s and 1/2-in. plywood, ifs cheap to build. You could build a very big workbench, similar to what we show here, for $300 to $500, depending on the final size and features you choose.

START WITH A PLAN

You'll probably be impatient and want to start building right away, but don't rush into this project.

First, draw a rough plan of your ideal workbench. This is absolutely essential. If we learned one thing from building this project, it's that the more time you spend planning things on paper, the better your workbench will be.

Decide how big a bench - and what shape - would work best for you. What tools and materials would be better stored inside the workbench? Where do you have electrical outlets, and where do you need more? If you got rid of some shelves (or clutter or whatever) in your workshop, could you have a bigger workbench? Include the measurements for any tools or accessories you want to place in, on or under the workbench.

You're going to need all this information to figure out where the legs go, because you can put the legs anyplace within the frames, at any spacing up to 54 in. apart. All of the special features are then built into the areas between each pair of legs. For example, if you want a shop vacuum under the bench, and it's 20 in. wide, you'd place a pair of legs about 24 in. apart on the frame for the vacuum. So figure out what features you want, where you want them, and position the legs accordingly.

We'll outline key points about building each feature, but the actual building steps should be understandable from the illustrations.

WORKBENCH BUILDING BASICS

You start out by creating a kit, cutting all of the pieces for the frames and legs. Then you take your kit pieces and assemble them according to your plan. Working this way, you can frame up the basic workbench in one easy day.

You'll then spend anywhere from a couple of hours to a day building each one of the features into the workbench. You can build a really big workbench like ours, with all of the features, in two or three long weekends plus a couple of hours on some weekday evenings. It's a fun project, so you won't begrudge the time. The lazy Susan storage unit is the one tricky part.

BUILDING THE FRAME

The 2x4 frames couldn't be simpler, yet they offer plenty of strength.

Building tips:

* Buy the longest, straightest 2x4s possible.

* Cut them to length, based on your plan, clamp them together, and referring to your plan (Photo 1 and Fig. A), transfer the leg positions across all the pieces using a framing square.

* Write on the frame pieces which features go where, so you don't get confused.

* Cut 27-in. lengths of 2x4 and screw them to the ends of the long 2x4s with 3-in. drywall screws (Photo 2), keeping the marks you made earlier in order.

* Give yourself at least a 2-in. toe space beneath the workbench. We used the toe space line as a bottom mounting point for the frames and legs.

* Predrill screw holes to avoid splits.

BUILDING THE LEGS

The legs are light but enormously strong because of the sandwiched construction.

Building tips:

* Determine the length of the workbench legs by standing and measuring from the floor to the middle of your hip. The final finished height of the workbench will be this measurement plus 1 in. (the thickness of the bench top).

* Your plan tells you how many legs you need (see Fig. A). Cut all the 2x4 legs to length (the floor-to-hip measurement), using straight pieces. Be accurate and consistent in your measuring and cutting.

* You can use lower-grade, cheaper plywood for the legs, since knots and patches don't make any difference.

* For tips on cutting plywood with a circular saw, see "Need Help Cutting Plywood?", Feb. '90, p. 31.

* Cut a 4x8 sheet exactly in half, lengthwise, giving you two pieces just slightly under 24 in. wide. Then cut those pieces into thirds, giving you about 32-in. lengths. Using these dimensions, you get six plywood leg panels out of each sheet, enough for three sets of legs. However, if the legs are going to be less than 32 in. long, cut the plywood leg panels at least 2 in. shorter than the legs.

* We screwed each leg panel to a marked line 5-1/2 in. from the bottom of each leg. This allows for the 2-in. toe space and the height of the 2x4 frame piece (2 in. plus 3-1/2 in.).

PUTTING IT TOGETHER

This is the fun part-assembling your new workbench "kit."

Building tips:

* A helper comes in handy.

* Assemble the workbench according to your plan (Photo 4). Lay the frames on their sides, slide the legs into the marked positions, and use 3-in. drywall screws to join the pieces. Do all the legs on one side, then flip the assembly over.

