Introduction: Low Cost Tank-tough Workbench

Picture of Low Cost Tank-tough Workbench

Build a workbench that can survive being run over by a tank, or at least anything you can throw at it you lily livered pantywaist.

There have been a number of workbench Instructables on this site, many of them very well done. However, the key to a workbench that can be pummeled and trammeled and abused like a rented mule is anchoring. This Instructable presents a method for building a workbench that will not only serve as an electronics soldering, model airplane building, or knitting platform but will also support metalworking and woodworking vices and the subsequent abuse that comes with such duty.

This workbench plan assumes that you have access to a variety of 2x4 lumber scraps, some spare plywood, particle board, or OSB or the means to purchase said materials. Also required are rudimentary woodworking skills, the tools to cut wood, and the fasteners to bind wood together. Oh and 3 pounds of zombie flesh.

Step 1: Bill of Materials

To complete this project you can use a variety of materials. The key pieces will be a few long sections of dimensional lumber such as a few 8' 2x4s. Otherwise some scrap 2x4 pieces and a few sections of plywood, OSB, MDF, or particle board will be sufficient. The following are roughly the amounts of scrap lumber needed, you can use this as a guide when scavenging or when buying your lumber.

  • 2x 8' 2x4s
  • 2x 36" 2x4s
  • 4x 24" 2x4s
  • 12x 18" 2x4s
  • 27"x8' 1/2" thick plywood
  • 27"x8' 1/2" thick OSB
  • Handful of 2.5" general purpose screws
  • Handful of 3" general purpose screws
  • Handful of 1 5/8" general purpose screws
  • 1x steel L-bracket
  • 1x 3/8" expanding concrete anchors

Step 2: Getting Started: Anchor to Walls

Picture of Getting Started: Anchor to Walls

When you are beating on a piece of angle iron in your vice to shape it for a new bike or siege weapon, you don't want the workbench that the vice is attached to to hop around the room so that you have to chase it while swinging your hammer wildly and cursing like a longshoreman. The answer to such a dilemma as any good seaman could tell you is proper anchoring.

Generally a workbench is required in an area suitable for working in a messy manner. A garage or basement for example. Such places have walls. These walls are usually tied securely to or comprise a foundation of some type. Thus, these walls can be thought of as structurally fixed and strong. What better place to anchor a workbench? That's right, no better place!

Furthermore, your workbench will probably be rectangular, and will benefit from being placed in a corner such that two of the four sides can be anchored. Since you can't work at all sides of your rectangular workbench at once, securing it to the walls of your garage/workshop on two sides will result in minimal impact on the workbench's utility.

Lastly, the floor on which the workbench stands is also most likely fairly structurally sound and can also serve as an anchor point for your ideal workbench. Now that you have the idea, we can get started.

In the presented example, I will show the process for building a workbench into the corner of a timber framed garage. The first step is to locate the studs. Use a studfinder or otherwise visually identify the fasteners to locate the framing members. Then decide on the height of your workbench. Be sure to take the thickness of the bench top (1" in this case) into account. I set my workbench bottom edge at 36" so that my rolling toolboxes could fit under it. That meant that the final top working height was around 40.5" which is a nice convenient height for me. Depending on your height and other considerations you may adjust the height accordingly.

The first step once you find your studs and decide on a height is to mark your wall and cut your 2x4s to length. You will need two short pieces of the same length and two long pieces of the same length so that you end up with a rectangle in the end. In the photo below you can see that you need 2 pieces of lumber to attach to the wall. Take a short piece (in my case 26") and a long piece (in my case 92") of 2x4 lumber and attach them to the wall into the marked studs with 3" wood or general purpose/drywall screws. Put in a screw at one end, and then move to the other end and use a level to ensure that the lumber is attached to the wall level. Put two screws into each stud. If your wall is sheathed in plywood like in the picture, you can use shorter screws and screw anywhere you want since the plywood is already attached to the studs.

In the picture below you can see that I have also attached the matching short length of 2x4 to the end of the long stud and secured the leg to support the right side stud. These two short pieces will be connected to define the rectangle of the workbench. The leg is made from two sections of 2x4 scrap. One cut to the height of the bench and screwed to the side of the short side stud (pictured) and one that is trimmed to exactly fill the gap between the short side stud and the floor while maintaining level. The second piece is not attached until the end so is not pictured. Also you can see the beginnings of the diagonal bracing that will give the workbench its strength.

