First workbench and its movable, and built without a bench or power tools

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Project by CplSteel posted 06-23-2012 06:08 PM 3778 views 3 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

First off, the title lies a little bit, I did use a power drill. But I felt this project was important to share because when I looked for plans for a workbench many of them required you to own a workbench, or other suitable surface, and they required tools I did not own. Also, I wanted a bench heavy enough to be useful, but that I was able to move about because I do not have a dedicated shop. I wanted to put it out in the yard some days or just drag it out into the middle of the garage others. My father was a carpenter, mostly cabinets, and I picked up a few things as a kid. I owned a few tools, like a hammer and a drill, but I always lived in apartments and never had the room to make sawdust of my very own. Now that I rent a house I wanted to build a bench, but I lacked many of the tools apparently necessary to build a bench and I wanted the bench to be movable. Therefore, I felt I should share my plans.

Tools used:
Drill, with a few bits
Saw – bought at garage sale down the street
Clamps – many bought at a garage sale down the street
Socket set
bubble level

3/4” ply
Sheet of Masonite (I call it Masonite because my dad called it Masonite, but I am given to understand that Masonite is the company that invented it and is now out of business. The real name is “hardboard” or just a 1/8” MDF with a varnished side)
1” dowel
1/4” dowel

3” Bolts and nuts and washers

Build the leg-frames
Basically, I cut 4 lengths of 2×4 at 1 1/2” less than the desired height of my table (these are the legs at 29.5”) and 4 equal length pieces at 3” less than my desired width (23.5” for this table). 23.5” is a good table width because it provides enough room without being too big, and it means you only need one sheet of 4×8 ply, making the project cheaper.

Then I attached the braces to the support. This is tricky without a workbench. What I did fist was screw them, with one screw each to where I thought they should go. Basically, put the brace on the ground sticking up and drill a small pilot hole in the end, then do the same to the face of a leg. Screw the face of your leg into the end of the brace. This is not a joint, it just holds it in place for now. Do that to both braces on one leg, then go ahead and rotate the braces until they are more or less perpendicular to the leg. Next drill one 1/4” holes above the screw through the leg into the braces and insert a dowel. Again, not the joint. Once the leg is attached by a dowel, remove the screw and square the brace (I used a book to check for square, handovers work well enough) The you put another dowel towards the bottom of the joint. Repeat, checking for square, until all 8 dowels are in and your legs are sort-of attached.

Once you have both legs doweled to the braces the fun begins. Drill a 3/4” hole in between the dowels, but only about 1/2” deep. No need to be exact, but you want to counter sink your bolt heads. 3/4” was just enough to attach my socket set to a bolt in the hole. Then drill a hole big enough for your bolts to slide in though the center of the 3/4” hole, this hole should go into the brace. Once this is done do it again for the other 3 joints. Then you have to take off the legs and make the holes in the brace deeper because you want to be about 2 inches into the brace. Then you have to drill a 3/4” hole into the brace, at about 2 inches from the end, and centered. If done correctly, when you run a bolt through the leg it ends in about the middle of opening you just created. Chisel the leg-side of the hole a bit flat, for the washer, and you can run the bolt and washer to the nut and washer in the brace. Basically you just created a bed-bolt. Do this again for the other two legs.

Basically, there is no way you are going to get everything square and even by just putting in the bed-bolt bolt and nut. Because you can fit two dowels in the face of each brace, after you put one in, you can level it and square it up and hold it square with the second dowel.

Complete the frame
Now you have the two end frames and you will join them to 48” rails with the same setup, but instead of having to do a bed-bolt you can just countersink a bolt through the leg and into the face of the rails. 3” bolts will work there too. Put in a dowel on one leg, level and put a dowel in on the other leg. Once the dowels are in place (you only really need one for each side) you can drill the hole to counter sink and then drill the hole for the bolt. I put the top rails even with the top of the frame. The bottom rails are about 1” off the floor.

Build the top
Now your frame is complete. For the top I used one sheet of 3/4” ply, cut into 23.5” x 60”. I had two cuts done at home depot when I bought it. The first was to take the 4×8 down to a 4×5. The second was to cut the 4×5 into two 23.5×60. One was actually a but bigger, like 24”, but that will be dealt with latter, don’t worry about it now. My frame was only 48”ish long. You will have some overhang on the edges, which is good for clamping stuff to the edges. A tricky topic of which there are many opinions is how do I connect the bench top to the frame. There are many answers. I did a simple attachment using dowels that allows the top to be removed easily so the bench can be moved, in two trips, by a single person.

