The workbench is the center of any workshop. This design fits in just about any shop space, whether it’s a corner of the garage or a wall in the basement. It has a 2’ x 4’ work surface, one shelf for storage, and a handy area to store your shop vacuum.
The components can be cut and assembled in under four hours and you shouldn’t have to spend too much on the materials (2x4s, plywood, and 2-1⁄2 in. drywall screws).
You probably could use a helper during a couple of the assembly steps, such as attaching the legs to the longer frame components and installing the 2x4 shell pieces.
Best garage workbench for the money
When it comes to building with lumber, I like to keep waste to a minimum. This workbench’s design does just that.
All the 2x4 components (legs, shelf brackets, and home) are cut from 6 8-ft. 2x4s, with only a few inches of waste per board. The shelves, end panels, and top are cut from one 1⁄2-in. thick 4x8-ft. sheet of plywood. Again, waste is minimal, helping keep total costs super cheap - a mere $ 41.93!
|Pine 2x4 Board||1-1/2" x 3-1/2" x 8'||6||$ 2.16||$ 12.96|
|CDX Construction Grade Plywood||15/32" x 4' x 8'||1||$ 28.97||$ 28.97|
Cutting the plywood can be tricky, so use a cutting guide and take your time measuring and checking for square before starting the cut.
Step-by-step instructions and pictures
Building the workbench
- Assemble the three 66"-long, main frame components and legs, using 2-1/2" drywall screws. Predrill the holes to prevent splitting and to draw the pieces snug.
- Install the shelf frame components. The height of the upper shelf can be adjusted to fit your needs, but you'll need to alter the size of the inner shelf end panels accordingly.
- Attach the side panels and back panel. These panels help stabilize the bench and prevent tools and equipment from falling off.
- Tack the bottom sheet of the workbench top to the frame with 4d or 6d nails. Make sure the sheet is flush with the back edge of the workbench frame and that there's a 1-1/2" overhang on each end.
- Spread wood glue over the entire top surface of the tacked plywood. The glue prevents gaps between the two 1/2" sheets of AC plywood that form the workbench top.
- Place the remaining sheet of plywood onto the glued sheet, with the sanded side up. Secure them together with 2-1/2" drywall screws. Make sure the screws penetrate into the workbench frame.
The best material for a garage workbench top is plywood. Remember: you are building this workbench to be used. The top is bound to get mangled, hammered, stained, cut. Plywood allows you to change the top for a low cost. It may not be pretty, but it certainly is functional, sturdy, and super cheap.
Pre-drill for easier assembly
Finally, here’s a tip to make assembling the pieces easier: Before you secure the 2x4 components together, predrill the holes for the screws.
This reduces the chance of splitting the lumber and helps draw the components snugly together.
Homemade garage workbench must-haves
The best thing about DIYing is to make your project your own. These are some examples of how you can personalize your bench according to your wants and needs:
- Work lights: they can make a great difference throughout a build, especially if you are painting or applying a finish to a project. Make sure to get LED daylights.
- Casters: make sure to buy quality casters, especially if you plan on using them often. A good set should be foot-operated for convenience and offer you plenty of stability by locking both the wheels and the spin mechanism.
- Vise: hold your workpieces when sawing, planing, drilling, and much more. You can get vises for metalworking and woodworking.
- Power strip: it's the simplest upgrade you can make, and one of the most convenient. Once you experiment the convenience of always having direct access the electricity by your workbench, you will ask yourself why you hadn't done it before.
- Plenty of tool storage: keep your tools handy and organized and you won't waste time finding tools, plus they'll last longer.
If your shop area’s going to be located where there’s an open stud wall (no drywall covering the interior wall), you’ve just discovered an often overlooked storage area.
Mount shelves and brackets to the studs. Every open stud cavity - the space between two adjacent wall studs - can be converted into a mini-storage area.
Brackets and shelves
Cut the brackets from 2x4-in. pine. Make the shelves from 1x12-in. pine hoards.