Step 3: Triangulate and Brace

Picture of Triangulate and Brace

Once you are roughed-in with the back and left side anchored to the wall and the right side supported by the leg you need to add cross bracing and triangulate to add strength to the workbench top. Since we know that the two sides anchored to the walls are square, or at least as square as we can get them, cut a 2x4 scrap to make a diagonal brace as in the picture, anchoring it with a pair of 3" screws at each end. The length of the piece is not critical but shoot for 10" or so.

At the right (or free end supported by the leg) end of the bench, use a square to make sure your side is square and attach another diagonal brace as pictured. The easiest way to do this is to sink a screw on one end and then to start a screw on the other end of the diagonal brace. Use the square to make sure everything is lined up and then sink the second screw to lock everything in.

Since my bench is about 8' long, I added two cross braces connecting the front to the anchored back of the bench. You should brace your bench about every 24" to 36". To do so, cut some scrap 2x4s to the depth of your bench, minus the 3" for the front and back 2x4 thicknesses. So since my bench is 27" deep, I needed to cut 2x4 scraps to 24". Toenail these to the back 2x4 and then cut some more diagonal braces. You will want to triangulate every square you make in your bench. Since I added two more cross braces and thus had 3 squares, I needed 12 total diagonal braces. Since we already installed 2, I only needed to cut 10 more. See pics below for more detail. With the cross braces installed, triangulate them to the back 2x4 as pictured.

Step 4: Finish the Frame

Picture of Finish the Frame

The next step is to attach the front of the bench. Cut a 2x4 to length and then screw it into the end pieces and the cross braces using 3" screws. With the front attached, start screwing the diagonal braces in place between the end and cross pieces and the front lumber. When attaching the diagonal braces to the front, you may want to use 2.5" screws so you don't pop through the front and leave sharp tips to cut you. See pics to get an idea.

With the frame fully triangulated, cut some scraps to increase the load bearing capacity of your bench. The idea here is to cut a diagonal that will extend down from the cross braces at an angle and anchor to the wall. See pics below. Toenail the bottom part of the 2x4 into the wall. The screws are to hold the brace in position, the real strength is that this brace is loaded in compression so you want to be sure it fits snugly between the top and the wall. Use your level to make sure you don't over do it and tip the top of the bench in towards the wall.

Step 5: Attach the Bench Top

Picture of Attach the Bench Top

With the bench frame complete and anchored to the wall via the sides and some vertical diagonal supports, the next thing to do is attach the top. I used two layers for my bench top. The bottom layer is made of 1/2" thick plywood scrap which is structurally very strong. However, the wood fibers in plywood and regular dimensional lumber will compress and dent under hammer assault and other hard workbench duty. Fiber products like OSB (oriented strand board), MDF (medium density fiberboard), and particle board can handle hammering much better even though they are not as structurally strong in many cases. So the first step is to cut and screw down a layer of plywood or whatever scrap sheet stock you have handy. Use 1 5/8" screws or similar. See pic. I tried to tie the plywood layer to each diagonal and cross brace underneath with at least two screws per member. By boxing this frame securely you add a great deal of strength to the workbench.

Once you have the first layer on, attach your "punishment" layer. As discussed, I used OSB since I had extra piece laying around and because it can handle abuse. Also, in the event that you need to replace the top later, you can strip the cheap OSB and add more or another material of your choosing. Since this top surface is the sacrificial layer, I only used a few screws so that it would be easy to remove if it ever got too ratty. See pic.

Step 6: Anchor the Leg(s)

Picture of Anchor the Leg(s)

With the frame and top complete, the last step is to anchor the leg(s) to the floor. With your level make sure the top of the bench is level while you move the temporarily attached vertical leg into position. Use the level or similar to make sure the leg is plumb. When the leg is in position, take your angle bracket and put it into position against the leg and floor, marking the holes on the wood and floor with a pencil. Since I was anchoring the leg to a concrete floor, I used a masonry bit to drill a 3/8" hole into the concrete and sunk a wedge anchor into the hole. Tightening the anchor according to manufacturer specs, I now had a secure spot to bolt the leg to. See pics.

You can also see in the pics that the vertical leg is now two 2x4s thick. Using the level on the top of the bench I cut a section of 2x4 that snugly fit between the bottom stud frame of the bench and the floor while keeping the top level. This vertical support will bear a lot of the bench abuse so cut it square and snug.

