Modular Workbench

Five foldout features make this bench a perfect project for even small shop spaces.

Workbench for a small space. A fold-out work table, a roll out table saw stand, a miter box table and lots of storage—cabinets, drawers, pegboard and shelves. All inexpensive and easy to build. Ideal for a garage or other limited shop space.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine






$100 - $500

Step 1: Design to fit your garage

If the hassle of clearing a workspace is making you put off that project you've been promising your significant other for weeks, have we got a project for you! Here's a workbench design that's ready when you are. This bench layout lets you quickly fold out, slide out and pivot into position all the tools and work areas you need. When you're done for the day, you can have everything stashed neatly away five minutes after you hear the dinner bell. Tons of tool and storage space on a lower shelf, in under-the bench roll-out drawers, inside low-cost upper utility cabinets and on Peg-Board will organize your tools and help your projects go faster.

Best of all, the workbench is cheap and easy to build. And even though the bench is 16 ft. long, you can haul all the materials home from the lumberyard in just one pickup load. Plus, no fancy tools or know-how are required—just basic carpentry tools, a screw gun and a circular saw. Round up a free weekend to put this workbench together and you'll be knocking out that long-awaited baby crib (or is the kid already in eighth grade?) by Sunday night.

First make sure it (and your car) fits
The beauty of this garage workbench is that it takes advantage of that narrow space between the garage door and the side wall most garages have. But you can put it wherever you have 16-plus ft. of wall space. The bench is divided into four equal-size bays, so you can shorten it by one or more bays, or reconfigure the tool and workspace positions.

Our garage had a 30-in. space open between the door and the side wall, so we built a 16-ft. long by 2-ft. deep bench. Alter the bench depth to suit the available space. Go out into your garage, lay out the entire plan on the floor with masking tape and consider the following:

Car parking. Pretend that the bench is in place with the car parked in its normal spot. If you can comfortably open the door and exit the car without maneuvering like a circus contortionist, you're in good shape. But if you have to make the bench narrower, you can. If your garage is like most people's, you probably already have 2 ft. worth of rakes, lawn mowers and bikes to negotiate.

Miter saw depth. Check the operating depth of your miter saw. If you have one of the new slide miter saws, you may need more bench depth, but if you have a conventional miter saw, you may be able to make the bench narrower. The limiting factor is the depth of your saw. Set it as close to a wall as you can, then measure the distance to the mounting holes in the front of the base. That's how narrow your bench can be.

Step 2: Assemble the basic bench

The height of this bench is 38 in., a comfortable working height for most people. If you prefer a lower work surface, you can lower the bench. However, be aware that alterations also affect the dimensions of the table saw module (Fig. B) and the depth of the under-bench drawers (Fig. C), the flip-up assembly table (Fig. D), and the slide-out drawer panel (Fig. E).

The workbench/miter saw table, made entirely from 2x4s and 3/4-in. plywood, is the basic framework for all the other features. An alcove allows the miter saw to be set below the bench top, making the miter saw table even with the bench (Fig. A). That way, the bench serves as a support table when you're cutting long stock. To help hold long material square to the saw fence, screw a 2x2 to the bench for an extended fence (Photo 5). Miter saw tables vary greatly in height depending on the brand. Customize the alcove to get the right height. In our design, a piece of plywood screwed to the underside of the bench creates a 4-1/4 in. deep recess. Measure the height of your miter saw table to determine how much to shim up the base of the saw to make it even with the table. If your miter saw table is higher than 4-1/4 in., you'll have to shim between the underside of the bench and the plywood base. Make the miter saw removable for those on-the-road jobs by installing T-nuts and wing screws.

When installing the bench framework, don't assume your garage floor is level. Most likely it's sloped toward the garage door. Draw a level reference line on the wall (Photo 2) to keep the shelf and bench level.

Figure A: Basic Bench and Miter Saw Table

Assemble the workbench from 2x4s and 3/4-in. plywood.

Note: You can download Figure A and enlarge it in the Additional Information below.

Basic bench and miter saw table

Step 3: Build the table saw module

Portable table saws are always the toughest kind to set up and use. The base slides all over the place while you're ripping and there never seems to be a place to store it.

Operating a table saw mounted in this module is a snap. It has a built-in outfeed support table and storage for accessories and blades. It even sports a removable sawdust collection drawer. Hinges on one end and pivoting wheels on the other make it a cinch to swing out. Once it's out, flip up the outfeed support table and lock it into position with a simple gate latch for a rock-solid table saw station. Its location near the garage door lets you open the door for room to rip the longest wood the lumberyard sells. Quick-release wing screws attach the saw to the table for easy removal and portability (Photo 9).

