Workbenches! Everyone wants them. Everyone loves them. They’re the bee’s knees; but also hella expensive! At least when you want something sturdy, and not made out of paper maché like the majority of tables sold by Ikea. So I figured – why not make my own? How hard could it possibly be?
I needed a workbench. You’re supposed to learn from your mistakes, but it took me several purchases of Ikea tables to learn that they really don’t last even common office use. I don’t even mind that they’re made out of honeycomb shaped paper, hopes and wishes. Unless you drop something big and heavy on them (like I did), they’re fine. But even their damn coating rubs off after not even a year of regular use.
I’ve reached an impasse. I live in a tiny flat, so my living room is also my bedroom and my office and my working area. Hence, why I made the decision that, if I’m already making a custom table for myself, it should be big enough for both my computer and my work area – especially since, while working with Electronics, the two were often intertwined.
Most office tables are also embarrassingly small. I’m a big guy with big needs. I needed something that is at least 80 cm deep, and due to the dual use nature of my workbench, approximately 200 cm wide.
I like wood. In theory. It is beautiful to look at, and just… speaks to the senses. Humanity has been working with wood as long as we have been working with tools. Hence, my decision to make the workbench out of wood. It’s cheap, tough, and you can get it pretty much everywhere. It is, however, also a giant pain in the perineum to work with. But I figured that was worth the trouble.
I whipped up a vague table design based on ideas I found online, but none really gave away their precise schematics for free. While I’m a huge amateur and barely know what I’m doing, at least I can give you the detailed plans for a beer:
The table is basically 2 tables in 1. The goal was to need as few tools and cuts as possible. No complex/difficult cuts to begin with. I was able to get everything cut to length by the hardware store where I bought the lumber from. The only work needed was on the desk plate itself.
Bill of Materials
|Item||#||Description||Where to get|
|Table Legs||8||Frame wood from spruce/fir, planed, 74 mm x 44 mm x 700 mm||Hardware Store|
|Crossbar (X)||3||Frame wood from spruce/fir, planed, 44 mm x 44 mm x 2.312 mm||Hardware Store|
|Crossbar (Y)||11||Frame wood from spruce/fir, planed, 44 mm x 44 mm x 642 mm||Hardware Store|
|Table top||2||Table top, beech (or other hard wood), 120 cm x 80 cm x 2.8 cm||Hardware Store|
|Angle connector||>24||Angle connector, 50 mm x 50 mm x 40 mm, Galvanized|
At least 24, more can be added to increase rigidity.
|Wood Screw (table-to-frame)||28||pan head wood screw, Ø 6 mm x 60 mm||Hardware Store|
|Wood Screw (legs-to-frame)||20||pan head wood screw, Ø 6 mm x 140 mm||Hardware Store|
|Wood Finish||Hardwax oil||Hardware Store|
|Sand Paper||Various grades: 80 – 120 – 240||Hardware Store|
|Wood Glue||For making the two table tops one||Hardware Store|
|Tool||Description||Where to get|
|(Orbital) Sander||I do not recommend sanding by hand, unless your arms are made of steel||Amazon.com|
|FFP2+ Mask||PPE is important. Especially while sanding you want to wear a respirator, potentially also when applying the hardwax oil.||Amazon.com|
|Protective Goggles||While sanding you want to wear a pair of protective goggles that is more or less sealed, to avoid getting dust in your eyes.||Amazon.com|
|Ear Protection||Sanders are noisy. Don’t be an idiot. Protect your hearing.||Amazon.com|
|Vises/Clamps||At least two small ones to help keeping things in check while screwing everything together.||Amazon.com|
|Ratchet straps||Needed when glueing the table tops together. Needs to be at least 480 cm long. Alternatively, clamps that are 240 cm long.||Amazon.com|
|Brushes / Paint rollers||For applying the hardwax oil on the table tops. In theory you can also use towels, but I recommend getting 2-3 brushes and/or rollers.||Amazon.com|
After getting all the bits and pieces you need, I’d recommend starting preparing the table tops first.
Preparing the tabletop
Both table tops need to be sanded and finished before they can be attached to the table. This is a labour-intensive, multistep process. They’re sold unfinished, so they need to be sanded and protected by either a wax or a lacquer. I went with a hard wax oil, which allows the wood to breathe and protects it from moisture.
Step 1: Sanding
Use coarse sandpaper (80 or 120 grit) to get an even surface on the table. Afterwards, use a moist towel or sponge to lightly moisten the surface. This will raise the grain and get caught in the next sanding step.
Next up is a medium or fine paper. You can either go 80 → 180 → 240, or skip the 180 grit stage. Decide based on how flat and smooth the surface already is. After finishing the sanding, it’s time to apply the oil.
Step 2: Coating
Hard Wax Oil is a blend of oil and wax, that combines the advantages of both. The oil soaks deep into the wooden fibres, giving it protection even beyond the surface.
- Apply an even thin layer of oil with a brush in the direction of the grain.
- Allow to react for approx. 10-30 minutes.
- Now remove excess oil with a cotton cloth or oil absorbent cloth. The surface should feel dry.
- For large surfaces, use a white pad if necessary.
- If necessary, a second coat can be applied after 6-8 hours without intermediate sanding.
Caution: Cloths, pads or wood dust soaked with oil can spontaneously ignite due to heat build-up, therefore please clean immediately after use or store underwater.
Constructing the frame
Lay out the frame on the floor and screw the table legs together. I recommend using some of the extra lumber to slightly lift the frame while working on it. Use the wood clamps to tighten gaps while screwing in the angle connectors. Do this until the entire upper frame is complete.
In the photos, you can see me use a special drill bit that allows for cone-head screws to leave a flat finish. I bought the wrong kind of screws, so if you get the flat head ones, you won’t need to do this step.
Next, attach the table legs to the upper frame, as well as the lower frame, to stabilize the legs. Wood clamps come in very handy here once again.
Attaching the tabletop to the frame
After you’ve completed the frame, it’s time to attach the table-top. Chances are this took you long enough for enough time to pass for the hard wax oil to properly cure and harden, if not, you should wait until that is the case. Afterwards, put both plates onto the frame, and coat both surfaces that will mate in the middle with a liberal helping of wood glue. I made the mistake of not using enough – wood glue is easily sanded off once it’s dry, so feel free to use an extra helping to make sure to get a proper connection.
Now follows what was probably the hardest step. For the tabletops to properly adhere to one another, you need to apply a lot of force. As we’re gluing the sides together, this means the only way of applying force is the opposite ends of the table tops. Luckily, I had a few ratchet straps that I normally kept in my car to secure loads. Ratchet straps can induce a surprising amount of force, and after slinging it all the way around both table tops, I was able to ratchet it tight enough for a fairly good seal.
Now, before the glue dries, it is important to screw the tabletops into the frame. This is important because the tabletops are likely not 100% flat, and the mating surfaces do not match completely. Doing so after would put tangential stress on the glued surfaces, which is why it should be done while it is still wet. Once again, I recommend using clamps to flatten the table prior to screwing it in. Afterwards, let it dry.
The connection wasn’t perfect in my case, so what I ended up doing was sanding the surface where the table tops meet until they were smooth, then applied hard wax oil again. Afterwards, it created a satisfying connection.
I underestimated how long it would take, and made some mistakes due to being a rookie, but overall I am very happy with the results. I hope you can avoid some of the mistakes by reading this guide, and will be as pleased as I am with my table. It has served me well for years now, and I find it immensely satisfying to be using a piece of furniture I’ve made myself.
I made a slight modification by adding a lower shelf to get more storage space, but other than that, I am still very happy.