Now that the hole is drilled and the anchor set in the concrete, take your angle bracket and bolt it to the concrete anchor. Then screw the bracket to the bench leg. Repeat this process for any other legs you may have. Viola, you now have a super tough workbench that is anchored to your walls and your floor that will withstand anything you can throw at it. If the bench collapses, so will the building.

You can now attach any auxiliary items such as vices and other things you may want for your bench. Try to attach you most brutal item right over the concrete anchored leg. In my case, the 5' metal vice would take the most pounding, so it is mounted right over the leg. Happy hammering!


Taolin (author)2017-06-25

Quick question:

What are your thoughts regarding the angle braces if you intend to incorporate a utility sink into your workbench?

p.s. awesome instructable!

Ichthusart1 (author)2016-01-03

Looks like a great little bench, will try it soon.

oroberous (author)2010-05-02

Did you get a good deal on the tool storage drawers ? I have been looking for some like that but I can't believe the prices I am seeing. I wish I was good enough with wood to make my own !

TimothyJ999 (author)oroberous2016-01-03

Try Harbor Freight. Their metal drawer units go on sale regularly. The red ones are high quality and expensive, the black ones are about half the price but still pretty decent quality--they'd be fine for under a bench where they're not supporting lots of weight and not rolling around.

jmengel (author)oroberous2010-05-03

I was able to take advantage of a 15% off garage organization sale but otherwise I had to hold my nose and pay for them.  The quality on the drawer chests was head and shoulders above the cheaper options, visit the store and try them out for yourself.  The wall cabinets are not as impressive, but cheaper relatively so I just went ahead with them as well.

parsifaldruddle (author)2014-05-25

"Build a workbench that can survive being run over by a tank, or at least
anything you can throw at it you lily livered pantywaist."... bold words, but... it is wooden... even m' wife has a steel bench, ya pansy...

Still nice bench =)

Fivesevenx28 (author)2007-12-21

looks tank tough. just if you have a post tension stress foundation, don't drill into it...

jmengel (author)Fivesevenx282007-12-21

Post-tension stress foundations No post tension stress on my foundation. Why would drilling a hole in one be bad? The concrete in such a foundation is in compression, it is the cables that are in tension.

moucon (author)jmengel2010-12-03

That's not exactly accurate. The top of post-tensioned concrete is in compression- but the bottom is in tension. Concrete does well in compression - terrible in tension, so the tension cables are there to transfer those tension forces in the slab. Think of a bow and arrow - the string is the tension cable and the bow is the slab. There are several reasons you can't drill a post-tensioned slab. A hole in the concrete could change the shear forces entirely and start a crack. Cutting a cable with a drill bit (highly unlikely but possible) is obviously a very bad thing. But anyway- post-tensioning would not apply to something below-grade. It's a technique that's employed to make on-grade slabs perform better in poor/unstable/expansive soils It wouldn't have anything to do with a basement situation. Peace out.

Fivesevenx28 (author)jmengel2007-12-22

not sure, but there is a stamp on foundation that says "DO NOT DRILL! POST TENSION FOUNDATION." I'm not a structural engineer, but my guess is that if you hit one of the cables the foundation will crack from imbalanced forces on the slab.

Well i know diddly about foundations but couldn't you use a metal detector to locate and avoid the cables, maybe even just a strong spherical magnet rolled across the floor?

Good Instructable.
Personally I would not use OSB as the top of a workbench, too rough surface, but I would throw over it an inexpensive 1/8” (6mm) sheet of masonite which is very strong and that could be replaced any time needed and will give you a very nice smooth surface.
Thanks for sharing it with us.

Masonite is not really strong by itself. Placed on top of a frame such as the demonstrated workbench with backing plywood and OSB it will take a lot of abuse. On its own the masonite will be destroyed. After 3 years of use I can tell you that this workbench is tough as nails and that the OSB top is not as rough as you think. OSB has a smooth and a rough side, I put the smooth side up. Put the rough side up when sheathing a roof, ask me how I know that one.... My indoor workbench is much smoother for electronics and other craft type use, but for hacksaw, welding, angle grinding, pounding, and other sundry destruction the OSB bench has been great.

2 stroke (author)jmengel2010-08-30

whats osb

OSB (oriented strand board) is a water-resistant, cut size panel ideal for interior use and general exterior applications.

