How to Build a Simple Workbench
Whether you're getting into DIY as a beginner or are already a serious builder, having a proper workbench is key to getting your projects done right.
These versatile workspaces not only provide a surface for your projects but also a way to stay organized, especially if you add some tool storage and other accessories to it. Before deciding on plans, you'll want to figure out what kind of workbench is best for you.
It's a fairly easy DIY woodworking project to take on, so if you don't already have one, this article will go over how to build a simple workbench, as well as how to decide on the type you want.
Design Your Own Workbench
Workbenches can be as simple or complicated as you make them, but most handy people just need a good solid surface at the right height so they can tinker away.
You can also design something that uses extra lumber you have lying around to help offset the cost, though you won't have to break the bank with a simple project.
For about $50-100 you can get all the supplies you need to build your own basic, but sturdy workbench. This includes 2x4s, screws or nails, and one sheet of half-inch plywood. With these supplies, you can build a simple 6-foot long workbench in a number of ways.
If you want something longer than six feet, your budget may increase a bit, but it will only be the price difference between 6-foot long boards and whatever length you're opting for, plus a few fasteners here and there.
You can also try and source some lumber for cheap on sites like Kijiji, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace.
The height should stay around 30-inches high. This is the common dimension used, and mimics the height for standard countertops, though you can make the decision on what feels right for you.
Common depths for workbenches are somewhere between 28 and 36-inches deep. Again, you can customize this dimension to your liking, but keep in mind that anything too deep means that tools and supplies may be out of reach.
Anything not deep enough may not be able to hold certain tools or give you enough space to work.
The dimensions are entirely up to you, but following standard rules of building will help anyone who's new to framing and working with lumber, and will create a workbench that's comfortable for the majority of people to work on.
There's also the option of buying a set of plans from sites like Etsy or from independent designers who specialize in building plans.
Even if you're a skilled builder, there's no shame in following someone else's design if it's exactly what you're looking for. It's also a great option if design isn't your forte.
This can save you time and prevent costly mistakes. While taking apart some framing isn't hard to do, you can't add wood back onto a piece that you've already cut.
Also, buying plans can get you access to designs that are a little more complicated. Things like folding workbenches, or ones that integrate machinery and electrical components might be a little out of the average DIYer's league.
It's also a lot more cost-effective than buying a pre-made workbench which start around $200 for something very simple (and likely cheaply made), and they only get more expensive from there. Plans can be bought for as little as $10 to get you on your way.
If you aren't fussy about the design, you can find a number of free plans or tutorials online, too, but they likely won't be for anything too complicated.
Feel free to combine different ideas to come up with your own perfect set of workbench plans. If you're handy enough, the vision will come together.
Some people like to customize their workbench to suit their particular needs. If you want it to be mobile, add some heavy duty castors on the bottom that can lock in place when you need it to stay put. Others might want something more permanent, opting to have their workbench built into a wall.
Adding vertical space or utilizing an existing wall can allow you to integrate a pegboard into the design. These handy sheets come in various sized sections that you can customize to your needs.
They also come with different pins or hooks, and even ways to add shelves so that you can store and organize a number of different kinds of tools.
Lighting is another accessory that's commonly added to a workbench area. An overhead garage light might not shine brightly enough to allow you to see, so adding fluorescent lighting or even just a simple light bulb may illuminate the space so you can work at night and prevent any injuries from dim lighting.
Other Types of Workbenches
Most workbenches look the same: there's a plywood top for a workspace and four wooden legs. That's fine if it's all you need, but before you go building your workbench, consider other types of workbenches that may be better suited for your specific kind of work or hobby.
A woodworking workbench might be constructed very similarly to a metalworking or general repairs workbench except for a few modifications like adding grinders, vises, and clamps.
Where you store your tools is a major consideration, and whether the table needs to withstand a certain amount of weight is another. Should your workbench be bolted down to the floor?
A garden workbench will benefit from an extra shelf at the bottom to hold pots, bags of dirt, and other tools. It may also benefit from being portable, or set up outside somewhere instead inside of a workshop space.
Adding grow lights to the top of a workbench table turns it into a great place to start seedlings for gardeners, or to help resuscitate some ailing plants.
Some workbenches are made of simple lumber, whereas others may combine metal legs and table tops, work drawers, shelves, or even filing cabinets. You can mix and match a variety of different storage options with your workbench to make it custom fit to your needs.
How-To-Build Your Own Workbench
Ready to get started? These next steps will go over how to make a basic 6-foot long, 30-inch high workbench with a top to work on and a smaller bottom shelf.
