Even if you're only a fair to middling carpenter, a portable workbench like this one is a simple wood project you can build yourself.
ILLUSTRATION: ED LIPENSKI
Here are two quick-to build, simple wood projects that will
come in especially handy this time of year. The portable
workbench is great to use as a toot holder and seat for
easy, no-kneel, low-level gardening such as weeding or
harvesting bush beans. And the canning shelves will hold
sparkling jars of your garden's bounty.
A Portable Workbench
Whether you are a contractor who builds everyday or a
banker who fixes around the house on weekends, the
portable, easy-to-build tool bench will allow you to tote
everything you need for a task, while providing a perfect
A light, durable wood like pine or poplar should be used
for constructing the bench. You may already have scrap from
another project suitable for this one, but if you don't,
you will have to purchase only two boards—one 1" x 6"
x 14' board and one 1" x 4" x 6' board; 1 1/4" drywall
screws are ideal for holding the bench together; a
half-pound will be adequate for the job. Any building
supply will be able to furnish you these materials.
If you are not familiar with buying lumber there is a fact
you need to know. Planed (dressed) lumber will be slightly
smaller than the measurements it is listed as and unplaned
(rough) lumber will run slightly larger. For instance, a 1"
x 6" dressed board will actually measure about 3/4" x 5 1/4".
For this project, that slight difference will not matter.
Simply follow the directions provided here and the tool
bench will turn out correctly.
On the 1" x 6" x 14' board, using a square, mark two 24"
lengths, two 22" lengths, and four 18" lengths. On the 1" x
4" x 6' board, mark two 24" lengths and two 12" lengths.
Cut out these lengths.
One corner of each 1" x 6" x 18" board needs to be cut off
at a diagonal to create the legs for the bottom of the
bench. Choose a corner, measure along one edge 4", make a
mark, and then measure 4" from that same corner along the
other edge and make a mark. Use a straight edge to draw a
line connecting these two marks and then cut along this
line, removing the corner from the board.
The top of the bench will have a hole cut into it as a
carrying handle. Along one side of each of the two 1" x 6"
x 24"s make a mark in the center. Measure and mark 2 1/2"
on either side of the middle mark on the edge of the
boards. Then measure in 1" from the edge at the high and
low marks and make marks. Ignore the first center mark and
use a straightedge to connect the other four marks on each
board, making a 1" x 5" rectangle. Cut out these rectangles
with a jigsaw or by making multiple 1"-deep saw cuts within
the rectangles and knocking out the small chunks. When put
together on top of the bench they will make a 2" x 5"
handle. Finally, take the two 1" x 4" x 12"s and rip each
board in half, making four 1" x 2" x 12" strips.
On a flat surface, lay two of the 1" x 2" x 12" strips you
have just ripped. Across these strips lay two of the 1" x
6" x 18" boards with their cutoff corners facing each
other. Align one strip along the top edge of both pieces
and screw it securely there, using two screws per board.
The quickest way to screw the pieces together is using a
Phillips-head screwdriver bit in a variable-speed drill.
Next, position the bottom strip 4 1/4" up from the bottom
and screw it into place. Repeat this procedure with the
other two 1" x 2" x 12" strips and 1" x 6" x 18" end
Next take the two 1" x 6" x 22" boards, place them flush
against the end boards on top of the strips you just
mounted, and screw them from the top side down into the
Place the 1" x 6" x 24" boards on top of the bench, align
them flush with the end boards, and screw them into place.
Be sure to put the precut handle notches together in the
center of the top.
Finally, position the two 1" x 4" x 24" boards along the
sides, even with the bottom of the 1" x 6" x 22" boards,
completing the tool tray, and screw them into place (two
screws at each end and three spaced along the bottom).
Your tool bench is complete! Gather the tools you need for
a particular job in the tray, tote the stool to the site,
and you can sit on it and work, stand on it to reach higher
places, or use the bench to saw or chisel on.
Show Off Your Colorful Canned Goods
If you take pride in canning summer produce, then this
easy-to-build, inexpensive set of wood shelves may be just right
for you. It is similar to a self-standing book shelf and
provides a large amount of storage while allowing the
colorful harvest goods to be shown off. And it makes
keeping inventory a snap.
The only tools necessary for completing this project are a
circular saw, a carpenter's square, a tape measure, a chalk
line, a hammer, and a pencil. The materials list is equally
straightforward: seven 1" x 6" x 8' boards and 1/2-pound of
I approached this project as a rustic country pantry shelf,
so I purchased roughcut pine lumber. If you prefer a more
refined looking shelf then you may purchase dressed lumber
from your local building supply. Pine or poplar should be
available just about anywhere and are very good woods for
this project, being light, durable, and very easy to work
with. Also, you may go as far as sanding and finishing your
shelves, but I just kept mine simple and rustic.
