Introduction: Backpack Workbench

About: I am a student in California. I am becoming very interested in electronic engineering, and electronics in general. Most of what I make will either be woodshop related, or some form of cool gadget.

Estimated Time: 10 hrs

Estimated Cost: $0*

If you like what you see, please vote for me in the Portable Workstations Contest.

Anyways, lets get started.

The idea behind this project is to create a customizable, folding workstation for your specific needs. You might ask; "Why is it a backpack?". This workstation is a backpack so it will be even more portable. This way, your workbench, and some gear can be on your back wile your hands are free to carry any additional toolboxes or materials you need. For the purpose of this 'ible, I am going to convert the workbench into a soldering/ electronics station. Did I mention it's going to be FREE (or close to it). I am going to make this using (almost) entirely reused materials.

Because I want this to be convertible to your needs, I am going to segment this instructable into two parts: making the base workstation backpack, and customizing it.

*I spent $8 on my custom set up... more on that later

Step 1: Materials

This is just a very basic list of what you might need. The idea is that this will be customizable to your needs, so your materials might be completely different from mine. There will also be a more in depth "Tools and Materials" section for each step as well.


  • Ruler
  • Hammer
  • Saw
  • Drill with bits


  • Hardware
  • Assorted wood
  • Hinges
  • Straps

Step 2: Preparing the Stock

We are going to start off by making our actual workbench. While this could be any material, I chose wood (veneered* composite board) which I took from the side of an old bookshelf.

*veneer is a thin layer of wood or plastic that looks like wood typically placed on the face of plywood or MDF.

Tools and Materials:


  • Ruler
  • Clamp
  • Saw (hand or other)


  • Wood (or other workbench material)

Select the stock:

Like I said earlier, this doesn't have to be wood. However, I am using wood because it is eye appealing, and easy to modify. Choosing which pieces of wood is a completely aesthetic decision. I used the side of the book shelve because it had veneer on both sides. This way both the actual work surface and outer backpack will have wood grain. I chose to matched the grain of the work surface.

Prep Your Piece:

We are going to remove any "add-ons" to your wood. This may include prying off nails, and removing any edge-banding (edge grain veneer on the sides of some plywoods). Pry any nails up with the backside of a hammer. Simply peel off edge-banding.

Cut the stock:

Pretty self-explanatory. Find the dimensions that work best for you (I used 33 cm x 30 cm x 2 cmfor each piece) and cut the stock. I recommend cutting the first piece and then marking the second piece off of the first to ensure they are the same size.


What if the two pieces are not the same size?

-Mark the longer piece, and trim it.

Step 3: Hinges

We want this to be a backpack right?! Well then, to get a reasonable work space, we need to make it fold. We also want to make this customizable. So, we need some space on the inside for our custom set up.

Tools and Materials:


  • Ruler
  • Saw
  • Drill w/ bits
  • File


  • < 1 board foot of wood
  • 2 hinges

Hinge Blocks:

We need some space in between each halve of the work station for our custom set up. The solution is to add blocks between hinges and the workbench (picture 1).

Start off by finding blocks. I started off with two options, 2x4 or 3/4" walnut. The 2x4 was far too large, so I went with the walnut (the type of wood doesn't matter at all, I just used what I had laying around).

Once you have your block material, measure and cut it (I went with 3.5 cm x 9.5 cm x 2 cm for each block, or slightly larger than each hinge). Once you have the first block cut, mark it (picture 5). Then use the original block to measure each subsequent block (you need 4 total).

After all of the blocks are cut, sand any rough edges. While you don't really have to, it is best to round the edges slightly.


First, you need to find hinges. I used 2 door hinges. You can use anything that is relatively strong.

Now we get to make this thing fold. Start by lining the hinges over the blocks and marking the blocks (picture 10). Then pre-drill the holes* using a drill bit just smaller than the screws you are using. Clamp the block and hinge in place. Screw them in (be careful not to screw the screws into your workbench). start with one corner. Then screw in that same hinge to the other board. repeat for the other side.

*Please pre-drill. I can not tell you how many pieces I split during this project because I didn't pre-drill.


What if I screwed one of my hinges into my workbench?

-Just unscrew it, and do it again.

What if my screws come out the back of my piece?

