Woodworking Plans: Mobile Workbench

No shop is complete without a good workbench. This one is very easy to build and rolls out of the way when it's not needed, and it offers many features that you'll find indispensable.

For starters, the bench boasts a high-quality woodworking vise that uses a round bench dog to hold flat workpieces securely on the work surface. The Bench Pup fits in one of many 3/4-in.-dia. holes drilled in the top of the workbench in line with the permanently mounted dog on the vise. An integrated stand called a bench slave supports long workpieces, and a large shelf will accommodate most portable benchtop tools. Large, smooth-rolling casters lock with the press of a foot lever to ensure that the bench remains completely stable during use.

This easy-to-build bench is inexpensive, sturdy and mobile and features many of the same accessories you'd expect to find on a more expensive woodworking bench, including a woodworking vise, bench-dog holes and a bench slave.

Building this bench takes a day or two and requires only basic woodworking tools: a table saw, a jigsaw, a drill, a router and a few clamps. You'll also need a drill guide, 3/4- and 1-1/4-in.-dia. Forstner bits, a flush-trim router bit and a pattern flushtrim router bit. Although I assembled some of the parts using a pneumatic stapler or nail gun, you could substitute screws or hand-driven nails or just glue and clamp those joints.

Construction notes
To build the bench, I chose fir plywood for its strength and light weight and medium-density fiberboard (MDF) to create a smooth, flat work surface. I also used MDF for some of the parts where my choice of material made no difference so that I could get the most use out of the sheets and save money. All of the materials cost roughly $150 and are available at most home centers.

Most of the parts are glued together, an approach that adds tremendous rigidity to the workbench. However, I didn't glue the legs to the aprons or the top to the base so that in the future I could easily repair a component or change the height of the workbench if necessary.

The double-thickness MDF top is shaped in stages: First you shape one piece and glue it to the second piece, which is cut slightly oversize. Then you use a router with a flush-trim bit to cut the oversize piece to match the shaped piece. This is much easier than trying to shape the top after the two pieces are glued together. It's a cool technique that you'll find useful on other projects.

Forstner bits are excellent for drilling flat-bottom holes but leave nasty exit wounds when drilling through-holes. To reduce tear-out, place scrap boards behind the workpiece when you drill the bench-dog and bench-slave holes.

Assemble the base
When cutting parts A-Q to size (see the cutting list in the PDF below), cut the largest pieces first; then you can use the cutoffs that remain for the smaller pieces. Cut both bench-slave pieces (I) and one top piece (M) slightly oversize (add roughly 1/4 in. to the length and width).

Lay out and cut the vise opening in the upper front apron (A; see the illustration in the PDF and photo 1). Assemble the upper and lower aprons with glue and staples or nails. Glue and staple the shelf (C) to the lower apron, and glue and clamp the cleats (L) to the upper apron. Glue and staple the foot braces (D and E) together. Glue and screw the braces to the lower apron (photo 2).

Use a jigsaw to cut the hole for the vise in the upper front apron piece. Drill a 3/8-in.-dia. starter hole so you can insert the jigsaw blade.

Glue and screw the foot braces in the corners of the lower apron. Drill clearance and countersink holes through the apron, and drill pilot holes in the ends of the braces.

Mark and drill the screw-clearance holes in the legs (F and G); then glue and staple the legs together. Screw the legs to the aprons (photo 3). Flip the base over. Glue and staple the feet (H) to the bottoms of the legs and braces. Center the casters on the feet, drill pilot holes for the lag bolts and then attach the casters.

Screw (don't glue) the legs to the aprons. Attach the legs to the lower aprons first; then slide the upper apron between the legs and screw it in place.

Make and attach the top
Make a template for the top-corner radius from a 3/4 x 10 x 10-in. piece of plywood. Lay out, cut and shape one corner with a 2-in. radius. Make the template precise: Your workbench corners will be shaped only as well as your template.

Trace the template corner shape on all of the corners of both top pieces (M); then rough-cut the corners using a jigsaw. Set the oversize top piece aside for now; it will become the workbench surface. Align and clamp the template to a corner of the finished-size lower top piece and rout the shape (photo 4); then rout the other three corners of that piece.

Rout the corners of the lower top piece using a flush-trim top-bearingv router bit. Guide the bit against the 2-in.-radius corner template.

Glue and staple the top pieces together. Make sure there's a slight overhang on all sides. Staple through the lower top piece into the upper top piece so the staple heads are on the underside of the top. Do not drive staples where the bench-dog holes will be drilled or where the vise will be mounted. Use a router to shape the upper top piece (photo 5).

Glue and staple the two top pieces together. Rout away the overhang of the upper top piece so it matches the shape of the lower top piece. This time use a flush-trim bottom-bearing router bit.

Lay out and drill the bench-dog holes (photo 6). Align the top with the assembled base and screw through the cleats into the underside of the top to secure it in place. The top overhangs 4 in. at the front. Glue and clamp the vise mount (N) in place. Use a 3/4-in.-dia. Forstner bit to drill the bench-dog holes through the vise mount and front cleat.

Drill the bench-dog holes in the top using a Forstner bit and drill guide. You'll only be able to drill partway through with this setup. Finish drilling the holes without the drill guide.

Final touches
Align and clamp the vise jaws (Q) in the vise and mark the locations of the mounting-bolt holes. Remove the jaws, and then drill countersink and clearance holes. Flip the bench over and position the v ise on the vise-mount piece. Attach the vise to the vise mount and bench top with lag bolts (photo 7).

Drill pilot holes for the lag bolts. (Be careful not to drill through the top.) Mount the vise using a ratchet wrench to drive in the bolts.

Glue and clamp the bench-slave pieces (I) together. Then cut the bench slave to its finished size and drill the supportdowel holes (photo 8). Next, cut the slave spacers (S and U) and hook (T) to size and attach them to the bench slave with glue. Assemble the rail parts (O) and (P) and attach them to the upper front apron. The rail should be positioned against the left leg and flush with the bottom edge of the apron. Finally, cut the support dowel (R) to length.

Drill the support-dowel holes in the bench slave. These holes are drilled at a slight angle so the support dowel tilts up a bit. A paint-stirring stick under the edge of the drill guide sets the angle.

Ease all sharp exposed edges. When you sand the fir plywood edges, be very careful — they're notorious for splintering along the grain and can impale you with giant splinters.

There's no need to apply finish; in fact, it's probably better not to. That way the top will be less slippery and make a better work surface. Simply screw on the vise jaws and mount the bench slave and your workbench is ready for your next project.