Idiot Proof Gunsmith Workbench

Barnthouseby Kyle Barnthouse

Every gunsmith needs a strong workbench, but not everyone has the woodworking skills to build one just the way you want. In this article, Guns and Gunsmiths contributor Kyle Barnthouse shows us how to build your own workbench using Simpson Strong-Tie connectors for all the joints. So simple even I could build one–so I did (see at bottom).

There are few constants in this universe. Death and taxes are two commonly talked about, but a third exists for us amateur and professional gunsmiths: there is never enough real estate on our workbenches. Since we’re not all master cabinetmakers, I have come up with plans for a workbench anyone can make. These plans are provided as a template, and you can certainly modify them to fit your conditions and preferred work height. Unfortunately, you still have to find space to put this after you make it.

idiotproofworkbench-dimensions

Materials Needed

All the following items should be available at your friendly local home improvement store:

Quantity Item Name
6 4x4x36” Framing Lumber Leg
4 2x4x30.75” Framing Lumber Support A
6 2x4x23” Framing Lumber Support B
2 30”x36”x0.75” Grade AC Plywood Shelf
1 72”x36”x1.5” Shop Top Workbench Top Top
8 Simpson Strong-Tie® RTC42 Rigid Tie Connector Corner Tie
4 Simpson Strong-Tie® AC4Z Adjustable Post Cap Center Tie
4 Simpson Strong-Tie® LUS24 2×4 Frame Hanger Cross Hanger
304 #8×1.5” Self-Drilling Screws (Simpson Strong-Tie® SD8x1.25 or similar) Screw
8 #9×2.5” Screws (Simpson Strong-Tie® SD9212R100 or equivalent) Cross Fastener
30 #9×3” Self-Drilling Flat Head Screws (I like SPAX Drive Straight) Flush Screw

 

Simpson tiesTools needed (optional items marked with *)

  • Tape Measure
  • *Combination Square (If you have a machinist type it’ll work just fine)
  • Bubble Level
  • Roofing or Framing Square
  • *Electric Impact Driver
  • Electric Drill
  • Hammer
  • Saw (circular or reciprocating saw recommended, but hand saw will work in a pinch)
  • #10 Countersink Drill Bit
  • Driver bits for chosen screws
  • Carpenter Pencil

Instructions

I have found that I get better results if I start with one leg, attach bottom corner tie, and work my way around the bench frame using a level rather than measure, mark, and attach ties to all legs before adding supports. This way, you can correct for tolerance stack as you go along. That being said, take your first Leg and fasten a corner tie to it so the top of the Corner Tie is approximately 13-14” from the bottom of the leg. You may adjust this up or down to suit your own conditions. Add a Support A to one side of the Corner Tie. Grab another leg and using a level across the Support A, mark and fasten a Center Tie to the second leg. Using the bubble level and the same method, attach another Support A from the other side of the Center Tie to a Corner Tie on a third Leg. The completed half should look like this:idiotproofworkbench-1-framehalf

This next part may seem a bit odd, but take your fourth Leg and a Corner Tie and use the bubble level to level a Support B from one side of your now three-legged frame without fastening the Support B in place. You are only using it to set the height of the Corner Tie at this point. After doing that, you can set aside your three-legged frame half and use the same process you used to make it to build a second using the remaining three legs. Your two frame halves should be more or less identical as depicted below:idiotproofworkbench-2-bothhalves

Now you can take two of your Support B’s and use them to attach the two three-legged frame halves, making a more or less free standing structure. Plumb it up using the roofing/framing square as best you can. Using one of the two remaining Structure B’s, fasten two Cross Hangers opposite each other on the center legs. In case you’ve never used these before, there is a temporary fastener built in to each side where it attaches to the leg that’s meant to be hammered in before attaching fasteners. The two angled holes on the Cross Hanger where the Structure B attaches are meant for those longer Cross fasteners. When finished, your frame should look like:idiotproofworkbench-3-completelowersupport

Using the remaining Structure A’s, Structure B’s, Ties, and Hangers, repeat all previous steps only this time fasten the Ties so that the framing lumber is level or just below level with the top of the legs. The reason you can have them just below level is that the bench top will draw its support from the six massive 4×4 legs themselves and not from the 2×4’s. Make sure everything is plumb and level, as there is very little you can do to modify the support frame after you finish this step.idiotproofworkbench-4-completeframe

