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How to build a workbench

Ever since I helped Emily (merrypad.com) build her deck in the summer of 2010 my tools have kinda just been strewn about her dining room or dumped in a wooden box we found at a garage sale.  And that drove me nuts.

tools

You may not know this about me, but I’m kind of obsessed with the care and organization of my tools. It makes me very uncomfortable when they’re dirty,  lying around, or dumped in a big wooden box. It makes my skin crawl. After her basement “bathroom” was demolished (she wrote about that here and here) we were left with a lot of extra lumber, and the plan was to reuse as much as possible to make a nice workbench as a place to store my tools. It was also going to be something where I could stand, drink a beer, and take junk apart.

Something beefy.

basement_workbench_1Something I could whale on if the occasion presented itself.

I told Marty about my plans to build a workbench, and since he’s built a million of these things he sent me some sketches like this one to the right. He even wrote a lengthy comment on a merrypad.com post that I jacked and turned into a post. Zoink. Here’s a slightly rearranged excerpt, which involves his recommendation of the actual work surface:

Top the bench with layers. Like girls do with clothes. Or how gossip magazines say celebrities cut their hair (not that I read them, unless left on the workbench). Or something more manly…a mexican dip you eat during halftime while watching the Bills play.

First layer: 3/4 ply. Good ol’ plywood.

Not OSB. Not even CDX. No need for exposure. Just “D” plywood. Or maybe “C”. Or if Pete finds something on the side of the road, then…okay…that.

Second layer: 3/4 MDF. Medium-density Fibreboard. Yes, that’s an “re” in Fibre since I think it came from across the pond prior to having it in the US. MDF is nice and flat and works (finishes) well. Plus it’s dense, so dogs under the bench will experience a -3dB reduction in hammer blow noise.

Third layer: Carpet. Tucked away in the corner, your big box home center has some bland gray/charcoal closed loop short pile carpet. Yeah, on that big rotating carpet holder thing that I desperately want to know the keycode to operate. It’s like the last type of carpet you would put inside your home, but if you put it on your porch it would be like “damn, this is nice carpet”. And, on your bench, even nicer.

The carpet isn’t too nice that you’d be afraid to drill into it, or wipe that extra silicone from your finger onto it…because it’s still crappier than your work pants. But it offers some cushion when you want to assemble that new nickel-plated bathroom light fixture without a scratch. And, it looks nice.

Surveying the wood from the basement demo, I decided against using the toilet-water-soaked, moldy 2x6s, so a trip to the store was in order. Here’s the list of what I bought:

  • 8 Carriage bolts, washers, lock washers, nuts (I’d guess <$10. It was all zinc-plated, no galvanized materials necessary for an indoor workbench.)
  • 1 sheet of 3/4″ plywood ($20 to double the thickness of the tabletop; there was already one good 8′ x 3′ piece back at the house, which not coincidentally, is exactly the size of the workbench. We had the store cut the new plywood into a narrower 36″ width to match the size of the piece we had at the house.)
  • (2) 2″x6″x8-foot boards (cut in half to have 4-foot legs) and (2) 2″x6″x10-foot boards (cut to 7′ and 3′ for the frame supporting the tabletop). Total <$20.
  • Lots of screws ($40, because I bought the largest boxes available. Better value, and won’t go to waste.)
  • Gray indoor/outdoor carpet ($25. It was approximately 50-cents per sq. ft. for 48 square feet.)

Construction was kept simple.

I’ll detail what I did photo-by-photo, but if I’m too vague anywhere, please write for more insight. But really this is a loose guideline, do whatever works for you:

Step 1: Legs and front/back

I started by attaching the 2×6 legs to the 7-foot-long 2×6 boards that make up the front and back by pre-drilling and securing carriage bolts.

basement_workbench_4

basement_workbench_5

 

Step 2: Beef up the top

Once the front and back of the table were upright, I attached the shorter 3′ pieces to finish the top frame, making the tabletop a rectangular area that stood about 40″ high. I beefed up the frame for the tabletop, and started the frame for the bottom shelf, which is secured to the bottom of the legs.

basement_workbench_7

 

Step 3: Bottom shelf

Make the bottom shelf. In my case there was a piece of 3/8″ plywood lying around that fit right in with one rip lengthwise. The extra 3/4 plywood from the original 4×8′ sheet was just enough to make a completely solid half-shelf by attaching a couple of spare 2×4 boards as legs and building off them.

basement_workbench_9

 

Step 4: Make the work surface

I flipped the table top over and from underneath I made an outline of the base so that when I flipped it back over and spun it around I could tell exactly where the tabletop frame was – I wanted to accurately drill into the frame, and doing the sketch removed any guesswork and saved time.

basement_workbench_12

 

The table, pre-carpet, as I’m about to secure the second layer of work surface to beef the top up.

basement_workbench_13

 

The final table

Carpeted and ready to go. Only tip: staple the carpet nice and tight. I sort of wrapped the corners of the carpet like a present, and staple-gunned it into place.

basement_workbench_14

 

Emily had two wooden shelves (found them on the side of the road one day) and they fit perfectly in the space above the table. The only other thing worth noting is that I’m working to reroute some electrical/outlets so that there’s more light above the table than the fluorescent light I stuck up there temporarily.

basement_workbench_16_dustylens

 

This thing is SOLID… and HEAVY. I hope I never have to move it. If she ever gets rid of her house I might just leave it here.

Any questions?

 

p.s. This article is actually an edited repost of a tutorial I wrote on merrypad.com for Emily.

 

 

 

3 Comments

  • captain obvious

    I crafted a fine work bench from four pieces of wood I got from a tree I cut down with my bare hands. I simply arranged the four pieces of wood on a square grid and voila crafted a workbench.

    Reply

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