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Thread: Advise on building a workbench cheaply

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2020
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    Virginia
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    27

    Advise on building a workbench cheaply

    I want to build a workbench but am unsure of how to any advice is appreciated

  2. #2
    Anarchists Workbench is probably the best work on the subject
    and there's a free download link on the page, too

    https://lostartpress.com/products/th...ists-workbench

    but you can just sit on the floor and have no workbench, japanese-style. Nothing cheaper than that. All depends how you're willing to work and what your budget is

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
    Location
    Orwell, NY
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    546
    I have a "workbench" which is a 2'x8' piece of 3/4" plywood with a Columbian WW vise at one end and a machinist's vise at the other. I got it for $10 at an auction about 12 years ago and made a set of primitive wooden legs for it. My other two "workbenches" are 2'x6' and 2'x7' MDF topped tables on casters that I got at a closed furniture factory auction for $3 each. They were both originally 8 feet long and lower, but I reconfigured them to fit the spaces where they are and for my height. They have protective layers of paint up to 1/8" thick in places on the frame 2x4s, from their previous life. I'm happy with all of these. Although they are ugly and odd, I am too, so we fit in together.

  4. #4
    You probably want to wait for the lumber market to calm down a bit. This matters because basically a bench is going to be one of the most lumber intensive projects possible, so you want to be able to buy lumber by the pound as cheap as possible. Currently southern yellow pine, considered by Chris Swartz to be the optimal pick, is going for about $25 for No. 1 2x12x8', which is about $2 per bf. Chris advises people to use SYP because it's usually cheap, going for about half that amount of more, and the resulting benches are rock hard after the wood has dried out, and the resin cured for a year or so.

    Calling around to my local lumber yards I was able to get hardwood for $2 a bf, or less. Probably could have saved money if I had bought the beech, but they didn't have any boards that were long enough.

    In a few months all the inflation scares should be over, and Covid-19 no longer effecting production, allowing prices to revert to normal.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2014
    Location
    Silicon Valley, CA
    Posts
    893
    Ed pointed out the Anarchist's Workbench book. It's nice it's free, but it really covers only Christopher Schwarz's conclusions, i.e. a Roubo out of construction grade lumber. His earlier workbench books, through PopWood's publishing arm, cover many modern models and discuss tradeoffs. His Ingenious Mechanicks book discusses older "workbenches", one literally a bench with some work holding features might be your cheapest option, but it's not like what you're thinking about. LAP has just republished Scott Landis's The Workbench Book, with other different ideas. Be sure to look up the Moravian bench (Ken will be along, I'm sure.) With cheaper woods, it shouldn't be too expensive and clearly gives a nice result.

    For the absolute cheapest "real" or "traditional" bench I don't think you can do better than the Nicholson, or English Joiner's, Bench. Mike Siemsen's "The Naked Woodworker" video describes starting with nothing, then rehab'ing tools, building saw benches, and finishes by building a Nicholson bench with simple handtools from construction lumber. (Don't worry, it's naked as in without tools or experience, not unclothed.) The DVD is out of print, but it's still available for download.

  6. #6
    The biggest question to ask yourself (and give us the answer because it will help guide our responses) is what do you plan to do with the bench.

    A bench used to plane rough cut lumber into four-squared boards will look different than one used to carve duck decoys and different than one used for assembling piano soundboards and different than one for sharpening chisels and planes.

    Despite the claims of some authors, there is no "all purpose bench". Some will do many things reasonably well, and some do only one thing well, but do it really well. Bench height is one of the biggest functions of intended use. Other considerations are top material (hardwood, softwood, Formica, plywood, MDF, HDF, steel); top size; open underneath or shelves, drawers; whether the bench is intentionally heavy or not, whether is mobile, etc.

    Myself, I have four benches in roughly a rectangular configuration, each a different design due to the intended purpose (or because I got it for free ). The bench area of the shop is below.
    3B1DADB0-A91E-4A72-AB51-F9CB48019438.jpg


    My "hand tool" bench is a Scandinavian style Tage Frid bench, and is about 33 inches high, which for me, with my long arms and shorter legs, is comfortable to plane on. It has a maple top so as to be friendly to hand tool edges and be easy to see things on it. It does not have wheels so it doesn't rock or move when I plane on it. It has dog holes and a tail vise to hold boards for planing and chiseling, and works well for holding things for the electric router. The shoulder vise is good for dovetailing as well as holding boards in conjunction with the board jack for edge jointing. Though I call it a hand tool bench, its dogs and vises make it handy for power tools as well.
    39075867-A789-407B-8757-BDA1D36BF117.jpg


    My assembly bench doubles as the outfeed table for my Unisaw, so the height matches the saw at 36 inches. It has a 3' x 7' torsion box top covered with white Formica, and drawers beneath. One side of the top overhangs by a foot so I can sit under it for drafting and other work where I want to sit. It is on locking casters so I can move it away from the saw for access all around for things like finishing. The drawers store my most used layout tools, my cordless drills, plans, drafting supplies, small power tools, safety gear, and finish nailers, among other things.
    DAFA7DCB-D8AC-4FBE-A07B-2319E66D3B12.jpg