Hmm! I did not say to use a masonite by itself as you think... what I said was "I would throw over it an inexpensive 1/8” (6mm) sheet of masonite" it means over the OSB or plywood.

diluded000 (author)2010-06-06

Nice bench. I was trying to count up how many benches I have made, going back about 30 years - at least ten. I'm partial to 4x6 for the legs, if I can find them. For metalwork I got a section of laminate counter top from the home store, and built cabinets underneath. The really hot stuff goes on a 1/4" aluminum plate on legs to keep the heat off the plastic. But the laminate holds up well for splatter and grinding sparks. I have another laminate bench that I built a potter's wheel into, that is good for wet messes. Up at my cabin, I built a top from laminated 2x4s, gluing the ~4" sides together and nailing with a pneumatic framing nailer. The lamination makes a heavy surface for hammering, and there were enough scraps around to build it without driving down the mountain for plwood. Tieing the bench to the floor and wall always stiffens things up nicely. My best bench has metal legs and a laminated maple top, it gets used for fine woodwork mostly.

DIYfan (author)2010-05-06

Any time you need weight, cheap, run down to the nearest place that sells 95 lb bags of cement or concrete or garden gravel. Keep it in the bag for ease of removal. $5 worth is enough to stabilize a table/workbench used to just about anything, carving, engine work, vibratory tooling, you name it.

jmengel (author)DIYfan2010-05-07

Good tip, thanks.

moN1Ker (author)2009-07-28

how'd you secure those perpendicular floating 2x4"s squaring off each 24-36"? Did you just 45° a screw in the top & bottom to the back wall support stud?

jmengel (author)moN1Ker2009-07-28

Yes, the two middle perpendicular "cross braces" were toe-screwed into the back wall stud.

charlessenf-gm (author)2009-06-18

Woodworking vise needs to be mounted so that tops of its jaws are flush with or a hair below bench top surface.

jmengel (author)charlessenf-gm2009-06-18

Good point. I still haven't faced the jaws yet either, I guess it is clear how much woodworking i do.

charlessenf-gm (author)jmengel2009-06-18

I should have indicated that I made the same error when building my last bench. I used most of a 36" wide solid core exterior door - trimming off the pars that had swelled from being stored in contact with moist concrete. I "trimmed" it in 2 x 4's rabbited out to fit - I'll have to do an instructable on it, too much to explain in a short note. Suffice it to say it was tough and solid - but the vise didn't quite work with the design. I need to revisit my design with an idea of getting the vise flush to the top and to one end of the bench - but it gets in the way of the "leg" at that end now! Oh, well, that's why God made drawing boards.

dpocius (author)2009-05-14

Well done! The anchoring to floor and walls is a great idea, esp. out here in earthquake country. Recently, I built a 92" x 30" bruiser. For the top, I used a piece of 1-1/8" thick plywood floor underlayment left over from the garage construction. Weighs a ton, but mucho solid! I scored a 2'x4' piece of scrap laminate floor material from a flooring outlet center ($1.25) for a sacrificial work surface,at front center where I do most of my sacrificing of perfectly good wood and metal. Lastly, I used a workbench bracket kit from Simpson (the construction bracket people) to assemble the frame. For some reason, a Home Depot out in Colorado was closing these out for 9 bucks, marked down from 30-something. I bought 4 sets, just because. Assembled per instructions, is amazingly strong! Simpson knows their stuff, I tell you what!

moucon (author)2007-12-16

Diagonal braces under the top are unnecessary and a waste of wood. Plywood or OSB provides all the lateral stability you need, especially if you're fastening to two walls as this is. Double up or thicken (to 2x6) the front rail and lose the diagonal down-braces as well.

jmengel (author)moucon2007-12-16

Thanks for your opinion.

nagutron (author)jmengel2007-12-17

I actually think the down-braces are useful if you want to put huge loads on the front edge of the bench. You could probably walk a horse up on that thing. A vertical leg would be much, much stronger, but the diagonals look good. I agree with moucon that the diagonal bracing inside the table face doesn't add to the strength of the table, though. the lateral loads you might put on a table of this sort just aren't high enough. maybe if you plan on ramming it from the side, repeatedly (and then only at one corner), with a tank. and even then, I think the plywood face would take most of the load anyway.

