When it came time to build a work bench for my brand new shop, I decided to go big. If you’re familiar with the much smaller bench that I built for my basement shop, the design of this project will be quite familiar. I’ve tweaked a few things here and there that I think will improve the end product, but at the end of the day, this is a fairly standard 24″ wide bench with a single shelf, built from plywood and 2x4s.
I started by squaring off the ends of four twelve foot long 2x4s. These will serve as the stringers for the bench shelf and top.
I decided to notch the stringers where each of the cross members attach. This helps to keep the structure square, and gives plenty of surface area for gluing and screwing the pieces together. Since the stringers are far too long to notch at the table saw, I used a 1/2″ straight cutting bit on my router. This simple jig clamps to the work piece and ensures that each notch is cut 1 1/2″ wide.
The first time I tried to use this jig, I got a little bit too ambitious. I set the depth of the cut to the full 3/4″, and tried to cut through two of the stringers at once. My poor old second-hand router couldn’t keep up, and the bit wiggled loose, tearing a deep gash into my workpiece. Lesson learned, I continued by cutting one notch at a time, and removed the material with two passes instead of one. It took longer, but the router appreciated my patience.
Here you can see one stringer with all of the notches cut, and the five perpendicular cross members inserted into them. Because the final width of the bench is meant to be 24″, and the notches are cut 3/4″ deep, each cross member is cut 22 1/2″ long.
Because the notches in each stringer are cut in the same place, the bench shelves come together very easily, and are almost perfectly square. I put wood glue and two screws on each butt joint between the stringers and cross members. This approach makes for really strong joints that will probably hold up for longer than I do.
With the cross members done, I cut four 24″ end caps at the table saw. Each end cap has a 1 1/2″ notch cut out of its end that is 3/4″ deep, just like the notches in the stringers.
Unlike the cross members, the end caps fit over the ends of the stringers.
With the skeletons of both shelves complete, it was time to attach some legs. Most garage floors aren’t level, and mine is no exception. I used a string line and a level to figure out the fall, and found that my floor drops 1″ over the 12′ length of the bench. As such, the legs closest to the far wall are 36″ tall, while the legs closest to the camera are 37″ tall. This results in a bench with level shelves that can’t really be moved out of the back corner that I’ve built it for.
Once the legs were on and the two shelves were attached to them, I sheathed each shelf with 1/2″ sanded fir plywood. I had to use a jigsaw to notch the holes out for the legs. The plywood added a lot of weight and rigidity to the bench, and at this point, it really started to feel like a hefty piece of shop furniture.
Once the bench was complete, I gave it a quick once over with my palm sander, and brushed on a coat of Minwax Indoor/Outdoor Helmsman Spar Urethane. Even though I fully intend for this bench to get beat to hell, I wanted a finish that would help to protect it from spills and tool scratches. The brush on product is much thicker than the wipe-on polyurethane that I’ve used in the past, and the satin finish that I chose looks great on the raw wood.