* There are two ways to go with the plywood backs: (1) Use the scrap left over from cutting the 29-in. wide benchtop pieces (see p. 52), making sure the scrap pieces have two factory-cut sides intact. Then use other scrap pieces to fill the remaining gap, or leave it open. (2) Cut a full piece to fit the opening in the back, as shown in Fig. A

* The plywood back pieces add rigidity and help square the workbench because you'll use the factory-cut edges as a reference (Fig. A). Place one factory-cut side on the ledge of the bottom frame, and pull on the top frame until it's aligned with the other factory edge (Photo 5). Then screw the plywood back to the legs.

* The workbench frame is now squared, straight and true, but don't assume it's level since your shop floor may not be. Level the bench with shims later, when all the building is done.

LAZY SUSAN STORAGE

Lazy Susans make the corner of an L-shaped workbench a more convenient storage area. The 12-in. dia. lazy Susan base we used has ball bearings and is rated to support 1,000 lbs. Installing the lazy Susans will take you a day or more because of the number of steps involved.

Building tips:

* To provide space for the rotating shelf, you must set back the legs at the end of one frame at least 15 in. Then add a 2x4 as an extra, stabilizing leg where the two frames meet (see Fig. B).

* While building the workbench, clamp the two frames together where they meet. Once the bench is complete and in place, drill holes and bolt the frames together.

* To get two lazy Susans, use a scrap piece of Peg-Board, screwed in place at one end, as a trammel (like a big compass) to draw two circles 24 in. in diameter and two circles 40 in. in diameter on a sheet of 3/4-in. plywood (Photo 6). The circles will slightly overlap, which is okay. Cut out the circles with a jigsaw.

* Drill a small hole - any size - completely through each circle's center (where the trammel was screwed down) and the center of the area where the lazy Susan will be mounted on the frame (Fig. B). Place a nail in these holes to position the pieces as you work.

* Center the lazy Susan base on the small plywood circle and mark where its inner mounting holes fall. Drill a 3/4-in. access hole through the plywood at this mark.

* Position one of the 24-in. circles exactly in the center of the L-shaped opening in the workbench (Photo 7). Mark where the circle has to be cut out to conform to the "L" and the metal curve of the lazy Susan base.

* Next screw the lazy Susan base bottom side up to the small circle (Photo 8), then center it in position on the frame. Fasten the whole assembly in place by rotating the small plywood circle so the access hole uncovers the lazy Susan base mounting points (Photo 8 inset).

* Put the large circle in place (remember to use a nail through that hole in the center to align things), mark the cutout and cut it away.

* Edge the large circle with vinyl landscaping edging cut in half and screwed in place.

* Center and screw the large circle to the small one.

* For an upper lazy Susan, first build a 2x4 frame into the opening, covering it with 1/2-in. plywood.

PEG-BOARD TOOL SLIDERS

The tool sliders let you use both sides of the Peg-Board. You can make as many tool sliders as you need and they take just two to three hours to build.

Building tips:

* Use only 1/4-in. Peg-Board. The 1/8-in. stuff is too flimsy.

* Cut out each tool slider with a circular saw (Photo 9) on the straight lines, then cut out the handle openings and all curves and notches with a jigsaw.

* Paint if desired. This stuff is porous, so prime first and use a roller.

* Each slider moves within a 3/8-in. wide channel built out of four 1x2s. The top two 1x2s are longer than the bottoms (see Fig. C).

* You can divide up the opening into however many segments you desire, but you'll probably want the center slider(s) at least 4 in. apart from adjoining ones to allow room for the longer hooks. For smaller hooks, 2 in. of clearance between sliders is adequate.

* Cover the exposed tops of the 1x2s with 1x4s to keep the sliders from riding up.

* Use a circular saw and a chisel to cut 3/8-in. wide and 3/4-in. deep notches in a 2x2 to match the positions of the 1x2s.

* Use a bar of soap to lubricate between the 1x2s and on the bottom of each Peg-board slider before putting them in place.

ELECTRICAL POWER

A modern workshop needs lots of electrical power, and you can choose between two methods of getting it on your workbench.

Building tips:

* The permanent but more time-consuming and difficult method is to run Romex (plastic-sheathed electrical cable) from a wall outlet to various spots on the workbench (Photo 11 and Fig. A), protecting it with 3/4-in. metal conduit. We used 3/4-in. because it can hold two cables, giving us more versatility in how we wired things.

