Dear James: I am having trouble finding a sturdy workbench that is not too tall for my short height. Do you have any ideas for how I can build my own smaller-sized one?
— Darlene T.
Dear Darlene: Most workbenches you find at big-box stores are sized for a six-foot man’s convenience. You can place some type of low platform in front of it, but that can create a stumbling risk.
Most of the small child-sized workbenches are probably not strong enough to be useful.
It is not safe to work on an awkwardly tall workbench. There will be a greater likelihood of your whacking your finger with a hammer or cutting it with a saw — Ouch!
Also, the more substantially built your workbench is, the easier and more precise your projects will be.
Even if the overly large size were not a problem, it is still a good idea to make your own workbench. It will definitely not be flimsy, like some of the kits that you saw, and you can design it with the specific features that you want.
Plan on spending more than $100 to build a good workbench. This may sound like a lot, but it will last a lifetime. The money you save with many do-it-yourself home repair and improvement projects will pay back the material costs many times over.
I recommend building a workbench with a good-quality hardwood top and finished edge over a plywood base.
Standard ¾-inch, tongue-and-groove oak hardwood flooring works great. This not only looks good (unfortunately, it won’t stay that way for long), but it holds up well to hammering, vibrations from sawing and torque from bending pipe.
No matter how experienced you are, you will still occasionally miss a nail head and pound the top with a hammer. Hardwood will dent slightly, but not at all like standard plywood or, even worse, just pine lumber.
Finish the top with several coats of urethane. This looks great and resists oils and other common chemicals.
Many workbenches are typically 35 inches high, about 28 inches deep and four to five feet long. With your smaller stature, size yours to be about 31 inches high, 26 inches deep and five to six feet long if you have the space in your garage.
A longer workbench is more stable when you have a long heavy item in the vise on one end.
My favorite workbench design uses two horizontal frames (made from 2-by-6-inch wood studs) attached to strong vertical legs. The lower frame supports the lower shelf, and the upper frame supports the top work area.
For a professional look, notch the corners of the lower shelf plywood for the vertical legs, so that it is flush with the edges of the frame.
If you want to build it right, use 4-by-4-inch wood studs for the legs, not just 2-by-4-inch ones.
Use treated lumber for the legs if your garage floor is damp or you spray it out regularly with a hose and cleaners. Cut the legs square on both ends and 1½ inches shorter than the finished top height (the top is 1½ inches thick).
Size the horizontal frames to allow for a 10-inch top overhang on each end and a 3-inch overhang in the front. Ten inches is adequate to mount your vice and other devices.
The vertical legs are mounted inside the frame corners with 3-inch-long screws, or better yet, one-quarter-inch lag bolts.
Screw the top plywood base to the upper frame. Nail the hardwood flooring to the plywood.