A few years ago I had to part with an oversized workbench to make room for other tools.
With 8″ steel casters, a 40″ height for easy sanding cubbies for tool storage and a large 30×96″ top I made many cabinets and projects on it. And while I’ve replaced it’s storage and downsized my projects I’d still like to have it back some weekends.
But, sometimes room in your workshop is more important and a compact bench takes priority.
So, in this article I’ll share a few tips and tricks on what to consider including in your workbench:
- Finding plans for a workbench
- Tools you’ll need
- Choosing between casters or a fixed workbench
- Shelving, cubbies and drawers
- Integrating tools like your table saw or miter saw
- Choosing wood for the frame and top
- And construction tips
Tools and Supplies for a Workbench
Basic Tools to Make a DIY Workbench
- Table saw or circular saw
- Miter saw
- Cordless drill
- Orbital sander
- Tape measure
- Pocket hole jig and screws
Supplies to Consider
Making a workbench is like cutting trim: you only get one shot to make it work.
And while a weekend sized workbench won’t have all the complexity of a larger, drawer-filled bench there are a few must-haves to include:
Finding Plans for a Workbench
While building a workbench in a weekend is doable for almost skill levels, the level of complexity and need for workbench plans will vary based on:
- Fixed or mobile as a mobile workbench adds complexity, structural rigidity and a longer build time
- Workbench size will determine cost and time to assemble, sand and install extras.
- Accessories such as fitting in additional parts bins, tool storage and shelving takes time.
- Doors and drawers will add more time and cost, and increase build complexity
Choosing a Workbench Design
If woodworkers disagree on anything it’s how to best build a bench.
But, like fortunately, there are commonalities across most benches that show we all want a few basic needs filled. Like a solid top, good storage and a functional design for our projects.
So, here’s a few places to check out plans (just be sure to come back):
Workbench Design Considerations
Before getting too attached to your bench plans you’ll want to consider the space it will go into. And projects you may need the bench to support, storage needs, bench height, mobility, budget, and of course having the right tools you’ll need to build it.
Planning Your Workbench Size
If there is any decision you might agonize over most it’ll be the size of the workbench.
Too big and it’ll eventually get in the way of other tools (or cars).
But make it too small and you’ll wish you had more room.
What’s the best way to decide? Chances are your weekend workbench is less than 2-feet by 6-feet in size or you’d be looking larger. So, place all your floor-based tools where they need to be, mark off your bench area and leave a little room for future expansion.
Plan a Height HIgher than 36"
Most workbenches are higher than the standard kitchen countertops (36″). Depending on your height a taller workbench has advantages in reducing strain or stooping.
While at 6′ 3″ I prefer a 40″ working height, grab a sander and hold it in front of you. Where is a natural position? You’ll find most benches are 38-42″ in height but choose what’s comfortable.
Lastly, and perhaps most important, just remember to factor in casters and the thickness of your top.
Mobilizing Your Weekend Projects - and Bench
Depending on the style of your bench a set of heavy duty casters is a must to allow your workbench to pull away from the wall and allow access to all four sides.
So when should you go with a mobile bench? Consider:
- Flat top benches intended to make or sand projects that you’ll want to pull away from a wall
- Built-in tools such as a table saw where moving the bench for plywood clearance is a must
- Small workshops where benches will need to be moved and stored
Best Casters for a Workbench
Casters are, literally, not a one-size-fits-all solution for a workbench.
So how do you decide? As you probably know, casters can be VERY expensive when you move past a compact 3″ tall caster.
A few things you’ll need to have:
- Locks on at least two of the casters
- Plan casters (and bench supports) every four feet for smaller casters.
- For larger, heavy construction benches a metal caster will carry the load without risk of creating a flat spot
Buying Material for Your DIY Weekend Workbench
Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of choices on a weekend workbench when it comes to the basic construction.
First, you’ll need a collection of 2×4’s that will match your plans.
Then you’ll need to make a few decisions:
- For the legs I prefer to use a 4×4 (3-1/2 x 3-1/2″ finished) as they are sturdier. And, if you use casters, offer the best mounting surface.
- Then, for shelving within the bench you can choose MDF or plywood. But, MDF is NOT sturdy when laid flat and will sag. Tip: use 3/4″ plywood.
- Lastly, for the benchtop you’ll want to consider a basic 3/4″ plywood top. Or, if you’ll be doing a lot of woodwork a thicker, banded wood top will offer the best bench top.
