Introduction: Traveler Workbench With Adjustable Feet and Cerused Oak Legs
I have a good workbench in my workshop. It is large, sturdy and fixed to the wall, so I cannot take it outside. But now that it is springtime again, I love to be outside to enjoy the sunshine. It would therefore be great to have a traveler workbench that I can easily roll outside when the weather is very nice.
I go to a friend at least once a week to help him with the restoration of a car and at his place I also would like to work outside in the sun. Unfortunately his workbench is also absolutely not mobile, so I would like to take my workbench also to his workshop.
Therefore I want a small traveler workbench that meets all my needs:
- It should be sturdy.
- It should be mobile.
- The legs should be adjustable in height, so the workbench will not be wobbly even when the ground outside is uneven.
- It should have a flat top without holes, so I can work on small parts and they cannot fall through the holes.
- It should be stable even when I work with a vise.
- I have to be able to assemble and disassemble it in less than 5 minutes.
- The individual components should not be very heavy, so I can easily put the disassembled workbench in my car.
- When I am not using the workbench it should not take much storage space.
- I should be able to make it with simple tools as I do not have a table saw or miter saw.
- It should not cost a lot.
- I want it to look good.
- And most importantly: I also should enjoy the process of designing and making this workbench.
I looked at the internet as there are many examples of workbenches, but none of them was exactly what I wanted, so that is why I made my own.
Many people make their workbench from 2x4s and plywood. But here in The Netherlands it is quite expensive to buy wood in the hardware store. A single 2x4 costs 18 euros, which is almost 20 US dollars.
We do have many stores where they sell used furniture, including tables for a fraction of the original price. The tables are usually outdated and the finish is not perfect anymore, but the condition of the wood is still very good.
When I decided that I wanted to make a workbench, I went to the store and found this old dining table, made of solid oak for just 65 Euros, so for the same amount of money as I would have to pay for four 2x4s.
The table was 190 x 90 cm wide and 80 cm high (75 x 35 inches wide and 31 inches high). The legs were 10x10 cm (4x4 inches) so if you do not have an old oak table to start with, you can also make my workbench from 2x4's and plywood, because two 2x4's make exactly the same size as the legs of my table.
Besides this old table I used:
- 2 coasters
- some screws, nuts and bolts
- Black spray paint
Step 1: How It Works: Assembly
Before I describe how I designed and made this workbench, let me first explain how it is assembled.
Since I wanted the workbench to fit in the car and to take little storage space, I designed it in four flat pieces that can be stacked on top of each other. I have two legs, one bottom shelf and one top.
To assemble it, I first place both legs upright. Then I take the bottom shelf and place it on the lowest side of the legs. There are 4 holes in the bottom shelf that match with 4 bolts that are present on the legs. After putting the bottom shelf on the legs, I add the 4 nuts loosely, so the legs can still move a bit. Then I take the top and put it on top of the legs. I have holes for bolts and since I did not yet tighten the nuts at the bottom, I can align the top with the holes in the legs and insert the bolts. Finally I tighten the 4 bolts at the top and the 4 nuts at the bottom and then the workbench is assembled and very sturdy.
It takes just a few minutes to assemble it.
Step 2: Design (1)
Since I bought an old dining table as source of wood, I first took it apart so I knew exactly what the sizes where that I could use in my design. The main challenge was the length of the legs. A dining table is lower than a workbench, so the legs were too short for a standard design with 4 legs at each corner. I gave it some thought and came up with the idea of just two legs, so I could raise the height of each leg by placing a horizontal part under the leg.
Since I wanted a traveler workbench, it had to fit easily in my car. Therefore each individual part should be quite flat, so I could stack them.
Step 3: Design (2)
I spent almost a day working on the design. First I made some rough sketches on paper, but when I had a general idea about how I would make the workbench, I made more detailed drawings with Fusion 360.
Before this project I never worked with Fusion 360, so I also spent a day watching tutorials and getting used to the program. Of course I am still a beginner with Fusion 360, but it helps a lot in visualizing the design.