Secure the 15-in. long. 2x4 horizontal brackets to the wall studs with 2-1⁄2 in. drywall screws. Then mount the angled 2x4 braces to the studs and to the horizontal brackets with 2-1⁄2 in. screws. Predrill the hole for the screw that goes through the angle bracket and into the horizontal bracket.
- Attach the 15" long horizontal support to the wall stud. Then secure the diagonal brace to the bottom of the horizontal support and the wall stud. Use 2-1/2" drywall screws.
- Position the shelf on the horizontal support and secure with 1-1/2" drywall screws. Predrill the holes for the screws.
- Install 2x6 and 1x4 boards between the studs with 2-1/2" drywall screws in predrilled holes. Set adjacent shelves at different heights.
- On 2x6 shelves, cut and then round off the corners with a file or sandpaper. A 2x6 shelf will hold gallon cans.
The 1x12 shelf can be any length, but the distance between brackets shouldn’t be more than 4 ft., and the shelf shouldn’t extend more than 18 in. beyond the brackets. If you want a shelf longer than 6 ft., be sure you add brackets in the middle so the shelf won’t sag.
Store your cans of paint and stain
Install shelves cut from 1” x 4” or 2” x 6” boards. Your choice will depend on the size of the cans you need to store. Here are some guidelines:
- A 1" x 4" board will hold quart-size cans, as well as most aerosols.
- You can almost double the amount of quart-can storage if you use 2" x 6" boards.
- A 2" x 6" board will also safely hold two 1-gal. cans.
A word of caution about loading the shelves: if you decide to use the between-stud shelves, position them so that you can’t stack items more than one row high. This will prevent overloading. Instead, install more rows of shelves.
Also, stagger the shelf position to make screw installation easier. Use 2-1⁄2” drywall screws to secure shelves to wall studs.
Finally, note the rounded corners on the 2x6 boards. This reduces the chance of injury from a protruding corner. To round the corners, cut them at a 45-degree angle and then file or sand smooth before you install the shelves.
What is the perfect workbench height for me?
When you design your own workbench, you should carefully think about an ideal workbench height. I could only find arbitrary numbers online, but nothing specific for my own height.
The ideal workbench height should be measured to your own needs. Your best reference is your body! Go get your work footwear and find what is the measurement between your elbow height and the ground. 90% of the population would be comfortable working in a workbench height between 37” and 47”, with an average elbow height of 41”. For more details on WHY you should choose this method, keep on reading below.
What is a good workbench height for hand tool woodworking?
Heavy woodworking with hand tools benefits from applying part of the force with your body. That means the ideal workbench height is 8 inches below your elbow height. See the table below for the best workbench height corresponding to your height:
|Your height||Workbench height for hand tool woodworking|
What is the best workbench height for power tool woodworking?
Lighter woodworking with power tools demands less bodily movements. In other words, you can benefit from having your workpieces closer to you, which will cause less strain - especially in your lower back. That means the ideal workbench height is 2 to 4 inches below your elbow height. See the table below for the best workbench height corresponding to your height:
|Your height||Workbench height for power tool woodworking|
What is the ergonomic height for an electronics workbench?
Working with electronics demands greater attention to detail, so you should have a higher workbench. That means the ideal workbench height is 2 inches above your elbow height, so the workbench provides you elbow support. See the table below for the best workbench height corresponding to your height:
|Your height||Best electronics workbench height|
Why is a standard workbench height of 34 inches WRONG?
According to Wood Magazine, the “standard” workbench height is 34” in order to match most table saw heights and double as an outfeed table. Hand tool woodworkers use even lower 32” height for extra leverage during hand planing or chiselling sessions.
I’m 6’0” tall and that sounds like bending constantly. Just like every other “modern” construction “standard” such as sinks, kitchen countertops, and so on.
While I do understand that smaller shops need multitasking tools in order to make the best possible with the little available space, how many small wood shops have the budget and the space for a full blown cabinet table saw or a hybrid table saw? Marius Hornberger from Youtube is certainly an exception - and he doesn’t look as tall as an average German.