-Screws are made to be brittle, unlike nails which are malleable. In other words, screws break, nails bend. Hit the protruding ends with a hammer until they snap off.

What if my screws are too short to use the above method?

-Use a file to file them flat.

What if I stripped a screw?

-Use a pair of pliers to turn the screw.

Step 4: Closing Mechanism

Now we have a sizable gap (~ 5 cm) between the two halves of our workbench when closed. We need to put something in that gap so we can A: add a locking mechanism, and B: to keep the hinges from breaking off.

Tools and Materials:


  • Ruler
  • Drill with bits


  • Scrap wood
  • Clasp of sorts

Prep the Block:

Start off by finding some wood. I originally used the scraps from my hinge blocks. I then split those pieces, so I had to cut new ones. The wood you use isn't very important. I am using walnut scraps from a wine cabinet I made last year.

Once you have your wood, cut it to your dimensions (I cut 2 10 cm c 5 cm x 2 cm pieces). Then pre-drill holes slightly smaller than your screws*.

*Please pre-drill. I split two pieces of wood because I didn't pre-drill

Attach the Block:

Now that you have your two pre-drilled pieces, we need to attach them. Just clamp them in place, put a washer or two on each of your screws (the washers are to compensate for the extra height the hinges give it), and screw them in. Be sure to either set the chuck to < 4, or hand tighten the screws so you don't strip them.

Add a Locking Mechanism:

I wanted my workstation to be able to lock. This way, I can pack my things up and make sure no one messes with them. Even if you don't want it to lock, you probably want some way to ensure it stays closed while you move it around.

Start off by finding some form of clasp (I got mine off of a box that was pretty much entirely different locking mechanisms [picture 15]). This step is very simple, just place that mechanism where you want it on the box, and screw both ends in. While I originally used the screws that came with my clasp, They ripped out and I had to change them. I recommend using at least 3/4" long screws.

Penny Washers:

If you don't have washers, don't worry, you can make some. This process is incredibly straight-forward. Find a few pennies or any other strong, cheap, decently sized metal. Clamp it down, and drill holes in it (see pictures 19-20). Now you have washers!


What if you split a piece?

-Let me tell you, this sucks. I split two pieces because I didn't pre-drill. sadly, you just have to cut a new piece and try again.

What if I don't have washers?

-See the penny washer section above.

What if my screws go through the piece?

-Hit them with a hammer until they snap off.

What if the above method does not work?

-Use a file to file them off.

What if my screws rip out?

-Hopefully this didn't do too much damage. You should be able to try again with longer, slightly wider screws.

Step 5: Legs

You might ask: "Why do we need legs?". Well, like a backpack, we want one big pocket in the middle (our custom set up), and other pockets on the outside for storage. if we have pockets on the outside and no legs, our work space will not lie flat.

Just a heads up, I have absolutely no idea what I used for legs, I just found them laying around my house (picture 1). If you know what these are, please comment below.

Tools and Materials:


  • Ruler
  • Drill with bits


  • Some form of legs

Finding Legs:

You probably guessed this, but you need to find legs. Again, I have no idea what the things I used are called. If you happen to find the same things, please share.

Attaching Legs:

This step could vary quite a bit from person to person. Naturally, I am going to share my method for the legs I used. Sorry if this isn't very helpful.

Start by drilling a hole the same size as your threads (the yellow things) in each corner, you want this to be a tight fit. Thread the threads on to a wooden piece (yes, I do realize how awful that sounds) and hammer them into the holes. You could glue these in, but mine were tight enough that I didn't feel the need to. Any glue that will adhere to both plastic and wood will work (ie wood glue, gorilla glue). I would not recommend Elmer's glue (too weak) or super glue (too brittle).

Now you need to cut the actual legs. Start by marking the line you want to cut (mine are 15 cm long). Then cut them. If your legs are rolling about like mine were, and you are having trouble clamping them, don't worry, we can make a v-block.

To make the v-block (I should say, makeshift, awful, one time use v-block) find a suitable cardboard box (pictures 12-14). Now cut a v-shape in both ends of the box. Next, cut a section out of the middle of the box for the saw to pass through. Clamp the box to your workbench, hold the leg in place inside the box, and cut it.*

Now, if all went well, you should just be able to screw in your 4 legs.

