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The Ultimate Work Bench

Ultimate: Last in a train of progression or consequences; tended toward by all that precedes; arrived at, as the last result; final.

I have been designing and building homes for a while, and, somehow, I completed all of them without the aid of the Ultimate Work Bench (UWB), but I always knew there had to be a better way.

What Makes a Work Bench Ultimate?

Usually, when the finish work begins, saw horses come out, plied with door blanks—one, two, sometimes even three. One for a table saw out-feed, and one or two others for assemblies.

Trying to put mantels together on these small surfaces was just too difficult, which meant that large projects ended up on the floor—ugh, my back, my knees! The same was true for wainscot, which I like to pre-assemble with pocket screws and a few dominoes. Then there are cabinets and book cases. While most cabinets show up ready to install, it seems I’m always fabricating a bookcase or two. And then there’s always that little niche which just demands some custom work.

(Note: Click any image to enlarge)

So the quest began. I wanted a large, waist-high surface that could handle bigger projects. I also wanted somewhere to store tools. These days, I have specialty tools for everything. Routers (not just a router), track saw (how did I ever complete a project without one of those?); pocket hole cutter, drills, screw guns, mallet, chisels, and the Festool Domino (the coolest tool ever), tape measure, and the various accessories which inevitably come along for the ride. If I put the tools on the work bench, then there is no space for the work piece. If I put the tools on the floor, then my back and knees suffer. If putting the tools on the top is no good, and the floor is even worse, what do I do? And how do I clamp wood or jigs to the bench? I know this much: a table saw out-feed is a must in my workflow.

Lastly, how do I get the work bench from job to job? It can’t be too big or too heavy to handle solo.

So there it is: I want a bench with a large surface, tool storage, clamping options, table saw out-feed, and it has to be light enough for one person to manage. Simple! I’ll make it big and small, heavy and light, plus fold-able to carry it around in my back pocket! Well, the last part might be going too far, but what about the rest?

After figuring out the properties of the ultimate work bench, it was time to design it, which is where the fun begins—in the virtual wood shop. Earlier, I said the domino was the coolest tool ever, but I spoke too quickly. In a lot of ways, that distinction goes to SketchUp, a computer modeling program that is easy to use, and FREE!

Within my MacBook Pro, the cutting, routing, drilling, and assembling began. A few days—and no less than twenty variations—later, the detailed plans were ready to take to the shop. Had I begun the process in a brick-and-mortar wood shop, I would probably have settled for the “penultimate work bench,” since, let’s face it, the “this one’s good enough” syndrome would have set in somewhere around version three. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly willing to accept that “perfect is the enemy of the good,” but modeling allows us to get a little closer without sacrificing the good.

The Details

Both bench-top sections are identical, except they’re mirrored for the table saw supports and crosscut dadoes. The sections are bolted together on each end with a simple bolt, washer, and plastic knob. The bolt assembly remains attached to one section, while the second section has two large holes drilled to drop over the assembly. This saves time and possible misplacement of the bolts.

Two 3/4-in. x 6-ft. galvanized pipes are mounted length-wise through precisely placed holes in each section. The pipes can be pulled out to a length of two feet to support a portable table saw. Each pipe has an end-cap to keep it from pulling out too far.

Mounting the DeWalt was a simple matter of ripping down some 2x and attaching it to the underside of the saw. The 2x has a V-grove along the entire bottom edge, which centers up on the pipe and provides a stable connection. The width of the 2x will, of course, depend on the saw used. I estimated, at first, and made them a little large for the test mount. Then it was a simple matter of ripping off the difference to make the saw top flush with the bench top. I also added some cutouts to the 2x for convenient hand holds when placing and removing the saw. At first, I considered some type of through-bolt or pin to keep the saw in place, but I’ve found that the saw’s weight keeps it securely in place. Plus, the V-grove provides ample friction to keep the saw from sliding back.

The sections are made up of 1/2-in. plywood sides and cross supports, which are assembled with dadoes, rabbets, glue, and staples. I used a router template to cut long ovals to reduce weight, and allow access inside of each section for tool storage and clamp use. The top and bottom of each section are constructed of 1/2-in. plywood. The bottom is solid, and the top features 3/4-in. holes routed using Festool’s track and router guide for precise 4-in. centers. I pinned the two tops together and routed them simultaneously, which saved a lot of time, and insured identical layout. The tops and sides were rabbeted 1/4 in. x 1/4 in., then glued and stapled together.

With the work surface complete, the saw horses were next. Beginning with a 46-in x 30-in. section of 3/4-in. plywood, I laid out the first sawhorse section. All intersecting points were drilled with a 4-in. hole saw. I used the Festool track saw to connect the dots, and finished up the cut with a jig saw.

