Workbenches are one of those staples of the home workshop. They can take any number of forms, from the very basic to the very ornate, and there is no right or wrong way to set one up. The main thing is that the workbench be sturdy and solid, and that it achieves what you need it to achieve.
A built-in workbench is a simple thing to construct. First, you want to give some thought to where it will go, what purpose it will serve, and how large it needs to be. For most people, the home workbench takes the form of a basic platform that is attached to the wall in the garage or basement, or sometimes in an interior room such as a hobby room, bonus room, or even a larger utility room.
Consider what you’ll be doing on the workbench. Is it just a flat spot for the occasional repair project, or will it serve a specific purpose such as woodworking or auto repair? Will a small area in a corner work, or do you need a long or wide spot with lots of access for working on larger projects? Will the bench accommodate a couple of basic tools, or do you need lots of tool and supply storage? Working as much of this out early on will help you plan for a workbench that really suits your needs.
The easiest bench to build is one that attaches to the wall on one, two or even three sides, depending on where it will be located. Construct a sturdy frame of dry, straight 2×4 or 2×6 lumber attached directly to the wall studs with screws or lag bolts, add one or more 4×4 legs between the bench and the floor in front, and then add a 3/4-inch plywood top. Place the bench anywhere from 30 inches (normal table height) to 36 inches (normal kitchen counter height) or more off the floor, depending on your height and the types of projects you’ll be working on.
Length and depth can be any dimension you want, but if you limit the length to 8 feet and the depth to 2 feet, you can cut the top from a half sheet of plywood. For extra stability and storage space, add a second 2×4 frame and a plywood shelf about 6 to 12 inches off the floor, utilizing the other half sheet of plywood. Some home centers and woodworking catalogs also offer steel leg sets and metal brackets that make bench construction even easier. The entire project takes only a couple of hours, and the result will be a sturdy bench that will last for years.
To increase the workbench’s lifespan and usefulness, add a second top over the first one. If you do a lot of woodworking, painting, and other projects that scar or splatter the top, use a piece of 1/4-inch tempered hardboard that is screwed in place over the plywood top. Tempered hardboard is smooth, easy to clean, and inexpensive, and when it gets beat up you can simply unscrew it and replace it with a fresh sheet. If you do a lot of auto repair, consider having a local sheet metal shop make you up a secondary top out of galvanized sheet metal or stainless steel with rolled or bent edges that covers both the top and the exposed edges of the plywood. This creates a tough, wipe-clean surface that’s impervious to the oil, grease, solvent and other materials commonly used with auto repair.
To complete the installation, check out the selection at your local home center or hardware store. A sheet of pegboard and some hooks, one or two add-on drawers or bin units, and maybe a simple upper cabinet or two and you’ve got a clean, organized, and highly useful work center for just about any project you’re likely to encounter.
If you do a lot of woodworking, hobbies or smaller home repair projects, you might also consider a freestanding workbench. Freestanding workbenches, which typically range in size from about 18 inches by 60 inches to 24 inches by 96 inches and can weigh in at a hefty 300 pounds or more, are designed to be set up in a shop or garage in an area where there is access to the bench on all four sides.
Most freestanding workbenches are made of wood, utilizing hardwoods such as beech and maple, and some are absolute works of art costing thousands of dollars. The typical freestanding workbench has a thick, laminated wood top that is smooth and rock solid, and includes one or two woodworking vises mounted on the side and end. Some have built-in tool trays, drawers and shelves, and there are often other accessories that further increase the bench’s usefulness.
If a dedicated woodworking-style workbench appeals to you but the price doesn’t, there are several books and plan sets on the market that show how to build one of your own. You can also purchase just the laminated maple top, make your own legs, then add on the necessary bench vises and other accessories as need and budget permits. Three good sources of workbenches and workbench parts are Lee Valley, 800-871-8158, www.leevalley.com; Rockler, 1-800-279-4441, www.rockler.com; and Woodcraft, 800-225-1153, www.woodcraft.com.
Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at email@example.com.
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