*This is not a real v-block, just a bad, temporary solution to a small problem

Making it stand up:

You may have noticed that your table dips down in the middle (picture 18). We are going to add a locking mechanism to stop this.

Start by finding a locking mechanism. As I discovered, not all mechanisms will work for this. I used the mechanism seen in picture 20. While I'm sure some other mechanisms might work, this one does.

To attach it, lay the table on it's side. Place the mechanism on the side and screw it in. It really is that simple. As an added bonus, we can now lock our work space in the opened and closed positions.


What if I can't find legs?

-Not much I can do about this one... try again?

What if my threads don't fit in the holes I drilled?

-You have a few options. You could file/sand the threads until they fit. Or you could file the hole until the threads fit. Or you could enlarge the hole with a bigger drill bit (I tried all of these things, and this last one worked the best).

What if my locking mechanism doesn't hold the table up?

-Try a different type of clasp. I had to try 3 or 4 until I found one that worked.

What if the screws holding my clasp in ripped out. Try again, this time with screws slightly wider, and a little longer.

Step 6: Leg Pouch

Now that we have our removable legs, we need somewhere to put them when not in use.

Tools and Materials:


  • Knife
  • Staple Gun


  • Pouch of sorts

Find (or make) a Pouch:

I vouched for the find option. While I am capable of sewing, I'm not very good... My pouch actually was part of the water bottle holder in a backpack I had laying around. If you are worried about ruining the bag, don't be. As long as you are relatively careful, your bag will still be usable, just down 1 pouch*.

I don't see any reason why one could not make a pouch. It would probably be fairly simple, I am just not qualified.

*I did ruin my bag in the next step though

Cut your pouch off:

Take a sharp knife (I used a box cutter) to carefully break the seams holding your pouch on. Or, if you don't want to keep the bag, you could just hack at it until it comes off.

Attaching the Pouch:

I chose to staple the pouch onto my work space. Start by laying your pouch on your work space. Then, staple the inside of the pouch to it. I started at the bottom, and then did both sides, stapling the top last.

If you don't like the internal appearance of the pouch, you can cover it with an additional piece of cloth. I cut a piece out of a free reusable grocery bag I got at some con, but any fabric will work. Simply cut the cloth to the shape of the pouch, and staple it to the inside.


What if I cut into my bag?

-That's just sort of too bad.... try patching it.

What if my staples don't go in all the way?

-Mine didn't. Just hammer them in until they are flush.

Step 7: Straps

This project is intended to be a backpack so we need straps. If you don't want straps I suppose you can skip this step. If you would rather it be a tote, I will cover that in this step.

Tools and Materials:



  • Straps
  • 4 Screws
  • 4 Washers

Finding Straps:

I suppose you could just cut the straps off of a backpack. I used 2 lengths of tie down straps. Tie downs are strong, thin, and a decent width. I actually had two tie downs that had an additional 3-4' of length each laying around (being used for an archery target), so I cut mine of of those.

Attaching Straps:

We are going to start with the length adjuster (the plastic piece in the 1st picture). These can be taken off of just about anything with a strap. I took mine off of the backpack I used in the previous step. I chose to attach these with screws.

Take your screws (as long as possible), put a washer on them*, and thread them through the small piece of strap connecting to the plastic adjusters. It will be far easier to screw them in if they are threaded through the cloth first. Screw them in place.

Now repeat the above process for the actual strap, this time screwing the ends in to the opposite end of your work space.

*The washers are very important in this step. They prevent the strap from slipping over the screw head. The bigger the washer the better.

*NOTE*This part is where I ruined my backpack.

(Optional) Tote Handle:

Essentially, we are going to modify the above process to add a handle. Cut a length of strong cloth (something like tie down), and screw it in at the top of your work space. I would recommend having one handle on each side.

*NOTE* I did not actually do this. This section is just an idea.


What if I'm having trouble screwing in the cloth?

-Thread the straps through the screw first. Apply pressure and turn the screw. They should thread fairly easily.

Step 8: You're Done!!! (sort Of)

You're done!!! at least with the base backpack work space. In the next few steps I will go over the modifications I made. If you make this project, please post pictures with your set up. The idea behind this project was that it could be modified to your needs.