It's made using 2x4s for all of the framing, and one sheet of 1/2 inch plywood, plus whatever fasteners you decide on. Just make sure they're long enough to hold up over time, but not so long that they poke through the lumber.
This kind of workbench can be easily modified to different dimensions, and also customized to your liking once the main framing has been constructed. A chop saw and pneumatic nail gun will make this job go pretty quickly, but you can easily do it with a handsaw, drill, or, hammer and nails.
Step 1 - Create the Frames
Build your two frames to make the top work surface and the lower shelf. The top frame will be 6-feet long by however deep you decide to make it, but keep in mind how to best use up your lumber if you're using 8-foot 2x4s.
Also, if you want to be able to use just one sheet of 4x8 plywood, the depths of each frame cannot exceed 48-inches in total (20" and 28" would work just fine, though).
The top frame will be a deeper dimension than the bottom frame since you want to have a little buffer space where the bottom shelf is so that your legs don't hit the frame. The ends should extend long enough to be the same depth so that it meets up with the legs in step 2.
With a pencil, mark your framing braces every 12-16 inches with a framing square or speed square, and either nail or screw all of your cut pieces together to make two rectangular frames.
Step 2 - Add the Legs and Shelf
Cut four legs at 30-inches each and attach them to the top of the larger frame that will be the top surface. Nail or screw them on the back and front sides of the longer pieces so that they meet flush with the edge.
Note: if you want to attach your workbench into a permanent wall, leave the back legs out and instead nail or screw the frame into the wall studs using a level.
Stand your table up and choose the height where you'd like the shelf to sit. A little trick is to use a one-gallon can of paint as a guide. It's not only the perfect height for a bottom shelf to be at, it also helps to hold the frame in place while you attach it to the inside of the legs.
At this point the basic framing construction of the table is complete. It should be able to stand on its own and feel sturdy. If it doesn't, feel free to add some more bracing as you need, especially if you've made it bigger than 6-feet long.
Step 3 - Attach the Plywood Surfaces
Measure the length and widths of the two frames and cut out two sections out of the sheet of plywood to fit as your top surface area and shelf surface area. Lay the smaller shelf sheet down first as it's easier to work on this before you seal up the top.
Once the sheet fits perfectly, make a line with your pencil and framing square so you know where the framing braces are underneath the plywood. Nail or screw along the lines and along the perimeter to firmly attach the plywood sheet to the wood framing. Do the same for the top piece.
For an even better hold, you can add a line of wood glue anywhere the plywood meets the wooden frame. Make sure you are using enough screws or nails, as well. A good rule of thumb is to space out any fasteners every six inches.
Tip: Spend the extra amount on a sheet of plywood that has a smooth side to it. OSB (Oriented Strandboard) is stronger than plywood, but it has a jagged, rough feel to it, and won't be great for working on.
You could use OSB for the strength and add a top layer of 1/4-inch mahogany plywood for a nice, smooth finish, but regular plywood will be a lot cheaper.
Step 4 - Customize Your Workbench
At this point you've got a simple workbench with a plywood top surface and shelf. For some folks, this is all you need to get some work done and store tools. For others, this is just the beginning of customizing a complete workbench area.
Working with the structure you've just built, you can easily attach an upper shelf area with just a few more pieces of lumber and some plywood cut-offs. To do so, make another smaller frame - about half the depth of what your top surface is.
In similar fashion to how you constructed the other frames, add braces and a plywood top to this piece.
To extend the frame high, attach 8 or 10-foot tall two-by-fours to the outer edges so that they meet flush at one end, and go down to the floor at the other end.
Since they are attached on the outside edge of the frame, the 2x4s should meet up along the side of the back end of the workbench where you can fasten them wherever they meet up with the existing framing.
Add a few simple braces at the back of this structure with horizontal 2x4s so that you can attach pegboard if you want, or any kind of backing that you prefer. This way you can hang and organize tools from there, and attach lighting to the top part of the frame.
This whole unit can be attached at any time to an existing garage or workshop wall, or you can place castors on the bottom legs so that it's mobile. If you want the workbench to move around on wheels, it's better to add these right after step 3 when the unit won't be so heavy and cumbersome.
Workbenches are essential for any DIY-er, whether you work on household projects, cars, garden work, or just like to tinker around on various jobs.
Don't break the bank purchasing a pre-made one when it's easy to learn how to build your own simple workbench. When you're done, maybe you can help your neighbor build one, too.