Basically, I put the 23.5×60” sheet of ply on top of the bench, moved it around until it was flush with the “front side” (side you are facing when it is against the wall) legs, and even with the “left” side of the bench. Then I put something heavy on top so it wouldn’t move. My kid in this case. Then I went under the table and traced the outline of where each leg met the table. I flipped the top over and using a hardcover book as a straightedge I connected each corner of the traced outline, making an X in the outlined 2×4 footprint. The intersection should be the center of the leg. I drilled a pilot hole in the center of each X. Next I flipped the top back over and put the top back to flush on the front and left sides. I checked underneath to make sure my outlines still lined up with the legs, then I clamped the top to the frame. I drilled the pilot holes into the legs, then I drilled a 1” hole though the table top and about 3/4” into the leg. Yes, I drilled a big hole into the top of each leg.

Next I cut the 1” dowel into four, 1.5” lengths. I put these lengths into the tops of the legs, through the table top. If they needed some shaving or massaging I chiseled them down. If they stuck up over the top, I chiseled them down until they were flush. Marking which side of the ply was up, and which side was down, I took it off the frame, glued the dowels into the legs, and glued and clamped the other piece of ply onto the top of the piece with the holes in it. Do not put your top onto the dowels while the glue is drying. You do not want to glue the top to the dowels. Once dried, you can glue the Masonite on to the top of the top. This leaves you with a smooth flat Masonite surface, that if it gets damaged or destroyed, can always be replaced by a new cut of Masonite. Once the tops are all glued together you can use the bottom layer as a guide and cut/trim off the top layers so the three layers are flush. I sanded out any little irregularities.

Your top should drop on to the dowels with little effort. You may have to give it a little pound to set down, and once it is down it doesn’t move or rack. If you want to move the workbench, you can pop off the top by lifting one end and carry it (~45lbs) to wherever you want to go. The frame is easy to move because you can just stand in it and lift it up (~45lbs). But, put together it is pretty solid.

There are better workbenches out there. And now that you have a flat, level surface you can clamp stuff to, you can build one of them. Or don’t and just start into whatever other projects you have in mind. In fact, it is best to use this bench for a while until you decide what changes you would love to have. Too long or not long enough? Vise? etc…

I hope this is helpful, and if I can describe a step better, or you see a better way of doing something, let me know.

9 comments so far

View groland's profile


238 posts in 4867 days

#1 posted 06-23-2012 06:56 PM

It’s a great start. You’re good to go to build some projects now.


View Hawaiilad's profile


3386 posts in 4476 days

#2 posted 06-23-2012 07:58 PM

Nice bench….From your pictures, you look a bit to young to be using power tools…LOL

-- Larry in Hawaii,

View GlennsGrandson's profile


445 posts in 3764 days

#3 posted 06-24-2012 04:08 AM

Hawaiilad you just made me laugh out loud, good one!

CplSteel good job man, I would not have done it with out power tools, but more power to you (or less, pun)! My nicer workbenchs are along the walls of my garage right now, one holds powers tools and the other is for…whatever I want, but my main, most versatile bench right now is a piece of MDF screwed onto saw horses, take the screws out and I have pipe clamps sitting in saddles I cut out on my horses for glueing things up. IMO I think the most important thing is a flat sacrificial top. Pretty is not a need, just a luxury. I soon too will built a new workbench, I’m leaning along the lines of a heavier “New Fangled” bench. If you are wondering what a New Fangled workbench is, search it on her or google it.

And welcome!

-- Grant - N Dakota

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17825 posts in 4073 days

#4 posted 06-24-2012 04:31 AM

I call it Masonite, too. :-)

Because that’s what my dad and granddad called it, too.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View CplSteel's profile


143 posts in 3619 days

#5 posted 06-24-2012 06:59 AM

Thanks for the views and the support. Being able to have your 2-year-old in the garage while you work is just one advantage of the no power tool route. That said, if I had them I would have used them. Even a jig saw would have helped. But this was a cheap easy surface to build and it came out flat and level. Now that I have a surface I can clamp stuff to, a world of options is available. Hopefully I will pick up some more modern tools along the way.

View SirFatty's profile


547 posts in 3667 days

#6 posted 06-24-2012 02:13 PM

No idea why, but I call it Masonite also. Great job, btw.

-- Visit my blog at

View Lewis Baumstark, Jr.'s profile

Lewis Baumstark, Jr.

49 posts in 4380 days

#7 posted 06-24-2012 04:03 PM

Looks a lot better than my 2×4’s-and-plywood work table, which I built when all I had was a jigsaw and a cheapo B&D drill. :)

Good job!

-- Every time I walk in my shop I thank my dad, my geometry teacher, and my drafting that order.

View quicksilver's profile


195 posts in 4043 days

#8 posted 06-24-2012 04:22 PM

You forgot to mention your apprentice?
Most important part of the project, family participation.

-- Quicksilver

View davidroberts's profile


1027 posts in 4941 days

#9 posted 06-24-2012 06:40 PM

Been there, done that, but used a circ saw also. I didn’t have a hand saw. If it ever start to rack on you, put a diagonal 2×4 in the back and sides, or better yet, plywood. Enjoy.

-- Better woodworking through old hand tools.

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