How to Make a Workbench

Wood Workbench Using Shelving Unit

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Overview
  • Working Time: 2 - 4 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Yield: Workbench, 36 inches wide and 18 inches deep
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $125 to $175

If you love to craft, work on hobbies, or fix things around the house, you probably already know how great it would be to have a workbench. Working on the kitchen table, the floor, or any other improvised surface isn't the best. A hard surface that's sturdy and functional—and dedicated only to work activities—will help you fix and craft with full creative freedom.

Basics of Making a Simple, Sturdy Workbench

This workbench has a secret that makes it so easy and quick to build: it is incorporated into a steel shelving unit.

You may have seen—or you might even own—one or several steel shelving units that usually are placed in a garage, workshop, or laundry room. At 36 inches wide, the shelving unit is the perfect width for a small workbench. Since the unit's tiers are adjustable, your worktable can be moved to any height that suits you.

Each tier of this shelving unit is rated to around 800 pounds (your unit's rating may vary), so it's strong enough to build a worktable into it and for all of your activities.

The work surface and walls are made of 3/4-inch plywood, an inexpensive sheet good that's easy to find and equally easy to cut and drill.

Permits and Code

While it is unlikely that you will need a permit from your local building authority to build this workbench, you will need to speak to the permitting office if you want to add an electrical outlet in the back wall. If this is not permissible, it's simple and code-friendly to add an electric power strip to the back wall.

Important

When you buy the unit, make sure it is the type that has wood shelf inserts, not wire racks.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Circular saw
  • Cordless drill
  • Pencil
  • Spring clamps
  • Wrench

Materials

  • 1 steel garage storage shelving unit, 36-inch wide by 72-inch high
  • 2 3/4-inch plywood sheets, 4-foot by 8-foot
  • Wood screws, 1-inch
  • Pan-head bolts with washers and nuts, 1-1/2-inch
  • Optional pine tongue and groove board, 1-inch by 6-inch by 12 feet
  • Optional quarter-round trim wood

Instructions

  1. Build the Shelving Unit

    Assemble the five-tier shelving unit according to the manufacturer's instructions. Place the first tier at the very bottom and the second tier up around 24 inches. The third tier up will be the workbench, so take care with placing it. A height of 34 inches is standard and may work for you. For close work, such as jewelry, you may want a higher workbench: around 42 inches.

    The fourth tier is the workbench's ceiling and should be about 2-1/2 feet to 3 feet above the workbench tier. The fifth and final tier should be at the very top of the shelving unit.

  2. Install the Workbench Surface

    Remove one of the shelving unit's wood shelf inserts. Lay this on top of the sheet of 3/4-inch plywood and mark the perimeter of the board with a pencil. Cut to size with the circular saw. Replace the wood shelf insert, then place the cut plywood on top. From below, use the cordless drill to drive screws through the shelf insert and into the plywood to hold it into place.

    Option

    To improve the look of the surface, add pine tongue and groove board to the plywood. Cut the board into 18-inch pieces and blind-nail the boards onto the plywood. Finish the front with quarter-round trim wood.

  3. Cut the Workbench Side and Back Walls

    Use another free shelving unit insert as a template to measure out the two short side walls and the one long back wall. Lay the shelf insert on the plywood to mark out the widths of the two side walls (about 18 inches). Mark the width of the back wall (about 36 inches). Heights for all walls are based on your earlier decision when you placed the unit's fourth tier (the bench's ceiling).

  4. Install the Workbench Side and Back Walls

    Place the side and back walls against the shelf unit's posts and hold in place with the spring clamps. From the back, drill three holes per post through the hole in the post and continuing through the plywood. Do this for all three wall pieces, for a total of 18 bolts.

    From the front, insert the 1-1/2-inch pan-head bolts. On the back, add the washers and bolts. Tighten in place with the wrench.

  5. Optional: Add Drawers

    One advantage of this workbench is that it has a generous amount of storage room on all four of the unused shelves. But if you wish, you can add drawers under the work surface to hold small items or hand tools.