A Solid and Cheap 2x4 Workbench





Introduction: A Solid and Cheap 2x4 Workbench

About: Father, Woodworker, Youtuber. http://bit.ly/1Kay1Sy http://www.thewoodfather.com

Ok, lets get this straight off the bat, I am cheap! I don't like spending money!

(Although fairly basic compared to other projects on here, I'd really appreciate a vote or two in the contests if you liked this instructable! Thanks in advance!)

For me to invest money in a project it needs to be something I consider worthwhile, and this workbench is exactly that. It cost me around $200 aud to build, and I fall in love with it more each time I use it.

If you are interested in learning how to make an attractive bench on the cheap, with not all the normally required tools, then I recommend taking a look at my build videos. I've also broken down most parts into steps in this instructable with a little write up explaining why I selected certain methods or processes as well.

Thanks for watching and I hope you enjoy the build.

You may also want to hit subscribe on my youtube channel as well, I release new videos every couple of weeks.




Step 1: Gluing Up the Slab and Legs

I knew the hardest part of the build would be the slab. In fact the main reason I kept putting this build off is because I don’t have the generally required tools; a planer and pipe clamps. Of course there are many ways to skin a cat, and once I thought up this method I managed to convince myself that it would be successful.

It would have turned out perfectly had I had dryer wood I think. The wet wood was very hard to cut, even when I was just trimming a small amount off. The blade would be forced to the side in some cases, resulting in a not exact 90 degree face. The few gaps I have in the slab are because of the wood not being cut at a perfect 90 degrees.

If I was to do it over:

I would use the same method, but refine it. I would use more than 3 screws per length for a start, though 5 would certainly be enough. I would just go slower, and really ensure that each length was fully bedded down against it’s neighbour before screwing. A planer would be better than using the table saw to flatten one side, but the table saw method did work. I would probably try to find dryer stock, the wood I used was quite wet and hard to cut.

Step 2: Chopping the Mortises + Tenons

I really wanted to make my own bench with big beautiful tenons popping through the slab. When using standard structural timber like this, that is probably an unrealistic expectation. The soft pine does not ‘work’ nicely like a hard grain would do. And of course, I am not highly skilled in building like this, many people would be able to do a better job than I did even with pine.

As I’ve mentioned, the wood was quite wet, and even though the faces looked clear, fairly knotty when cutting into them. Hand chopping was a poor idea for someone of my skill level. While the jigsaw worked, I feel it was a poor choice for the job. I really should have spent time sharpening my chisels as well, but I am learning from my mistakes now.

If I was to do it over:

I would use a different method completely. I would probably create a jig to use a router to cut out a nice sharp, well defined mortise, and only chisel the parts the router could not reach. This would result in a much nicer and more repeatable mortise. I did not have a router at the time of cutting these or I would have done so.

Failing that, I would have built the mortises into the base and slab by cutting them out before gluing them up. I could have used the tablesaw or even a circular saw to simply cut out dadoes, and then clamp them up and move on. I thought about this method but decided it would take too much time up, and also I thought cutting by hand would be a good learning experience. Wrong on both counts.

Step 3: Trimming the Slab to Size

My circular saw isn’t big enough to cut right through 85mm timber, so I had a problem. I figured I could cut it once on each side and have the cuts meet up in the middle, but I was pretty certain that one of the cuts would be off slightly which would give me a messy and angled edge to clean up.

So instead I made 2 or 3 cuts with the circ saw until it was at its full depth of cut, and then finished the cut off with the handsaw. It came out smoother than I expected and a bit of light sanding brought both ends up to an acceptable standard. However, when gluing up the slab I wasn’t careful enough with my screw placement, all the screws should have been within 10 cm of the end. Clearly I didn’t do this part properly as you can see I trim more than 10cm off of the slab and of course, I manage to cut right through one of the screws. The blade was fine, it really just ended up pushing the saw to the side ever so slightly. I ended up beating the screw with a hammer to flatten it into the wood, and then sanded it for a little bit. I was always going to have a hardwood cap over one end of the bench, this screw sticking out simply meant that this would be the side which received the cap.

If I was to do it over:

It was fine cutting it this way, so I would use this method again, however it goes without saying that I will ensure I know where my screws are before cutting in the future.

Step 4: Gluing Up the Legs

Honestly, and you can see in the video, this was a basic glue up. I smothered the joints with glue, whacked them together, and then forced in wedges wherever I could find a gap to do so. The part where the tenon pokes through didn’t look too pretty, but seeing as that part is on the ground and can’t be seen, I was cool with it.

I also did clamp the legs before gluing to ensure they were straight and square.

Step 5: Flattening the Slab

This was the job I was simultaneously excited about and also dreading! I knew I would use the router method to flatten it, but I was stymied once again by the lack of long enough clamps to emulate how I’ve seen it done elsewhere. The Wood Whisperer has an excellent video demoing this technique.

