Overview: A compact garage workbench when space is limited
The last time I stopped in at my sister's house, my brother-in-law was on the garage floor putting together a tricycle for his grandson. They had recently moved into a new house, and apparently his last garage workbench hadn't made the trip. I decided to build him a new one.
Space was a major consideration. I wanted to build a workbench big enough to be useful, but there was only a few feet between the garage wall and the front of their parked cars. Money was also a concern—I didn't want to spend a lot of it. He is, after all, my brother-in-law. Finally, I wanted something easy and fun to build. I came up with an inexpensive design with a top that will work fine for smaller jobs. It has an additional top that folds up for those larger projects…like assembling a tricycle.
What it takes
Time: One day, not including the paint and varnish
Cost: $135, including the hardware but not the finish
Skill level: Beginner to intermediate
Tools: Circular saw, drill and jigsaw
Fold-Up Garage Workbench
Extra work surface when you need it; extra parking space when you don’t.
Figure A: Simple Garage Workbench
Overall Dimensions: 60-1/2" wide x 34-3/4" high x 32" deep (or 16" deep, folded) You can download and enlarge Figure A in “Additional Information” below. You can also download a Cutting List in “Additional Information” which contains all part dimensions.
Garage Workbench Plywood Cutting Diagrams
The diagram shows the 3/4-in. plywood parts. The 1/4-in. parts are not shown.
You can download and enlarge the Cutting Diagrams in "Additional Information" below.
Step 1: Gather materials for your garage workbench and assemble the main components
Build the top and bottom
Gather the materials for the garage workbench using the complete Materials List that you'll find in 'Additional Information' below. Then cut the 3/4-in. plywood parts to size following the Cutting List and Cutting Diagrams that you’ll find below and also in "Additional Information." Cut a 15-in. x 8-ft. strip out of the 1/4-in. plywood to use as drawer bottoms. The leftover is the perfect width for the back (E); it just needs to be ripped down to length. Don't cut the drawer fronts until after the workbench carcass is assembled.
Cut the 2x4s that make up the top and bottom frames (F and G). Assemble them with two 3-in. screws into each end. The studs I used were made from Douglas fir, which is strong but brittle, so to prevent splitting, I predrilled the screw holes with a 1/8-in. bit. Fasten the plywood top and bottom (A and C) to the frames with 1-5/8-in. screws. I countersunk the screws on the top so I could fill them with wood filler. I used wood glue in addition to screws throughout this project.
Attach the sides
Lay the top upside down and attach the sides (B) with six 1-5/8- in. screws. Flip the sides and top upside down and set it on the flattest surface available, then attach the bottom with 1-5/8-in. screws as well. Try to position the wood with the fewest flaws toward the front (Photo 1).
Step 2: Fasten the shelf and drawer divider
Cut a couple of scrap 2x4s to the same height as your drawer divider (D). Use the divider on one side and the 2x4 scraps on the other as guides to achieve the proper height for your shelf (C). Predrill 1/8-in. holes through the plywood into the shelf before installing the four 1-5/8-in. screws (see Photo 2). Use a framing square to mark the location of the drawer divider. Predrill holes through the plywood and into the divider before securing it in place with four 1-5/8-in. screws on both the top and bottom.
Step 3: Attach the back and build the drawers
Attach the backUse a framing square to make sure everything is all squared up before you fasten the back (E). If you don't have a framing square, you can measure diagonally from top to bottom both ways. If the numbers aren't the same, tweak it one way or the other until they are. Don't glue the back on—you'll want to be able to remove it when it's time to paint and stain. Predrill the holes, then fasten the back with 1-1/4-in. trim screws.
Build your drawers
Make your drawer guides (K) out of 1x6s. Rip them down to 7/8 in. and align them all so the drawers will rest on the larger side. Rip down a sacrificial chunk of plywood to 5-7/8 in. to use as a spacer to achieve the proper height for the drawer guides (Photo 3). Screw the guides on with 1-1/4-in. trim screws. Don't forget the glue; screws alone won't be sufficient to hold a drawer full of heavy tools.
There is enough plywood left over on this project to build all the drawer frames, but 1x6s happen to be the perfect size. So for an extra $15, you don’t have to rip down a bunch more plywood. Build the drawer boxes so there is at least a 1/8-in. gap on each side of the drawer. Use 1-5/8-in. screws to assemble the frames and 1-1/4-in. screws to attach the bottom. Then mount the drawer fronts (Photo 4).
Figure B: Drawer Construction
You can download and enlarge Figure B in "Additional Information" below. You'll find the part dimensions in the Cutting List in "Additional Information."
Step 4: Install the folding top
Flip the bench upside down, and butt the folding top (A) tight up against the permanent one. To ensure that the screws start straight, mark the hinge screw locations with a pencil, and use a nail set to create a starter hole. Use 3/4-in. screws to fasten the hinges to the folding top—the ones that come with the hinges will likely poke through.
Step 5: Cut and assemble the support arms
After cutting the support arms (H) to length, use a compass to mark a half-circle on one end of the arms, and then trim them with a jigsaw. Cut a 45-degree angle on the other side. With the bench still upside down and the support arm clamped down about 1 in. in from the back of the bench, predrill a 1/4-in. hole for the lag/pivot screw. Start the hole at the center of the circle you made at the end of the arm. Drill through the arm and into the bench.
Next, install the lag screws with a washer on both sides of each arm. Check to see that they swing back and forth freely. You may have to trim a little off if they rub on the bench top. When you drill holes for the hitch pins, make sure you avoid the 3-in. screws that hold the top frame together (Photo 6).
Step 6: Fasten the brace and molding and apply a finish
Fasten the brace board and screen mold
Glue, clamp and screw on the benchtop brace board (J). The brace board should be at least 1/4 in. shorter than the opening of the area above the shelf. If you countersink 3/8-in. holes in the bottom of the brace, 1-5/8-in. screws will work from the bottom up. Screen molding (Q) helps protect the exposed plywood edges of the bench tops. Install the molding with the folding top up. Leave a small gap between the two tops so the molding doesn’t bind when the top is folded down. Use glue and brad nails, or use a trim gun if you have one.
To finish the workbench carcass, I used a primer formulated for raw wood, and enamel paint for durability. Be sure to paint the bottom to prevent moisture from wicking up into the raw wood. I used satin polyurethane for the tops and drawer fronts. I also used poly on areas the drawers come in contact with (painted parts tend to stick together). If the drawers start to bind, try a coating of shellac on the drawers and drawer guides.