    My sharpening bench has a 2' x 4' Formica top for water resistance, and has drawers and a shelf underneath for storing sharpening and other supplies. It looks like a 1909 cherry kitchen cabinet because it was my "audition" to my wife to build our kitchen cabinets in our old house. In case anyone is wondering, I passed the audition It is on locking casters and is 36 inches tall, so I can use it as outboard support for the table saw if needed.
    D53C43BF-90AB-4ED8-A593-1BDEE47BEF94.jpg


    The last bench is one I inherited from my dad, and was the original workbench we used when I was growing up. It has a plywood top, because I needed a top and happened to have a piece that size. It actually is a 1912 kitchen cabinet, and served as the prototype for my sharpening bench and cherry kitchen of my 1909 house. I use it as a place to set things on while I am working on the other benches and for gluing up and finishing small items.
    166EA4C3-6640-4F8C-ABEE-57EF6B06F257.jpg
    Last edited by Andrew Seemann; 03-01-2021 at 1:19 AM.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    Upland CA
    Posts
    4,771
    You asked for cheap, Jacob.

    Here are two ways. Both start with a $10 used plain solid core door from Habitat for Humanity's ReStore, in many towns.

    Then:

    1. Put the door across two cheap sawhorses, bought or built.

    OR

    2. Go to Home Depot and get two straight 2X4 studs. Lag bolt one to the garage wall to hold one side, cut the other in half and trim to whatever height fits you, and screw it to the door for front legs. Option: put the legs at a 45 angle back to the wall for legs that are not in the way.

    Either way is a dirt cheap starter bench. Use it for a couple years then build something better if needed.


    PS: Bonus CHEAP bench. Goodwill stores often have really heavy old desks for sale for $20 or so. Now you have a bench with drawers. If lucky you will find a newer office desk made of 1 1/4" thick MDF on the top, covered in Formica, with metal legs. Bingo.

    Cheap enough?
    Rick Potter

    DIY journeyman,
    FWW wannabe.
    AKA Village Idiot.

  8. #8
    Two possibilities from FWW:
    https://www.finewoodworking.com/2009...is-one-is-easy

    https://www.finewoodworking.com/2010...body-can-build

    There is another option that escaped my quick search, but I saw it in one of the recent FWW Tools & Shops issues (maybe this year? ... maybe last?). It was built from 3 sheets of 3/4" ply if memory serves.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2016
    Location
    Southeast virginia
    Posts
    15
    This is old so the costs will be more. You can adjust it to any size you desire. I built two along these lines and have never had an issue. I used leg vises vs what he recommends here because I had the hardware already.
    https://cdn.popularwoodworking.com/w...Workbench2.pdf

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Kansas City
    Posts
    1,772
    You said cheaply. My first bench was 2x4s with a double layer of 3/4 plywood on top. Second was a solid-core closet door ($5 at Habitat Restore) on top of surplus kitchen cabinets. Third was a steel frame restaurant table from Sams Club. Finally bought a small Sjoberg bench, but all the other tables are still in use. If you want a good top, you can buy butcher block maple tops from Harbor Freight among others, and build a sturdy base with 2xs.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Potter View Post
    You asked for cheap, Jacob.

    Here are two ways. Both start with a $10 used plain solid core door from Habitat for Humanity's ReStore, in many towns.

    Then:

    1. Put the door across two cheap sawhorses, bought or built.

    OR

    2. Go to Home Depot and get two straight 2X4 studs. Lag bolt one to the garage wall to hold one side, cut the other in half and trim to whatever height fits you, and screw it to the door for front legs. Option: put the legs at a 45 angle back to the wall for legs that are not in the way.

    Either way is a dirt cheap starter bench. Use it for a couple years then build something better if needed.


    PS: Bonus CHEAP bench. Goodwill stores often have really heavy old desks for sale for $20 or so. Now you have a bench with drawers. If lucky you will find a newer office desk made of 1 1/4" thick MDF on the top, covered in Formica, with metal legs. Bingo.

    Cheap enough?
    I like it. I used some old 2 x 6 pressure treated from a deck rebuild for the legs and apron for an outdoor fish cleaning table and work bench. Has been great for my portable table saw and miter saw. If you want a flat surfce, the habitat for humanity door would be great as a top.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    SoCal
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    21,119
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    You gave no requirements so your responses will be all over the board. Two saw horses and a hollow core door at one end. Dimensional lumber on the other. Both versions can be fully or partially scrounged. What kind of work do you want to do? that will define your bench requirements cheap or not.
    I always forget . . . Is it the letter "S" or the letter "C" that is silent in the word scent?
    - Glenn (the second "N" is silent) Bradley

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by glenn bradley View Post
    You gave no requirements so your responses will be all over the board. Two saw horses and a hollow core door at one end. Dimensional lumber on the other. Both versions can be fully or partially scrounged. What kind of work do you want to do? that will define your bench requirements cheap or not.
    This^^^^^^^^

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Location
    North Prairie, WI
    Posts
    199
    I built the Rob Cosman bench and I love it. It took two sheets of 3/4" MDF and two sheets of 3/4" BB plywood. It has a Sjoberg vise and dogs. I love it and it works great! It only took a weekend to build.

    20200517_114423.jpg

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    South Coastal Massachusetts
    Posts
    6,758
    Materials can be scavenged from Craigslist free offerings.
    If your budget has some room in it, Bob Van Dyke's design is sturdy and adequate.

    https://www.finewoodworking.com/2011...st-workbench-2

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