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Wood Work Bench

Rugged, compact and easy to build

FH99OCT_UTLITY_01-2Family Handyman

This simple wood work bench is perfect for a garage or utility room, and it takes up almost no floor space. It's also great as a potting bench or laundry table.

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Time
One day
Complexity
Simple
Cost
$20 – $100

All purpose work bench

Photo 1: Cut the back legs

Cut 1-1/2 in. deep saw kerfs into the ends of the back legs (A) to create a notch for the horizontal supports you’ll add in the next step. Clamping the two legs together while cutting saves time and ensures that the pieces will be identical.

Photo 2: Clean out the notches

Chisel out the waste wood to define the notches, then cleanly rasp the bottom of each notch.

Photo 3: Build the back assembly

Lay the horizontal supports (B) into the notches of the back legs (A). Make sure the assembly is square (check with a framing square), then screw the horizontals into the back legs with a pair of 3-in. deck screws at each joint. Drill countersink pilot holes for the screws to prevent parts B from splitting. After the frame is screwed together, turn it over on its back for the next step.

Photo 4: Build the front

Lay out the diagonal front supports (C) using a framing square. Take a straight 2×4 about 43 in. long and lay it next to the frame. Be sure this diagonal support intersects at 3-1/2 in. from the bottom of the leg (A). Align your square with the top of the back leg so the fat long blade is straight up. Position the diagonal piece so its top edge intersects at 20-1/2 in. on the outer edge of the square, then clamp the temporary diagonal to the back leg (A) and to the square. Mark and cut the intersection where the diagonal support meets the back leg and framing square. Use this piece as a pattern to cut the other support, then align them, drill pilot holes and screw them to the back legs with 3-in. deck screws (Fig. A).

Growing up in a small house with a bunch of kids, a dog, a couple of cats and short-term guests like turtles and goldfish was a whole lotta fun, but let’s face it—personal space was nonexistent. Any project that anyone had was slated for the kitchen table. That ’50s-style chrome-legged table was used for everything from making cookies to folding laundry to spray-painting model cars and planes, and yes, doing homework, too. Often, in the middle of a task we kids were told to take it elsewhere. We usually chose the coffee table or piano bench, which have the scars to prove it.

What we really needed was a work area that we could stand or sit at, where we’d be able to do our projects from start to finish. The perfect solution for tasks like these is this sturdy utility bench. It’s solid, cheap, easy to sweep under and just the right size for chores that need a space of their own.

The bench is made from lumber, plywood and hardware that are available at any home center or lumberyard (see “Shopping List” in Additional Information, below). The frame is made from 2x4s, and the top and shelves are made from 3/4-in. plywood (just buy a half sheet) edged with 3/4-in. thick boards.

Note: Buy your 2×4 material at least a week before assembly and stack it in the house. This will allow the wood to dry and stabilize, and prevent further shrinking or warping after assembly.

Figure A: Wood Work Bench

The shelves and shelf supports lock the side supports together and prevent any movement while you’re hammering or sawing on the top.

For a larger version of Figure A, see Additional Information, below.

Tools, time and options

Photo 5: Add the shelf supports

Screw the shelf supports (E and F) into the back legs (A) and the diagonal supports (C) with 2-in. screws (drill the pilot and countersink holes first). Be sure to slide a 3/4-in. spacer underneath the shelf supports as you install them to leave room for the rear shelf cleat (K). The front apron and rear cleat glued and nailed to each plywood shelf add strength, so you can really load each shelf.

Photo 6: Add the aprons and cleats

Glue and nail the 3/4-in. x 2-1/4 in. front shelf apron to the 3/4-in. plywood shelf with 4d nails. Also glue and nail the 3/4-in. x 3/4-in. rear shelf cleat flush with the back of the shelf. Use shorter 1-1/4 in. brad nails (3d finish) for the rear cleats. Cut the 3/4-in. plywood top and glue and nail the side aprons M and N to the sides and front of the top.

Photo 7: Bolt to the wall

Drill pilot holes and attach the upper and lower horizontal supports (B) to the wall with lag screws. If you’re screwing into concrete, use large plastic anchors (3/8-in. dia. masonry hole) or metal anchor shields (1/2-in. dia. masonry hole). If you’re mounting to a wood-framed wall, locate the studs and drill a 3/16-in. pilot hole for each of the 1/4-in. dia. lag screws.

Photo 8: Add the top

Set the top into position and attach it to the upper horizontal support (B) with steel angle brackets (see the Shopping List in Additional Information) and to the front horizontal support (D) with 2-in. deck screws (see Fig. A).

This project is designed with the beginner in mind. All you need are a circular saw, a framing square, a drill and drill bits, a hammer, wrenches, a few small clamps, and a little building experience.

Once you gather all the materials, you can easily have the bench up and ready to use in a few hours. It’ll go even quicker if you have the lumberyard rip (cut lengthwise from 1×6) the 2-1/4 in. wide fronts for the shelves and top and the 3/4-in. x 3/4-in. rear shelf cleats, although you can easily make these cuts with your circular saw. If you decide to rip these narrow cleats yourself, a safe and easy way is to rip-cut a 3/4-in. wide piece first from 1×6 using the rip guide that came with your saw. After ripping the long 3/4-in. piece, you can cut it into the two lengths needed.

We designed this table with a finished height of 37-3/4 in., which works well for most standing tasks. You can easily adjust the height by changing the length of the rear legs (use the 36-in. height of your kitchen countertops as a baseline for what is comfortable for you). The construction process will be the same even if you raise or lower the finished height a couple of inches. Follow the step-by-step building guide in Photos 1 – 8 and check Fig. A for building details.

Not Just For Carpentry

This sturdy bench is also perfect as a potting bench or laundry room table.

If you want a surface that’s easy to clean and protects against spills, apply two coats of polyurethane varnish to the top and the shelves. We used a water-based finish that dried quickly and was hard as nails by the next day.

Additional Information

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
  • Clamps
  • Cordless drill
  • Countersink drill bit
  • Framing square
  • Hammer
  • Level
  • Miter saw
  • Orbital sander
  • Safety glasses
  • Socket/ratchet set
  • Wood chisel
  • Wood glue