A little fussing with sandpaper, and the first sawhorse section served as a router template for the other three. Finally, a 1/8-in. round-over bit softened the edges and gave them a finished look.

The bottom shelf serves many functions: a spacer for the two horses—keeping them from splaying open—and a convenient place to store larger tools. I decided to cut out a section of this lower shelf, so the dust collector could nest beneath the table, which keeps it from being under-foot.

Putting it all together is magic. Every project I have been on with this work of art has ended up with my clients—both men and women—spending more time admiring the table than the work for which I was being paid!

Easy Assembly

Assembly is a snap. After backing up my tool trailer and dropping the ramp, I pull out the two saw horses and place them where I want the bench.

Then I lay down the lower shelf—for proper spacing of the horses—making sure to put the dust collection notch to the best side for that specific job.
Next, I put the top section (with bolt assemblies) on the sawhorse tabs, taking note of the table saw end.  

Finally, the second top section is dropped onto the sawhorses over the large body washer. I tighten everything up in under 4 minutes, without breaking a sweat.

On the job, this work bench is a dream. Even on a small project that may last only a few hours, the setup time is easily recouped. I am safer, and more comfortable, which helps me produce better work.

Mission accomplished! Safe, accurate, and pleasant to use. Next, the Ultimate Miter Stand!

• • •

AUTHOR BIO

Ron Paulk started his company, Paulk Homes (www.paulkhomes.com), in 1990 alongside his wife, Chris. Together, they have built over 150 homes, and completed uncounted remodels. Ron never rests, thinking he knows it all. Keeping his mind open, always looking for a better way, he devours many monthly publications, and now many more online, plus attending every trade show and seminar around. Somewhere along the way, he picked up CAD skills, and began designing homes with a strong interest in designing and building for minimum environment impact—it is so much more than insulated windows and an efficient furnace. Now, Ron wants to help other builders and carpenters by sharing his knowledge. That is, when he is not behind the camera, or playing with his grandchildren.

Comments/Discussion

55 Responses to “The Ultimate Work Bench”

  1. Ray Menard

    Very, very nice. Very, very smart & well executed. Can you tell I like it? This isn’t just a work bench Ron, it is a PRODUCT. You can retire with this and a good marketing plan. Please just don’t outsource the production to outside the US.

    Reply
    • Ron Paulk

      Ray,
      I was just trying to make my life easier. Everyone who saw my set up couldn’t stop talking about it so I made the video. I was deluged with requests for the design. The next step was drawing a build-able set of plans. I am thinking about taking the next step and offering a complete bench. I think finding a CNC shop and making a large initial order would be the only way to keep cost down and make it affordable.

      Thanks,
      Ron Paulk

      Reply
      • Giovanni Con

        Hi,
        As sson as you have it for production or pre order let us know I’ll be standing in line.
        Extremely clever design.

        Giovanni

        Reply
        • Ron Paulk

          Giovanni,

          I did a bit of research and found that it would be very difficult and expensive to get anything close to this into production. Add to that, the market is a bunch of skill craftsman who can make anything for themselves:)

          Ron

          Reply
  2. Dermot Coll

    Ron. That is an ingenius piece of kit. Alot of years of “want” rolled into a fantastic design. I would struggle to fit it into the smaller homes I work in here in Northern Ireland but would love to scale it down. Is the Sketchup file for sale?

    Reply
  3. Jordan

    This is a GREAT bench. I bought the plans from Ron and have been using the bench during the last month. Quality of work has gone up while project time has gone down. This is Carpentry and JLC is all about this….learning from someone else’s experience. I’m grateful for guys like Ron who are willing to teach others. Be sure to give credit where its due…..buy the plans and enjoy the results of someone else’s experience.

    http://forums.jlconline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=56766&highlight=ultimate+workbench

    Reply
  4. John Carsten

    Ron-
    I have been using the Festool MFT 1080 and was considering expanding it with my MFT 800 but didn’t really want to tie up the 800. Were you able to accurately duplicate the spacing of the MFT’s holes with the router jig? I have several jigs that depend on the MFT hole’s accuracy.
    I was thinking of using some 1″ or two 1/2″ MDF panels with Festool profiles for an auxiliary top since my setup wouldn’t be traveling. Your thoughts are appreciated.
    Thanks for an inspiring project!

    Reply
    • Ron Paulk

      I wanted to keep my bench light so I used 1/2″ Satin ply. The holes are spaced exactly as the MFT table. I used a long Festool track, Festool Router attachment, Festool Plunge router, and Spiral up cut router bit, I took the time to draw lines both directions and then just plunged at the intersections. I pinned both tops together to save time and have layout matched up.

