How to Build a Workbench

Our DIY workbench plans create a sturdy table for woodworking or gardening projects.


| February/March 2013



make your own DIY workbench

A custom-built workbench makes so many of your jobs easier — everything from repairing small machines to re-potting seedlings. 


Illustration By Len Churchill

Thirty years ago, I built my first serious workbench. After using it nearly every day since, I still call the design a success. And that’s why I’m happy to share the plans with you.

A solid, do-it-yourself workbench is an excellent starting point if you’re interested in building self-reliance skills. In fact, a practical work surface is more important than most of the tools you’ll be using, as it makes so many jobs easier. Successfully repairing small machines, assembling projects and building furniture are entirely dependent on having a sturdy work surface at the right height. In the garden, transplanting and re-potting seedlings without straining your back requires a table that’s perfectly sized for you. You can build a bench using rough-cut lumber, as I did, or with standard construction-grade planks, composite lumber or even recycled plastic. Using these DIY workbench plans, you’ll turn out a bench that’s heavy enough to be secure, simple enough for any handy person to build, and durable enough to last longer than you. The flexible workbench designs I outline here have three main parts: the legs, top and storage shelf.

But before we get to the step-by-step instructions on how to build a workbench, let’s do some figuring. How long should your workbench be? How wide? How tall? The answers depend on who will be using the bench, and for what purpose. You can go small or large, depending on your space and needs.

The most important dimension is workbench height. The rule of thumb for a woodworking workbench is a work surface that hits your wrists as you stand with your arms hanging loosely at your sides. A general-purpose workbench for, say, sharpening your chain saw or fixing a broken toy could be taller. I’m 5 feet, 8 inches tall, and my old faithful stands 35 inches from the floor to the top of the work surface, and 35 inches deep from front to back.

Leg Frames

After you’ve figured the size, you’re ready to start building your DIY workbench. The exploded workbench plans on this page show how pairs of legs are joined together into frames, with the frames connected by the long rails, top boards and shelf boards. Your first task is to build as many of these leg frames as you’ll need to support the total length of the bench you want. Depending on the weight of things you’ll be putting on your bench, and the thickness of the top boards and shelf, aim for 24 to 48 inches between leg frames. The frames will need to be closer together if you’re using plastic composite boards, because these aren’t as strong as wood. If you’re not sure what length you want right now, build the minimum number of leg frames you think will do the job, and then temporarily set some top and shelf boards in place and see how things feel. You can always make an additional leg frame before final assembly if you decide it’s necessary.

You can use 2-by-4s for the legs, but 4-by-4s will work better. Remember, a good workbench is a heavy workbench. Cut all of the legs and crosspieces you need at the same time. A miter saw is an excellent tool for getting these cuts perfectly square, but you can use a handsaw or hand-held circular saw, too. Use deck screws, because these hold better than nails and are easier to drive. My favorite deck screws for the smaller joints on this project are the Spax brand, which have serrated threads that bite aggressively into wood. I use the hot-dipped and galvanized version for rust-free exterior use. The large joints between the rails and legs are best connected with a heavier screw, such as the Camo structural screw.

dave
1/21/2016 10:43:53 AM

Another option for the top (for a woodworking bench), is to use 2x4's standing on edge, and glued together on the wide faces. Any length and width is easily accomplished. Cutting a mortise (square hole) through the top at the leg locations and allowing the legs to mount into the top yields a bench that is heavy enough and sturdy enough for any woodworking task.


dick
1/20/2016 8:46:32 AM

I've simplified the making of the top surface and shelf by using interior doors - they are readily available at our Habitat store for $5-10 and I use the door-lock opening for routing power cables


becca
4/16/2014 11:22:15 AM

Rtseno, check out the link to printable plans in the second paragraph of the story. That should be what you're looking for.


mike
4/16/2014 9:47:04 AM

Thank you for sharing your plans. About twelve years ago, I had the urge to build a potting bench but was frustrated trying to find decent plans on the internet. So I designed my own bench. And then so other gardeners wouldn't have the same frustration I did in trying to find plans, I posted my plans at Sherry's Greenhouse (http://www.sherrysgreenhouse.com/pages/structures/potting_bench.html) Over the years, I've received numerous emails from other gardeners who successfully built a bench with these plans. That's part of the tradition of gardening: Sharing with other gardeners. So thanks again for sharing your plans.


rtseno
4/16/2014 8:24:12 AM

It would be a LOT EASIER to understand the instructions (not just this article) if presented with assembly diagrams or drawings or downloadable plans (like Sketchup).






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