Wednesday, April 2, 2014


The Project

Last month I had a much-needed few days off, so I decided to finally build myself a workbench.  This has been a project I've been wanting to work on for around a year now, and I'm thrilled with how it turned out.  Let's just say it's as good as I hoped, but way better than I expected. :)

My design came from a combination of my dad sending me some pictures and measurements of his workbench along with lots of Googling pictures and design plans, along with a health dose of "it's just a frame with some boards, right?".  I'm not planning on making any fine furniture or anything like that; it's more of just a solid project table that can take a beating, not worry about getting messed up, or maybe make some more neat things (like an improved boat table).

I didn't get a picture* of the pile of wood, but I was the guy loading $100 of lumber into the back of my Nissan Altima.  Always a good feeling.

Without a workbench to create this on, the first cut was a little difficult.  As I progressed and had more and more of a bench to work on, it got increasingly easier.  Until of course it was almost complete, I had started loading tools on it, and had to flip it over to add a forgotten brace to the bottom.

The Process

Basically, it's a 2x4 frame with 4x4's for the legs.  Making sure to stagger the screws into the legs so they didn't hit each other was the hardest part so far.  It was pretty cool when all of a sudden I had the frame of the bench standing.

I screwed on some more 2x4's about 18" off the floor (I can't remember how high off-hand, but I know a debating with myself on exact hight; I think it involved the height of a can of paint) as supports for a shelf.  Cut some 2x6's to length, measure and cut out notches to fit around the legs, and screw the boards to the lower frame to make a shelf for tools.  Bam!  Why'd I do the shelf first?  Practice before getting to the main work surface.

The top was basically the same process as the shelf, but even easier without having to cut notches.  I used a 2x8 for the very front to give myself a bit of an extra overhang for clamping things to, and there's overhangs on both ends too.  Right about the time I finished screwing it all down, I remembered that I forgot to leave space between the boards for expansion.  I'm really hoping that doesn't come back to bite me.

This was about when my wife got home, and since I like to cook and had the week off, I'd promised dinner.  I'm quite the Renaissance Man.  Build workbench; take a shower, grill salmon.

The next day, I flipped the bench over and added some extra supports I'd forgotten about.  Two additional ones width-wise for the top and one for the shelf.  Getting these just right after the fact was a little tricky, but I managed.  Flip it back right-side up and drive in a dozen more screws to attach the surfaces solidly to the new supports.

I rechecked it was still level.  It was now flat enough for my purposes.  And I dropped some scrap lumber on it and it seemed to take the beating just fine.

The Finishing Details

I'd bought a decent vice at an estate sale a year ago in anticipation of building this.  Feeling that the section of bench this gets bolted to needed a little extra oomph, I attached some scrap board under the corner of the bench and bolted the vice through that.  It's going nowhere.

I sanded down all the edges and gave the surface a quick pass to make it a little smoother.  I thought about using a finish/stain/paint/etc, but decided to keep it natural.  I read somewhere the best finish for a workbench is (to paraphrase): a lifetime of nicks for errants saws and drills; splotches of paint, glue, and stain; and undecipherable diagrams and measurements.

I ran a piece of adhesive measuring tape lengthwide and widthwise so there's always an available ruler.

There's a surge protector mounted on the side for the power tools, and I hung a plug-in shop light from the ceiling.

* Sadly, a few days after building this my phone's memory card went belly up, so the couple pictures I took during the process are kaput. :(

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