Workbench for small workspace - extremely stable and strong

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Project by Slavisa Nesic posted 06-25-2014 07:20 PM 4439 views 6 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I have a small space, a little more then 7 squared meters for main work in DIY carpentry. My motivation was simple: how to make a small workbench that fits that room and still be heavy and strong as a large workbench. The length had to be 1,34 m without vises. I wanted vises of my own construction and cheaper than factory made. Impossible demands, especially for my first carpentry project, right?

After breaking my head for months, I realized that the problem would not be optimally solved if only wood is used. Without large weight there is no stability. And the stability is IMHO the basic feature of any workbench. So the first problem has been how to pack very large weight in so small dimension. The other problem is the strength of small workbench. When we scale down a plan of large and heavy carpentry workbench and keep the width, height and basic proportions, the resulting small workbench will have small junction surfaces, i.e. it is much weaker than large workbench. But I wanted my bench to have the same or better strength then large workbench as well.

The existing solutions offered a lot of cross stretchers below workbench top but that was not what I wanted because in small room I also wanted to have empty space below workbench table top and generally did not believe that would greatly improve the strength of weak workbench. The other offered solutions with a lot of drawers I did not like for the same reason and anyway I do not intend to bend constantly to open a drawer, pick a tool, close the drawer, and rise again: that is very bad for one’s back, right?

So I decided to combine wood with metal. This is just one of the problems when two technologies meet: wood and metal at their best. With large carpentry table that is not necessary because the massive wood and large length keeps weight of large workbench above the critical one. But the small workbench simply cried for appropriate solution. Even worse than that my special problem was at the beginning of this project I did not have almost all of carpentry tools, no carpentry experience except one shelf done more then decade ago with a jigsaw, and what’s more I have not been doing anything in steel – ever. So first I read on Internet what tools are needed for this work, bought some of them, and started torturing myself and the material :-).

Then I managed somehow to weld the metal base fully around in joints and then filled them with concrete:
For your reference, as for 1,3m length, if all four workbench legs and all four longer stretchers are filled with concrete, workbench achieves and maybe surpasses the weight of 2,3m workbenches standard size, having around 160kg (350 pounds):

In the picture above the wheels are mounted directly to the leg and that proved to be unreliable and not practical in my experiments, so I abandoned that construction in favor of the other solution with L-sled explained at the end of this text.

The rest of steel sections I filled with polyurethane foam to achieve sound damping. The interesting feature of that particular construction is that user can adopt appropriate weight of workbench without changing any constructional details or dimensions. For your purpose you can make the workbench heavier (!) or lighter at will.

Then on the basic metal construction I added the guiding pipes for vises:

Here are my dimensions of the whole metal part of the workbench:

Finally the wood! The tool chest is made in one of boards by cutting small cubicles with my handheld circular saw and then used my chisels:

The wooden top I have done by laminating 80mm thick boards together:

The vises are my specific construction because I did not like what I found on Internet. The commercial vises were too expensive and at the time seemed to me overly complicated. So I made a risky decision to make my own construction: my vises are made of ordinary F-clamps and two pipes only.

Front vise comprise of one F-clamp:

The side vise I chose to be somewhat larger and it comprises of two F-clamps:

Very critical point in my experiments was if the vises would hold – and unbelievably they do exceptionally good! The vise summary: just one or two turns suffice the vise to be locked, so almost immediate open or close operation, particular F-clamp can be retracted into the vise body to make more space if needed, vises are far cheaper then any other professional vise, and even the whole vises can be dismantled in just a few seconds to preserve space in small workshop. The following picture shows the retraction of F-clamp starts by pulling out the secure pin (steel nail actually):

Then the F-clamp is pushed inside:

Finally the side apron of workbench with fully retracted F-clamp and the non-retracted F-clamp side by side with movable vise part dismounted so apron is shown clearly:

Also somewhat risky decision: I decided to cover workbench with glass reinforcement fabric and fixed with two component epoxy. Here is the preparation process:

That way workbench is resilient to water, oil and all sorts of chemicals, can be cleaned with water with no problem, and is more resistant to punches.

The workbench is equipped with wheels:

In order to implement wheels, after few unsuccessful tries I finally made wooden L shape and mounted wheels in pairs on those L shapes. The wheels can be mounted by lifting one side of table while pushing the L shape with wheels below the table legs, and then the same on the other side.

The workbench I use for about a year now and cannot explain how much I am satisfied with it.

2015: implementing insertion of my circular saw table below workbench by using the long drawer slider:

This was unsatisfactory, because when you want to move the table you have to move the table saw with workbench! Because my days in gym have gone with the wind, I decided to cut the lower down stretcher of my workbench and adopt table saw to lay on a panel with casters. Now instead of sliding in and out, I roll the table saw in and out, which is easier and more flexible solution. Right?

-- This land is not mine, not yours, this land is given to all of us, to come, to meet, and leave with no return.

13 comments so far

View GerardoArg1's profile


946 posts in 1501 days

#1 posted 06-25-2014 07:42 PM

Nice job. Great idea

-- Disfruta tu trabajo (enjoy your work) (Bandera, Argentina)

View stefang's profile


15512 posts in 2841 days

#2 posted 06-25-2014 08:29 PM

Looks like a very good bench to me. I think you designed and built it extremely well.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Slavisa Nesic's profile

Slavisa Nesic

11 posts in 939 days

#3 posted 06-26-2014 09:34 AM

Thank you guys for your great support!

