Work Bench on the Cheap




When we recently moved into our new house, something in the garage was missing. Our old home had a work bench built in the early 50's in the garage and it was wonderful. The perfect size, location and had a sincere level of rustic charm mixed with heavy duty work on it. It didn't hurt that I spilled significant quantities of brake fluid all over doing a bleed either. It gave it an authentic look.

But the new house didn't have one. Which put me in the situation of a.) I needed a place to put tools. Having to traipse all over the garage to find something was getting old in a rush. And b.) I didn't want to spend a whole lot of money. I noticed store bought benches for about $100, I needed to be way less than that. Plus, DIY is so much better than just slapping some kit together. My goal was to build something that was sturdy, size-able and somewhat flexible in terms of where things go. Here is what I came up with.

I've been looking for plans for work benches for a while. This is a culmination of the things that I liked mapped to my size. For a project, it is probably the most simple thing that you can do. Total time, while watching 2 kids and having the battery die on my drill half way through the project was about 4 hours. Aside from splinters, no injuries occurred.

Speaking of injuries, measure twice, cut once, keep your hands out of saw blades, wear eye and ear protection, don't eat after 8pm if you want to lose weight. I'm not liable if any bad things happen as a result of following these plans.

Step 1: Get Your Lumber

Like I mentioned, I wanted to do this on the cheap. While I don't recommend stealing lumber from anywhere, if you're that kind of person, karma will get to you at some point and I'm not worried about it.

If you are a little more honest, wait for a hot day and take a cold case of Gatorade (or beer) over to your local residential construction site and see if you can barter your way into the scrap pile. This is what I did and the guys were more than willing to lend me a hand. I calculated what I would need before I went to the site as I didn't want to appear greedy. Just taking what I need to build my bench.

I got a sheet of plywood, a couple of scrap 4x4's and a few 2x4's. I would have preferred 2x6's, but beggars can't be choosers. My bench is 6' wide by 2 1/2' deep and 38" high. You might be saying that 38" sounds like a fairly unusual number but it is the length of the shortest 4x4 that I was able to get, so 38" worked out well. I think that I originally wanted 39 or 40 inches, but to save a bunch of money, I gave up 2 inches.

As for tools, be sure that you have a couple of good saws (mitre & circular) and a good drill. A carpenters pencil and a t-square are sure handy too. Now that I write this, it is probably safe to say that if you have those tools, you probably don't need an instructable, but hey, I've already started.

Step 2: Danger!!!

One of the downsides of getting free lumber is that the quality isn't quite what you'd get from the lumber yard. There is a reason that it was in the scrap pile and not on the house. In my case, I had to pull a bunch of nails.

Prior to one of my cuts, I noticed that there were some cut nails were in the end of board. Nails + Saw Blade = Major headache. Be careful.

Step 3: Start Cuttin'

Once you have an idea of the size of the bench that you want and have all this lumber stacked up in your back yard, it is time to start cutting things up.

First the legs - I used 4x4's because I think that they look tough and tend to offer a bit more structural support than 2x4's. Plus they were free. Get an idea of the height of the bench that you want and cut the legs to that length. Keep in mind, that there will be a table top and, if you're finicky, keep that 3/4" in mind. If you're more like me, throw caution to the wind and cut the legs to the length that you want. Most people will need 4 legs. If you have less than that, you are either gifted or in trouble.

Next the back braces. Figure out how long you want your bench to be and cut your braces to be this length. My bench is 6 feet long. I also made 3 braces. 2 for the back and one for the front. The two top braces not only give your bench support, but they also act as the support you will attach your top to.

Finally, the side braces. Again, figure out how deep you want your bench to be and cut to that length. you'll need 4 of these puppies. 2 for each side. If you want to put a shelf on the bottom, as I did, it will be where you attach the shelf.

Having a mitre saw is boss and if you've been looking for any excuse to buy one, this is it. Each of these cuts takes about 3 seconds (4x4's) or less. A circular saw on 4x4's is a hassle because you have to cut one side than the other.

Step 4: Check Your Shelf, Before You Wreck Your Shelf

I aligned my legs and squared a brace along them. The goal was to run a level line where I wanted my shelf to be. No messing around with a level when trying to get my shelf braces on.

Step 5: My Co-Pilot

Drill some pilot holes in all of your braces prior to putting it together. It will make things go a lot smoother for you.

As a point of reference, I used 2 1/2 deck screws for everything but attaching the top.

Step 6: Give Your Baby Back

Now that you have all of your pieces cut and you have pilot holes drilled, putting this together is easier than doing a jigsaw puzzle. Simply make the backs, the sides, hook 'em together, slap the top on and you're done.

Put two of your legs on semi-even ground and run two braces along the top. Screw them in. I just eyeballed it to see if they were close to even. If you want to use a square, go for it.

I also eyeballed the lower shelf. I wanted it to be low enough that I could get some larger tools on it, but high enough that it was relevant and provided some strength. I ended up making the bottom of my brace about 12" off of the ground.

Once you screw it all together, you should have what my daughter called a fence.

Step 7: What the 'F'?

It is around this point in which, if you're married, you're wife will stick her head out the window to be sure that a.) you haven't cut anything off and b.) you haven't given up yet. Don't you're almost finished!!!

Build your side supports now. You simply want to make them into 'F' shapes. Now, if you paid attention to step 4 and were careful about how you positioned your table legs, you'll have the exact spot in which to add your side supports.

A word of advice, if you have left over 4x4, put it under the far (non-screwed in) end of your 'F' for support. Otherwise, you'll be trying to drill in supports with your foot underneath one end.

