How to build a simple sturdy workbenchThis article also available in Spanish and French (you too can help with translations)
I had previously posted an article about building this style of workbench, but I recently built another one like this for my friend Roland, this time shooting video of the build. And so I figured I might as well do a more detailed write-up on how to build it using pictures from the video.
To demonstrate that you don't need a workshop full of tools to build one of these, I'm building this one with just a WorkMate, a cheap circular saw, a hand drill, bar clamps, a square, and a chisel.
Getting clean crosscuts is really important. So I made a simple T-square cross-cutting guide by gluing a scrap of plywood across another scrap of wood. Clamping this to the 2x4 gives a good edge to guide the saw.
The guide ends exactly where the saw cuts, so it's just a matter of positioning the edge of the guide against where the cut is to be made.
I'm also adding some screws to the joint (I didn't do this on my last build, but screws make the build much easier). The screws really help to hold the joint together while drilling the dowel holes. I pre-drill a shank hole, 5/32" in size for the #7 drywall screw. I set the drill bit deep into the chuck so that my drill only drills through the first 2x4.
To get more depth with the drill bit, I only partially inserted it into the chuck.
I used a thin stick of wood to spread glue all over the inside of the hole and to the outside of the dowel. Then the dowels are inserted in the holes. I had a tight fit, so I had to drive the dowels in with a hammer!
Two cross pieces attached to one leg, and the other leg already drilled. Here I just took the joint apart again to put glue on the inside surfaces before putting it back together and inserting the dowels.
A chisel is good to scrape the glue soaked sawdust back off, and to flush trim the dowels if you need to.
The doweling is the hardest part of the build. If you aren't up for it, I'd recommend using four or six drywall screws, 3" or 3.5" long instead of two screws and two dowels. Drill a 5/32" shank hole for the screw, and a 3/32" pilot hole in the end grain, just to reduce the chance of splitting the wood with that many screws.
Next I need to cut some dadoes into the long rails. These dadoes aren't strictly necessary, but make for a more secure joint with the legs.
You could also use pocket holes to attach the table top, but I don't have a pocket hole jig, so adding blocks was easier.
It's been suggested that part of the legs should be cut away as well to form a shoulder to help hold up the rails. But this would complicate the build and weaken the dowel joint by cutting away part of it. I find the screws hold up the vertical load just fine.
The workbench top is an old wooden door - one from the 1950s, when they still used 1/4" plywood for the sides of it. It's quite heavy, solid enough to bolt a vise to.
Modern inside doors are too flimsy to use as table tops, but new solid core doors make even better workbench tops.
The last time I built one of these, I just screwed the door on from the top, but my friend has some plywood he wants to put on top of the door, so I figured it's better to screw the door on from below.
An earlier article about building one of these workbenches
Mattias Karlsson's workbench project
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