To find the best ideas for simple
workbench upgrades, we sampled
the workbenches of our
staff and pro friends. No matter what kind
of workbench you have, you can add one
or all of these improvements to make your
bench more functional and fun to use.
The largest project here, the three rollout
drawers, only requires one sheet of
3/4-in. plywood and less than a day to
build. The rest of the projects require even
less time and materials. You could build
any of these projects with basic carpentry
tools and a circular saw, drill and jigsaw.
But a table saw will simplify the process
by adding speed and accuracy. And, of
course, a pneumatic trim nailer would be
handy for building the shallow drawers
and for tacking together the roll-out
drawers before you strengthen them with
Easiest add-on drawers
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Hard-working storage drawers
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Attach the casters
Build basic plywood boxes and screw on
the casters. Carefully align the casters
parallel to the box sides so the drawers
roll smooth and straight.
These roll-out drawers are easy—you
don't even have to mount them to the
bench. They're just sturdy boxes that
ride on 2-in. casters. Measure from
the floor to the bottom shelf of your
workbench and subtract 3-1/4 in. to
figure the height of the boxes. Then
subtract 3/4 in. from this measurement
to determine the height of the
drawer front, back and sides. Next,
decide how many drawers you want
and calculate the widths. Allow for a
1/2-in. space between drawers.
Cut the parts and screw them
together. Then measure the width
and length of the box and cut the bottom.
Screw on the bottom and cut a
handhold in the front of the drawer
with a jigsaw. Finish up by screwing
2-in. fixed (not swiveling!) casters to
the bottom of the drawer as shown.
Our favorite convenience feature: Shallow drawers
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Shallow storage drawers
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Photo 1: Install special pencil drawer slides
Mount the drawers with special “pencil
drawer” slides. These slides include
hanger brackets, so you don't have to build
extra parts just to attach drawer slides.
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Photo 2: Install the drawers
Prop up the drawer and screw it to the
underside of the workbench. Add
crosspieces if there's nothing to screw into.
Every bench needs easy-access storage
for all the odds and ends that would otherwise
clutter the benchtop. These shallow
drawers, which mount directly
under the benchtop, fit the bill perfectly.
There's no fancy joinery on these
drawers. And the special pencil drawer
slides simplify mounting. We used
22-in.-deep drawer slides and built the
drawers 22 in. deep to match.
You can build the drawers up to
about 30 in. wide, but remember to
allow a few inches of space on each
side for the mounting hardware. Rip
strips of 3/4-in. plywood or solid lumber
to 3-1/4 in. wide for the front, sides
and back. Cut the sides 22 in. long and
the front and back pieces 1-1/2 in. less
than the desired width of the drawer.
Glue and nail the sides to the front and
back. Then measure the width and
length of the drawer and cut a bottom
from 1/4-in. plywood. Glue and nail
the bottom to the assembled frame. If
you're careful to cut the bottom piece
perfectly square, your drawer will be
square. Or you can hold one side and
the drawer front against a framing
square while you nail on the bottom.
Photo 1 shows how to attach the
drawer slide. Line up the bottom of the
slide with the seam between the drawer
bottom and drawer side. If you don't
have 2x4 crosspieces under your bench,
add them in the location of the drawer
hardware. Then prop up the drawer in
the right spot and screw through the
brackets into the crosspieces (Photo 2).
Finish by cutting drawer fronts that are
1-1/2 in. longer and 1/2 in. taller than
the drawer. Attach the drawer front from
the back with 1-1/4-in. screws driven
through the front of the drawer box.
Best benchtop space-saver: Removable mounting boards
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Mounting board for a grinder
You can make several boards and when not in use, store them on the side of your bench.
When you want to use the whole top
of your workbench, a permanently
mounted vise or grinder just gets in the
way. Free up space by mounting your
grinder and vise to a double-thick piece
of 3/4-in. plywood and hanging them
on the end of your workbench until
Cut four 20-in.-long x 12-in.-wide
pieces of 3/4-in. plywood. Glue and
nail them together in pairs to make two
1-1/2-in.-thick slabs. Transfer the location
of the mounting holes on your vise
and grinder to the plywood. Use a 1-in.
spade bit to drill a 1/2-in.-deep recess
at each hole location. Then drill
through the plywood with a 3/8-in. bit
and mount the tools with 3/8-in. bolts,
washers and nuts. Position the recess
on the side of the plywood opposite the
tool to ensure a flush surface.
We screwed a double-thick piece of
3/4-in. plywood to the end of the workbench
to make a sturdy mounting plate,
but your workbench may not need this.
