How to Build a Custom Workbench

Video Transcript

Video Transcript

RON HAZELTON:
Now I'm off to Ferndale, Oregon to visit Mel and Bertella Hansen. Hey, Bertella.
BERTELLA HANSEN:
Hi, Ron, oh, I'm so glad you're here.
RON HAZELTON:
Well, I'm glad to be here. Hey, Mel, how you doing?
MEL HANSEN:
Good.
RON HAZELTON:
I gotta tell you, a brand new house and look at this view, will you? You guys are on top of the world up here, huh?
MEL HANSEN:
We enjoy it.
RON HAZELTON:
Are you ready to build a workbench?
MEL HANSEN:
You bet.
RON HAZELTON:
Where we going to do it?
MEL HANSEN:
Right out here in the garage.
RON HAZELTON:
Okay.
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
MEL HANSEN:
Okay.
BERTELLA HANSEN:
Well, I'll come too, but he never lets me use the tools.
RON HAZELTON:
He doesn't?
BERTELLA HANSEN:
No.
RON HAZELTON:
We'll change all that. [MEL LAUGHS]
BERTELLA HANSEN:
Oh, good.
MEL HANSEN:
Ron, this is the corner of the garage that I'd like to have us build this bench into and I'd like it to actually turn the corner a bit.
RON HAZELTON:
Okay. So it will be L-shaped?
MEL HANSEN:
Right.
RON HAZELTON:
Okay.
MEL HANSEN:
And then I purchased a brand new saw and I'd like to —
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
RON HAZELTON:
Well, you did, it's still shiny.
MEL HANSEN:
You bet.
RON HAZELTON:
Yeah. [LAUGHS]
MEL HANSEN:
And I'd like to have this incorporated into the bench by putting a well in so that we can cut lumber without having to support it.

RON HAZELTON:
Excellent, all right.

To make sure we're on the same page, I drew a sketch.

So now, here's what I had in mind here, three sections, 1, 2, 3. There's the L-shape right there.
MEL HANSEN:
Okay.
RON HAZELTON:
They'll all be supported by a base like this. And then a fourth section in here that drops down, that's where we're going to put the power miter box.
MEL HANSEN:
Right.
RON HAZELTON:
Well, Mel, I've taken some of the lumber from our project, kind of made up a temporary workbench here.
MEL HANSEN:
Okay.
RON HAZELTON:
I also made up a list of each piece of wood that we'll have to cut.

Now if you look at the cut list, you'll notice we're going to cut several pieces to exactly the same length. That's the main reason that I did this. So let's set up for the legs, first of all. If you could pull the saw blade down there. Those legs are 32 inches. So come down here, we'll mark 32. And then we'll take a square, draw a square line down here.

And then up against that line, we'll put the stop block right here. Let's throw some glasses on and cut some legs.
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
MEL HANSEN:
All right.
RON HAZELTON:
After Mel cuts a few boards —

— all set?
BERTELLA HANSEN:
Okay.
RON HAZELTON:
— go — I give Bertella a lesson on the saw.
BERTELLA HANSEN:
That wasn't bad. As soon as Melvin goes to work, I can start [LAUGHS] playing with stuff. I can't wait.
RON HAZELTON:
He may put locks on his saw.
BERTELLA HANSEN:
I know, [LAUGHS] he's going to have to, because now I know how to operate it. This is going to be fun.
RON HAZELTON:
All right.

In just a few minutes, we cut to length, all the 2 by 4s for our bases. To make sturdy legs for our bases, we'll sandwich two 2 by 4s together, creating in effect, a 4 by 4. But first, Mel and I will cut matching notches in each piece of lumber.

When the two pieces are placed together, the notches will form a square hole or mortise. The bottom rail or brace will be inserted into this hole. We cut the notches by making repeated passes with the sliding compound miter saw which is set to cut only halfway through the 2 by 4.

It's gorgeous [LAUGHS]. Look at that, will you? I think we're ready to start putting this together.
MEL HANSEN:
You betcha.
RON HAZELTON:
Great.

MEL HANSEN:
Okay.
RON HAZELTON:
We begin by assembling our legs.

I'm going to glue these two halves together. So I'll put some wood glue on here, just kind of a back and forth motion, okay. I want to get some right in here on the shoulders. Now this is going to drop —

Then we set a 2 x 4 bottom rail into the notches —

Just drop it right in that dido, okay?

— place the matching part of the leg on top, trapping the rail inside the notches and screw the leg halves together. [SAWING]

All right, Mel, so here's the end brace for the base.

A second or top rail is glued and screwed across the top of the legs. This assembly —two legs, a top and a bottom rail makes up the endframes for our bases.
MEL HANSEN:
Okay and if you'll hold this side.
RON HAZELTON:
Next, we connect the two endframes together with side rails. First clamping them into position —
MEL HANSEN:
Nice and tight.
RON HAZELTON:
— then securing them with screws.
BERTELLA HANSEN:
Okay.
RON HAZELTON:
Huh?
BERTELLA HANSEN:
Yeah.

