Portable Workbench

  • Advertise with us
Project by PioneerRob posted 12-18-2014 05:54 AM 23349 views 33 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I have found myself often wanting to work in the backyard, or at the cottage, or other place where there is no workbench. So, my solution was to make myself a small portable workbench with the following requirements: small enough to fit in my Mazda 5 with all the family (5 of us, with no luggage… hmmm…), light enough to carry in 1 or 2 trips to or from the car, and simple function. That later requirement translates into no vices, just holdfasts, clamps, bench stop, and a side hook.


1. Fully assembled.
2. Disassembled in car.
3. Assembly: the parts ready.
4. Assembly: first half of the base.
5. Assembly: complete base.
6. In it’s new home, my kitchen. Sometimes used for cooking or woodworking, depending on the day. Yes, I have a very patient wife.


Dimensions: top 35-1/2” x 15-1/2”, 36” high.

As with most of my projects lately, the stuff has been machine jointed and thickness planed, and all other operations were done by hand tools.

A lot of the design and construction techniques were chosen to experiment with testing and practising ideas and dimensions for another much less portable workbench for my main shop.

The top is made of two 2” thick boards of poplar, with a 2” face glued to the top. I chose poplar mostly because I’m cheap, but also I’m curious how it’ll wear. The poplar top is also nice and light (compared to the birch/mable top I’m working on for my main bench). One thing I’ve learned already is that the holdfast holes don’t hold up well in the poplar. The base was by far the difficult part, and if I need to remake a better top in the future I’m okay with that.

The base consists of two legs tied together with two wide stretchers. For easy assembly and disassembly, the stretchers are held in the legs with a wedged tuck tenon. This provides a strong joint that, with the extra width, resists racking. The legs are mortise and tenoned and draw bored together.

The top and base are connected by way of four screws, two on the top and two on the face. The connecting holes are slotted to allow for seasonal movement of the top and face.

For finishing, the top is rubbed with Danish oil and the base is paste wax over milk paint. I tried a weird method for painting the base. I first painted two coats of “federal blue”, followed by two coats of black. The paste wax is to resist water staining, but I’m sure that it is by no means water proof/resistant. The two colour paint scheme came to me in a dream, or maybe it was inspired by the many layers of paint on my 100+ year old house (which haunts me in my nightmares), or something. To be honest I just thought it will be cool to watch the thing age. If I did everything right and it lasts, maybe auctioneers of the future will be left scratching their BrainCaps trying to appraise it.

A note on the size. The top dimensions so far have been fine, although I would love a couple of more feet of length. I realize that this is pretty high for a workbench, but I’m 6’, and so far the height has been perfect for all the work I’ve done on it. However, the height combined with its light weight and short width means that it tends to move around when doing work coplanar to the top, such as sawing and planing. I have found that I have to put a foot on a leg sometimes.

I finished this project early this fall (I’ve been really busy and have been putting off posting it), and have done a few projects (soon to be posted as well) on it. I’m pretty happy with it so far. I still have to add the bench stop and side hook

-- Rob, Ontario

16 comments so far

View Texcaster's profile


1293 posts in 3172 days

#1 posted 12-18-2014 11:15 AM

Cute and very useful. I have a small bench as well and it gets more work than I would have expected.

-- Mama calls me Texcaster but my real name is Mr. Earl.

View Bricofleur's profile


1484 posts in 4692 days

#2 posted 12-18-2014 03:07 PM

Much nicer than the popular Workmate™. I just love it ! Thanks. I may give it a try.



-- Learn from yesterday, work today and enjoy success tomorrow. --

View siavosh's profile


674 posts in 3370 days

#3 posted 12-18-2014 03:55 PM

This is great, I really need to make something like this. Stylish too!

-- -- Discover the most interesting woodworking blogs from around the world

View Woodbridge's profile


3755 posts in 3917 days

#4 posted 12-18-2014 07:53 PM

nice looking little bench.

-- Peter, Woodbridge, Ontario

View Tedstor's profile


1691 posts in 4131 days

#5 posted 12-18-2014 09:09 PM

I do love my Workmate Type 1. But that bench is WAY prettier.

View Brad's profile


1149 posts in 4239 days

#6 posted 12-18-2014 11:09 PM

I like this a lot Rob. I have a similar need myself. But I’m wondering how I would get along without a vise. Perhaps you’d post some pics of securing wood during the operations you do most?

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

View changeoffocus's profile


467 posts in 3116 days

#7 posted 12-18-2014 11:55 PM

A mighty fine bench and the dimensions look to right on.

