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If we had to lay a quarter on the most common first-serious-project for the new Toolmonger, we’d bet on the workbench.  To us they seem like an extension of ourselves — a place where we’ll spend countless hours working on other projects.  While a store-bought bench can bring instant productivity — and often sturdy manufacturing techniques beyond the beginner — we almost never seem to find one set up perfectly for our workspace and needs.

But enough touchy-feelie stuff.  Here’s the question: is it better to buy a workbench or to build your own?  (Just to be clear, a vote for “hot” means you approve of store-bought benches, “not” means you’d rather build your own.)

Let us know your opinion in comments.

(Thanks Kelly Sue for the great cc-licensed photo.)


34 Responses to Hot or Not? Store-Bought Workbenches

  1. Colin says:

    I say not. I have a bench that was built by my friends grandfather and then passed to me through a series of moves, this thing is built like tank, and I can drill into it, cut it, get glue and paint on it – doesn’t matter, cause any part can be replaced if needed. Then in the garage I have a Craftsman bench that I am afraid to do anything on, due to the fact that it is all metal. So it is home-made all the way for me.

  2. dlone says:

    I vote “not,” unless you need a very specialized bench such as a jewelry maker’s bench. For general purposes, I’ve never found a store-bought bench that was just right. For one thing, I’m tall, so I like a taller-than-normal bench. I’m also fussy about the dimensions, surfaces, drawers, and shelves. I’ll stick with my own contraptions.

  3. Tom says:

    not, homebuilt is the way to go. I got some 30″ by 96″ maple tops cheap so that was my starting point. I also have one that was built into my basement that is great. I use it for tons of stuff.

  4. Leslie says:

    Even though I don’t have one and probably would never have one, I’m going to vote “hot” because there are most definitely time and people and places where a storebought bench, while not “perfect” in its design, will at least allow someone to be up and running quickly. I can also see them as being a benefit to a newbie – someone who really wants to start learning to work on things that really are done best in front of a good workbench, but who do not yet have the skills or patience — or workbench — to allow them to build their own. I’ve seen many a newbie lose patience with trying to do it themselves when the reality is that they didn’t have the right tool or an appropriate work surface to do what they needed to do. Plus a newbie really doesn’t know enough about his/her workspace needs to design one that will meet those needs after a couple of years of experience.

    So, not for me, but HOT (necessary to be available) nonetheless.

    Besides, we wouldn’t want to deprive the guys who transforn their garages into pristine fully-outfitted workshops that exist to prove to their buddies that they have the biggest and best tools available, but who then hire a contractor for every little project beyond changing a light switch cover.

    And as a side semi-rhetorical question: Workbenches rigged out of old tables, desks, doors rigged onto sturdy legs, etc. — classified as “storebought” or “hand-built”?

  5. Leslie says:

    I’ll add: Chuck, I’d love to see a “show off your workbench” thread (folks could just post links to pics. Maybe a good how-to on building a basic workbench (or a link to someone else’s how-to, as with the carpet-laying article) would be useful to some folks as well.

  6. Steve Thompson says:

    Not. I spent last weekend building a small bench for my garage. I use a wheelchair, so try finding a sturdy bench at 32″ high. Also I made low shelf only half the depth so I could roll under. Point is…everyone has different needs and the only way to get what you need sometimes is to do it yourself. A workbench, IMHO, falls firmly into this category.


  7. Waylan says:

    I say NOT. If this is to actually be used as a work bench, it will be beat. Considering the price of store-bought benches, I’d be afraid to touch one with my tools. When you consider the low cost of using re-purposed old lumber, doors etc, a homebuilt wins every time.

    PS Leslie: Does that answer your question? It might be different if you went out and bought a new door expressly for a bench top. When it’s old re-purposed material, then its homebuilt IMHO.

  8. JK says:

    Another vote for not. My current space is a severe mish-mash; one corner exending out 6′ either way is a corner kitchen counter/cabinet setup. Extended from that are some homebuilt (one mine, one pre-existing) benches, then a store-bought Gorrila bench I got from my in-laws one year. The gorrila bench has some decent storage, and a simple-to-replace MDF top, but I find myself using my post and 2×4-built bench area for most of my ‘dirty’ work (cuts, drilling, grinding), and the gorrila bench for my ‘clean’ work (soldering, wiring, assembly). The rest of the area just collects crap mostly, and the whole garage is in dire need of a re-config.

