Creating The Perfect Workbench
May 21, 2021
The “perfect workbench” is of course a matter of opinion and personal needs. At this point, however, I’ve used and built several, so I’ll say that at least qualifies me to throw my opinion out there. While striving toward the optimal workbench has been (and still is) an evolution, not a careful plan, here’s a few things to look for in your bench:
(Image Credit: Jeremy Cook)
- Space – more is almost always better, though you’ll want to be able to reach across it. Unless you’re especially lucky and/or a good planner, you’ll need to weigh the tradeoffs of taking up too much workspace.
- Storage – There is something to be said for a clean workbench with nothing on it, but parts and tools have to go somewhere.
- Lighting – You need to see what you’re working on. This is even more important if you take a lot of photos and/or video.
- Extras – Perhaps you’ll want a mount for a microscope, oscilloscope, compressor nozzle, or any number of other items. Personally, I have an overhead camera mount, and a hook for a pneumatic air blowoff. If you make your bench, you have limitless options!
Space is probably the most critical on this list, and for my latest build I started out with a 7’ x 3 ½’ slap of chipboard for the top and bottom storage area. This, along with a number of 2x4s, was fashioned into a bench using a 2x4 basics workbench kit. The top chipboard was finished with urethane, which looked really good when done. After all, with the price of wood these days, you might as well make it look considering what you paid for it!
These dimensions work out to a generous 24.5 ft area, which gives me plenty of room to place projects, equipment, tools, and parts at the same time. It was cut down from its original 4’ x 8’ size to save space in the garage, and to allow me to easily reach across the bench when needed.
The bottom of the setup was left open for large item storage, and is still not full at this point. On top I used accommodations that came with the kit to suspend 2x4s for overhead storage. This works well, and allows me to stack Harbor Freight and similar cases on top of each other, enhanced using custom 3D-printed containers inside. I also added magnets to the front of this 2x4 shelf. This is great for hanging tools, but has the potential tradeoff of magnetizing them.
While I like the storage boxes, the drawback is that I do have to get each one out to retrieve parts. One might also consider small drawers for easier access.
(Image Credit: Jeremy Cook)
For overhead lighting, I mounted a metal clamp swing arm lamp to the overhead storage, with a deformable LED ceiling light. This is extremely bright by itself, and I also mounted a strip of 12V LEDs underneath. Taking things a few steps further, I added a MOSFET and Arduino for control, and supplemented this with a strip of RGB LEDs and PIR sensors. It’s probably (certainly) overkill, but allows it to apply more light where you’re working. Much more detail of how I set things up is seen in the videos below:
Extra! Camera Mount
On the top 2x4 storage shelf I attached a custom articulating camera mount. There are of course commercial products that would attach in a similar manner, but it was a fun project for my laser. Adding motorized camera movement is also on my list of projects, so we’ll see if and when that happens.
Proper Workbench, Long Term Benefits!
Depending on how you’re counting, I could potentially claim seven work surfaces for projects and computing. While you could make do with much less, having several areas on which to work on and temporarily store your projects is a huge benefit.
That being said, I’m probably not done with my workbench development, though I do feel like I finally have enough space for most projects that I take on. In fact, it still seems luxurious having such a large surface on which to work. The challenge, of course, is putting the tools away when I’m done!
4’ 10” x 1’ 10 ½” (~9 ft2) workbench moved to make room for new 7’ x 3 ½’ (24 ft2) table. (Image Credit: Jeremy Cook)
Jeremy Cook is a freelance tech journalist and engineering consultant with over 10 years of factory automation experience. An avid maker and experimenter, you can follow him on Twitter, or see his electromechanical exploits on the Jeremy Cook YouTube Channel!