A Basic Bench You Can Build On!
Start with a simple workbench and add features as you need them.
IntroductionStart by building this sturdy workbench and add all the upgrades you need.
- Table saw
- Miter saw
- 18-gauge finish nailer
- #8 x 1-1/4" wood screws
- #8 x 2" Finish head screws
- 1-1/2-in. 18-gauge brad nails
- 1-1/4" diameter dowel
- 1/2" x 4 x 8 plywood
- 1/4-20 jig knobs
- 1/4-20 threaded inserts
- 2 - 4" fixed casters
- 3/4" dowel
- 3/4" x 4 x 8 birch plywood
- 3/4" x 4 x 8 MDF
- 5mm bullet catches
- Wood glue
- Woodworking vise
After countless hours standing at a workbench, I’ve found some features I really like. The three properties I’ve got to have are rigidity, flatness and mass.
I hate working at a bench that wiggles or slides around because it’s not heavy enough. A workbench built with construction lumber like 2x4s will be solid, heavy and durable, but it won’t be flat. If you ever plan to build cabinets or furniture, which require accuracy, a flat bench gives you a leg up.
This bench is constructed from plywood (Baltic birch) and MDF (medium-density fiberboard). Both are inexpensive, flat and stable. The design is simple, with rigidity in mind, and the double-layer top adds necessary mass. Build the basic bench and call it good, or add all the extras.
Project step-by-step (24)
Build the platforms
Assemble the braces (A – C), then build the platform frames (D – G) and attach the braces using glue and screws. Glue and screw the corner braces (H) in place. Attach the lower platform top (J) by driving screws through the brace flanges and corner braces. (See Figure A.)
Build the legs
Glue and nail leg parts 1 and 2 (K and L) together in an “L” shape. To make assembly easier, support leg part 2 with a scrap the same height as leg part 1. Once the parts are tacked together with brad nails, add a few screws for strength.
Pro Tip: Customize the leg length to suit your height. I like my benchtop to be at wrist height with my hands at my sides. Once you’ve determined that detail, cut all the parts.
Attach the legs
Attach the upper platform flush with the tops of the legs, using glue and screws. Glue and screw the lower platform to the legs at whatever height you like. The top of my lower platform is eight inches high. Drive screws from the inside of the legs if you prefer they don’t show.
Add the top
Fasten the layered top (M) in two steps. With the top base and work surface upside down on sawhorses, center the assembled bench framework on it and drive screws through the brace flanges and corner braces, into the top base only. Then predrill screw holes in the top base for attaching the work surface.
Drilling these holes after attaching the top base guarantees that they’ll be accessible if you need to replace the work surface. Fasten the work surface to the base with wood screws.
You can stop right here and have a great basic bench, or add the handy upgrades you’ll see on the following pages. They’re easy to adapt to an existing workbench, too.
Install a vise
Holding your work steady is essential, and the best way to do that is with a woodworking vise. You can get by with a small, inexpensive vise like this ($25 at Harbor Freight), or spend a couple hundred bucks for a larger, deluxe model.
With a cast iron vise like this, line at least the front jaw with a wood pad to prevent marring your workpieces. I mount vises so the tops of the jaws or jaw pads are flush with the work surface.
Make room for the vise
Vises have different mounting methods. For this one, I cut a hole in the platform side to allow the vise screw and rods to pass through.
I like the back jaw of my vises to be flush with the edge of the workbench, essentially making the entire edge of the bench an extension of the back jaw. This way, I can clamp one end of a long workpiece in the vise and clamp the other flat against the edge of the bench using a pipe clamp.
Attach the vise
Glue up a plywood mounting block for the vise. Glue and screw the mounting block to the platform side. If you plan to upgrade vises later, skip the glue. Bolt the vise to the mounting block or just use the built-in clamp screw. Screw on the front jaw pad, making its top edge flush with the work surface.
Make a portable tool mount
Fasten a 2x4 on edge to a piece of plywood. Bolt on a bench grinder or other tool you use only occasionally. When you’re ready to use the tool, clamp the 2x4 in your vise.
Add a stack of drawers, or two or three
Drawers tucked neatly under the bench create storage for all the stuff you like to have close at hand. The finger pulls in these drawers serve double duty, acting as a hole for a “dead man” (see explanation in Step 20).
Build the drawer cabinet
Cut the parts (N – S) and assemble the cabinet as shown, using glue and screws. The part dimensions vary according to your bench dimensions, but the construction is simple; it’s an open-front plywood box with a back. You can install drawer slides, but wooden runners work just fine.