* With Romex, you must use conduit. You cannot run the Romex through the hollow legs, because there simply isn't enough wood around it to offer adequate protection.

* Drill 7/8-in. holes for the conduit, then use a chisel or keyhole saw to cut a notch for the conduit connectors.

* If you're not running Romex directly into a stud wall behind the workbench, then you'll also have to run conduit along the back of the workbench. It cannot be exposed at the back and still meet electrical code.

* Put the electrical boxes close to legs, rather than in the center of the frame where the holes you have to drill would weaken the frame. The box will fit neatly under the 2-in. bench-top overhang.

* For detailed directions on wiring an outlet, see "Install a New Outlet," April '92, p. 39.

* The quicker and by far the easier method is to mount electrical power strips on the workbench, plugging them into nearby wall outlets. However, make sure you buy only top-quality UL-listed power strips, and look for brands that have GFCIs built into them. The added safety of the GFCI is well worth the extra cost.

* Power strip cords are not allowed to be stapled in place, or run inside walls or partitions. But you can wrap the excess cord with a plastic zip tie after you've mounted the strip.

BUILDING THE DROP-IN

The drop-in shown in Fig. D requires a day to build but it's a feature that you'll rapidly find essential. To use it you remove the workbench top, lift up the drop-in, insert the proper-length pegs for the tool being used, and position the tool on the drop-in. When not in use, the drop-in stays in place with the pegs under it, and the whole affair is covered by the removable bench-top section.

Building tips:

* Create a base for the drop-in by toe-screwing two 2x4s to the frame, about 6 in. down (Photo 12 and Fig. D). Cover the 2x4s with 1/2-in. plywood screwed in place. Then use a handsaw to cut away the top frame piece.

* Make the drop-in section by duplicating the base from the previous step on another pair of 2x4s and plywood.

* Screw in 2x4 filler blocks in the openings in the legs, flush with the top.

* Make a drilling template out of a 2x4 cut to the width of the opening. Mark one side as "Left" and drill two 1-3/8 in. dia. holes through it at each end.

* Place a tape "flag" on your drill bit at 2-1/2 in. (the thickness of the 2x4 template plus 1 in.). When the flag hits the template, you've drilled deep enough.

* Use the template to drill four 1-in. deep holes in the front and back of the base. Clamp or screw the template in place before drilling (Photo 13).

* You have to flip over the template to drill the four 1-in. deep holes in the drop-in's 2x4s, since you're drilling from the opposite side. The goal is to end up with four holes in the drop-in base and in the drop-in, exactly aligned with each other.

* Put your bench-top tools on the drop-in base and measure from each tool's worktable to the top of the workbench - put two pieces of scrap 1/2-in. plywood in place to simulate the benchtop. You'll probably find that there's only a couple of different dimensions involved. Cut four pegs from 1-3/8 in. closet rod to these dimensions, adding 2 in. (the combined depth of the holes in the top and base).

* Sand or file a mild taper to each peg end so they fit easily.

* Color-code the pegs with paint if you wish.

* You may want to mark tool positions on the drop-in and drill mounting holes. Use Wing-Nuts to make tool changes simple.

BUILDING THE DRAWERS

The drawers (see Fig. E) ride on full-extension bah-bearing slides, and each drawer can support 100 lbs. The Buyers Guide includes mail-order sources if you can't find these drawer slides locally. The drawers assemble easily; you can easily build and install six of them in a half day.

Building tips;

* Make the drawers 1 in. narrower than the width of the opening, to provide 1/2 in. on each side for the drawer slides (Photo 15).

* When purchasing the 22-in. slides, check their weight rating, and be sure to buy ball-beating versions that have a 100-lb. rating; 150-lb. versions are available, but cost one-third more.

* The slides will cost from $15 to $20 per pair, depending on your source. Some places offer additional discounts if you buy five or more pairs.

* Use wood glue in addition to 1-1/4 in. and 2-in. drywall screws to assemble each drawer.

THE LOCKABLE CABINET

A nice safety touch, the lockable cabinet works well tucked under the drop-in.

Building tips:

* You can build one or two drawers as shown, or install adjustable steel shelving brackets (from any hardware store) and make shelves to fit.

* Build cabinet doors from scrap pieces of 1/2-in. plywood, adding a cabinet lock, hinges and cabinet pulls.