Our garage had plenty of room behind the table saw to feed in long stock, and we could open the overhead door to feed the material out toward the driveway. If your proposed location is tight, you can move the table saw to a different bay or eliminate it entirely. Depending on your portable table saw, you may have to customize the dimensions of the module. Pay attention to the height of your saw to make sure it'll clear the workbench above when it's put away. Also adjust the outfeed table to make it even with the saw table. Some table saws have larger cases that may also require a deeper base to rest the saw on.

Figure B: Pivot-out Table Saw Module

Assemble the table saw module following Figure B.

Note: You can download Figure B and enlarge it in the Additional Information below.

Pivot-out table saw module

Step 4: Assemble the roll-out drawers

These simple-to-build drawers take advantage of space that's normally wasted. Plywood bases, 1x6 sides and wheels eliminate the tricky steps that go into most drawer construction. The parallel, fixed wheels make the drawer roll smoothly on the garage floor.

Figure C: Under-bench Roll-out Drawer

The drawers are simple boxes on wheels.

Note: You can download Figure C and enlarge it in the Additional Information below.

Under-bench roll-out drawers

Step 5: Build the flip-up assembly table

The 2-ft. wide bench (generally cluttered with materials and tools) doesn't give much space for assembly work. But when you add the flip-up assembly table, you'll have room to put together all but the largest projects. Best of all, it folds down out of the way when it comes time to put the car away. Double-layered glued and screwed 3/4-in. plywood and 2x4 support legs make it sturdy enough to support even the heaviest project. A 1x4 edge band glued to the three exposed sides helps prevent warpage and keeps your fingers splinter-free. It's best if you can access the flip up workbench from all three sides. We couldn't do that with our bench, but if you can keep the end of your bench at least 3 ft. from the rear garage wall, so much the better.

Figure D: Flip-up Assembly Table

The double 3/4-in. plywood top makes this table stiff and strong.

Note: You can download Figure D and enlarge it in the Additional Information below.

Step 6: Make slide-out drawer panels

If you're sick and tired of scrounging for the right nail, screw, nut, bolt or whatever, you'll love the slide-out drawer panel. Adding this panel is as easy as toenailing in a couple of backer boards and fastening a pair of 22-in. drawer slides ($15 per pair) to a piece of plywood. You can mount just about any store bought plastic storage or homemade plywood storage bins right on the surface of the plywood. Mount them to any bench leg for even more hardware storage. Their under-bench location will keep the containers from filling with sawdust.

Figure E: Slide-out Drawer Panel

Mount the plywood panels with standard drawer slides.

Note: You can download Figure E and enlarge it in the Additional Information below.

Slide-out drawer panel

Step 7: Hang wall cabinets

Any wall cabinets (have any of your friends remodeled their kitchen lately?) will work for overhead storage, but we chose to buy 54-in. wide by 30-in. tall utility cabinets at our local home center. Inside, we wired an outlet to give the battery-powered tools their own sawdust-free home and recharging station. In another cabinet we cut a 5-in. hole in the side for a convenient rag dispenser.

Wiring Your Workspace

If you ever plan to heat the space, consider insulating and finishing off the wall behind the bench now. It's also a good idea to prewire the wall before starting the bench. That means planning and installing the wiring for undercabinet and hanging lights, four-way outlets above the bench, outlets inside cabinets for recharging stations, dedicated compressor and table saw outlets, and outlets for drop cords. Other electrical tips:

  • Finished walls. If your wall is finished, surface-mount strip outlets and boxes, then fish wires through the walls to the main panel.
  • Cold-weather lighting. If you live in a cold climate and don't plan to heat the garage all the time, use special fluorescent lights that operate in temperatures below 45 degrees F. A cheaper alternative is to install regular fluorescent lights for warm weather use and standard incandescent (separately switched) for cold.
  • GFCI-protected outlets. Unless a garage outlet is dedicated to a permanent light or tool, it must be protected by a GFCI.
  • Service panel spacing. If the bench is on the wall that contains the home's electrical panel, code requires you to keep a 3-ft. wide and deep space in front open from the floor to the ceiling (Photo 1).
  • Special circuits. Tools like large air compressors require lots of amps. Wire not only for the tools you have but also for the ones on your wish list. Add dedicated 240-volt or separate circuits when necessary.
  • Electrical inspection. Contact your local electrical inspector before beginning the wiring and obtain a permit. Or hire a licensed electrician.

Additional Information

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Required Tools for this Project

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

  • Circular saw
  • Drill/driver, cordless
  • Hammer
  • Framing square
  • Level
  • Chalk line
  • Tape measure
  • Speed square
  • Miter saw
  • One-handed bar clamps
  • Socket/ratchet set
  • 4-ft.

See the complete materials list in the Additional Information.

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