First Workbench (Under $150...)

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Project by paxorion posted 09-12-2015 03:05 PM 3651 views 2 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

When I set out to build my workbench, I had to clearly state my goals:
  1. To build it (vise included) for under the price of the Harbor Freight workbench before coupons (~$160).
  2. A smaller footprint for my basement of ~2’ x 4’
  3. Knockdown so that I can dismantle and transport/store it (for when my wife tells me to move it)
  4. Enough weight to stand up to hand (planing and sawing) tool work, should I get more down that path.

The finished product ended up being 26”W x 52”L, 35.5”H, with a 2.5” top made of 3 layers of MDF and hardboard, edged with 1.5” of oak. In order to reach my aggressive price point, most of it was made with cutoffs, random boards that have been sitting idle in my house, or material I scavenged from different locations. The overall weight likely comes close to 175lbs to 200lbs, plenty hard for me to move during regular use, but maneuverable when necessary.

In order to better represent the price, I tried to itemize local prices for what I was able to reuse.
  • MDF = $35 ($0 thanks to reuse and scavenging)
  • Oak for Edging = $10
  • Vise = $80
  • Hardboard = $7 ($0 thanks to reuse and scavenging)
  • Pine (2×10) = $40
  • Hardware (screws, bolts, washers) = $12
  • Total = $184 ($142 paid)

Top – The top was inspired by a couple of sources (Norm Abrams’ Workbench and Fine Woodworking’s Started Woodworking bench). The 3 layers of MDF (just shy of 24” x 48”) were laminated over 2 sessions, using screws and Titebond 3 glue. After each layer, I removed the screws so to keep the top metal free. Only the top layer was a solid piece, whereas the 2nd and 3rd layers laminated were a hodge-podge of offcuts. The hardboard was attached with double stick tape right over where the dog holes were drilled (so I can replace it when worn out. I edged the entire top was edged with 2 layers of 4/4 white oak I bought for $10 that had been sitting idle in my basement for over 2 years. The vise is 7” Eclipse quick release vise which constitutes the lion share of the workbench cost. The chops are some left over oak, which I may one day replace with thicker chops.

Base/Legs – I really struggled to commit to a base design. In the end I found the Chris Schwarz arguments for a 3D clamping surface enticing and modeled the base after the Roubo/Holtzapffel workbench. The actual build was inspired by Jords Workshop Roubo. The legs were 3 layers of fir cut from 2×10s, squared to 3.75”. This was the first project where I made mortise and tenon joints and am amazed at how uneventful fitting turned out to be. If there were more joints, then I can see why it is labor intensive. The side stretchers were glued, whereas the long stretchers are inserted dry and bolted through the tenons (picture 4). This will allow me to tighten and/or dismantle the base for transportation and storage. The top was attached to the top with a total of 4 long lag screws.

The moment I finished the workbench, I couldn’t resist testing it out with some heavy hand planing. The 3rd picture shows a longer piece of 2x material clamped in the vise with my #5 sitting on top of it. I also tried hand planing with my bench dogs for work holding. I am very happy with how the workbench resists my hand planing and am sure it will be a great utility bench for years to come. A few more odds and ends to take care of, including cutting a plywood panel for the base and storing my Dewalt table saw underneath it (for added weight). Nevertheless, I call this project done.

-- paxorion

6 comments so far

View waho6o9's profile


9135 posts in 3915 days

#1 posted 09-12-2015 07:45 PM

Great bench Paxorion, good job!

View gsimon's profile


1334 posts in 3451 days

#2 posted 09-12-2015 09:07 PM

Looks like a sturdy bench to me -Congrats!

-- Greg Simon

View htl's profile


5616 posts in 2497 days

#3 posted 09-13-2015 04:54 AM

That’s a nice size.
Will beat HF by a long way, me thinks.

-- An Index Of My Model making Blogs

View Grant Davis's profile

Grant Davis

845 posts in 5246 days

#4 posted 09-14-2015 11:22 AM

Very nice

-- Grant...."GO BUCKEYES"

View Grant Davis's profile

Grant Davis

845 posts in 5246 days

#5 posted 09-14-2015 11:24 AM

Very nice

-- Grant...."GO BUCKEYES"

View lumberboss's profile


28 posts in 2429 days

#6 posted 09-14-2015 03:56 PM

I really like your bench!

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