* You may need to make a latch out of plywood for the cabinet door opposite the lock.

THE EXTENSION TABLE

When you need to be able to work on all sides of a project, or just need a lot more working space, the extension table (Fig. F) is the answer. To use it, just open the legs, position it on the 2x4 bracket on the front of the workbench, and clamp the two frames together for security.

Building tips:

* The simplest solution we found for legs was to buy a pair of steel folding table legs at a home center ($15 to $20 for a pair), installing them with drywall screws to 2x4 braces screwed to the extension table frame (Fig. F).

* To raise the legs to the height of the workbench, cut 1-in. metal conduit to length and bolt it in place.

* Using either washers, steel strapping or some other thin shim material, install a length of 2x4 to the edge of the upper frame of the bench with drywall screws, wherever you want to be able to use the extension table (see Fig. F inset).

* Build the tabletop with a 2-in. overhang on both sides and the end opposite the workbench.

* Note carefully the dimensions in the Fig. F inset, because they're critical to having an easy-fitting, no-wrestling-required extension table.

* To make storage simple, build a shelf about 5 in. high and long enough for the extension table (maximum length, folded, of about 52 in.) under one of the pull-out drawers. You could also hang it on the wall, but if you go that route, beware of making it too big and heavy.

THE BENCH TOP

The bench top is made from two pieces of 1/2-in. plywood glued together. For a nicer look, you can use BC sanded plywood for the top piece, and a lesser grade for the bottom.

Building tips:

* Tack the bottom piece in place with a few nails, then use lots of wood glue, spreading it evenly with a piece of scrap wood.

* Drive 3-in. drywall screws through both pieces and into the frame, and put some weights in the center while the glue dries.

* If you've chosen to use Romex, conduit and electrical boxes, be very careful that you do not drive any of the 3-in. screws into the electrical components. These screws are long enough to penetrate.

* The pieces are cut 29 in. wide to provide a 2-in. overhang at the front and ends - handy when you need to do some clamping.

* Screw a 2x4 filler block between any legs where two pieces of bench-top adjoin.

* If you build the drop-in feature, put the bench-top pieces in place, glued together but screwed to the frame on only one end. Mark a cutting fine down the center of each leg of the drop-in (Photo 16 and Fig. D), and with your circular saw blade set to just barely break through the plywood, cut through the bench top. Slide the cut-off piece in tight, closing up the saw kerf, and cut through the second line. This makes the removable top easy to lift out but still snug-fitting.

TABLE SAW ROLL-AROUND

The table saw roll-around lets you use the workbench as an outfeed table for long or wide stock. You build it to match your particular saw, and just a bit taller than the workbench.

Building tips:

* Build a 2x4 frame as shown in Fig. G, modifying it as necessary to conform to your table saw. Ideally, you want the saw table to be 1/8 in. higher than the workbench. Be sure it doesn't come out lower, which is potentially hazardous when cutting.

* Attach the saw to the plywood top with bolts after cutting an opening in the bottom for sawdust.

* Use 1x2 cleats to hold the top in place, so it can be easily lifted off to empty the collected sawdust.

* Do not completely enclose the bottom of the roll-around because of the risk of a sawdust explosion if there's no air circulation.

* Be sure to put the locking wheels on the front of the roll-around, and lock them whenever the saw is in use.

FINISHING TOUCHES

Consider a few bits of fine-tuning once your workbench is complete:

* Put it in position, and shim legs if necessary to level it.

* If you built an opening for a shop vacuum, use a handsaw to remove that portion of the lower frame so you can roll the vacuum in and out.

* Take a few minutes to round off all sharp corners, including those on the drawers, with a sander or file. This makes the workbench safer to be around for everybody.

* You can paint or finish any part of the workbench anyway you choose - or choose not to.

* Sanding the bench top and then applying two coats of polyurethane makes it much more resistant to staining or damage.

* You may want to substitute Peg-board at the workbench's ends, as we did, for additional storage.

* Expect to spend some time sorting out and reorganizing your workshop. There are so many storage options that it may take some experimenting to find the right place for everything.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes materials list and suppliers
Author:Thompson, Mark; Stoffel, Dan
Publication:The Family Handyman
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Words:3972
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