I will now first describe how I made the top and bottom shelf. Then I will describe the design details of the legs and how I made the legs. And after that I will describe how I designed the adjustable feet and how I made them.
So let's now start actually building the workbench.
Step 4: Cutting the Top and Bottom Shelf
I used a circular saw and a simple jig to cut the large table top into smaller pieces.
I added a screenshot of a Fusion360 drawing where I show the entire table top in brown and green. The red lines are the cuts that I made with the circular saw. I used the brown parts in this project and the green parts were not needed now, so I will keep them for a future project.
I placed some pieces of wood under the table top to prevent that I would cut in the floor. As you can see, I placed the table top upside down while cutting as a circular saw tends to make a nicer looking cut at the bottom.
The table top was 110 x 52 cm (43" x 20") and 3 cm (1.25") thick.
The bottom shelf was 90 x 38 cm (35"x 15") and of course also 3 cm (1.25") thick.
I also cut the 4 feet and 2 top parts of the legs from this table top. You can see all the dimensions on the drawing.
Step 5: Removing a Small Piece From the Bottom Shelf
As I wanted the bottom shelf to fit around the leg, I had to remove a square of 10x10 cm (4x4") from each side. I drilled a hole close to the corners of the square and used a jig saw to make the cut between the two corners. The jig saw was struggling with this oak, so I did not force it.
Step 6: Sanding and Applying Oil
Since I used an old table, the table top has some light spots and just looked old. I sanded one of the off-cuts and applied some oil and compared that with the part that I had not yet treated. I liked the new finish, so I sanded the top for the workbench and the bottom shelf. I did not use a sanding machine, as I experienced in previous projects that using a machine might actually be more work. This is because an old table top is not perfectly flat and a sanding machine will not get into the lower spots very well. I used a 40 grit piece that I cut from a belt for a belt sander to remove most of the old stain and finished with a 120 grit piece also from a sanding belt. Manually sanding the entire top and bottom shelf took about 20 minutes in total.
After sanding I removed the dust and then applied an oil.
Step 7: Design Details of the Legs
Each leg is made from four pieces of oak. In the drawings above I show the individual components, so that it is easier to understand the next steps.
Both legs are identical.
Step 8: Cutting the Legs
The legs of the old dining table were 78 cm long. I kept two of them at this length of 78 cm (31") and I cut the other two legs to a length of 50 cm (20").
The 50 cm long pieces will be used horizontally and the 78 cm long pieces will be used vertically. I added a photo where the legs are joined already with the dimensions.
Step 9: Making the Lap Joint at the Bottom of the Legs
I first made the horizontal bottom part of the leg. I wanted to use a lap joint as that is really strong.
Since the height of the legs was important and the table legs that I got were too short, I decided to make a partial lap joint to gain some height. The joint would be more difficult to make, but I would also learn more from doing it.
I had never made a lap joint before and actually I also do not really know how other people do it. I just marked the area that had to go and first made a cut with a saw at the sides. Then I used a drill to drill holes from the top and from the front, making sure that I stayed will within the lines. Then I used a hammer and chisel to first remove the large bits and then used the chisel to carefully remove the last bits of wood and to make smooth sides.
I did not want to get a loose joint so I made the gap at first a bit smaller than the final size.
Step 10: Lap Joint at the Vertical Part
This is the vertical part of the leg. Here I could use a saw to remove this corner. I carefully measured and marked the part that had to be removed and made the cut with a hand saw. Then I used a file to trim the part to the final size so I got a nice tight fit. It helps to have calipers available, to get good accurate measurements. I checked frequently if I already had a good fit, to make sure that I did not remove too much material.
Step 11: Drilling Holes
I joined the two pieces of the leg and then used a drill to make holes for the screws. Since I am using oak, I would not be able to get the screws in without drilling a hole first.
I made the holes in three steps:
First I used a small size drill bit that is just slightly larger than the core of the screw and drilled both pieces with that.
Then I removed the vertical part of the leg again and used a larger drill bit to increase the size of the hole. That drill bit was a bit wider than the thread of the screw. This way the screw can slide through the hole and really pull the wood info the joint.