I am more realistic and I believe most hobbists are currently using smaller benchtop table saws. (I know I am.) My solution was to build a small cabinet to prop up my table saw, plus it doubles up as storage space for all my blades, push sticks, and a smaller crosscut sled.
Why a workbench 38 inches tall is WRONG?
Paul Sellers swears by a higher 38” workbench height that can serve people as tall as 5’11”, and higher 42” workbenches for people who are taller - 6’2” or even 6’4”. He speaks from experience both owning a factory in the past and as a woodworking teacher in the present.
I agree with what he says about the “standard” height being too low. Even traditional hand planing doesn’t need such a low bench. Since a sharp plane will naturally tend to force the plane sole downward, most of the force applied is forward, and only minimal force is downward.
However I disagree with Paul Sellers when he says most people “adapt” to a 38” workbench height. Adaptability is good in the short term, since it gives you flexibility to stay productive and overcome obstacles no matter what your circumstances are. In the long term, adapting permanently to a bad situation can bring bad consequences as well. If you live in a big city, you have adapted to days of the year where the smog is literally killing you - inhaling it a little bit at a time.
This is why I believe you should measure your elbow height and custom build your workbench.
Why elbow height is THE GOLD STANDARD for your body?
The elbow height is the most ergonomic workbench height rule. It approximately corresponds to the “belly button” rule of thumb, which is another staple in woodworking. However, measuring your elbow ensures your arms and shoulders have the motion and the reach necessary for your style of woodworking:
- Heavier woodwork that demands downforce, such as working with hand tools, requires worksurfaces from around 8" below your elbow height.
- Lighter woodwork, using power tools, and detailed woodwork, such as cutting joinery, asks for workbench heights around 2-4" below the elbow height.
- As a final note, precision work, such as working with electronics, requires elbow support - add 2" to your elbow height and you are good to go.
Any final notes on workbench height?
- Consider your type of woodworking. If you often build bulkier items such as furniture, go for a lower workbench. This avoids excessive strain in your back when moving your workpieces around and in your shoulders when you are working against gravity to raise a tool and drill a hole or hammering a dowel.
- On the other hand, go higher if you mostly make small, detailed boxes or wooden toys.
- If you want to store items under your workbench, remember to leave 6" of clearance for your feet, both in height and in depth, so you can get closer to your workbench instead of keeping your feet too far and having to lean in an awkward position that forces your lower back.
Are there health hazards for working standing?
Standing is a natural body position, so in principle there are no problems. The issues begin when we need to be rigid in certain positions performing certain tasks for prolonged periods of time.
This limitation in body positions leads to less variations of posture and movement, which can cause issues such as blood pooling in the lower regions causing sore feet, swollen legs, and varicose veins. This pooling also causes to heart to overwork - since more blood is “stuck” in the lower areas, the heart needs to work harder to pump blood to other areas of the body.
Other health problems derive from poor posture and include general muscular fatigue, stiffness in the neck and shoulders, and lower back pain.
How to avoid health problems?
If you need only two items, remember these: wear comfortable (and safe) shoes and vary your posture. Diversity is key!
- It is very important to change body position and posture frequently, so you relax muscle groups and promote blood circulation.
- Another important element to pay attention when changing posture is to keep a symmetrical posture, which brings balance to the entire spine and distributes your weight evenly in your legs and feet.
- Wearing safety footwear that is comfortable and allow wiggle space for your toes, in both height and width, also helps.
- A slight heel may help decreasing strain in the Achiles tendon, but remember to take that into consideration when measuring your workbench height.
- Anti-fatigue mats are also helpful in decreasing impact, especially when standing over hard cement floors. The way they work is by slightly allowing your body to sway, the mats allow you to move subtly and that already causes you to change body position, circulate your blood, and move your muscles.
- Excessive cushioning in mats also causes fatigue, so don't go overboard - cork, wood, or rubber are the best materials.
- And use slanted edges to avoid tripping on the mats.
- Keep a seat nearby to take occasional rests, too!
- Finally, remember to walk while you are working, especially to circulate the blood pooled in the lower areas of your body. Walking as little as ten steps is already helpful in decreasing the pressure in your leg veins.