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– Robert Frost”

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Tips for Building a Workbench

So you want a workbench. Now WHAT?

Each workbench I own was a decision I had to make: buy one or build one? Simple right?
Well – sometimes it’s a combination or rather a modification of something else to fit your need.
Here I write about the first workbench I ever built in part one of my Custom Workbench series.

A little planning goes a long way. So here are some questions to ask yourself:

1) Why do you need one? What is the intended use of this workbench? (light duty, heavy duty, standing or sitting, tool bench or work surface, pegboard) As many questions as you can come up with and your answers will help you decide what you need. TAKE NOTES.

2) Where is it going? Not just which room or out in garage or in the basement… but do you have a designated space? Is it against a wall or will you be moving around all sides? Does it need to fit between other things? Can/should those things be moved? Now MEASURE that space and add to your notes.

3) What is my budget? How much money are you prepared to spend? Building your own can be cheap or may run you a fair amount depending on materials used, and your end goal. Add to your notes.

4) How tall are you? Is more than one person going to be using the workbench? Go back to sitting vs standing notes from step one. Figure out the minimum and maximum comfortable work height for sitting or standing. (avg desk height is around 30”, but we have adjustable chairs, kitchen counter are often 36” high.) Add to your notes.

5) What bells and whistles are on your wish list? Wheels (mobility), drawers (under or on top), shelf, vise, easy to clean, water resistant, electrical outlets. Add to your notes.

6) Now SKETCH out a rough design or 3 or 5. I usually start with expected shapes and teak as I go along. Then once I have one I like – I re-draw it cleaner and start adding in measurements to see if I think it will work. Am I happy – will it work – is it flexible to changing needs or do I need just this?

7) WAIT! Don’t build anything YET. Check around the house (or your family’s or friend’s). Is there anything that will work for now – an unused table, or cabinet or saw horses and door? Sometimes waiting for the right solution is better…it allows you to think and re-think that purchase or build decision. This is also when I start checking the internet (Craigslist & Freecycle), thrift stores and yard sales. Used office furniture places are great too but sometimes cost more.

8) You found something that ALMOST works – can it be modified easily and not cost you too much? In case it doesn’t work long term – try to keep your costs reasonable – that way if you decide to get rid of it for something better you aren’t feeling burdened by the cost. Sometimes it’s re-drilling holes for better placement of shelves, or painting it to look better. Or fixing a leg or adding casters…. keep an open mind, and don’t forget to think combinations of items. Two tables can be joined, or items can stack or be screwed together to be stronger / larger.

9) Build it yourself! Or buying new. You decided – nothing else you’ve seen works so shop your choices, figure out how much money and time it should take you to build it, and if you will need help.

DIY – Do you have the tools and skills? Skills can be learned and tools can be borrowed or rented if you don’t need to own or store them, but will add to the time it takes. Buy tools if you know you’ll need them long term, have lots of projects or just want be able to practice using them for other things, or maybe you hope you’ll get inspired to make more things.

You have a design from your notes but aren’t confident? Don’t forget that plans can be purchased and then it’s a matter of following those directions or modifying them sightly to fit your space. It’s still DIY but with help from someone who has been there and done that. You’ll still be doing all the hard work.

Buying materials – buy extra but not too much – keep receipts in case of returns. Make a list so you aren’t going back and forth too many times to the hardware store. If you make a cut list from your design notes you can have the hardware store cut the pieces for you to save time and buying tools you don’t need. Double check which hard ware (brackets, nails, screws, bolts, washers and nuts etc) you will need – and which tools work best – do you have them?

Now comes the making your cuts, drilling holes, putting things together and making something for yourself or family (and friends) to be able to use.

OR

BUYing a work bench is not a sin – there are many fine workbenches out there. I would still shop for used ones; since they show up frequently. Plus I have limited income and happen to like an eclectic feel to my workspaces.

Look for something in your budget that will last you and meet long term needs. Preferably one that you can either fit in your vehicle or comes unassembled. A tip for people who are not overly strong…. open the box once it’s home outside and take the pieces in – don’t try to take the whole box to where you are putting it together. It may take longer – but you are less likely to hurt yourself before you even begin.
You may want to “phone a friend” for hauling or assembly, rent a truck for a few hours or have it delivered.

Now comes the assembly – from experience I know I can do it myself… I also know it helps to have somebody else there to hand you tools, hardware or hold things in place.

10) Get that workbench in place! Outfitted the way you need it and start making more things! But most of all remember your decisions and your goals made this workbench the right one for you….

ps – Are you feeling better? And prepped to make or buy a few more workbenches down the road as your needs change? I hope so – because if I can do this – anyone can.

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