The bottom runners are 1/8-in. thick; the rest are 1/2-in. x 1/2-in. They provide a gliding surface and keep the drawers from tipping. This type of runner also makes it easy to bring a drawer and its contents wherever you need it.
Build the drawers
Cut the drawer parts (T – W), allowing for 1/8-in. of play from side to side when installed. Drill 1-1/4-in.-diameter finger holes in each drawer front, then assemble the drawers with glue and finish nails.
Dog holes for clamping versatility
Bench dogs are a time-tested method for holding parts. You’ll drill a series of holes through the benchtop and use wedges to hold parts in place between the bench dogs. Bench dogs also work with a tail vise or fiddle. You can buy bench dogs or make your own (see below).
Drill the holes
Lay out the dog holes on the work surface, placing them so you won’t drill into any braces. If you’re nervous about drilling straight holes freehand, make a drilling guide out of a block of wood approximately 2-in. x 2-in. x 4-in., with square edges.
To make the drilling guide, on your drill press, drill a hole through the block the diameter of your drill bit or its shank. Use a jigsaw to make a cutout to accommodate the bit’s cutting head and to see where you’re drilling. To use the guide, slip the bit’s shank through the hole, then chuck it in your drill.
Make bench dogs
Cut 3/4-in.-diameter dowels to length. For this 1-1/2-in.-thick top, I made the dogs two inches long. Cut a 1/8-in. x 3/4-in. flat face at the top using a handsaw and chisel. Drill a hole and glue in a bullet catch ($10 per 20-pack on Amazon) roughly centered on the dog’s height.
When you slide the dog into its hole, the bullet catch holds it in place at the desired height. If your dowel fits snugly in the dog holes, you’ll need to slightly recess the bullet catches.
Add a saw platform
If your miter saw doesn’t already have a permanent home, customize your workbench to accommodate it with this flip-up platform. The platform sets your saw’s table level with the benchtop to accommodate long workpieces. Depending on which end of your workpiece needs support, you can spin the saw around to work from either side of the bench.
Attach the platform
Cut the platform (BB) to the size you want and attach it to the mounting strip (AA) with a length of piano hinge. Leave the mounting strip wide for now. Set the assembly on the workbench, and set the saw on the platform.
Flip up the mounting strip and mark it where it’ll be flush with the saw table as shown. Remove the strip, cut it to width and reattach it to the platform. Attach the platform assembly to the edge of the bench with two-inch wood screws.
Install the supports
Make the support wings as long as possible within the span of the bench legs. For the right support wing (EE), screw the spacer (CC) directly to the leg, then attach the wing to the spacer with a length of piano hinge. The spacer allows the left support wing (DD) to fold in behind the right. Attach the left support wing directly to the leg using a length of piano hinge. Cut the tip off the left support wing so it folds in completely.
Add a fiddle
When you’re belt-sanding a workpiece, it wants to shoot off the end of the bench unless it’s held in place. Clamps work, but you need to relocate them to get at the entire surface. A fiddle stops the piece from moving without getting in the way.
Mounting the fiddle
Predrill pilot holes in the bench edge for 1/4-20 threaded inserts (eight for $8 at Rockler), then drive them in flush. Typically, the pilot hole is about 1/32-in. less than the insert’s outer thread diameter. Cut the fiddle from 3/4-in. plywood, sized to match the bench end. Cut slots in the fiddle to line up with the inserts and attach it with 1/4-20 jig knobs ($2 each at Rockler).
Get support from a “dead man”
When I’m working on a door, shelf or any long workpiece, it’s nice to have someone to hold up the other end. In this case, that helper is called a dead man. All you need is a length of 1-1/4-in.-diameter dowel. Stick the dowel in the drawer finger hole or apron that’s the right height and you’re set. Drill extra holes in the apron or drawer fronts as needed.
Tack on a tool tray
A tool tray — standard on a traditional cabinetmaker’s bench — provides a place for keeping the stuff I’m using close by, while keeping it off the work surface. Build the tray whatever size you like (mine is 4-in. x 4-in.), then screw it to the back edge of the benchtop.
Slip in some shelves
The combination of the drawer boxes and the leg construction leaves a shallow cavity. Don’t waste it. Cut shelves to fit the space. Install shelf standards to make the shelves adjustable, or just nail in cleats to support the shelves.
Make it mobile
I like my workbench to stay put until I need to move it. This caster mounting method keeps the legs firmly on the floor. Mounted with bolts, nuts and washers, the wheels don’t quite touch the floor. Reinforce the legs with 3/4-in.-thick plywood where the casters bolt on. To move the bench, lift the end opposite the casters until the casters contact the floor.