Finally I used a countersink bit to make sure the head of the screw would be slightly below the surface of the wood.
I made the second leg the same way as the first leg, with just one difference.
For the first leg, I immediately applied glue and added the screws, but for the second leg I did not, because it would be easier to make the adjustable legs while the leg could still be taken apart.
Step 12: How It Works: Casters and Adjustable Legs
I only added the adjustable legs to one side of the workbench. The other side has casters, so I can carry the workbench at one side and use the casters to roll it around.
When I place the workbench somewhere, I have to raise only one corner a bit to fill the gap with the ground and make the workbench stand stable on four points, as it will always already be stable on three points.
I will explain in more detail how I made these adjustable legs in one of the next steps.
Step 13: Adding Feet and Casters
I cut the feet for the legs from a piece of the table top. The feet at the side of the casters are 10x10 cm wide (4x4").
I used dowels and glue to attach the feet to the leg.
The feet at the other side come in two pieces: 10x7 cm and 10x3 cm. The 10x7 cm piece will move up and down to adjust the height while the 10x3 cm piece acts as a guide to prevent that the 10x7 cm piece will rotate. This might sound unclear at this point, but I hope it will become more clear in the next steps.
Step 14: Details of the Height Adjustment
In the drawing I show an exploded view of the adjustable feet. In the next steps I show how I made them.
Step 15: Preparing Square Neck Bolts for the Feet
I used M10 square neck bolts for the height adjustment, because they have a rounded head. I used a file to remove the square neck at the top of the bolts.
Then I drilled a large hole in the feet, so the rounded head of the bolt can move freely in this hole.
Step 16: Make a Small Metal Plate for the Feet
I used a small steel plate and drilled two 11 mm holes. Then I cut the metal to make 2 smaller pieces and I drilled two small holes for screw in each plate. I marked the plates with an A and a B, to align the holes that I drilled in the metal and in the wooden feet. Then I used a router to remove a bit of wood, so the metal plates and the screws will be flush with the top of the wood.
The purpose of the metal plates is too keep the M10 coach bolts attached to the feet, but in such a way that they can easily rotate. When the height of the leg should be increased, the M10 bolt is screwed clockwise, so the head of the bolt pushes the foot of that leg down. When the M10 bolt is screwed counter clockwise, the bolt wants to move up and it lifts the metal plate and the foot and pulls it against up against the leg.
Step 17: Protect the Steel Against Rust
I used carbon steel for the metal plates and to prevent that the steel will rust, I used a primer.
The feet are now almost ready, but I still have to prepare the leg.
Step 18: Adding a Nut to the Leg
To be able to screw the M10 coach bolts up and down to raise and lower the feet, I needed M10 thread also in the leg.
I drilled a hole of 10.5 mm diameter through the horizontal part of the leg and at the top side I used a chisel to make a hole where a M10 nut will sit. It is important that it is a tight fit as the M10 nut should not be able to rotate.
I used a large 18 mm washer to keep the nut secured to the wood. I drilled 2 small holes in the washer so I could use screws to hold the washer in place. It is important that the screws are long and strong enough that they keep the washer firmly attached, so the holes for the screws should be pre-drilled as always, but the screws still should have enough thread to bite into the wood. When the leg is extended, 1/4 of the weight of the workbench and any impact from hammering, will try to push the washer upwards, so the screws have to hold it down.
(So far it worked fine, and if at some moment in the future the washers come loose, I can always replace them with a larger metal plate.)
Step 19: Finalizing the Adjustable Feet
I pushed the M10 square neck bolt through the leg and screwed the washer in place. Now the adjustable foot is under the leg.
I screwed two thin M10 nuts on the thread of the square neck bolt and used two spanners to tighten both small nuts against each other. That way they act as a bolt head and they make it possible to screw the M10 square neck bolt up or down.
On the third photo I placed the leg upside down and glued the small oak piece next to the adjustable foot. That small piece acts as a guide so the foot will only move up and down as it cannot rotate.
Step 20: Preparing the Top Part of the Legs
In the previous steps I made a large part of the legs already, but they still look like an upside down T.