-- This land is not mine, not yours, this land is given to all of us, to come, to meet, and leave with no return.

View Woodbridge's profile


3464 posts in 1925 days

#4 posted 06-26-2014 01:35 PM

very nice workbench

-- Peter, Woodbridge, Ontario



171 posts in 1842 days

#5 posted 06-26-2014 02:44 PM

Very innovative great idea of combining wood, steel and concrete & foam. The idea of vises with F clamps is really a great innovation. Thanks for sharing such detailed write up on your project. No wonder, you have been proud of your creation. God Bless.


View Cameron Robertson's profile

Cameron Robertson

17 posts in 1270 days

#6 posted 06-30-2014 06:46 AM

Fantastic work! I was facing with the same problem when we first moved in. My storage shed or garage as you call it was a tad too small for a workbench we can buy from hardware stores, but not that small either. Thus, we had some trouble looking for the perfect one to sit just nicely in there for some manly work to get completed. I would definitely start this project right away as it definitely looks like something we have been looking for all this while. Thanks for sharing this super great masterpiece with us with all the detailed step-by-step instructions guide which makes it all much simpler and easier to achieve.

-- Cameron Robertson, Manager of storage Dee Why -

View Slavisa Nesic's profile

Slavisa Nesic

11 posts in 939 days

#7 posted 06-30-2014 09:46 AM

This is exactly why I posted the article: to share some serious thoughts about making proper small workbench for carpentry in limited space. As you found for yourself, this is completely different problem then making a large bench.

I suggest you make the precise plan of micro-operations for every stage of project as it comes in the project. Please pay the close attention to the two most critical points of construction:

a) the guiding pipes for vises has to be parallel mutually and they has to be normal to their wooden apron’s surface. If missed: the vises will be non parallel, or worse – the vises would not glide smoothly through pipes.

b) the moment of gluing front apron to the bench top comes first, followed with gluing the side apron, they meet in the right front corner in some sort of dovetail joint; that is the other critical moment because those aprons need to aligned 90 degrees mutually and with table top as precise as possible with no spaces or curves.

So be patient, precise, and ready to enjoy the happiness when you make the bench. Good luck!

-- This land is not mine, not yours, this land is given to all of us, to come, to meet, and leave with no return.

View Steve Tripp's profile

Steve Tripp

28 posts in 1302 days

#8 posted 07-03-2014 02:04 AM

Wow. That is an amazing bench. I really like the clamps.

-- Steve Tripp, Minneapolis, MN

View Slavisa Nesic's profile

Slavisa Nesic

11 posts in 939 days

#9 posted 07-03-2014 05:53 AM

Thank you Steve; I see you have done quite a nice workbench for yourself. Mine had to be different because I wanted the solution for small work spaces. But the vises is something I am relatively proud of because I made them from scratch and at the beginning of project it wasn’t clear if they would operate or not; they proved to be 100% functional.

-- This land is not mine, not yours, this land is given to all of us, to come, to meet, and leave with no return.

View Routerisstillmyname's profile


748 posts in 3016 days

#10 posted 07-03-2014 07:10 PM

Sure looks heavy duty. Those vises thick enough :-)

-- Router รจ ancora il mio nome.

View Slavisa Nesic's profile

Slavisa Nesic

11 posts in 939 days

#11 posted 07-03-2014 07:46 PM

I could make them thicker jet. :-)

-- This land is not mine, not yours, this land is given to all of us, to come, to meet, and leave with no return.

View Jeff Mazur's profile

Jeff Mazur

83 posts in 811 days

#12 posted 11-15-2015 09:15 AM

Always late to the party, I am :)

Found your article when searching for others who might have done something like what I’m contemplating: building a workbench with concrete base, not a solid block, but an “H” lying on its side (two trestles with a a third connecting trestle/stretcher.) What bothered me about this design was its permanence. So I have had some other ideas similar to yours, namely filling an otherwise lighter structure with something heavy. This brings me to my question: rather than filling with concrete, did you consider something like gravel, that could easily be contained without leaking (unlike sand) but that could be removed in the event you wish to relocate? And if you did consider it, why did you instead choose concrete?

Thanks, and good job!

-- Woodworking is a beautiful, physical, cerebral, and noble art.

View Slavisa Nesic's profile

Slavisa Nesic

11 posts in 939 days

#13 posted 11-16-2015 11:03 AM

Hi Jeff,
Probably you can use gravel, maybe better choice then concrete. I took concrete because it is denser and heavier then gravel and I was not sure if I could achieve the weight packed enough in such a small workbench. Also I was lazy to sow the gravel that I had to extract the sand (something I hated when father took me doing that when I was younger :-). Similarly I used concrete in my metalwork workbench concstruction (I’ll put that solution in my web site soon).

Physics I considered:
According to my notes and practical measurements, the density of my concrete is 16,5 g/cm3. You can calculate the space you intend to fill with concrete in cm3, and multiply it with 16,5 to obtain the weight of concrete itself, plus the weight of your HSS (hollow steel section) metal profiles. Add approximately other parts to obtain the full weight. Then compare the weight of your workbench to the maximum expected force of your operation say 50%-100% of your body weight to see if the workbench will shake if you apply that force.

In my opinion the weight of workbench is essential precondition for any work as I already stated in article.

-- This land is not mine, not yours, this land is given to all of us, to come, to meet, and leave with no return.

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