As much as I love it, my desk is not the most sturdy of desks. I have my speakers, arm mounts, and monitors, which already cause it to buckle. If I wanted access to anything else I would need to put it on another surface. The only problem being that, ideally, this surface would be the same height as my desk, and would also have to fill the awkward space between my wall the the radiator. The first bench happened to be my first woodworking project since 4th grade shop class (a hack job) but got the job done (although didn’t quite offer the space I needed). Fast-forward a few months, and I decided to move my desk to the opposite side of my room. Aside from fulfilling my weekly dose of exercise, the new location created an even larger irregular space and an opportunity to build a second, larger, workbench.
If there’s one thing you take away from reading this post it should be that anyone can pursue a small woodworking project with minimal experience, tools, and space. With that being said, I’ll try and highlight what I learned as a novice, manhattanite, and as someone who still lives at home.
The build should start from a drawing, and the drawing should start from measurements. With the high cost (Uber surge can be killer) and difficulty of getting wood, it is extremely important to know exactly how much wood you will need and how you will cut it to minimize waste.
The top drawing shows the dimensions of the empty space next to my desk (radiator included)
Once you know the dimensions of the space you are trying to fill you can go about designing a piece to fit it. The actual design of my bench was cobbled together from YouTube videos and Google image searches.
I cannot say that carrying uncut 2x4s home on the subway is a good idea (ask my friend, Blake). After calling around to a few different locations, I realized delivery was also out of the picture unless I wanted to double the cost of my build. That left only one option: UberXL. After inviting the driver to come into the lumber yard to take a look at what exactly I was trying to fit in his car, he agreed. Luckily, there was just enough room from the trunk bed to the center console to lay the pieces flat through the middle of the vehicle. $33.07 later, we arrived.
You will need a drill. I owned a small, cordless Black and Decker drill for the last five years which suited all of my occasional drilling needs. Drilling and driving #10 screws into wood over several hours was a different story. If you already have a small drill do not worry, it will work, just be prepared for multiple battery changes. I upgraded to the much more beefy DeWalt DCD995 hammer drill and DCF886 driver, and was able to get through the entire project on a single charge.
Going from raw 2x4s to workpieces with a handsaw was not an enjoyable process. If you are making a lot of cuts or, like me, are not the best with a handsaw and your sawing affects the quality of your pieces, buy a circular saw. Not only will this improve the overall finish of your work, it will reduce build time, fatigue, and you can impress your friends with your handiness with power tools.
Probably the most used tool in this build was a speed square. I had never heard of a speed square until I watched videos on cutting 2x4s with a circular saw and purchased one to make straight cuts. One YouTube video later, and I was using the square to quickly measure out almost all of my cuts and screw holes. I would highly recommend getting one.
I hadn’t used a circular saw before and wasn’t too confident I would be able to line up each cut perfectly each time I did. I ended up measuring out one piece at a time, making a cut, then measuring out the next. This took longer than measuring all of the cuts out at once, but allowed me to make small corrections in lengths without having to then readjust the previous marks.
Impromptu saw horse
Draw a cut then use the square as a guide for your circular saw
Expect wood dust everywhere
Once I had all the 2x4s cut to size I started putting together the frame. Unfortunately, my floor is not completely flat so I had to take extra care when squaring up the corners. This however, is where the circular saw really helped as it was much easier to square up flat faces than slightly angled ones.
Drilled and countersunk holes using a single bit (which I will not link to as it already broke)
There is probably a better way to square up corners than using a… square
Once the frame was together I went about attaching the legs. The last workbench I built has the screws going from the frame to the legs, this time I opted to go from the legs into the frame for a cleaner look.
Clamps come in handy
My floor is slightly unlevel
The finished frame
Close-up of the legs
Making sure it fits
Already being put to use
Frame + top done. There is a slight gap on the left side however, I planned on using it to route cables 😉
Repeating the process for the lower shelf
There was a 1 1/2″ gap which I needed to rip a 1×8 for
I threw together a quick jig using another piece of 1×8
I slid the shelf in and decided it set it up with enough clearance to fit my drills and saw under
Mr. Mallet came in handy for aligning the shelf. I only used two screws for each leg as I had exactly eight left
The finished product
I ended up tightening the screw to fix the gap in the photo above
Like a glove
My old 30V 5A power supply for my radio, 12V battery, and drill/driver are hidden underneath
The first workbench, still serving me well, now dedicated to my 3D printer
Cutout using a handsaw and angle grinder (definitely needed a respirator)
The home office is ready
I hope you enjoyed my little photo-essay workbench build, and that some of what I went through and learned can help guide your future projects. The total cost of materials for the build (including transportation) was around $95, the materials themselves were only $62 (wood + screws). It took about four hours to build, from start to finish, with no breaks. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or advice!