Hello everyone, my name is Hunt Ethridge and welcome to my new column Hunt & Gather! I love tools, I love creativity and I like combining the two. Whether it’s designing and building something from scratch, rehabbing an old piece or upcycling a unique item for a new life, if I can get my hands dirty and make something, I’m a happy man! So today, I am going to be kicking off by explaining how I built my own workbench.
So my wife and I just bought and moved into our first adult house. Living in the NYC metro area, it had only been apartments before that. Needless to say, I was excited about all of the space and projects!
Well, before I could really start on any projects, I needed a work space and workbench. So I decided to build one to the size and specifications I needed. You can see below what my basement looked like. Luckily, I had a decent space to work with.
- Power drill
- Circular saw
- Large square
- Tape measure
- (11) 2”x4”x6’s
- 6’x3’x1” MDF board
- 6’x2’x1” MDF board
- 2 2’x4’ pegboards
- Pegboard hooks and kit
- Wood screws (2 ½” and 3”)
Building Your Own Workbench
Step #1: Designing the workbench
I grew up watching my dad work at his workspace. And he also built my first workbench so I could do projects next to him. Luckily my dad was in town, so we brainstormed about how we wanted it to look and what size it would be. We sketched out some plans on my trusty graphing pad to get an idea of what we could do. The finished product actually ended up looking pretty close to our original sketch! (Don’t use these numbers, they are just guesses and thoughts!)
Step #2: Figuring out the materials needed
I like MDF boards because they are so smooth and solid so I wanted to use that as my work surface. You could also use particle board or some other type of wood. But make sure you get a smooth surface and that it’s solid as you’re going to be hammering and banging things for years! I knew that I wanted to use peg board in the back to hang my tools on, so I needed 2 sheets of that. Then I used 2x4s for the base and cross beams. I needed 3 for the back supports and 4 for the cross beams. Then 2 more for the front legs and another 2 for the supports. I could have bought some 8’ pieces to cut down on waste, but I wanted to have some extra both in case something went wrong and to start a stockpile of scrap wood.
As a rule of thumb, I like to buy 10%-20% more material than I think I’ll need. That way, you don’t need to keep running back to the store if you split a piece of wood or lose a few screws.
Step #3: Start laying out and marking the wood
When possible, I like to lay things down on the floor to get a sense of spacing and size and how they all fit together. What’s right in planning doesn’t always look right in practice. I wanted the level of the work space at 42” so I could easily work on it standing up (I’m 6’ tall) or while sitting on a stool. Obviously if you are shorter or taller, find the height that works best for you. Once you’ve got everything marked out and you’ve sort of visually pieced it together, it’s time to start cutting.
Step #4: Get outside structure built with legs, support and crossbeam
First I attached the back crossbeam to the two outside back support legs. Now I have height and length set. Next, I attached the supports to each leg and added the front legs. To be safe, I only put 1 screw in the front legs while I used the square and level to double check my angles. Once I was sure we were good, I attached the rest of the screws. It is very helpful to have someone else to help you hold things in place while you’re measuring/attaching things. Thanks dad!
Step #5: Add the rest of the supports and beams
Added the third back leg and the top crossbeam. Some people might think that you want the 2×4 flush up to the front to give the most support. While structurally it makes more sense, you definitely want a lip/overhang on the front edge so that you can attach a vise, clamps or other tool. I gave myself a lip on three sides. I also laid the board “flatwise” for two reasons, 1) for more support and 2) to make it easier to attach to the surface (see step #7). Front lip is 8 ½”, side lips are 3 ½”. The bottom supports are where I am going to add a shelf. They are 16” off of the floor.
Step #6: Measure desired depth of bottom shelf
I didn’t want the shelf to come all of the way out to the front as I imagined barking my shins on it and swearing up a storm. So I decided on 19” deep shelf. I still wanted a little lip, so I added the front crossbeam for the shelf 15” from the back edge. Okay! Now the base is built, time to start adding the surfaces.
Step #7: Attaching the surfaces
For my top surface, I cut the board to 72”x 30”. You don’t want much deeper as you’ll need to reach the back for your tools. For the back edge, I screwed down into the 2×4 as I wasn’t going to use that inch for any real workspace, so I didn’t mind the screw heads. For the front, I screwed up into the MDF to hold it in place (see photo.) I wanted a smooth and unblemished area in the front with no screw heads. I used 2 ½”, self-driving screws so I didn’t need to pre-drill any holes.
Step #8: Add the pegboard
I wanted to have the pegboard to be able to hang my tools on. The pegboard came in sheets of 2’x4’, so I grabbed two of them. The first one I put on its side, on the left of the bench. I just simply screwed them into the 2x4s, nothing special.
Step #9: Measure and cut wood for shelves
You’ll want to have some little shelves for hardware, safety glasses, tape, pencils, etc. You can build them any size that you want, that work best for you. I decided on 4 shelves. Using some of the leftover MDF (this is why I always overestimate!), I cut 4 shelves at about 18”x4 ½”. As you can see, I’m already using the lips on the edge of the shelf to clamp the wood I’m cutting. (Don’t be an idiot like me, always use safety glasses!)
Step #10: Install shelves and backing
Again, you can make the shelves any height that you wanted. I wanted the bottom shelf to be able to accommodate spray paint cans, so I put the first shelf at 9 ¼”. The rest I kind of eye-balled, but they’re ~4” – 5”. Just screwed them in from the side of each 2×4. For the backing, I used pegboard again. It’s one piece, measured out and attached from the back, into the supporting 2x4s.
Step #11: Finish the top of the pegboard
Using the rest of the second sheet of pegboard, I cut a long piece to finish up the top of the backing. My cat Brigit is inspecting my handiwork. I think she approves!
Step #12: Add finishing touches
I mean, right?
Final Step: Hang up your tools and fill up your shelves
Enjoy the look of this because it will never look this neat and clean again! One tip when buying the hooks and other hardware for your pegboard, get a magnetic strip! It’s great to hold random things, small stuff and oddly shaped tools. Also, I had a bunch of little containers that were in my tool box that I removed and added to the shelves. Use whatever you want, but make sure you have a bunch for all the little things that you’ll use and need.
A pulled back view of the whole workbench. Already getting messy!
What went wrong:
No project goes exactly the way you want it. So I wanted to add this section to show you that we all have to make game-time fixes and help you look out for possible pitfalls.
- The floor nearest the wall was about an inch higher than the rest of the floor. I could have cut the back legs an inch shorter or added shims underneath the front legs. Instead, I just pulled it away from the wall a bit for a more level, more sturdy bench.
- I mis-measured one 2×4. I was supposed to get two pieces out of it, instead I only got one. No worries, that’s why I had an extra board on hand. Mis-cut piece became scrap and will become part of another project someday.
- Getting back behind the bench to attach the small shelves and pegboard was problematic. Also, as I was eye-balling it, I missed a screw or two. Not too big a deal and easily fixable.