Also, and this is very, very important, make sure to make mirror images of the 'F'. You'll noticed in the photo that I have two of one side. When it came to putting the other side together, I realized what happened and had to take them apart and rebuild.

Now, put this bad boy together. Quick release clamps work great for this. Just align and drill.

Step 8: Cut Your Top and Shelf

Cutting a 4x8 piece of plywood isn't hard, but keeping a straight line is a bit tough for newbies. Be very careful and take all precautions necessary.

At this stage, now that you have the skeleton of your table finished, measure it again to cut the top. Before you cut, measure once more. Just for good measure.

Your top is the easy part. Just bang out a rectangle. Personally, I like to cut the length and then cut the width. No reason.

If you make your table 30" deep, you'll have 18" of your 4' wide piece of plywood left. Follow that? 48 - 30 = 18. You should have 18" left for a nice little shelf. Cool.

Now, you have legs in the way and it probably won't be a big deal, but it will look a bit odd if you ran your shelf up to your legs with a big hole in the back. Plus, from a support standpoint, it will be a lot stronger if you attach your shelf to the braces than let your shelf float.

So here is what you do, if you are using 4x4's for legs, cut a 5x5 square out of the corner of the shelf. It will slide in there real nice.

Finally, put the top on the table. This is the easiest part. I'd recommend screwing it on because it will (should) take a beating and you'll want (need) to replace it at some point.

Step 9: Extra Credit

I needed a place to hang tools, so I built a shelf & peg board area. I really want, and will at some point, build a similar contraption using rare earth magnets & steel sheet metal, but for the weekend, this is what I got.

Build a simple frame and screw down the peg board. Then take some 2x4's and your excess piece of plywood and make a shelf. Screw it to the top of your peg board frame and then screw the whole contraption to the top of your table.

Voila. You're done.
Have a(nother) beer.

Step 10: Follow Up - Things I'd Probably Do Differently

So now that I've had some time to use the bench and sleep on things, there are a couple of things that I would have done differently.

1.) I would have run at least one cross beam for the top. The current model has a little more bounce in it than I would prefer.

2.) I would have anticipated the need for drawers and figured out how to build them. I've built tables with drawers before, but not well. I would have looked into how to do this and made a few nice drawers to store little things like random screws & nails, string and unusual tape.

3.) I've always wanted to have a cool work table that I could roll around my garage. When working on my car (see previously mentioned brake job) it would have been really nice not to have to walk across the garage to dump brake fluid. I think that I would have skipped the top shelf in favor of casters.



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    29 Discussions

    Love the bench, But you can eat after 8 if you want and still loose weight. Not eating causes the body to react to scarcity and it will store calories as fat, but eating smaller meals of whole foods through out the day from waking till sleep will keep the metabolism stoked and burn more calories allowing for weight loss. ;)

    1 reply

    wow. it's like i knew this before, but i always forget. thanks for reminding me and being completely random.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Hey guys, just finished mine with my dad today. Followed our own plans, but yours was the inspiration to do the project. Its pretty sturdy, the most expensive part was screws and peg board. Very pleased with the results.

    What do you guys think?


    May sound like a dumb question but how do you attach the top of the work bench surface? I see some have holes drilled from the top but I am using a butcher block type top and don't want to see holes on the top side that I am going to be working from... Would drilling and using screws from the bottom work and if so how does it screw in since it's not going to have supports in the middle??

    IE: when drilling from the top down you can go into the side pieces of the frame.. from the bottom up you would have to drill a hole in the side all the way UP to the bottom of the work top surface, no?



    6 years ago on Introduction

    Inspired by your posting, I built my own work bench and I just thought I would take a moment to share it with you and anyone who might be interested in seeing it. Thanks a lot for setting me on the path!

    My Bench.jpg
    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Love it. Great work and that amp with the pedals and the chair make for a great side track during long term projects.


    7 years ago on Step 10

    Instead of drawers, I would buy a couple of plastic bins with a fitting drawer size. Then you build a little shelving unit by adding 2 2x4 legs and as many cross beams and shelve as you want drawers. Now stick your stuff in the bins and place the bins on the shelves.

    I like having it that way for 2 reason:

    1) cleaning purposes: it is easy to take a bin out and wash it. I like my stuff clean and spider free.

    2) It is practical to be able to pull the bin and bring it with you say, in the garden cause you have a project and will need hardware or in the living room, ect.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks so much! My roommate and I just busted one out in two hours and it's super sturdy!

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Ronny, glad you guys liked the plan and were able to build a bench. It is great to hear that 3-years later people are still using this plan.

    Thanks for the comment.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Actually, scientists have worked out that it doesn't matter what time you eat, its just that people who eat late at night tend to also each a lot throughout the day as well, which is the real reason for them being fat.

    Mig Welder

    8 years ago on Step 9

    pretty cool. thanks for making the 'ible :D


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the plan Schnaars. I built pretty much to your plan. I just moved into a house and found some 6x6's. Used those as legs and 2x4's as braces. Very quick to build, even with both my batteries dying for my cordless tools. Gonna lag it to the wall and add some braces under the top surface. Thanks again.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Also, I love those plastic resin shelving units, I've already got 3 sets, and will probably get more. They're really useful!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks Schnaars, I built my bench more or less from your plan and it works perfect and its strong. I used 90/90cm legs and the rest 45/100cm 7mm screws cause that was the best available size at the store. I also added extra 3 beams (pic shows 1) up top to support the bench top and strengthen the bench. sorry don,t have a finished pic... but you get the picture thanks again.

    auction 020.jpgauction 021.jpg

    10 years ago on Introduction

    After hunting around the 'net for workbench construction ideas, I came across your instructable. I used it as a jumping off point for my own. Thanks!