Now it is time to make the top part of the legs.
I cut 4 pieces, each 40 cm (10") long. Two of the pieces were made from the top of the old dining table and the other two were made from the stretchers that were used to interconnect the legs at the dining table. I used those stretchers as they happened to have the right width that I needed.
I screwed and glued the pieces together so they will fit into and on top of the vertical part of the leg as you can see in the next step.
Step 21: Cut the Top Part of the Leg
I cut a piece out of the top of the vertical part of the leg in order to make another joint.
Here it is again important to measure how much wood to remove to get a good fit and then to cut straight.
Step 22: Glue and Screw
I drilled holes again, just like when I assembled the bottom part of the leg. Then I applied the glue and screwed the top part on the leg.
Step 23: Brushing the Wood to Get a Cerused Effect
I like the grain structure of oak, but I did not want my workbench to look like an outdated piece of furniture, so I wanted to try something that I have not tried before.
I like the results of the Shou Sugi Ban technique, but that does not work very well on oak, so that is not an option.
An alternative method that does work on oak is called cerusing. Basically it means that a brush is used to remove the softer parts of the wood, so the structure of the grain is exposed and accentuated by using two different colors.
I started manually with a wire brush, but that required a lot of elbow grease, so I quickly switched to a wire wheel on an angle grinder.
- Do not hold the wire wheel at the same spot, because it is very easy to get darker burned marks as you can see on the photo. These burned areas are still a bit visible in my final result, so it is best to take care to avoid getting burned spots.
- The wire wheel should move parallel with the grain. That seems easy enough, but I still recommend to make a test piece first to get the feeling of how to move the angle grinder.
Step 24: Spray Painting the Legs
I removed the dust that was present after brushing and added masking tape on the metal. Then I used a cheap rattle can with black paint and spray painted both legs.
I gave it two coats to make sure the paint really got into the grooves.
Step 25: Sanding the High Spots to Get the Cerused Effect
I let the spray paint dry and then used a 180 grid piece of emery paper to gently sand the legs. The black paint remained in the grooves and the natural oak was exposed again at the higher points of the grain.
I sanded only two sides of each leg so the other two side of each leg stayed completely black.
After sanding I added the same oil that I used before to protect the oak and to give it a slightly darker color.
Step 26: Attaching the Bottom Shelf to the Legs (1)
When I took the dining table apart, I saw they used these threaded rods that have a thread for wood at one side and M10 thread at the other side. I decided to reuse these threaded rods for my workbench, but they were a bit to long. So I marked the right length and cut them to the size that I wanted.
Then I drilled a pilot hole through the shelf and into the leg. Then I removed the shelf and drilled the holes to the right size. The hole in the shelf had to be larger than the hole in the leg, because the shelf has to slide over the thread, while the thread should bite into the wood of the legs.
Step 27: Attaching the Bottom Shelf to the Legs (2)
I used a spanner to screw the threaded rod into the wood.
Then I placed the bottom shelf over the part of the threaded rod that was still above the legs and added a washer and nut and tightened them. It feels like a very sturdy connection.
Step 28: Attaching the Top to the Legs
The easy solution would have been to drill holes all the way through the top and the legs and use normal nuts and bolts. But then there would be a bolt visible at the top of the workbench and I wanted to avoid that. So I aligned the top, used some clamps to hold it in place and drilled a pilot hole from beneath. I also used a red marker to draw a line at the underside of the top so it is clear where the legs are exactly.
Then I took the workbench top and turned it upside down and drilled a larger hole just large enough for these insert nuts. Those nuts have thread at the outside and at the inside. At the inside it is the right thread for a M8 bolt and at the outside it has a more coarse type of thread so it can be screwed into the wood.
Now I can use the M8 bolt to attach the legs to the workbench top, while there is nothing visible from the topside.
Step 29: Mounting the Casters
I placed the casters so that they are slightly above the floor and not touching the floor. Then I marked where the holes had to be, drilled the holes and screwed the casters to the legs.
Step 30: The Result
Now the workbench is ready.
Finalist in the