      Ron Paulk

      Reply
      • John Carsten

        Thanks, Ron-
        I had been considering outsourcing the drilling to a CNC owner that could do the holes with max accuracy..
        You’ve changed my mind. I need to find a couple of the older profiles which may be tricky- Should have bought them when I had the opportunity.
        Life is like that!
        John

        Reply
  5. David Collins

    Ron, Well thought out and well executed. I especially like those interlocking tongues and slots. Looking forward to your miter saw stand.

    Reply
  6. Kevin Dunne

    Fantastic! Can I purchase the Sketch Up plans from you?

    Kevin

    PS. Also the miter stand as well?
    Price; if yes???????

    Reply
  7. Steve Donnelly

    The answer to so many frustrating issues!!

    Ron,
    It’s a Saturday morning, ive had a hellashish week putting a job right that I subbed to an install crew, and I’m dog tired (the job is straightened out and the sub has been fired); I had no interest in going to the shop this weekend, tired of it all but having seen this video and article I absolutely have to go and build the table you have designed!
    Since I’m mostly a shop kind of guy, I prefer to have order and nice flat surface with my tools in all of the right places (maybe a little OCD too), so when I’m on site I get a little flustered, this is the answer I’ve been looking for over the past 25 years!
    We use Microvellum and have a Homag CNC so we’ll be able to draw and the cut the parts pretty quickly and hope to have it on the job with me in the next week or so.
    Thank you so much for sharing this masterpiece!

    Steve

    Reply
  8. Dave

    I like the idea of the tablesaw at the end but I have concerns about the weight being cantilevered out with the additional weight of a the material that you may be cutting. Do you have a counter balance on the end? What stops the entire table from lifting up?

    Reply
  9. Michael Kellough

    Very nice Chris!

    Looks like a router table could be fitted with cleats to sit on the support pipes too.

    One question, sometimes it looks like the inner gussets are not the same routed ovals as the ends. Are they different? If so, just for lack of material or some other reason?

    Reply
    • Ron Paulk

      Miter stand is done which can be seen on my Youtube channel: crpaulk The plans for miter stand are getting close.

      Thanks,
      Ron

      Reply
        • Gary Katz

          Ron,
          Great article! Great design and execution on the stand, too. I’m a little bothered by the word “Ultimate” because even the best ideas can always be improved, so there’s no ‘ultimate,’ and besides, what works great for one carpenter sometimes doesn’t work so good for another carpenter. But that is exactly why we share this information, so that many, many people may benefit by the thoughts and experiences from a wealth of clever carpenters.
          Gary

          Reply
  10. Anthony

    That is inspiring. It is an absolute gift watching TRUE craftsman do their craft. I love that men like you are so passionate about what you do and will so easily share your hard won experience and what you have learned or ideas. The fact that true craftsman will take incredibly valuable lessons and pass them along to others is a true credit to this trade. I believe like the others, you have a true game changer on your hands. You just have to accept the overwhelming response from people and move with it. Please accept the credit for a well built product and run with it. Like the others, it has inspired me with countless ideas. As for the tipping over with the saw. It’s the same concept as weight in a gym. Sure if you overload it it will tip but in that case either add weight (tools in storage) to the other side or an ajustable leg on saw side or move the holes for sawhorses further out to the edge.

    Reply
    • Ron Paulk

      RIchard,

      When I use to get publications in the mail, they included: Fine Home Building, Fine Woodworking, Shop Notes, Journal of Light Construction, and others. Now, I only read on line. I scan: Builder Pulse, Professional Builder, Custom Home Online, eBuild, and others. I satisfy my carpentry interest on-line with FHB, FWW, JLC, TIC,FOG, YouTube, Facebook, and others. We are lucky these days with ease of information access.

      Ron Paulk

      Reply
  11. Dale Herrigstad

    I had Ron put a pine ceiling in my office recently and seeing him put this stand together in 5 minutes is impressive. Getting the whole job done in a couple of days was also impressive.

    Reply
  12. Rami

    With the sides open, is there an issue with the inside collecting dust/sawdust? Would some kind of covering, say transparent flaps or sliding panels be worth adding? Or too complicated, simpler to just blow out the inside with compressed air every now and then?

    Is it correct to call this a ‘torsion box’ design?

    Reply
    • Ron Paulk

      Dust does collect, but easy to clean. When putting the bench away, I flip each side on edge and all of the dust fall to on side then I vacuum it up. It takes very little time. Yes it is a torsion box. The strength comes from the interconnectedness of all parts.

      Ron Paulk

      Reply
  13. Jon

    Ron

    Have bought your plans and look forward to building a bench. Am thinking about shrinking the length to 6′. I have a trailer with a storage space similar to yours that will accomodate a full 8′ but also want it to fit in my pickup with the shell closed. Also it would better fit under an easy-up tent with the tablesaw covered. I do a little of everything.
    Does that raise any red flags in your experience working with the bench? Thanks.