Plywood vs. Flat Lumber vs. Thick Lumber Top
So you’re debating a plywood top (easiest, cheapest) vs. a wood top.
Or, maybe you haven’t thought about it and want to know what’s possible in a DIY weekend workbench?
Here’s a few considerations on choosing a top:
Plywood tops – work great for almost any project. In fact, laminating a low grade 1/2″ plywood with an MDF top is a cheap, and very sturdy option. Just wrap it in a 1×3″ for a finished look.
Flat-edge wood tops – for a simple look on a bench that will just mostly hold stuff, this design is easy to build, and doesn’t require the bulk of carrying a 4×8′ sheet (great for bench building without a truck).
Solid wood tops – while beyond most weekend workbenches time, if you want a lifetime benchtop and are planning a complex bench a solid wood top (think 3″ thick) is the ultimate benchtop.
Choosing a Bench For Your DIY Weekend WOrkBench
It’s tough to find a woodworking vise that doesn’t get in the way.
I know, you’re probably thinking this is something you can perhaps skip.
But, for most workbenches a vise will add extra capability for:
- Holding anything from wood to metal for sawing
- Sharpening mower blades
- Assisting during assembly of projects
Metal vises are best for general use workbenches, and as the name implies, have metal jaws that offer a high clamping pressure.
But, for more delicate woodworking projects may damage the wood surface. Here’s a few things to consider when purchasing a vise like this:
- Jaw opening width
- Depth of throat (from screw to top, vertical)
- Base size and hole requirements
And, for a quick weekend project, these are simple additions to your bench.
Woodworking Vises for a Workbench
While this vise might be on the advanced side of building a bench in a weekend, this vise is perfect for woodworking projects.
As you can see with it’s wood design it won’t damage wood projects. And, rather than mount on top of your bench it fits into the side of your bench and doesn’t interfere with the bench top.
DIY Workbench with Pegboard
Perhaps you’re of an age where pegboard brings back memories of tan or painted messes on your parents or grandparents garage walls.
But, those are no longer the norm in pegboard. In fact, there are dozens of ready-made pegboard organizers that are modular, easy to install and come in a variety of colors.
And, for a DIY weekend workbench, can be assembled in minutes to finish of the bench area with pre-made storage.
Workbench Construction Tips and Tricks
To wrap up, a workbench is a project that almost any DIY’er can tackle.
But, there are some basic steps and safety considerations (and if saws aren’t in your skill, then maybe find another project):
- Follow all safety precautions of your tools. Not sure? Buy a workbench instead.
- Control dust and wear a respirator, hearing protection and safety glasses.
- Follow a plan if you haven’t built a structure before.
- Use lag bolts for securing the bottom frame for maximum stability
- And, glue will make all parts that need to stay in place, stay in place (when paired with screws).
- Plan for drawers vs. hurrying and skipping them. And ball bearing drawer slides will make your DIY weekend workbench more usable.
Ready to Assemble Workbench
Not sure your skills are up to building the legs – but want a semi-custom workbench? Well, you’re not alone. And kits are available that will take the hardest tasks of building the legs.
Workbench and Shelving System
Forget a DIY weekend workbench and build a bench in an afternoon with this kit. Simply insert 2×4’s, a plywood or MDF of your choice and you’ll have a bench in just minutes.
Ready to Assemble Workbench
Want to skip the trip to the lumber yard and just have a bench shipped to you?
It’s not a bad option, and a bench like the Olympia Tools workbench offers a ready-to-ship solution. Just unpack, assemble and use.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you put casters on a bench?
There are two types of casters that can be attached to a bench. The traditional method is to install casters under the leg posts and use brakes to prevent the bench to move. An alternate approach is a foot pedal activated caster that can be lowered and raised that allows the leg posts to sit directly on the floor.
What are the best drawer slides for a work bench?
The best drawer slides for a work bench are side mount drawer slides. Since side mount slides typically carry 100 pounds of weight these slides will hold the heavy loads of tools, sockets and other supplies.
Do you have to screw a vise to the bench?
There are both permanent mount vises as well as clamp-on vises available for benches.
To conclude, while a DIY weekend workbench is a fast project remember you’ll be using it for likely years or decades to come. So, don’t skip the basic add-ons like pegboard, drawers and casters if they will improve usability.