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DIY Workbench Upgrades

Our favorite ways to add storage, convenience and handy features to any workbench

FH09JUN_BESBEN_01-2Family Handyman
Upgrade any workbench with these DIY enhancements. 7 simple projects enhance functionality and increase the storage capacity of your workbench. Most can be built in a day; some in less than 15 minutes!

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Time
One day
Complexity
Moderate
Cost
$20 – $100

Workbench Upgrades

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 screws.

Easiest add-on drawers

Hard-working storage drawers

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

Shallow storage drawers

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.

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 2×4 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

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 they're needed.

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 isn't necessary.

Our favorite 15-minute workbench accessory: A tool tray

Handy 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 1×4 and two 1x3s 24 in. long and nail the 1x3s to the sides of the 1×4. Cut two pieces of 1×3 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

Shopmade bench dogs

A vise paired with bench dogs works great to hold large projects.

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 2×4 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 workbench.

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

A simple stop or outfeed support for your miter saw

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

Simple board jack

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 1×3 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.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Brad nail gun
  • Circular saw
  • Corded drill
  • Jigsaw
A table saw would be handy

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • 1 sheet of 3/4“ plywood