  9. Dean in Des Moines says:

    Not. I have yet to see one sturdy enough to stand up to a pounding.

  10. Leslie says:

    >PS Leslie: Does that answer your question? It might be different if you
    > went out and bought a new door expressly for a bench top. When it’s old
    > re-purposed material, then its homebuilt IMHO.

    That’s my opinion, too; I was just curious about what others think. I don’t have a single work surface or storage unit that isn’t recycled from something: Old dressers for tools, a ratty old desk for my chopsaw, reclaimed or scrap lumber for almost everything else.

    I AM, however, in need of a “real” good sized workbench, now that I’ve lived without one for the year we’ve been in this house. My previous good one was built using a big solid old library tabletop as the worksurface, and was too big to get up the basement stairs without complete disassembling it, and too big to fit into the workspace area of my last (tiny) house anyway. And I don’t have any scavenged furniture at the moment that would suit my needs as a starting point, so I’m looking for ideas. And even if I use all new materials, I won’t go store bought because they’re definitely not geared towards shortfolk like me.

  11. Scraper says:

    Another vote for Not. My advice to any newbie is “build your own bench”. Even with limited tools, budget and skill a simple bench can be built pretty easily. There are plenty of webistes that give instructions and plans if need be. A little scrounging can usally turn up most of the wood that is needed. And a circular saw and cordless drill will cover most of the tool-related aspects.

    Then as your gain experience (and tools) you can build a fancier bench that is tailored to your space and needs. There is no reason your first bench has to be a work of art. I would guess that even Norm Abrams’ first one was no where what he would build today.

    Of course this goes for a lot things around the hosue in my opinion: swing sets (I built an awsome one for my kids last year for half of what a kit would have cost me), fences, sheds, picnic tables, etc…

  12. Kurt Schwind says:

    Another vote in the ‘not’ camp. There are MANY basic plans for work benches out there and even beginners can do with minimal wood-working knowledge. One of the first times I used a circ-saw and miter saw was in building a workbench with my dad. It was a super simple design and could have been done by one person, but like most things, was a LOT faster with 2.

    So based on how easy it is and how customizable it can be, I say ‘build your own’. (Having said that, my last 2 houses had home-made ones already built and I’ve just used those.)

  13. Pat says:


    A decent but simple bench is pretty easy to make, if you can’t manage that yourself, you really have to ask what you are going to do with it.

    Plus for me, the two most important features of a bench are 1/ a top surface that I don’t have to worry about drilling, cutting or scorching (ie I can do these things and not care), and something firmly attached, so when I am swinging off a vice trying to bend something my bench doesn’t fall over.

    I just finished making a pair of saw horses, because the ones at home depot were either a/ lame – I want a saw horse I can stand on & not worry about it breaking, b/ expensive or c/ both. So a couple of hours later I have a pair of sturdy horses. Same deal.

  14. Patrick says:

    I vote not. Even though my work bench is no where near complete (two kids in two years kills any free time) I take pride in knowing that I will have built it myself. I just hope when we move to a bigger house I can get it out of the basement.

  15. Brent says:

    Not… I built a trestle style bench… In the photo pool. The way I built the trestle style let me put a lot of equipment under the bench.

  16. Sean O'Hara says:

    I’m going to have to weigh in with Leslie and say that when first starting off if you need something to get started, store bought units give you a great jumping off point to figure out what is what.

    I will admit that two years ago when I got mine I didn’t know what design would be best for me and didn’t have the cash to build it anyway. A few years later I have a much better idea of what improvements I need and how I am going to go about doing it with the one I build.

    Also if your scope is generally smaller projects or crafts such as modeling or carving a store bought rig can be just whatcha need to get rolling without major headache.

    So “Hot” if your new “Warm” if you just don’t need a custom rig and “Iceberg” if you’re a seasoned shop vet with a shop full of gear.

  17. crashin says:

    I say hot, but the one I bought had only the very basic work surface.

  18. Pete Hartman says:

    When I built my workbench I had no idea what I was doing. I took a standard plan and added thickness (to level with my chop saw, one of my first serious power tools) and there I was.