In the next steps I will cover:

  • Attaching tins
  • Flush mounting a fan
  • LEDs + Power
  • Ghetto 3rd hand set up

*NOTE* I didn't quite have time to finish this before the deadline for the Portable Workstations Contest. I will post an update with the completed version eventually.

Step 9: Tins

Adding tins is a super easy process. Its as simple as place and screw. I used 3 tins. One to hold screws when taking apart electronics, one to house a sponge for wiping of a soldering iron, and one to house wiring and power, more on that later.

Tools and Materials:


  • Drill w/ bits


  • Tins
  • Screws

Attaching tins:

Like I said earlier, it really is just place and screw. I suggest pre-drilling the tins first though.

Step 10: Solder Fume Extractor (aka Fan)

Let me start out by saying that this was a very BIG pain. It would be far easier if you had a CNC machine.... Anyways, in this step I will show you how to make a very simple solder fume extractor using a computer fan that will be flush with you work space.

Don't worry if you don't know what the pin outs for the fan are, that will be covered in the next step.

*NOTE* We will handle wiring this in the next step

Tools and Materials:


  • Drill w/ bits
  • Chisel
  • Hammer


  • Computer Fan
  • 4 screws

Insetting the Fan:

This is really the only hard part. Start by outlining your fan. Then chisel out the inside of that section until your fan will sit level with your workbench. This will take a while.

Once that is done, drill an array of holes to allow air to pass through. Then use ~3/4" screws to screw the fan into the indent you made.

Step 11: LED Display + Power

Here we will wire power to the fan, and add an ultra bright LED display. This is the step where I had to spend money (~$8 for an LED array and SPST switch).

Tools and Materials:


  • Drill with bits
  • Soldering Iron
  • Tin Snips
  • Hot Glue Gun


  • LED array
  • SPST switch
  • Wire
  • Solder
  • 2 9v Clips
  • Hot Glue
  • Electrical Tape

Attaching LEDs:

I originally was planning to countersink 3 separate white LEDs. When I stopped at my local Frys to pick some up, I found an LED array. Buying that was a great decision, it works great and was very easy to wire.

My LED array had a sticky pad on the bottom, and a place for screws. Just stick the LEDs in place, and screw it in (leave the wires facing the same direction as the fan's).

What's What:

My fan had very strange colored leads (Green, Blue, Yellow, and Black). Given that, I had no idea which lead was +. If you have the same type of fan, yellow is + and black is -.

Wiring the Circuit:

This circuit will supply power to both the fan and the LEDs. If you wanted to have the option to turn on 1 or the other or both, you could use a DPDT (double pole double throw) switch instead of an SPST (single pole single throw) switch.

You can use any batteries you want. I chose 9v. Test your circuit before you put it together. 9v wasn't enough to power my LED array, so I wired 2 9v in series to double the voltage. That ended up working much better.

On to the actual circuit. Hopefully the diagram in the first picture is helpful. In case it isn't, I'll walkthrough it below.

Start by wiring the two 9v clips in series (wire + of one to - of the other). Then wire the remaining + lead to either of the prongs on the switch. Next solder a lead onto the other prong of the switch. Now we are going to wire fan + and LED + in parallel to that lead (wire both + leads to the switches + lead). Now wire fan - and LED - in parallel to 9v - (wire both - leads to the 9v's - lead). Your circuit should work now!

We're not done yet. We need to cover any exposed wires/joints. Cover the exposed switch ends with hot glue. Then tape any exposed joints between wires with electrical tape.

If you wanted to, I don't see any reason why you couldn't wire the entire circuit in series. I have no idea why I didn't.

Casing the Circuit:

If all went well, now you have 2 loose batteries and a wire mess. Now we need to case it. An altoids tin was just the right size for me.

Start by attaching the tin to your work space (step 9). Then drill a hole big enough to mount your switch. Now use your tin snips to cut out a section of the side of your tin for wires to pass through. You should be done!

Step 12: Ghetto 3rd Hand

Before you make this, I recommend using a real 3rd hand. While this works, it doesn't work well... I plan to replace mine soon. Moving on.

Tools and Materials:



Step 13: Now You're Really Done!!!

I hope you liked this instructable. Again, please vote for me in the Portable Workstations Contest.

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