The Garage: The Workbench

My main workbench.

The cornerstone of any shop is the workbench. Every project makes its way across your bench, so having the ideal setup is important. Different uses call for different benches. A woodworking bench is very different from one for a metal shop. My garage came with a workbench that was made of hardwood floor, likely left from the construction of our house. It was OK for a while, but it wasn’t very flat and it was high. I like a higher than average work surface, but it was really high.

On a side note: I have found that most people guess higher that normal for work surface height. I once asked about 6 people to show with their hands me how high a kitchen counter was. Most counters are at 36″, but people had their hands on imaginary counters in the 38-48″ range.

The Bench
A couple of years ago I pulled it out and built a new one. I wanted to make the best bench I could, one that would fit my needs and budget. Many people over build their workbench using beefy (and expensive) 6×6 legs with 2×4 frames, but under building has problems. Mass helps absorb vibrations from your hammer or sander. I used 2×3′s for the frame and legs, but tied it all in with the framing of the garage for added mass. The top was MDF (also heavy) covered with hardboard for a durable and replaceable surface. I made a backslpash by cutting an angle on some 1×4 with the circular saw to keep things from falling behind. It took a few years, but I also finished the edge with some more 1×4.

I have a small clamp on vice, a medium, and a nice large one, but I have never been able to commit to having them mounted. Usually its own weight is enough to keep it in place. I am afraid to mount it anywhere because as soon as I do, I know I will want it somewhere else.

Most of my benchtop power tools are attached to 2′x2′ pieces of MDF and have rails that they slide on under the counter. Its worked well for a several years. I had made a simple stand that they set on and had threaded inserts so the tool could be attached to the base, which also had a home under the counter. I never actually attached them and they only ever sat on it. I also intended to mount casters on the base, but after a few years I got tired of it and just took it apart. I had just the right thing to replace it with: a file cabinet.

Years ago I bought a used horizontal file cabinet from UM Property Disposition. I mounted casters on it and had a chunk of 2″ thick maple top that was 39″x24″ with a grid of 3/4” holes (for bench dogs). Until recently it just sat around with some tools inside it and the top just sitting on top. I finally cut a couple of inches off the width of the top so it would fit under the counter. To attach it I bolted it together with some 1 1/2″ spacers so I can clean out underneath and get clamps under the top. There is also a 6″ overhang on the backside that should come in handy for clamping. It rolls out and can become extra workspace, or a place for benchtop tools.

C-Clamps, F-Clamps, Vise Grips, Spring clamps, deep C-Clamps.

You can never have too many clamps, and a few years back I was able to score a bunch of clamps for $25 on craigslist, when combined with my collection it gave me a good amount. I have them stored in the corner of the garage, and are all accessible while not taking away too much valuable space. Most are just mounted on wood rails and sorted by type.

Pegboard is an item of contention. Some people like it, some don’t. I didn’t until I got some with my house and now I am hooked (pun intended). I am too cheap to buy big tool chests, so pegboard is my cheap way to organize my tools for now.

As part of my new shelves I gained some new bench space. I decided to mount my battery chargers here as well to keep them out of the way.

This article is one in a series of articles entitled: The Garage. To see all the parts so far CLICK HERE.

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