jmengel (author)nagutron2007-12-17

The diagonal bracing strengthens the table in that it increases the number of supports for the plywood, reducing the maximum unsupported span it must cover. That will make punching a hole in the table top that much harder. I really am hard on workbenches, I use the metal vice as a metal forming station. Bending 3/16" steel can take a toll. Thanks for the comments.

moucon (author)jmengel2007-12-18

If that's what you want to do, another thing you could do is double the top... and use a close-core (no void) plywood, instead of OSB. Something that will be very strong in compression. You could also go closer together on your supports generally - 12" or 16" instead of 24". Nothing terrible about the diagonal bracing, but in tension (the force you'd put on them by loading from the top) the connections to the frame will probably fail before anything else does. When you load one of those diagonals from above, the load is transferred to the ends -vertically on the connections. If the down force is extreme, the top would fail first... then the connections at the ends of the braces...then the main brace... and finally the diagonals, but by then the bench would be trashed so it wouldn't matter. Always follow the load path.

rumwrks (author)moucon2007-12-20

Adding a bottom skin would also reinforce the top substantially. I saw a design a few years ago in a popular woodworking magazine (can't recall which one specifically) that built a bench similar to this, but they put a skin on both the top and the bottom. Effectively this acts like an I beam, and greatly increases the overall rigidity. A little easier to do with a freestanding bench than a wall attached bench, and yours looks plenty strong anyway.

I've got a workbench like that =D I'm about to take it apart to build a bigger one though.

jmengel (author)rumwrks2007-12-21

You are correct. I thought about making the bench top a "monocoque" by skinning the bottom too but wanted to wait until I had the vices attached. Now that these are in, the motivation has left me since as you say it is strong enough. In the past I have used the 2x4 and plywood monocoque method to make some very rigid structures for fluid dynamics engineering experiment setups. Much stiffer than commercial extruded aluminum rails by weight. Thanks for the comments!

pekar (author)2007-12-20
jmengel (author)pekar2007-12-21

Looks good to me. Now that is a heavy duty top. I would have used screws rather than nails to secure the 2x4s but it is a small point.

pekar (author)jmengel2007-12-21

I used ring shanked nails, and a framing nailer, screws would have taken too long.

I'm sure the nails are plenty strong but you can't take it apart to recover the lumber nearly as easily.

Senseless (author)2007-12-21

When I built my workshop I planned ahead and set J-Bolts in the block walls to anchor the bench to and I used a 2x6 and a 2x4 to make the face of the bench rest on top of the 4x4's I used for my legs.

The workshop is under ground on three sides which is unusual for Florida and has no windows so it doubles as a safe room and there is enough room under the bench to sleep two. I wanted the workbench to be strong enough to provide shelter if a tornado tore up the upper floors of the house and collapsed it into the basement, I'd have a safe spot to huddle until someone hopefully came along and dug us out.

Uh, be sure to pack some cyanide tablets under there.

FleaCircusDirector (author)2008-12-05

My workbench is in the shed so there's no good place to anchor too. Filing/sawing does shake the whole place. My plan to rectify this is to build a cupboard under the bench and attach the bench to that. I'll keep all my heaviest stuff in there.

FleaCircusDirector (author)2008-12-05

I've used 18mm exterior ply for my workbench top with "garage floor" paint to protect it from spills.

a rigger (author)2007-12-23

I'd like to do mine like this but I can't go to the corner and a knee-braced cantilever like that would, likely, pull the wall down on my cruddy old garage. Also, if you can find it, pre-made counter top with the backsplash built in can often be found cheaply as drop or even scrap. I have a 6' piece for mine. Keep it up. [ ]

BicycleTutor (author)2007-12-22

Thanks for the great tutorial, your workbench sure looks solid. I would love to have this set-up in a bike shop!

gredd (author)2007-12-20

Complete over-kill, that's my kind of work bench! Nice work.

llamafur (author)2007-12-17

if you want some more strength, try liquid nails. my dad made a bench, he found an old solid door in a dumpster. he just screwed it on top of a frame.

jmengel (author)llamafur2007-12-17

Yes I was originally going to use glue to really tie it all together, but I decided that I wanted to be able to remove the top surface if needed for replacement. Time will tell.

macdadyabc (author)2007-12-16

this is from the garage/ shop that you built, right? it looks pretty awesome.

jmengel (author)macdadyabc2007-12-16

Yup. Thanks!

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