Articles - Work Table
06/26/2003
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I was in need of a good workbench for building the more than 70 cabinets for my fourth layout (I only made it to 10). To learn more about benches, I bought the book by Scott Landis, called "The Workbench Book". I highly recommend this book if you are interested in learning about various philosophies behind workbenches. The author describes how they are built, plus you'll learn about accessories (like vises) needed to do specific tasks. The book is well-written and it is an easy read. My decision was that I don't want to take the time right now to build a serious cabinetmaker's workbench (one professional cabinetmaker estimated that his bench would take about three weeks of full-time work! He built his part-time over several months). So, I started off using my table saw extension table as the work table, but it soon proved to not be the right tool for the job. So, I decided to build the table shown on this page.

I decided to build a table that is roughly 6 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 45 inches tall (1.83m x 1.22m x 1.14m). The height was picked by measuring to just an inch below my elbow. This height allows me to stand up straight while working on the bench (important for the back). The plan was to build a simple, but effective table - mostly so as to not spend too much time building it (it took three four-hour work sessions to complete this workbench). The first diagram shows the long side profile.
Work Table
This is the short side profile.
Work Table
And this is the top view.
Work Table
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The table features two flat surfaces. I decided to use 3/4"-thick, 7-ply Pine plywood. It was cheaper than Oak or Birch plywood, yet of higher quality than the cheap plywood. The top surface is to overhang all four edges by 3 inches. In the future I might install a twin-screw vise on the front short side. Modifications will need to be made to the workbench to accommodate the bench vise, but I will tackle that when I actually buy the hardware. The overhang was designed to make it easier to clamp things on the table surface. The framework is built out of good-quality 2x4's (I bought 9 8ft boards). The photo below shows all the parts I used. I also bought some 1x2's in Red Oak to dress up the top surface trim. The 2x4 framework is constructed using the very simple-to-use Simpson Strong-Tie corner brackets (all you need are 8 corner connectors and two boxes of self-tapping screws). I previously had two workbenches that used these brackets, so I was able to re-use them again for this project.
Work Table
Here is a close-up of one of the corner brackets and their self-tapping screws.
Work Table
First order of business is to cut the 2x4's to the right lengths. The photo below shows (from left to right), two 39" middle braces, four 39" short side boards, four 59" long side boards, and the four 44" legs.
Work Table
The key to getting these corner brackets to create good results is to clamp them down before installing the screws. This photo shows the set-up I used for clamping. The self-taping screws make quick work, because you don't have to pre-drill each hole.
Work Table
The brackets for the lower level surface are in place. I did not install screws on the inside corners of the brackets yet. These are really just used to bring the whole thing into square (I usually do them last).
Work Table
Next, I attached the short-side boards.
Work Table
The long-side boards complete the basic shape of the table.
Work Table
Then repeat the process for the top level. The brackets need to be positioned such that the 2x4's line up flush on the top.
Work Table
For added support for the two surfaces, I also installed two middle boards. These were installed with two 3-inch drywall screws on each side.
Work Table
I had a major "oops" here. I forgot to cut and install the lower level plywood board before doing the top frame boards. It is too big to go through any of the openings, so I am going to have to cut it in half and slide each section in one at a time. Because of this, I needed to cut four 30.75" boards to provide additional mounting surface of these panels. These new 2x4's were staggered (as seen in the photo below) because I needed access to each end to install the 3" screws. So, if I were to build this table again, I would cut the plywood surface for the bottom shelf before installing the top level 2x4 boards. I would leave the plywood sheet loose until the top-level 2x4 boards are fastened. Oh well, lesson learned!
Work Table
After the lower level plywood board was cut in half (see inset), I cut a 1.5" x 3.5" notch in all four corners of the plywood to make space for the framework legs.
Work Table
The next photo shows the two lower level plywood boards installed. The next thing I did was flip the top plywood board over (ugly side up) and I cut and ripped rims from the left-over plywood. This is mostly done for aesthetics - it makes the bench-top look thicker and heavier. The rims were ripped to 2-7/8 so that there is just a little bit of play between them and the table framework. It made centering the table top on the framework very easy.
Work Table
I flipped the top over again and attached it to the framework with some screws.
Work Table
Again, for aesthetics, I am adding 1x2 Red Oak trim. The Oak was exactly 1.5 inches thick, but the two pieces of plywood together were a bit thinner. I ran the Oak trim through the table saw to rip it down a bit. The next photo shows the first trim piece being installed. I cut the miter at the table saw also. The trim was glued to the plywood, and then reinforced with the brad nailer. The clamps were used to make sure the top and bottom of the trim lines up perfectly with the edge of the plywood.
Work Table
And here's the final product! I finished installing the Oak trim. After filling the top surface and brad nail holes with wood filler, and a good sanding, the trim was stained with Cherry stain. I will put a second application of stain and several layers of lacquer on the whole top surface before the workbench is completely done.
Work Table
The photo below is of the workbench in action! I am gluing up two of the panels for one of the overhead lighting cabinets for the model railroad room. I am very happy with the result. It is a good workbench at a comfortable height (if you're 6'4, that is!). There is ample surface space on the lower level for tool storage, and on the upper level for cabinet construction. There are several things, however, I would do differently if I had to do it again.
Work Table