POP Projects is a collection of new and classic projects from more than a century of Popular Mechanics. Master skills, get tool recommendations, and, most importantly, build something of your very own.
Projects just seem to call out to some people, luring them with the promise of distraction and the satisfaction of a job well done. Whatever your motivation, there’s no question that you’ll need a place to face those challenges, and the logical place is a workbench. We’ve designed a multipurpose bench that you can put together in the course of a pleasant weekend. The materials are readily available at any reasonably stocked lumberyard or home center, and they won’t cost you a week’s salary.
Furthermore, the bench will provide you with a generous top surface, a wide storage shelf and a utility drawer that all fit in a 24 x 60-in. footprint. It’s a rare basement or garage that can’t yield that much space.
💡For additional usefulness, you can mount a vise to the benchtop.
These Tools Will Help
Plans and Materials
A Note on Materials
The basic materials list consists of a 4 x 8 sheet of 3⁄4-in. plywood, five 2 x 4 x 8 studs, four 1x 2 x 8 pieces of No. 2-grade pine, and one short piece of 1 x 8 pine for the drawer face. You’ll also need bolts, lagscrews, finish nails, assembly screws, and a drawer pull.
When you visit the lumberyard, try to select flat and straight 2 x 4 stock for the bench. You also have the option of selecting the grade and species of plywood. The least expensive choice would be construction grade material, most commonly fir. For a rough worktop, either will suffice. However, if you want a more finished look or a smoother surface, you can use a plywood with hardwood veneers.
Making The Bench Parts
Begin by laying out the leg and rail cuts on 2 x 4 stock. You will be able to get one leg and one long rail from each 8-ft. 2 x 4, and all of the short rails from the remaining stud. Use a circular saw to crosscut the parts. To ensure square cuts, use a speed square to guide the saw .
Next, lay out the notches for the long rails on the bench legs. Clamp a leg to a pair of sawhorses with the top end hanging free, then make the rip cut for the top notch . Stop the saw when the blade reaches the mark for the bottom of the notch. Use a handsaw to complete the cut . Turn the leg on its edge and clamp it to the sawhorses. Then use the saw to make the crosscut, freeing the waste from the notch .
With the leg still supported on its edge, make a series of parallel cuts about 1⁄4 in. apart for the lower rail notch . Then support the leg on a piece of scrap wood, and use a sharp chisel to chop out the waste .
Take two side rails and clamp them to a pair of legs. Bore one 3⁄8-in.-dia. pilot hole through each joint, and install a bolt and nut to join the parts [7/8]. Be sure to use washers on both sides of the joint. Leave the bolts loose so you can adjust the joints. Compare the opposite diagonal measurements of the side assembly to check that it is square . The measurements should be identical. Make any necessary adjustments, then tighten the bolts. Bore the second pilot hole in each joint, and install the rest of the bolts.
Clamp a top rail to the two side assemblies, and bore a pilot hole for a lag screw in each joint. Press a lagscrew into position . Firmly drive the screw, then remove the clamp and bore the second pilot hole for the second lag screw. Follow the same procedure to install the rest of the rails.
Use an open-end or ratchet wrench to tighten the lagscrews, but do not overtighten them.
Next, lay out the required parts on the sheet of 3⁄4-in. plywood. You should be able to get the top, shelf, drawer and support assembly parts from one sheet. Cut the parts to size using a circular saw guided by a straight piece of lumber clamped to the sheet .
Place the bottom shelf in position on the bottom rails, and adjust it so that its edges are flush to the outside rail surfaces. Then place the bench top panel in place, and temporarily clamp the shelf and top in position. Use a combination drill bit/countersink to bore pilot holes in the shelf and top, then drive screws to fasten them in place [12/13]. If you wish, you can fill the screw holes with wood putty. When it dries, sand it flush.
The bench’s edging consists of 1 x 2 pine. Test fit each piece first, then fasten with 6d finish nails driven into the plywood .
Bore and countersink appropriate pilot holes in the drawer parts, and screw the drawer box together . Next, fasten the bottom panel to the drawer box . Cut the drawer face to length, and fasten it to the front of the drawer box with 1 1⁄4-in. screws . We used a bin-style drawer pull. For this, or any other surface-mounted pull, bore the appropriate pilot holes, and fasten the pull with screws.
Assemble the drawer support shelf from the remaining plywood parts. It is easiest to clamp the parts together before you bore the pilot holes and drive the screws-especially when you attach the support cleats to the drawer support sides . Clamp the assembly to the front and back rails, then fasten it with 2-in. No. 8 screws . Slide the drawer into position on the bench.
For many projects, it is extremely useful to have a vise to hold a workpiece. If you decide to mount one on your bench, position it so that at least two of the mounting holes are directly above the 2 x 4 rails. Mark the hole positions, and bore the pilot holes. Use lagscrews to mount the vise .