To add the bottom shelf, cut two 3.5”x3.5” square holes to one side of each of the Shelf halves, and two 3.5”x1.75” holes on the other side. Common sense is needed here, as you are cutting leg clearances into the Shelves so that each half can fit on the bottom level of Supports. Use the countersink drill bit to make holes for the Flush Screws, fastening the shelves to the lower Supports.idiotproofworkbench-5-lowershelfattached

Place the Top on the workbench so that you have a 6” lip hanging out the front of your almost finished workbench, and use the same process to countersink and fasten the Top to the back and sides of the frame. To locate the front, set your combination square to 7.75” and holding it in one hand run it along the front of the Top with a carpenter’s pencil held against the end with your other hand. Countersink and drive Flush Screws along this line. Your finished bench should look like:idiotproofworkbench-6-finished2

Conclusion

Congratulations, you now have one fine, albeit barren workbench. If you need utmost rigidity (for, say, a barrel vise) you can use lag bolts to permanently attach it to the studs on the wall, and if need be concrete anchors can be used to marry it to a concrete floor. If you have a favorite bench vise, you can attach that at this time as well. I like this size of workbench, as it is movable by two people. If you wish to add yet more real estate, just build more of them and cover the top with a continuous carpet piece or other replaceable surface so you cover any gap between bench tops.

The possibilities for this workbench are limited only by your imagination. Attach a pegboard wall behind it to hold all your tools, Add 2×4’s to the sides and back to keep screws from rolling off, etc. If you want to make a more modular top, you could even use threaded inserts in a set grid and use plywood with holes drilled in it at said grid interval to attach anything to the top temporarily using knobs with machine screws. Whatever you ultimately decide, this bench will be able to grow with your hobby or business, and will be sturdy enough it will still be used long after any of us are gone.


 

Editor’s Note: The things I like about Kyle’s workbench plan is that it is easy to build for just about anybody, quick, and versatile. I was even able to modify the plan and build a nice garden pot bench for my wife. Trouble is, the neighbors all wanted one too! Your turn–get to work!

bench


10 Responses to Idiot Proof Gunsmith Workbench

  1. Nice design, simple and strong. One suggestion is to use a length of prefab laminate countertop instead of plywood for the top. It’s stiffer, better looking, and the top (being laminate) is smooth and easy to keep clean and dry, and includes a 6″ backsplash to keep stuff from rolling off the back. These can be picked up at any of the big home improvement stores in various lengths from 4 to 8 feet. You’ll also need to adjust the front-to-back depth of the bench to fit the top.

    • Yeah, that stuff chips and breaks and doesn’t look nearly so good a year later. I did something similar but polyied the the top with the thick stuff after staining it a nice gunstock. Wears great, holes great, for for vices and such and still looks good two years later. Be sure to put some molding around the edge so stuff doesn’t roll off.

      • The raised molding around the edge is a great tip. Those little roll pins and screws have a mind of their own, and we all know about Murphy’s law, don’t we?

  2. Looking over your list of required materials I think your second item listed, 2x4x30.75 framing lumber for support A, the required quantity is 8, not 4.
    Thanks for a terrific article. One I will file away for when I relocate and need to build a good strong gunsmith workbench.

  3. That “72”x36”x1.5” Shop Top Workbench Top” is over $200 at Walmart. I’m sure a couple of 3/4″ pieces of OSB, or the like, covered with a remnant Bob Dunlap’s patented gunmetal gray low nap carpet wouldn’t be half that.
    Otherwise, decent article. Thank you.

  4. Great article! I built one similar in my shop and saved a few bucks by buying a used solid oak exterior door at the local Habitat for Humanity re-sell it store and used that for the bench top. 36″x80″ for $10, threw away the frame/hinges and voila!

  5. Would recommend screwing a sheet of 1/4 inch hardboard/Masonite to cover the top. Makes a nice work surface and if it gets nasty from use it is only about $12.00 to replace it. I used this for my benchtop for years then graduated to stainless steel which cleans up easier and nothing soaks into it. Would also add a backsplash.

    • I don’t see why not. Any strong timber free of bad cracks or faults should work fine. I built a version of this as a potting bench for my wife out of redwood and it is holding up just fine after 2 years.

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