Layout and Cutting
Choose two 8' boards for the side pieces. Take one of these
boards and, using the carpenter's square, see whether it
has a square (90°) end. If neither end is square, then
come down approximately 2" from an end, draw a 90° line
using the square, and cut along this line making a square
end. Pull your tape measure from this end and make a small
mark at 5' 11". Take the carpenter's square and draw a
90° line right at the mark you just made. Cut along the
line. You should now have one 1" x 6" x 5' 11" board with
two square ends. Repeat this process on the other board you
chose for a side board so that you have two 1" x 6" x 5'
11" square-ended boards.
The next step is basically the same as above, only the cut
boards are smaller for shelf use. Choose four 1" x 6" x 8'
boards from the remaining pile. Pick a board and try to
find a square end. If neither end is square, repeat the
above process for marking and cutting a square end. Pull
your tape measure from the square end and make a mark at
3'9". Draw the 90° line and cut along that line. Now
pull your tape measure from the end you just cut on the
remaining piece, make a mark at 3' 9", draw a 90° line,
and cut along that line. You should end up with two 1" x 6"
x 3' 9" shelf boards with square ends and a little
kindling. Repeat this process for the remaining three shelf
boards you chose so there are a total of seven 1" x 6" x 3'
9" shelf boards with square ends.
Take the length of board (approximately 4' 3") remaining
from the last shelf you cut and mark a 45° line as
close as possible to one end. Measure 14" along the edge of
the board from the point where the line is closest to the
end of the board and make a small mark. Draw a 45° line
back toward the other line so that 14" is the wide edge and
the lines taper to about 3". Cut along these lines. Repeat
this process once again. These are two upper-corner brackets
that both give the shelves stability and provide a place to
nail the unit to a wall.
Finally, you will need to knock out some simple safety
strips that will keep the jars from falling out the front
of the shelves in the event they are jostled. The remaining
board will be ripped into four 1 1/2" strips. At each end
of the board make marks at 1 1/2", 3", and 4 1/2". Stretch
the chalk line taut between corresponding marks and then
snap lines. If you are working alone, a nail temporarily
driven at one end of the board on a mark will provide you
the extra hand needed to hold one end of the string. Rip
along these lines with a circular saw so that you end up
with four 1"x 1 1/2" x 8' strips. Choose a strip and check
for a square end; make a square end as shown above if there
isn't one. Pull your tape measure from the square end and
mark at 3' 11". Make a square line and cut along that line.
Pull the tape measure from the cut just made along the
remaining piece, mark at 3' 11", draw a line, and cut.
Repeat this for the remaining four strips until you have a
total of six 1" x 1 1/2" x 3' 11" strips. You now have cut
all the pieces necessary to build the shelves.
Assembly begins by nailing the four pieces together that
create the outer rectangular shape of the shelves. Have
your hammer and nails ready. On the floor, stand up on edge
the top piece (a 1" x 6" x 3'9") and a side piece (a 1" x
6" x 5' 11"). Bring the top piece along flush to the top of
the side piece so that the end grain of the side piece
remains exposed and that of the shelf piece cannot be seen.
Nail through the side piece into the top piece using three
nails (front, middle, and back). Repeat this procedure with
the other side piece and a bottom (another 1" x 6" x 3'
9"). Bring the two pieces together so they make a
rectangle—be sure to align them so that the end grain
of the longer side pieces remains exposed and that of the
shelf pieces is covered by the sides—and nail using
three nails per connection as described. Use the
carpenter's square at each corner of the rectangle to make
sure they are square. If the rectangle is not square,
gently move the unit until it becomes square and then
Measure down from the bottom of the top shelf along one
side and make a small mark at 11 3/4". Repeat this along
the other side. Use the square and a pencil to make a
90° line through these marks by putting the long edge
of the square along the floor next to the side board (make
sure the floor is level and the square really is aligning
with the surface of the side board.) Fit a shelf board into
the rectangle so that its top surface runs exactly between
the two lines you have just drawn. Nail the shelf in place.
Measure down 10 3/4" from the bottom of the newly installed
shelf and repeat the above procedure. It will be 10 3/4"
from the bottom of one shelf to the top of the next shelf.
Finally, install the safety strips. Measure up 2 1/2" from
the top of each shelf along both sides and make small
marks. Align the bottoms of the strips between the marks
and nail them there using only two nails per strip, one
nail per side.
Flip the whole unit over so the safety strips are down.
Take one of the two remaining braces and position it in a
top corner so that its 45° edges align with the top and
side of the shelf unit. Nail it in place with two nails at
each end. Repeat this procedure with the other brace on the
other top corner.
Take the bookshelf-like unit and stand it against a wall
(with the safety strips facing the room, of course). It
will need to be fastened to the wall because, even if the
shelving unit is full, the weight of the jars will make
them top heavy and prone to falling over. I used one nail
through each bracket into the wall. If your wall is
Sheetrock you will have to either nail through the braces
into studs, or find one of many Sheetrock-fastening gizmos
available at most hardware stores.
Your canning-jar shelves are complete and ready to fill. It
will hold 60 half-gallon mason jars or 90 quarts, and you
can pile your cookbooks on top between bookends. For
simplicity, low cost, efficient use of space, safe storage
of jars, and easy food inventory, the mason-jar shelves are
a great addition to any pantry.