Breaking down the job, I figured that it was just a sled running across a couple of parallel surfaces. Looking around, I came to realise that my outdoor picnic table was large and flat. I placed the slab directly on the table on an angle so it would have as much support as possible, and then placed two long and straight lengths of pine along each side. I packed those lengths up a little with mdf offcuts, that meant that these outside runners were around 10mm taller than the slab. I then built a very simple sled for the router out of some scrap plywood. It is just a flat bridge which can traverse the span between the two runners without losing its shape due to the weight of the router. It has a channel down the centre so that the bit can pass through and trim the very top off of my slab. The slab itself was fairly flat when I began, it had a slight tilt in it from one particular length which seemed to be wider than the rest, closer to 94mm high rather than 90mm. While I did have to rout the entire top, for the most part it was removing 2mm or so of material. For the high section though it did have to cut through over 6mm at times. After the first pass, well, I wasn’t really impressed. There were very obvious lines, grooves and channels in the slab, it was very ugly. Ridges and cliffs were everywhere, and at this point it’s safe to say that I thought I had ruined the whole bench. But, after looking at the bench closely I realised what I had done wrong, I’d used far too much downward force when cutting through the centre of the slab. Because it was on an angle, when I got near the centre I instinctively leaned forward to reach easier. This meant I pressed down harder, and cut more material out which left the ugly channels. To fix this, all I had to do was not press so hard! I set the router to cut the entire bench to the depth of the worst channel, and went over the whole thing again. This time I was careful to only ever slide the router back and forth, I never pressed down when moving it. This had a huge impact on the slab and cleaned it right up. To finish it off, I grabbed my little hand plane and belt sander, and worked my way over the top, making it as smooth as i thought it should be. It ended up looking fantastic to my eye, so I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.

If I was to do it over:

I would absolutely use the same method again, it worked a treat. I would probably even go so far as to lie the slab down on the floor instead of another table. That would make it easier to reach across it. I would build a better sled though. My one worked, but I really dropped the ball here and didn’t make it strong enough. Even being careful to slide the router back n forth, the sled had a little bit of give in it and flexed downward ever so slightly. All I needed to do was brace it a bit more, but for some reason I chose not to. I think it was a safety net for myself, I figured if the slab didn’t come out flat that I could blame the sled instead of blaming the operator. Luckily it didn’t come to that, but I would certainly beef up the sled if I was to do it over. I used a 1/2in flat bit in the router. I think I would have had a much easier time had I bought a specialty bit for this purpose, but I couldn’t bring myself to spend the money on a bit I would use once. I would use the same 1/2in bit again next time too.

Step 6: Inlays in the Slab

Well, you gotta hide your mistakes somehow don’t you?

I figured that hardwood inlays in the pine would look great, and that they would also hide the ugly job I did with the joints. While structurally the table is very sound, it is super solid, those joints don’t look too flash at all. So instead of leaving them to be seen, I grabbed the router and some more scrap wood. This time I made a rectangle shape, which let the router cut a roughly 160mm by 10mm inlay over the centre of each joint. I cut down to around 10mm, I didn’t want to actually weaken the joint, and then trimmed the corners sharp with a chisel. It was a simple matter to cut and glue some hardwood into those areas after that.

If I was to do it over:

I would absolutely do this again. I think these inlays make my workbench. I love the look of them, not too much embellishment, not too little, they are to my eyes, perfect.

Step 7: Installing an End Cap

This process was straightforward.

Cut a length of hardwood to size, glue and screw it into the end grain. Once the glue was dry, I removed a couple of screws, drilled out the holes and inserted some hardwood dowel in place. When that dowel dried, I repeated the process until all the screws had been replaced. Finally a nice sanding to make sure everything was nice and smooth.

If I was to do it over:

I would make sure the end grain on the dowel aligns! ugh, so obvious now!

Step 8: Applying the Finish

I brushed on two generous coats of Minwax Antique Oil Finish. I bought this at the now defunct Masters hardware stores chain; it was near the end of days at the stores and there wasn’t much left on the shelves. I didn’t have high hopes for this finish seeing as I only paid a couple dollars for it, but after a test on some offcuts I was ecstatic.

You know how when you have been waiting for something for a long time, you have a picture in your mind of what it should look like? For me, my mind pictures a light orange tinge on a workbench with dark contrasting sections. And once this oil was applied what did I end up with? Exactly what I had pictured, I honestly couldn’t be happier with the colour that the bench turned out, I think it looks beautiful.

If I was to do it over:

I would buy 3 cans of this oil!

Step 9: Complete!

I couldn’t be happier with this bench, to me it is amazing. There are always improvements to be made but they will come in time. Dogholes one day, maybe an end vice, definitely shelving underneath it. It will evolve over time and I bet it lasts me 10+ years.

