Introduction: Quick & Easy Lightweight Work Bench

About: Architect, Urban Designer, all-round tinkerer of odds and ends. Small solutions for big city living. Dreaming of lands faraway where garages are big enough to build a workshop in, or lakes are there for taking…

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? How do you build a 3D printer if you need 3D printed parts? And how do you build a work bench if you don't have a work bench to work on???

I've been inspired by the many many workbench projects on Instructables to make myself a dedicated maker bench. But I don't have the space in my house for a fully equipped workshop, nor do I have any tools yet to plane, rip and sand raw boards of wood.

Here's how I built a quick & easy lightweight workbench in just one weekend for my indoor projects, without any workshop tools other than a jigsaw and a drill.

Step 1: Purpose

If you've seen my other Instructables, you'd know that I'm a more design-oriented maker. I use Sketchup and CAD more than a pen and ruler, and a laser cutter and 3D Printer more than a drill and saw.

So this workbench is an indoor workspace mostly for organising my tools and materials for easy access, including a space for my 3D printer and laser cutter. The worktop would be only for small tabletop projects, not for heavy woodworking. In fact, this room is shared with our laundry space, so all dusty work has to happen outside!

So when I do want to cut and sand timber and plywood, I set up a folding clamp table just outside, where I can make a mess. As such this workbench can be really really lightweight.

Step 2: Materials

Okay, purists please look away: the secret ingredient here is IKEA's HEJNE shelving system. This modular system is basically a series of slatted pine shelves bolted to 4 pre-drilled pine verticals. Ultra light, ultra cheap, and super easy to 'hack' to your own custom design.

The original shelving is basically what you see in the diagram: Only 171cm tall, and either 30cm or 50cm deep. I 'hacked' it to make a full 2.4m tall bank of shelving, with a kitchen counter-height work top (87cm) and lots of deep storage below it.

Why buy this 'kit' instead of raw lumber? Here in urban Singapore, lumber is expensive ($10 for an 8 ft 2"x2") and I would have to measure, cut and drill every single connection. In contrast, the pre-drilled pine corner posts were only $5 for 2, and come smooth and straight. The whole wall full of shelving only cost about S$190 (~US$130), which is dirt cheap compared to getting a wall of custom shelving made.

Buy list (I had to go back 3 times to get everything I needed, because the design evolved along the way)

Corner posts (171cm) - 20 posts
Deep shelves (50x77cm) - 6 shelves
Shallow shelves (30x77cm) - 14 shelves
Cross Braces (5-6 sets)
Plastic feet for the vertical posts (12 feet)

Countertop: Half a sheet of 15mm plywood (60x244cm) - I already had this lying around.

Miscellany: L brackets, wood screws, etc.

Step 3: Making the Base: 50cm Deep Shelves

The IKEA posts are 171cm but I wanted to hack this system to be about 2.4m tall, and with a wider base supporting the counter top.

I figured a standing-height counter top would be good, so that I could work either standing up or pull up one of my kitchen stools to it. The posts were 171cm, so cutting them exactly in half was 85.5cm. Plus 15mm plywood, this gave me a worktop at 87cm height. Pretty comfortable. All my cuts were done outside, with just a jigsaw and a steady hand, followed by some light sanding with a sanding block.

I assembled 2 bases as shown: with 171cm posts at the rear and 85.5cm posts in front, and 3 of the 50cm deep shelves in between. Add in the X cross-brace at the rear for stability.

Next I cut some 55cm cross beams out of additional lumber to brace between the front and back legs, and to support the plywood work top. These were just screwed on with wood screws.

Step 4: Making the Countertop Fit

Trouble strikes! Originally, I was just going to have 3 units of shelving in a row, but the column presented a minor issue. So I revised the design to have 2 shelving units to the right of the column, and 1 unit to the left of the column, and link the whole thing together with a countertop.

This required another trip to IKEA to get the additional parts needed.

Good news and bad news: the good news is that the total length of 3 units of shelving plus the width of the column was EXACTLY 244cm (8ft) almost to the millimetre! That meant that my plywood countertop would fit exactly! The bad news is that the additional length of the column would require more support for the plywood countertop span in the middle. I also had to jigsaw out a recess in the back of the plywood to fit around the column.

(In case you're wondering, a single 60cm wide plywood countertop would have worked, but I had these 2 strips of plywood already lying around at 30cm wide each, so I just joined them up to become a 60cm countertop!)

For additional support: I cut a pine beam to span the centre section as shown, screwed in to the two side shelf units. Then I figured that this beam alone would not be enough to bear the load of the shelves above the countertop, if fully laden with stuff. So I then cut two more 85.5cm legs with a notch at the top to support the beam on either side. These legs were screwed to the side shelves. This definitely made the whole thing more stable and eliminated the slight sag in the plywood countertop.

The countertop itself was just screwed in from below with a few L-brackets.

Step 5: Extend the Top for Upper Shelves

The upper section uses parts from the IKEA 30cm deep shelf units. I added new vertical posts in front, cut to about 150cm. These rest on top of the countertop, and are connected with L-brackets. Gotta make sure the holes in the front and back post line up. Then, connect the posts together by screwing on 2 layers of 30cm shelves.

As the back posts only go up to 171cm, I had to extend them to match the new front posts by cutting more verticals and joining them with another cut-off block at the rear. Again, make sure the holes in the front and back posts line up, or your shelves won't fit!

Once these are up, I added another 2-3 layers of shelves, and more X bracing to complete the unit.

Note: with such a tall unit, the upper shelves MUST be bolted to the wall to avoid tip-over.

Step 6: Finish and Enjoy!

And we're done! All in, I think this only took about 6 hours over one weekend, not including the trips to IKEA. Easy, quick and relatively cheap, and only using hand-held tools!

Now I can start the much more arduous task of sorting out all my existing mess piled up on my current work table and all over the floor. (Not shown as the mess is so bad I can't bring myself to show it!)

Tables and Desks Contest 2016

Participated in the
Tables and Desks Contest 2016