    I find now that it’s extremely difficult to use for any real woodworking, because I don’t have any standard clamps big enough. I have to use pony’s on 2 foot black pipe to get anything reasonable. I really need to build a real woodworker’s bench, but…..too many other projects 🙂

  19. Pete Hartman says:

    OH, BTW that’s a vote for NOT even so.

  20. Douglas Kwan says:

    hot if you are new to working with you hands. not, if you already know what you are doing

  21. Michael W. says:

    I’m going to waffle. I make furniture for a living. I have used both types and have found both useful. I bought my boy’s a used Sjodberg woodworking bench (it was a great buy at $25 bucks). It was nice to be able to get them up and running without tying my time up making them a bench to use.
    I also have a very heavy duty steel marver (basically a very thick steel tabletop mounted on a hydraulic base) that we used to use for glass blowing. I use it for any kind of metal work I need to do. I’d would hate to try and make something like it.
    On the other hand I love making my own benches (yes I have more than one) and just picked up a small (30″x48″) laboratory type workbench, the kind with the cool heavy, slate-like, top for free. I’m going to strip the metal down, repaint it, and use it for nasty chemical work!

  22. Andrew Freese says:

    But not because of antipathy towards store bought. I’ve built mine twice now and it was a fun learning experience both times (the second build 5 years later is MUCH better). And I’m pretty mine is better (at least for me) than any store boughts except those I couldn’t afford.

  23. James says:

    Definitely not. Even for a total newbie. If you’re learning to build stuff, why throw away a chance to learn, practice, and get something useful out of it?

  24. Tbirdsaw says:

    Not. We have a workbench from my great grandfather that is still in use today. It was just modified (cut in half and split) to fit in our remodeled garage.. so now we have two workbenches. 🙂

  25. Stu says:

    NOT……but if you are rich, there are some very well designed and built workbenches out there in industrial catalogs. But they are 1000’s of dollars. The Home Depot style ones are crap. usually…

  26. Fred says:

    I reluctantly vote Not. If you are going to have a workbench and actually use it then you are capable of building your own workbench designed to your needs. If anyone needs ideas on what can be done with custom workbench projects just search through Flickr for workbench. Tons of stuff to see.

    I have a custom built and a “found” workbench. I built my own trestle table style workbench (Hey, Brent! ) to fit my height and reach. I also have a 1950’s steel table that is substantially heavier construction than modern office furniture. Both are in the Toolmonger photo pool.

  27. jeff says:

    not. definitely not. what could be more gratifying than building your own workbench?

  28. Brau says:

    I also add NOT! If you can’t build one yourself, you likely won’t need one at all, unless you are providing a workspace for employees.

  29. William says:

    From reading this thread I am excited to build a work bench at my new house next month.

    At make they have a nice post on work benches and designs. http://www.makezine.com/blog/archive/2007/06/simple_workbench_and_mega.html?CMP=OTC-0D6B48984890

  30. Eli says:

    Ikea has a stainless covered work surface that I talked my wife into buying for her desk. Like a hundred bucks, add legs. She’s already complaining that it’s too cold for her (rubbing hands with glee). That thing will be around forever, and you know where stuff that sticks around forever ends up !

  31. nrChris says:

    Not with the caveat that some of the high end woodworking workbenches are very very nice and useful. Personally I had too much fun making mine and have been keeping a notebook of how to improve it on round 2.

  32. JasonY says:

    NOT! You can make one so much better quality than you can buy one, and customize it to boot.

  33. Teacher says:

    I vote not. Mine is simple..8 feet long and 2 feet deep and ~34″ high. made out of 2×4’s and 2×6″. Really just a heavy table with a shelf underneath. My dad and I did it in one afternoon. I take pride in knowing I made it and seeing it change color as it gets stained, burned, cut etc. It would kill me to do that to a store bought bench. Plus I(230 pounds) can jump up and down on this one and it doesn’t move.

    I also have an old executive desk I use for an assembly table and tool storage.

    Question: My bench grinder is mounted on an old microwave cart I found at the dump. Is that store bought or home made?

  34. Dimithri says:

    My first workbench was a slab of heavy wood resting on milk crates.

    Now the slab of wood is mounted securely to a discarded kitchen pantry.

    Also got a black and decker workmate ($20 at garage sale)

    Build it yourself, and add stuff and refine it as you gain experience.

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