For now I’ll stop talking about my bench now and start using it to build things, but if you have any thoughts please leave a comment here, on my site, or on my youtube channel.

Step 10:

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Runner Up in the
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    59 Discussions

    i love the video of you flipping over the table. Painfully honest. we've all been there but you have the wherewithal to put it online. props to you, man!

    Nice bench! You will enjoy this much more than if you had bought an expensive woodworking bench, I imagine.

    The simple method you used to surface the bench top with the router is a great tip that I plan to use on another style of bench I am working on - thanks.

    If you're happy with the end result and you learnt something along the way - then I'd mark this one down as a success. It would only need to be perfect if you were building it as a show piece to help sell more workbenches.

    This is a great read. I've been looking to make a work bench, and this exact build-up fits my style. You made it cheap, aesthetically pleasing, and solid. I think I'm going to add on twist on mine, and that is to see if I can make mine tilt down for space saving when not in use. Great post.

    Well done.

    I'll echo other comments about your adding all the 'oops' and 'oh wells' because it makes this project a 'must try' (not necessary must do) for all us amateurs. My father-in-law started this way when he retired and after a lot of oops' which we never saw as flaws, he made a long list of our furniture from our boys captain beds to dressers and the custom corner desk I work from in my office. And he will be remembered always as a 'craftsman'.

    Keep up the good work.

    That is a fantastic bench. And this was a wonderful read. Your oops & ah's & oh well's & if I could do it again's made this instructable so helpful to an average putzer like me. I have had a new table top in mind for a long, long time and you just gave me the renewed ambition and tons of knowledge and confidence to get this thing up and running as we speak. These lessons we so well writ. I can't thank you enough. Job well done sir. Your craftsmanship is not too shabby either. 5 1/2 out of 5 stars to this instructable.

    Great job! I'm in the process of making my first workbench (I've been using a folding table, much to my wife's chagrin). I really like how you created the mortises for the legs to show on the bench top. The two-tone staining looks amazing. I will definitely be using that.


    1 year ago

    Looks great and easy enough to build.

    What if you replaced two length of 2x4 for the slab with 2x6 or wider instead of doing mortise and tenons ? Cost would go up a bit. Could actually replace 4 to 'box' the legs in... It would add strength to overall length of table and make the legs easier to fix to the slab. Legs could be removable (screwed/bolted). Most important, there would be no messing around with gaps about any hand made tenons, etc. Less work, less tools and easier / faster to put together ?

    Add a few strategically placed 1/2" (?) through holes to be able to use "dogs" - allow use of removable stops and whatnots to help hold down work pieces ...

    Unfortunately, I just made a 2x4 frame with a sheet of OSB for top. Cost is not much less, making frame square is not easier, ... while strength is a lot less. Its replacement will be based on your design with above tweaks. As you say, just needs resurfacing when the top is too scared from extensive use. It should last for years !

    Hi, Great work bench.

    How did you get the cost below $200?

    From what I can tell you have 4 of 90x90mm x 1.2m pine DAR legs and 15 of 90x45mm x 1.2m pine DAR for the table slab. This costs (4 x $25 + 15 X $12) = $280 at Bunnings just for these items.

    Would love to know what timber you are using and where you sourced it.

    Did the cost include the vice?


    2 replies

    The total cost of the timber was around the $170 mark, it was all standard 90x45 structural timber. I used my Fit It program (http://www.thewoodfather.com/fit-it-free-trial/) to work out the best way of buying the timber. In this case (from memory), I bought 3.6m lengths and chopped them down to size as it was cheapest method I could find. The vice was from Timbecon.com.au, the small one on this page: https://www.timbecon.com.au/clamps-vices/vices-accessories/front-vice-screws

    Thanks for the response. I was looking at Pine DAR which was probably overkill for a workbench. Structural Pine is much more economical.

    Great job!!! This exact type of workbench has been on my to-do list for too long now lol. I had to lol when you said you plained the top with a 1/2" bit.

    2 replies

    I was tempted to go buy a much larger bit, but I can't imagine when I will use it again. $50-$70 for 30 minutes work seems a bit excessive for me. Worked out in the end though!

    Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't buy that bit either just the thought of planing the top with a 1/2" bit made me laugh. Could not have been fun.

    Very neat video and bench - I liked the method of replacing screws with dowels, I will try that on the next appropriate project - thanks!

    1 reply

    :-) I stole that technique from rocking horses which I also build, much easy to screw and glue, and then come back later on and insert a dowel. Seems to be strong enough.

    The only issue here is that I didn't think to line up the end grain on the dowel ends, now I notice it all the time!

    Good Instructable, especially as you called out AND EXPLAINED the errors you made...That way we ALL learned what not to do...Real life..

    So many Instructables are highly polished affairs, with no signs of errors, mistakes or omissions.... Reality TV.

    "Learn from the mistakes of others; you don't have time to make them all yourself"