Configurable Table/Shelf/Bench With Generated Material and Cut Lists




About: I've been a software developer my whole life, studied computer science with a focus on 3D graphics in college, was an effects artist for Dreamworks Animation and have taught technology to kids and adults he...

For a while now, I've needed a place where I can work on miscellaneous projects. I plan to do anything from soldering up a PCB, to building a table, to 3D printing a prototype. I've been eager to get started on organizing and setting up a workspace in my garage and the last time my dad was in town was the perfect opportunity to start making saw dust and actually build something. My dad found a tutorial online that demonstrated how to make a nice long work bench with strong ties, 2x4s and plywood. I had something else in mind for my work bench, but I'd been meaning to build a table for a small table saw that a friend gave me, so we got started with that in mind. We ended up going with a 36" wide x 36" deep x 36" tall table. We planned for a shelf that the table saw could sit on and the top of the saw would be flush with the top of the table. I still haven't cut the hole out of the top because I like it the way it is for now. The table design is simple, but functional, quick to make and easily adapted to your specific needs.

I try to find a way to incorporate coding into my projects, so I created an interactive work table design widget, set initially to the dimensions that I built my table to, but you can easily adjust the parameters to suit your needs and it will generate personalized dimensions for you. This means you can use the widget to design yourself a bench, a table, or a shelf and all the required materials, including screws, strong ties and lumber will be generated for you with a cut list for every board you'll need. Watch the video above to see how I used the widget to generate the cut list for a sturdy step stool. Follow along with the rest of the steps to see how to make the work table.

I hope you enjoy this Instructable! Please consider voting for it in the Tables and Desks contest.

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Step 1: Design Your Table, Shelf or Bench

Head over to my blog post where you'll be presented with an interactive 3D widget with configurable parameters. You can change any parameter you'd like, click the update button and the 3D model and material list will be updated. Each shelf height is the distance from the ground, or 0 if you don't want the shelf. You'll notice that my configuration of 36 inches in all dimensions doesn't fit well into 4'x8' sheets of plywood. I wasn't worried about waste as I plan to use the excess plywood for other projects, but you might consider changing the dimensions to fit into a single sheet. For example, let's say you still wanted 3 shelves (the table top and the two below it), and wanted to minimize wasted plywood. You could set the width to 31.875" (including an 1/8" for the saw blade that comes to 32", 1/3 of a 96" sheet). Then you could set the depth to be 48" and you'll see that an entire sheet of plywood is fully utilized. Similarly, if you wanted 4 shelves, you could set the width to 23.875" and the depth to 48" and it would still only take a single sheet of plywood (or 47.875" for the width and 23.875" for depth depending on which way you want the grain of your wood to be going). I specifically wanted 36"x36"x36", but you can tweak all you want to optimize your table, shelf or bench the way you want it.

Step 2: Gather Tools

  • Miter saw - Used to cut our 2x4s.
  • Circular Saw - Used to cut our plywood.
  • Impact Driver - Used to screw everything together.
  • Jigsaw - With this, we cut out notches in the corner of the plywood shelves.
  • Saw horses - Saw horses were key to being able to cut the plywood.
  • Tape Measure - Used to measure everything. This one is especially thick, which allows it to span 11 feet or more while unsupported.
  • Clamps - Clamps are always useful when woodworking. We used these to clamp down straight edges when cutting the plywood and for holding joists in place temporarily.

Step 3: Gather and Cut Materials

All of the required boards and how to cut them is listed under the widget, along with the number of screws and strong ties. Your local hardware store may be able to cut the plywood for you. I had them cut my plywood to 36"x96", but then did the rest of the cutting myself.

Here are some links to the screws and strong ties. They come in different package configurations so you can mix and match, or optimize your design to use what comes in a certain pack:

Step 4: Construct Each Shelf From Bottom Up

Note that the pictures above do not follow all my instructions below. I made the mistake of attaching all the strong ties for every shelf before attaching any of the supports or plywood. I ended up having to remove some of the strong ties before I was able to insert the plywood on the lower shelves. Don't make the same mistake, and instead build each shelf from the bottom up.

Under the widget is a list of dimensions labeled H-* (where * is the same letter assigned in the plywood cutting diagram). These dimensions represent where the top of each 2x4 should be when attached to a strong tie. Fit a 2x4 (could be a piece of scrap or one of your cut pieces, this is just temporary) into the strong tie and slide it up the leg (labeled A). When the top of the 2x4 is at the required dimension, screw the strong tie to the leg. We'll do this for every shelf, but start with the bottom shelf as it can be difficult to get your plywood into place after attaching strong ties further up. Once the strong ties are attached to the legs, attach boards labeled B and C to the strong ties. Boards labeled B span the width of the table and boards labeled C span the depth of the table.

Use a piece of 2x4 to trace out notches in the corners of the plywood (you'll do this for every shelf except the very top one). Make sure the notches go the same direction as the legs. To do so, I recommend placing the plywood sheet on top of the legs and making sure the 2x4 you're tracing is aligned correctly with the leg beneath it. Use a jigsaw to cut out the notches. Then put the shelf into place and screw it down using a screw roughly every foot (you can use more if you like, but screw calculation assumes no more than one screw every foot).

Step 5: You're Done!

The top of the table won't have notches in it, so just place it on top and screw it down. You now have your completed table (or shelf or bench)!

I hope you enjoyed this Instructable! Please consider voting for it in the Tables and Desks contest.

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    6 Discussions


    2 years ago

    I love that configurator. Nice work! I need a router table and I think I might be able to adapt this to such a purpose.

    1 reply

    2 years ago

    Oh, favoriting this one! Looks like an easy and solid build and I still need a worktable in my garage. :D

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks Jessy! Yes, it's very sturdy and easy to customize to your space. I'd love to see pictures if you end up making it :)


    2 years ago

    Very cool. I enjoyed your customizable work bench instructable too. You're on a roll. Good projects; keep it up! :)

    1 reply