View CharlieK's profile


605 posts in 5292 days

#8 posted 12-19-2014 02:09 AM

My kind of project. Nice looking and practical, too!

-- Adjustable Height Workbench Plans

View tomakazi's profile


687 posts in 4782 days

#9 posted 12-19-2014 03:52 AM

great idea!

-- I didn't go to college, I was too busy learning stuff - Ted Nugent

View Mike_P's profile


6 posts in 3611 days

#10 posted 12-19-2014 08:14 PM

This is great. How has it been to work on? I’m teaching a basic wood class at my school next semester, and these might be ideal considering we have very little space.

View Mauricio's profile


7170 posts in 4650 days

#11 posted 12-20-2014 04:52 AM

Pretty cool little bench!

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View PioneerRob's profile


47 posts in 3110 days

#12 posted 12-22-2014 05:05 PM

Thanks for all the comments.

@Bricofleur. My Workmate™ was actually the catalyst for making this bench. It was last summer when I was cutting heavy mortise and tenons that the Workmate™ wouldn’t hold still. It drove me nuts.

@Brad. I have managed without a vice so far. I can replace the vise with holdfasts, clamps, etc, but I admit that a vice would be far more convenient. I’ll be posting a project in a while, that shows me using the bench.

@Mike_P. I love the bench mostly. It does have a problem of not being very steady when sawing or planing hard. If you were to make one I would recommend extending the back legs further out from the back, probably on an angle. Also, at least an extra foot of length I think would be best. I made this to fit in the back of my Mazda 5, but if were a foot longer then it’d fit on the roof racks better and be even more stable.

-- Rob, Ontario

View sksk's profile


8 posts in 2708 days

#13 posted 11-28-2016 03:42 PM

Hi Rob,

I’ve been checking out small workbench designs as I need something portable—your design is of great interest.

How much does it weigh?

Could you say a little more about the screws/bolts that hold the base and top together? What size? Do they go all the way through the benchtop (recessed holes)? Did you use washers?

Many thanks,


View PioneerRob's profile


47 posts in 3110 days

#14 posted 11-28-2016 04:21 PM

Hi Rob,

I ve been checking out small workbench designs as I need something portable—your design is of great interest.

How much does it weigh?

Could you say a little more about the screws/bolts that hold the base and top together? What size? Do they go all the way through the benchtop (recessed holes)? Did you use washers?

Many thanks,


- sksk

Thanks for your interest Sean.

Not sure how much it weighs, but it is fairly easy to lift. I’d estimate 25-40 kg.

I attached the top using 3/8” machine hex bolts. I drilled a hole through the front leg and top beam of each leg (see the pic below). The hole in the top beam is slightly elongated to deal with movement of the top. I then drilled and tapped into the top. The bolts are 4-1/2” long, which gives about 1-1/2” engagement into the 1-7/8” top, leaving tip of the bolt about 3/8” shy of the top surface. All this seems to work fine.

Hope that helps.

-- Rob, Ontario

View PioneerRob's profile


47 posts in 3110 days

#15 posted 11-28-2016 04:41 PM

Portable bench update.

I have been using this bench fairly regularly since I built it 2 years ago. Although I feel it’s too small for many of my needs, I’m glad I built it. It was inexpensive and fairly easy to build, and it has shown me what I really want in a bench.

@Brad My next portable bench won’t have the front apron. It’ll have a large front vise. I just find that the holdfasts on the front can be inconvenient, and I end up clamping anyway. Might as well install a permanent clamp. I think I like the way Paul Sellers uses a bench vise.

The top thickness will be closer to 3”, instead of 2”. I find that 2” is too small for the holdfasts to work well.

The depth of 16” is good, but 18-20” would be better. Also, I don’t miss having a tool trough as I had thought I would (I’d just fill it up and have to suffer with it being a semi-permanent mess). Actually, I find having a small area to place my tools forces me to keep organized. Like a goldfish we grow to fit our tank.

Two of the biggest problems I have using it are the width of the top (36”) and the the distance between the legs. I’m limited in the length of things I can work on because of the width. I’ve found that I often work on stuff up to 48”, so I will go for at least 60” next time, maybe much more. Also, the 36” is to small to fit properly on my roof car racks.

Because of the distance between the legs when I do even light planing the bench suffers a lot of racking. Even with a wider top my next bench will have the legs angled to get as much distance between the feet.

Finally, although I want a bench that’s portable, I find the bench too light. It moves around a lot when I saw or plane. The next bench will have thicker hardwood legs, purely for the weight. A 3” top will help.

I look forward to starting my next portable bench in the spring.


-- Rob, Ontario

showing 1 through 15 of 16 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics