My First Workbench
While a workbench was not my first build, I wish it had been. I spent time on the design in order to ensure all criteria were met: good work area, good storage area, strong, mobile, expandable. The last bit has been especially important as I have learned and grown in my ability, comfort, and knowledge as a maker and DIYer.
The Problem to Solve
My current workspace consists of two sawhorses and a scrap piece of plywood. While this is completely mobile, I need something more permanent, large, and strong. Additionally, my storage consists of a single, over-crowded, plastic shelving unit. Having additional storage and organizational space will help me solve more problems in the future.
Materials & Supplies
3” Decking Screws
2” Decking Screws
2 1/2” Kreg Pockethole Screws
4” Locking Casters
Ryobi Curcular Saw
Ryobi Impact Driver
Ryobi Random Orgit Sander
Kreg Pockethole Jig
Steps for Build
Design in SketchUp
Cut material to size
Assemble upper frame
Assemble lower frame
Add casters & plywood
1 - Design in SketchUp
The main reasons I focused on the design was to ensure what I built would fit in the available space, I purchased the right amount of material, ensured my problems would be solved, and generated a precise cut list. I started in SketchUp. Here, I was able to create a scale design based on the space I had available.
Once I was happy with the design, I created a detailed cut list with dimensions. Not only did this give me a set of cuts I knew I had to make, but allowed me to visualize how the parts would be cut without relying on math. I was able to move the parts around to minimize waste and maximize my material. The cut list also gave my a materials list to buy at the home store.
2 - Cut material to size
Once I had purchased my material, I needed to cut it to size. I knew I would be using a circular saw for a majority of the cuts and thought about using the speed square method I had on the raised dog bed. However, I wanted to create an option myself that seemed more precise. I took a few minutes to make a quick circular saw guide. There was a fence for the saw to ride on, a zero clearance side to line up with cut lines, and a hook perpendicular to the fence. My belief was this would save me time, but in the long run I think I over-thought this piece.
Using this jig, I cut all of the 2×4 material to length with the circular saw. One big tip I had seen was for repeated dimensions, only measure the first cut. Once the first is complete, use it to mark the rest. This way, they end up much closer to the same length. Once I had cut the 2x4s, I cut down the plywood. I had no fancy jigs (homemade or purchased), so I relied solely on manually keeping the circular saw straight. Having a laser guide would have made this step easier. The only cut I waited on was the notch out for the bottom shelf.
3 - Build Legs
The legs need to be beefy. Originally, the design called for 4×4’s to be used for leg material. However, my research found that two 2×4’s laminated together were just as strong and cost less. The legs also needed to have a peg protruding from the top. This would be easier for a beginner to create with two separate pieces rather than one.
The legs were assembled with glue and 2″ screws. All screws were counter-sunk so the heads were below the surface. For each leg, one half was shorter than the other to allow for easier peg sawing. Half of the protruding taller half was sawn off with a hand saw. The height of each peg was made equal to the real height of the 2×4 top frame (3 1/2″).
I decided that, even though I had taken very precise measurements and was completely confident in my cuts, I would check each peg’s height with a scrap piece of 2×4. I am glad I did. Two legs were perfect. The other two were either slightly too short or too long. The overall height of the legs was correct, but the space between the peg and where the top frame would rest was off.
For the side that was too tall, I used a chisel and carved out the waste. For the side that was too short, I marked a spacer on scrap and carefully cut a shim out with the handsaw. This shim was glued in place.
4 - Assemble Upper Frame
I started with the external surrounding frame for the top. For both esthetics and strength, I wanted to miter the visible corners on the top. When combined with the leg pegs, the top frame will be supported equally from the front and sides. I used the tilting feature on my circular saw to cut the 45 degree angles.
Once these were cut, I dry fit all pieces together and spaced the struts equally on one of the long sides. This helped identify where the pilot holes should be located. Once marked, I pre-drilled, glued, and counter-sunk two 3″ screws into each cross beam. For the other side, I used my framing square to ensure everything was square before marking the locations to drill holes on the other side. I drilled and counter-sunk holes on that side, then used clamps to hold everything together before glueing and screwing from the other side too.
For the mitered edges, I put two screws in from one side and one from the other. This ensured the miter joint was very tight. Glue along end grain is not the strongest joint, but the extra screws compensated (in theory).
While not exactly necessary, having an impact driver for these 3″ screws made everything incredibly easy. A drill would work, but this project is where I became appreciative of having the additional functionality an impact driver brings.
To complete the top frame, I needed to add the legs. This is where I realized how important clamps are. I made sure to use these as a second (or third) set of hands. This allowed me to precisely place the leg pegs before drilling, counter-sinking, gluing, and screwing the legs to the top frame. For each corner, I put two 3″ screws in from one side and one from the other. This also helped keep the legs square to the frame.
5 - Assemble Lower Frame
I honestly had not completely thought through how the bottom frame was connected to the legs or table as a whole. I decided to use pocket holes for the short sides. For the long sides, I wanted to have at least a small piece to have the long braces rest on. I used some scrap 2×4 pieces to create these ledges. I used a handsaw to cut 1/4 out of the scraps to provide a shelf for the long struts. Ideally, I could use either dominos or mortise/tenons for this joint, but did not have any knowledge of these joinery methods at the time.
I secured the long piece to the scrap shelf with a counter-sunk screw. Then, secured the larger piece to the legs with a pocket-hole screw in the long piece and two counter-sunk screws in the scrap shelf. While this sounds complicated, I am positive there is an easier method to join the two pieces (let me know in the comments what you would have done).
Once the long ends were secured, I could move on to the short sides and cross braces. The side pieces were attached with pocket hole screws directly into the legs. The cross pieces were screwed through the long pieces after being counter-sunk.
6 - Add casters & plywood
Before flipping the workbench over, I added the locking casters. I placed each caster on its leg and marked the holes. Once marked, the holes could be pre-drilled to prevent the legs from splitting. Each caster was secured with four screws and washers.
With the casters on, the time came to turn the workbench over and put it on the ground. I made sure to lock the casters before flipping to ensure the table didn’t fly out from underneath me. Once flipped, I pre-drilled, counter-sunk, and screwed one piece of plywood to the top.
The bottom shelf needed to have notches cut out of the corners to accommodate the workbench legs. I marked each corner using two stacked scraps of 2×4. I used a hand saw to cut the corners out. Once cut, I simply placed it in place. I did not screw it down so I could have maximum flexibility in the future.
Overall, this was an easy build. It was my largest build at the time, but it was a fantastic learning experience. I could have built an adequate workbench more quickly by using more simplistic joinery methods. However, adding a small amount of beginner complexity greatly boosted my confidence.
This workbench has now been used on almost every single subsequent project. I have also been able to add additional features after the initial including a bank of drawers, a pipe clamp vice, and an integrated extension cord outlet with power switch. These additions would not have been possible without thinking through how I wanted to learn and expand.