In This Article:
Plywood is cut for the top and shelf. 2x4s are cut for the legs and sides. The side frames are screwed together and made square. The entire frame is put together and the top is fastened in place. The shelf is installed after notches are cut into the corners.
About 2 Hours
Bruce W. Maki, Editor
Since the 1990's I've been building workbenches following the design ideas in this article. The concept is simple: Use 2x4's for the legs, and 2x4's or similar lumber for the horizontal structure that supports the plywood or OSB top and shelves.
Where the legs intersect the horizontal boards (I call them "stretchers") I always overlap the boards and fasten them securely with four or five 3-inch deck screws or 3-inch nails. When two boards of decent width are overlapped and joined securely, they form a good tight connection that resists movement (sometimes called "racking") when the workbench is bumped or moved.
I say "decent width" because width of these structural members is important. I have built workbenches and shelf units using 2x4's or 4x4's for the legs, and using 2x4's, 2x6's or 5/4x6 deck boards ripped in half (cut lengthwise) on a table saw for the "stretchers". I would never use 2x2's for legs or horizontal supports... they aren't very strong and they aren't wide enough to form a solid connection.
The materials I used for this project:
Note on OSB / Plywood Thickness: I have made several work benches like this one. Most have used 7/16" thick OSB for the top and bottom shelves. Heavier OSB won't hurt, of course, but just costs more with questionable benefit.
I would never use 1/4" OSB or Lauan plywood for a work bench. It just is not strong enough, and is not much cheaper than 7/16" OSB.
The first thing I did was to lay some 2x4's across two saw horses and place a piece of OSB on top.
I marked the cut line on the wider of the two OSB scraps.
I often use a 4' level for drawing lines. For short distances, this method is easier and more precise than using a chalk line.
The level used here is a product called a "Tri-Level" from Sears, which cost about $15. One edge is triangular-shaped and has a ruler scale.
I cut the OSB to the desired width. In this case, the smallest of the two scraps of OSB was about 26" x 48", so my goal was to make two pieces the same size.
If I was using a full sheet of OSB, I would cut two 24" x 48" pieces from the 4' x 8' panel, leaving enough for another work bench. Many stores sell 4' x 4' panels and 2' x 4' panels.
I used a miter saw to cut the 2x4's, because it is faster, easier, and safer than using a circular saw.
Note how I set the miter saw on a plank laid across two sawhorses. This isn't the most stable work surface for a miter saw... if you ever do this, make sure the saw doesn't work it's way off the plank.
The miter saw shown here is a Craftsman tool that I bought in 1994, and still use sometimes. When I originally wrote this article (in 1999), I had at least two friends who owned Makita LS1040 10-inch miter saws. The design has been around for a long time, so it's a tried-and-proven tool. You can find this saw on Amazon.com:
For laying out the cuts, I used a tape measure, a red pen and a "speed square".
I marked an 8' 2x4 at exactly 32" and 64". This board will give me 3 legs, each just under 32".
Only For The Legs:
I aligned the cut so the middle of the blade was on the line. (Normally I align the mark with one side of the blade.)
Why? Because 8' 2x4's are normally exactly 96" long. (10', 12' etc. lumber is usually about 1 inch longer than specified.)
Since the saw blade is about 3/32" thick, I will lose a significant amount of material due to the blade thickness. I don't care if the table legs are slightly less than 32" long, but I do care if they are not all the same length.
Maybe using one 10 foot long 2x4, cut into four legs exactly 30" long, would be the smartest choice.
With the miter saw, cutting is fast and accurate.
Of course, these simple cuts can also be made with a circular saw. I like to use a speed square as a guide when cross-cutting boards with a circular saw.
You could also use an old-fashioned miter box and a hand saw.
The lumber, after the cutting was done:
Note that I made this workbench 26 inches deep because that was the width of the OSB scraps that I used. If I was starting with a full sheet of plywood or OSB, I would make the bench 24 inches deep.
I marked the legs 6" above the floor. This will be the distance from the floor to the bottom of the lower side rails.
You can make this any dimension you want.
I used 6 inches because that gives me some space under the bottom shelf... enough room to store a few flat items, or for reaching underneath with a push broom.
I laid the side "stretchers" on top of the legs, forming a rectangle.
I aligned the lower edge of the bottom side stretcher with the red lines mentioned above.
I arranged the pieces so the corners were close to being square.
I pre-drilled one hole at each corner, then I drove in a 3 inch deck screw.
By driving only one screw at each corner, the frame can be tweaked until it's perfectly square.
I checked the diagonal measurements.
I measured from the top corner to the opposite lower corner on the bottom cross-member.
On the first diagonal, the distance was 51-15/16 inches.
I measured the distance across the other diagonal.
On the second diagonal, the distance was 51-7/8 inches.
The diagonals were within 1/8". Close, but not good enough for me.
So I tapped the frame lightly, to shift it a little. I held the lower part down with my foot.
I re-measured the diagonals, and adjusted the frame until the diagonal measurements were as close as I could get them.
Then I drove in three more screws for each joint.
Due to poor planning, I almost ran out of 3" screws, so I used some 2-1/2" Ardox (spiral) nails. 3" would've been better.
I prefer to use screws for building work benches, because over time screws will hold better as the work bench is moved around, bumped, or hammered on.
If nails are used, I would recommend Ardox nails, because they are thinner and won't split the wood as badly as common nails.
When I took these pictures in 1999, I used a 12 volt drill-driver to drive in all the screws. In 2003, I bought a Makita 12 volt impact driver, and driving screws has never been the same. An impact driver uses a rotating hammer to pound the screw into the wood. It's noisier but much faster, and the tool is very light. Also, the batteries last longer than a drill-driver.
I've used that impact driver so much that I've worn out 2 pairs of rechargeable batteries. I don't think my impact driver is made anymore, but there are even better, more powerful products, which you can see on Amazon.com, such as the Makita BTD142HW 18-Volt Compact Lithium-Ion Cordless Impact Driver Kit
I strongly recommend looking into an impact driver. It's clearly the most useful tool I own.
After the side frames were completed, I turned them over and stood an end stretcher upright, and then fastened it with deck screws. I used the Speed Square to maintain a right angle.
The side with two end stretchers attached. The other side of the frame looked exactly the same.
I turned each half-frame upside-down on the garage floor and placed them together.
I used a Quick-Grip clamp to hold the lumber while driving the deck screws.
Then I flipped the unit over and connected the top components.
The completed frame.
Note how the corners are joined. This type of over-lapping 2x4 joint is quite strong.
Pre-drilling the holes helps prevent splitting of the wood, which is common when nailed or screwed near the end.
I placed the top piece of OSB on the frame and attached it with 1-5/8" deck screws.
I spaced the screws about 6 to 8 inches apart.
The work bench with the top shelf attached.
The bottom shelf required a notch at each corner, to fit around the legs.
These notches need to be a little bigger than 3" x 5".
The 5" dimension is along the long side of the panel.
Before you hurt yourself, read our disclaimer.
I tilted the OSB panel to get it in place.
Fortunately it fit properly on the first try. In the past I have had to cut the notches slightly larger because the shelf would not fit the first time. Cutting them 1/8" to 1/4" bigger seems to be a fair compromise.
The bottom shelf was also attached with 1-5/8" deck screws.
The completed work bench.
This is the 8th work bench I have built using this design. Every one has been a different size, because each was made using materials on hand. Typically the dimensions of the plywood shelves dictates the work bench size.