Any strong, flat surface will work. Drill
two 1/2-in. holes into each tool holder
and mark matching hole locations on
the mounting plate. Drill 3/8-in. holes
at the marks and attach 3/8-in. bolts
with nuts and washers. We recessed
the nuts in the mounting plate so the
tool holders would sit flush, but this
Our favorite 15-minute workbench accessory: A tool tray
This tool tray is so simple to build that you can have it mounted in
about 15 minutes, start to finish. It's a great place to keep small,
commonly used tools handy but off the benchtop. And it keeps pencils
and other small tools from rolling or getting knocked off the
bench and landing on the floor where you can't find them.
Building the tray couldn't be simpler. Just cut a 1x4 and two 1x3s
24 in. long and nail the 1x3s to the sides of the 1x4. Cut two pieces
of 1x3 5 in. long and nail
them to the ends to complete
the tray. Screw the
tray to the end of your
workbench and you'll
never waste time searching
for a pencil again.
Most versatile hold-down system
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Shopmade bench dogs
A vise paired with bench dogs works great to hold large projects.
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Close-up of bench dog
You don't need a super-expensive
vise or fancy clamps to hold large
projects while you work on them. An
inexpensive woodworker's vise
paired with shop-made bench dogs
will do the trick. We ordered this
Adjustable Clamp medium-duty vise
online (from 7corners.com; 800-328-0457). You may have to cut and
notch your workbench to make the
vise fit. The goal is to align the top of
the jaw flush with the top of the
bench. If your workbench is
less than 3/4 in. thick, reinforce
it by gluing and screwing
a 2x4 block underneath
the vise area. Then drill 1-in.
holes 1/2 in. deep to recess
the mounting bolt holes, and
bolt the vise to the top of the
You can extend the versatility of
your woodworker's vise by drilling a
series of 3/4-in. holes 4 in. apart in
your benchtop. Drill the holes in a
line at a right angle to the clamp jaws
and centered on the sliding steel dog
built into the vise. You can buy plastic
or metal bench dogs to fit the
holes, or make some simple plywood
and dowel dogs like ours.
To make a bench dog, rip a scrap of
plywood to 2-1/2 in. wide. Set your
miter saw to 10 degrees and cut a
2-1/2-in. length from the strip of plywood
to form a 2-1/2-in. square with
one beveled side. Drill a 3/4-in. hole
in the center of the plywood square
and glue a 4-in. length of 3/4-in. hardwood
dowel into the hole. The short
side of the bevel should be on the
side with the dowel extending from
it. Face the beveled side of the bench
dog toward the piece you're clamping.
The bevel keeps the workpiece
From sliding up and over the dog.
Our favorite double-duty bench stop
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A simple stop or outfeed support for your miter saw
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Cut the slots
Cut slots in a piece of 3/4-in. plywood
and attach it to your bench with bolts
and wing nuts. Drill 3/8-in. starter holes.
Then cut the slots with a jigsaw.
Here's a simple add-on that can do
double duty as a stop or outfeed support
for your miter saw. Elevate the
sliding piece of plywood slightly
above the work surface and use it to
keep your work from sliding backward
while you're belt sanding. Or
adjust it upward to match the height
of your miter saw bed and use it as a
support for long stock.
Cut a piece of plywood 8 in. wide
x 20 in. long. Then mark 3/8-in.-wide
slots 2 in. from each end and 1 in.
from the top and bottom. Drill 3/8-in.
starter holes and cut the slots with a
jigsaw as shown below. Use the completed
bench stop as a pattern to
mark the bolt locations.
We screwed 5/16-in. x 4-1/2-in.
hanger bolts into our thick workbench
top, but you may have to use
another method on your workbench.
Hanger bolts have wood threads on
one end and machine threads on the
other. Drill a 7/32-in. starter hole.
Then thread two nuts onto the bolt
and tighten them against each other.
Now place a wrench on the outermost
nut and screw in the hanger
bolt. Leave 1-1/4 in. of the bolt protruding.
Remove the nuts. Mount the
bench stop to the bolts with washers
and wing nuts.
Simplest support for long boards
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Install the beveled strip and install the board jack
Mount a board jack to the front of
your workbench and use it with
your vise to support your work.
Screw a beveled strip to the front
of your workbench. Then build the
board jack and hook it over the top
to support your work.
Have you ever needed to hold a long board or door on edge to work on
it but struggled to find a good method? If you have a woodworker's
vise, adding this board jack is an easy solution. The board jack shown
hooks onto the beveled support strip and slides along it to adjust for
the length of the workpiece. The 3/4-in. dowel adjusts up and down to
accommodate different widths.
Start by ripping a 45-degree angle on a 1x3 board or strip of plywood.
Screw the strip to the front of your workbench. Then build
a board jack like the one shown. Drill 3/4-in. holes every 6 in. and
insert a 4-in. dowel in the hole to support your work. Adjust the length
of the standoff to hold the board jack plumb on your workbench.