Overview: Design and materials
Does your current workbench consist of two sawhorses and an old door slab? Well, my friend, it's time to upgrade. There are hundreds of workbench plans out there, but not many of them call for plywood. Plywood makes a flat, stable work surface, and it doesn't need to be clamped, glued or planed. And it can easily be replaced if it gets too beaten up after years of abuse. If the idea of building drawers makes you break into a cold sweat, then build your workbench with two shelf sections and forget about the drawers. But if your mantra is, “The more storage the better,” then get yourself an additional half sheet each of 3/4-in. and 1/4-in. plywood, and build another two drawer sections to take the place of the lower shelf.
Simple, Sturdy Workbench
You get a workbench plan that's:
- Simple enough to build on a Saturday
- Easy enough for a beginner
- Strong enough to hold a V-8
- Tough enough to last a lifetime
Simple Workbench Components
4 legs, 2 boxes and a top: That's all there is to it. The legs are just 2x4s screwed together. The shelf and work surface could be constructed as simple boxes or made with drawer components. It's a perfect project for a beginner but a great bench for even the most advanced DIYer.
Step 1: Cut out the workbench parts
It's always nice to cut as many parts as possible before starting the assembly. That way, you can set aside the dust mask, safety glasses and hearing protection for longer periods of time, and the air isn't continually filled with sawdust. Cut everything except the lengths of the drawer components. In case things get a little out of whack during assembly, you'll be able to measure and fit the drawers to the actual openings.
Mark the cutting lines for your big sheets with a chalk line. Use a framing square to mark the lines for the smaller components, but don't forget that the blade will remove about 1/8 in. on every pass, so either add that space when you're marking, or mark and cut one at a time.
Start with the shelf top (C). Cut the whole length of the plywood. You'll have to freehand this one, but don't worry if your cut isn't perfect. The cut edge will be down low and backed up against the wall. Use the factory edge of the shelf top as a guide to cut the three other larger pieces (A, B, D; Photo 1). Think you might have trouble lugging around full sheets of plywood? Some home centers will cut them up for you if you ask.
After cutting the big parts to length, you'll have some medium-size chunks of plywood you can use as a guide to cut the smaller components, or you can clamp down your framing square as a guide. Next, cut the 2x4 legs (L). You can get two legs out of each 8-ft. 2x4 with about a 2-ft. piece left over. Set aside the remaining four 2-ft. pieces for use later. Cut the 2x4s that make up the shelf and drawer compartment frames (M—Q), starting with the long boards first.
For the names of the parts and their dimensions, see the Cutting List in “Additional Information” below. You can download and enlarge Fig. A Simple Workbench in “Additional Information” below.
The Cutting Diagram shows how to cut one sheet of 3/4-in. plywood. The second 3/4-in. sheet is much simpler: just cut lengthwise to yield parts C and D. Cut the drawer bottoms (J and K) from a 4 x 4-ft. sheet of 1/4-in. plywood.
You can download and enlarge the Cutting Diagram in “Additional Information” below.
Step 2: Assemble the shelf section and drawer section
Use the benchtop (D) as a temporary workbench (if you don’t have a door slab). Join the 2x4 frame with one 3-in. screw in the middle of each corner. This will reduce the chances that screws will collide when you attach the legs. Secure the plywood shelf to the frame using 1-5/8- in. screws about 12 in. apart. Use glue on every joint except the top sheet of plywood—you may want to replace it someday.
Assemble the three 2x4s that make up the drawer compartment frame (M, N) with one 3-in. screw at both corners. Mark lines for the location of the drawer dividers (E). Driving screws into the end grain of plywood can cause it to split. You can avoid this by predrilling holes with a 1/8-in. drill bit. Attach the plywood drawer dividers to the frame using two 3-in. screws in each one (Photo 2).
Lay the drawer compartment bottom (B) on top of the frame, and mark lines on the front of the plywood to line up the front of the drawer dividers. Then mark lines across the top of the plywood for the location of the screws. Clamp the box down with the drawer dividers aligned, then predrill holes for the dividers (Photo 3). You can often eliminate small warps and bows in the plywood by starting at one end and working your way down the line. Screw the plywood down with 1-5/8- in. screws. Space the screws about 12 in. apart the long way and 8 in. the short.
Before you repeat the process to attach the top of the drawer compartment, install screen mold on each end of the drawer compartment with 3d 1-1/4-in. brad nails. This will help the outside drawers slide in straight once the legs are installed.
Step 3: Attach the legs and shelf
Preassemble the legs with three 3-in. screws in each leg. Flip the drawer box upside down. Position the legs so the seams are facing the ends of the workbench. Secure the legs with two 3-in. screws on each side of each leg. Use a framing square as a guide (Photo 4). Next, cut the four 2x4s you have left over from the legs to 16 in., and use them as temporary spacers for the shelf. Secure the shelf to the legs with two 3-in. screws on each side (Photo 5).
Step 4: Install the top and trim molding
Before you screw down the benchtop, predrill holes for the screw eyes that will act as drawer stops. Drill two 3/32-in. holes for each drawer opening, 2 in. in from the sides and 1-1/2 in. from the front (see Figure A). Align the benchtop flush with the back legs and even on each side. Secure it with a row of 1-1/4-in. screws down the front, back and middle, spaced about every 16 in. Again, you'll have more luck getting a flatter surface by starting at one end and working your way down the line.
Attach the screen mold to the end grain of the plywood. Don't worry about the back side if your bench is going to sit against a wall. Nail on the screen mold pieces with 1-1/4-in. brads (Photo 6).
Step 5: Build the drawers
Double-check the sizes of your drawer openings, and cut each drawer bottom width 1/4 in. smaller than its opening. Cut the sides of the drawers (F) so they will be exposed at the front. This won't look as nice, but it will make the drawer front stronger and keep it from pulling off after you fill the drawer with heavy tools and hardware.
Glue and clamp the drawer sides together, but before you nail them, attach the bottom with 1-1/4-in. brads. Remove one clamp and set the drawer on edge with the other clamp hanging off the side of the workbench. Nail each corner together with three 1-1/4-in. brads. Remove the other clamp, and nail the remaining two corners together. Work fast so the glue doesn't set up before you get it all put together. Repeat the process for the other three drawers (Photo 7).
Step 6: Apply the finish
It's hard to stain plywood without its looking blotchy, so after sanding down the rough and sharp edges, we finished our workbench with Minwax PolyShade, a combination stain and polyurethane. It can be brushed on like regular polyurethane but adds a little color in the process. We did one coat on the whole bench and then added a couple more coats of regular polyurethane to the work surfaces. Apply an extra coat or two to the bottom of the legs so they won't wick up moisture from your garage floor.
Attach the drawer pulls. We chose chest handles instead of standard drawer pulls because of their low profile. They won't get in the way when you're clamping projects down to the front edge of the workbench.
Install the screw eyes/drawer stops after you insert the drawers. You may need a small screwdriver for leverage on the last few turns. All that's left is to show off your handiwork to your wife or neighbor, and get started using your new workbench on your next project.