    Reply
  14. Raymond Roy

    I have been looking to make some kind of dismantable table/sawhorse kind of table, on and off for the past year. I have made a few attempts to fabricate a table that I had to screw together (lot of work) each time I wanted it up or down. I must have looked at your video twenty times trying to discover how it’s made, what I would change and actually would not change much. I now own quite a few Festool machines and especially like the saw, but you need a long table or you will have an accident or at the least, damage the rail. Again very good idea. I am looking forward to building a table like yours.

    Reply
  15. Nelson

    This should have been named the awesomest workbench. I just can’t get over how handy all those cubbies. Seems almost too good. Congrats Ron.

    I do have some questions. Does the top hold up to chiseling out a mortise or dove tails or is this meant exclusively for power tools? I am in the process of setting up my shop (weekend hobby work) and am seriously considering this design for all the showcased features especially having the ability to knock it down as I share the garage with a car. Another question is weight. How much does one of those top sections weigh?

    Thanks

    Reply
  16. Ron Paulk

    Nelson,

    I have found it to be a very solid surface to work on. I use chisels to clean up cuts and square off stop dados with no problem, but have never really found tapping a chisel to be that demanding on the bench.

    Reply
  17. Gary Foster

    I bought the plans from Ron and built the bench and I think it is awesome. I also think if you are on this site that must mean you do woodwork sooo – buy the plans and build it. Don’t think about it or ask for a kit, just build it. The plans are easy and very clear. It is every bit as stable as a solid wood bench but you can take it to your buddy’ s house and actually work off of it. It takes a little time to build it but the end result and the compliments you will get make it all worth while.

    Reply
  18. jim

    I bought the plans, cut all parts this weekend in 11 hours. Ready for assembly. It is amazing to me how light some of the parts become once you do all the weight-reducing operations to them. The interior division parts for instance weigh so little they feel like aircraft parts. In fact the whole bench project reminds me of building aircraft wings again.
    I am not a real avid woodworker, only doing what I have to, as needs arise. So I don’t have all the tools in the world either. I actually learned a few new techniques on this project, so that is cool.

    Reply
  19. Barrett

    I really like this workbench. It is a real winner for me working in a 1 car garage. My only concern is routing the holes in the top. I looked into the festool guide/stop. After my wife picked my up off the floor from the cost, I have been racking my brain trying to come up with a homemade jig that will accomplish this task. If you could lend a few suggestions?

    Thanks

    Barrett

    Reply
  20. Ron Paulk

    Barrett,
    I made the clamping holes by laying out a grid with tape measure and straight edge. I then used the Festool guide rail and router and plunged at the intersections by eye. Others have used a drill bit and the same layout technique to accomplish the task.

    TKS,
    Ron

    Reply
  21. Ed Surowiec

    Hello Ron , are your workbench plans still available? Please let me know how to buy a set. I’m planing on building some kitchen cabinets as a DIY project. There is nothing that I can add to all of the good comments you have received other than to thank you for taking the time to make your video and sharing your ideas.

    Reply
  22. Mark

    We just built a really simple knock-down workbench that works beautifully. Took about 30 minutes to build out of 1 sheet of 5/8″ plywood. I got the plans from an ipad app called WoodMasterHD. It’s an app for woodworking that has all kinds of neat stuff. Anyway, my 10yr old could build this knock-down workbench.

    Off to mount some drywall…

    Reply
  23. Tanner

    Wow this is simply amazing, detailed, and thorough. I have decided to build one with my two younger sons. I’ve seen many different designs and ideas but I have to honestly say that this may just be the best one I’ve came across yet. This is probably the coolest knock-down bench I’ve ever seen. Thank you so much for such an informative article.

    Reply
  24. Rudy

    WOW Ron! Amazing. This is EXACTLY what I’ve been looking for.! Great concept for someone like me with small garage space. Seems every time I want to work a project I have to clear out the garage and it becomes a hassle and a mess. Your idea keeps everything in a clean working area and keeps you from bending to pick up and lay down tools hundreds of times. Very cool sir!

    Reply
  25. Kevin Wild

    hey Ron i got your plans, my bench is on the way pretty well, built the saw horses and the platform, following your recommended construction order! 1, 2 ,3 its a cherry on top i love it. lots of people ask mee to build em a ron work bench for money !!!! yay

    Reply
  26. Dave

    Hello All.
    Looking for a bit of advice.
    Firstly, thanks to Ron for the inspiration.
    My question is; has anyone experienced the 3/4″ pipe deflecting a little, and put the table saw out of parallel to the bench top?
    The reason for my question is I plan on using the same pipes to support some other equipment that may be heavier. Of course I could up-size the pipe diameter, but I don’t want to spend more if I don’t have to…..
    Just looking for opinions..

    Thanks!

    Reply

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