RON HAZELTON:
Are you ready for one more?
BERTELLA HANSEN:
Yeah.
RON HAZELTON:
Our bench base is starting to take shape. Now we'll place 2 by 4s across the lower rails and screw them in on each end. Laid side by side, these will form a handy storage shelf. The top of our workbench will be cut from sheets of 3/4 inch MDF or medium density fiberboard. This clamp-on straight edge provides an accurate guide for the circular saw, just about guaranteeing a straight cut.

I'm going to set this up right up here. We're going to overhang this to the front and flush with the back here. You all set?
MEL HANSEN:
Yep.

RON HAZELTON:
Once the workbench top is in position, Mel and I attach it with screws, making sure the screw heads are at or slightly below the surface. With the first workbench section just about complete, we can move on and build the other two.
[MUSIC]
Well, all of our sections are built, so we can start setting them in place. The lower section of the bench, designed to accommodate the saw, will rest on two 2 by 4s that we attach to the base legs on either side. Because workbench tops often take a bit of a beating, we decide to add a replaceable surface made of 1/4 inch hardboard or masonite. Once we've cut them to size, we apply double stick tape to the bottom, peel off the backing strip and press our disposable panels in place.

Now for the centerpiece. Mel's new saw. The bench top has been designed so the countertops to the left and right are the same height as the top of the saw bed and will support longer pieces of lumber when they're cut.

Well, we did it, huh?
MEL HANSEN:
We did, you bet.
RON HAZELTON:
I can just see it now — pegboards, drawers, shelves, tools. It's a beginning.
MEL HANSEN:
Oh, yeah.
RON HAZELTON:
And build lots of nice things for the house.
MEL HANSEN:
Okay, we will. Thank you.
RON HAZELTON:
Bye-bye.

MEL HANSEN:
Bye bye.
BERTELLA HANSEN:
[INAUDIBLE]
MEL HANSEN:
Yeah, you get to play with the saw.
BERTELLA HANSEN:
Yeah.
MEL HANSEN:
Okay, just be careful. Please. I didn't — I really do want to have a wife that keeps all of her fingers.

Construct a Modular Wooden Workbench with Three Base Units That Join to Form a Forth Dropped Surface for Your Saw

Build a custom L-shaped workbench of three separate tool benches that join to form a fourth work surface--a dropped well for your miter saw. Construct the base units of two-by four components surfaced with medium-density fiberboard (MDF) that can be replaced easily when scarred and dented beyond use. Use screws, glue, and double-faced tape to secure and join components.

Diagram Your Project and Make a Cut List
Step 1

Diagram Your Project and Make a Cut List

Plan your workshop workbench carefully and diagram the dimensions. Make a cut list of pieces to cut, especially when several are the same size. Set up saw horses and lumber as a temporary woodworking bench for cutting components.

Cut All Components, Measuring against a Stop Block
Step 2

Cut All Components, Measuring against a Stop Block

Transfer the bench leg length onto a two-by-four and clamp a stop block at the mark. Butt each two-by-four against the stop block as you cut to ensure consistent length. Repeat the process for each component of a different dimension.

Cut Mortises in Bench Leg Components for Cross Rails
Step 3

Cut Mortises in Bench Leg Components for Cross Rails

Mark and then position a pair of bench legs for repeated cuts with a sliding compound miter. Cut half-way through each two-by-four to notch out matching mortises across each pair. When joined, the two-by-fours will become four-by-fours with a mortise.

Assemble End Frames from Bench Legs and Cross Rails/Braces
Step 4

Assemble End Frames from Bench Legs and Cross Rails/Braces

Apply glue to the interior surface of each pair of leg components and their mortises. Sandwich a cross rail between the two and secure with screws. Glue and screw another brace across the top of the end frame.

Join Two End Frames with Side Rails for Each Base
Step 5

Join Two End Frames with Side Rails for Each Base

Position and clamp together two end frames with two side rails for each workbench base. Attach them at the upper end and secure the rails with screws.

Secure Bottom Braces Side-by-side across the Bottom Rail
Step 6

Secure Bottom Braces Side-by-side across the Bottom Rail

Lay multiple bottom braces/planks side-by-side to span the space between the cross rails. Secure each with screws driven through them and into the cross rails beneath to provide structural reinforcement and a handy shelf.

Cut Workbench Tops from Sheets of Medium-Density Fiberboard
Step 7

Cut Workbench Tops from Sheets of Medium-Density Fiberboard

Measure and mark cut lines for workbench tops on sheets of 3/4-inch MDF. Use a clamping straight edge and a circular saw to ensure straight cuts every time. Attach tops to the bases with countersunk screws to avoid scratching projects.

Position Three Workbench Bases in an L-Shape with a Gap
Step 8

Position Three Workbench Bases in an L-Shape with a Gap

Set bases in an L-shaped configuration, leaving a gap for the well. Span the gap for the well with two-by-four rails and slide in the top. Secure replaceable MDF panels on top of each bench top with double-faced tape.