Introduction: Make a Portable Workstation

About: Mechanical Engineering student that likes robots, CNC, 3D printing and more.

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After having finished my CNC router (see my other Instructable), my workshop (a small shed in my backyard 3 x 6 m), became pretty full. The only other tools that I can fit in there are a small table saw, a drill press and some small powertools and handtools. So most of my woodworking happens outside. Next to woodworking and CNC stuff, I also like to work on smaller projects with electronics, which requires soldering etc. Since my 'workshop' is pretty full, I didn't have a proper place to work on these smaller projects. So I just moved some of my smaller tools (screwdrivers, soldering iron, pliers etc.) into my bedroom and worked on my electonics projects there. My parents were ok with the fact that I did some soldering in my bedroom, (better than in the kitchen or the living room), but didn't like the fact that my tools were laying all over the place. The table I was doing my work on also became pretty dented and full of glue and solder blobs. That's why I came up with this portable workstation. It has plenty of storage for all the tools I need, it also has some drawers where I keep solder, heat shrink tubing, wires etc. The lid forms a worksurface, so my parents don't have to worry about the table. I made it in the form of a suitcase, so that it would be very portable.

Ben Heck, from the Ben Heck show had a similar idea a couple of years ago for his portable workbench. I really liked his design, but it was quite complicated to build and it required the use of a CNC machine. For this build I decided to simplify the design quite a bit, so that it would be easier to replicate by people without fancy tools. It also has a bit more storage capabilities and you can customize it any way you want.

Step 1: Tools + Materials


- Table saw (a circular saw or handsaw works as well)
- Router table or handheld router
- Drill
- Screwdriver
- Hand sander
- Tape measure
- Chisel
- Clamps
- A band clamp makes your live a whole lot easier when glueing.


- CNC router


Always wear safety glasses, hearing protection and a dust mask while working with powertools!


- 1 sheet of 9mm birch plywood (2440x1220x12mm, you won't need the whole sheet, but it's nice to have some extra. Any 9mm plywood will work).
- 10 hinges (I used 6 40x20mm and 4 15x25mm)
- handle (I made mine out of some scrap wood)
- wood glue
- screws (+/- 3x12mm for the hinges)
- For the tool holders, I used scrap pieces of wood
- Elastic band
- Self adhesive velcro

- powerstrip

Step 2: Design

I used the free CAD program Sketchup, to make a basic design of the portable workstation I wanted to build. This went pretty fast, and by making a CAD drawing first, the rest of the project went a lot faster. Sketchup allows you to quickly and easily experiment with different designs and looks.
The joinery isn't very complex, just a lot of rabbets (grooves). You can see that the two doors also have a place to store tools. The worksuface consists of three pieces of wood, which are hinged together. Everything folds up nicely and you can carry the workstation around as a suitcase.

Step 3: Cutlist

Now that I had my design completed, I created a cutlist for all of the pieces (see image above). This was very convenient for the next step: cutting everything out.

Step 4: Layout, Measure and Cut

Using a piece of chalk and my cutlist, I laid out all the pieces on the sheet of plywood. Try to order them so that you have the least amount of waist. I only needed about 3/5 of the sheet, so I saved the rest for a future project.

Next I used a handsaw to cut the sheet down into more manageable pieces.

I used the table saw to cut the pieces to their final dimensions. Make sure you set up your tablesaw correctly: all pieces should be square and cut to size as good as possible.

Step 5: Making Grooves

To make the grooves in all of the pieces, I set up my handheld router inside of a router table. You can also use a dado blade in your tablesaw. All grooves/rabbets are 9mm wide and 3mm deep. Always try out your setup on a test piece first!

I also created the grooves in the back and bottom/top pieces of the main body. This is where the divider will go. For this I used the handheld router and clamped down another piece of wood as a guide. I used a chisel to clean up the ends.

I also cut a notch in the top and bottom of the main body (see pictures).

Note: If you don't have a router or a router table, you can just butt join the pieces together. The grooves mainly help to align the pieces and also make the project a bit stronger. However if you can't cut the grooves the dimensions of your pieces will be different.

Step 6: Sanding

It is a good idea to sand the inside faces of all the pieces before you glue everything together. This will be a lot more difficult when everything is assembled.

The last few images show all of the pieces.

Step 7: Glue It All Up

The glue up is pretty straight forward. I used a band clamp and some other clamps to hold everything together while the glue dried. Make sure that everything ends up nice and square!

Step 8: More Sanding...

Now that everything is glued together, it's time to do the final sanding on the main body the doors and the worksurface. Also round over all of the sharp edges. I also rounded the corners of the outside worksurfaces with my homemade disc sander.

Step 9: Wooden Handle

I went to the hardware store to look for a nice sturdy handle, but I couldn't find anything I liked. So I decided to make my own wooden handle. It's made from an old table leg (beech wood). I first made a pattern out of a piece of MDF. I used it to trace out the shape onto the piece of wood. Using the jig saw, I cut it to rough shape. Than I stuck the pattern on the rough cut blank with double sided tape. I used a pattern bit in my router table (I just used my cnc :) ) and a roundover bit to get it to its final shape and make it feel nice. I used glue and screws, to mount it to the main body. It's very strong and I think it looks really nice.

Step 10: Installing the Hardware

Installing the hardware was very easy. Just mark where you want the hinges to go, mark the hole locations, predrill and drive the screws. I wasn't sure how I would keep the lid closed. I decided that a simple pin would be the easiest option (see pictures).

Step 11: Tool Holders

I haven't made any plans for this step, because this really depends on what tools you want to put in. I used nails, screws,  hooks, velcro, elastic band and some leftover pieces of plywood. I used a staple gun to create some loops that hold the pliers. I added a piece of plywood with a lot of holes drilled into it for the screwdrivers. I also added a power strip.
I made two very simple drawers to hold things like solder, wires, connectors etc. Most other tools hang on hooks or screws. The bit set is held in place by self adhesive velcro.
I made some 'straps' to hold the soldering iron in place by sticking the self adhesive backs of the velcro together. The pictures from this step and the folowing step should give you some good ideas for making you own tool holders.

Step 12: Fill It Up

Well this is the easy part. Now it's time to fill the portable workstation with your favorite tools and all the other things you use most frequently.

Step 13: Make It Fancy

Your portable workstation is never complete without some cool instructables stickers :).

Step 14: Conclusion

So that's it. Now I have a nice portable workspace, I can take anywhere. It has lot's of storage for all of my favorite tools and a nice worksurface where I can work on future projects. Total cost for this project was less than 50 dollars. It took me around 3 weekends to complete. There is still some room for more tools and I might add a small lamp in the near future, but I am very happy with the way it turned out. If you decide to build your own, please post a picture in the comment section and I will add it to this Instructable.

If you have any questions about this instructable, please feel free to leave a comment. And if you also like CNC machines, have a look at my other instructable.

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Portable Workstations Contest

First Prize in the
Portable Workstations Contest

Woodworking Contest

Participated in the
Woodworking Contest

Full Spectrum Laser Contest

Participated in the
Full Spectrum Laser Contest