Maximizing Space in a Small Shop

Lead Image
  • 3-5 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 50-500
What You'll Need
2x4-foot sheets ¾-inch plywood (2x)
2x4-foot sheets ½-inch plywood (2x)
6 foot lengths of 2x4(14x)
3-inch decking screws
2-inch wood screws
Circular saw
Hand saw/jig saw
Miter saw (optional)
Safety goggles

Here’s the workshop dream: An outbuilding, with at least 400 square feet of space. Clean and bright, with a long workbench against one wall and ample storage for tools and materials, plenty of outlets and easy to clean floors. The reality? Half of a two car garage to cram in stacks of plywood, MDF, 2x4s and the tools needed to shape them into cabinets, coffee tables, and whatever else I can come up with.

Space is at a premium in my shop, and probably yours, too. Unless you’re a pro, you make do with what you’ve got. And that’s what makes us DIYers resourceful, creative thinkers. I can spend an hour walking through a home improvement store, coming up with schemes for each random material I find. The trouble is getting it all home. A pro would have a pickup truck, but like my shop, my car is on the smaller side. So here’s a compact friendly project you can easily haul to your workshop and knock together, adding work surfaces and storage all at once.

Step 1 - What Are You Driving These Days?

You’ll see from my material list that I kept everything sized for normal and compact cars. No need for extended-bed pickup trucks for us. Also, the 2x4-foot sheets of plywood can be found in most home improvement stores, even those that don’t carry a lot of lumber.

These will be workbenches, so you don’t have to pick the prettiest pieces of wood, but make sure they’re still free from heavy gouges and splintering. Same goes for the 2x4s. And think of how nice the ride home will be without having the hatchback gaping open and the red flag flapping on the end of your lumber.

Step 2 - Keep it Simple

Once you have your materials home, it’s time to start measuring and cutting. The material list will produce three work benches, one large (2x4-foot) and two smaller squares (2x2-foot). It was planned this way based on the sheets of plywood.

One piece of the ¾-inch stays intact for the top of the large table. Cut the other ¾-inch sheet in half with a circular saw, creating two 2x2-foot sections.

A 2x4-foot workbench with a storage shelf.

The same cut plan goes for the ½-inch plywood. These pieces will form the lower shelves of the tables (giving much-needed space to any shop). While you’re working with these panels, notch the corners with a hand saw or jigsaw to accommodate the table legs.

Step 3 – Chop Shop

This step will go faster if you have a miter saw. If not, you’ll get a good workout hand cutting the 2x4s to length. We need to create a skirt for each table, then a lower shelf support, which also stabilizes the legs.

Beginning with the larger table, we’ll cut for two rectangles with the exact dimensions of the top piece of plywood. Remember when measuring and cutting that two of the sides will be overlapped, so subtract the width (three inches) of the abutting boards to maintain the correct dimension.

You can size your legs to suit your ergonomics, but a work surface around 30 inches from the ground is a good place to start. Once you choose your leg height, repeat 12 identical legs for all the tables.

The table leg and the lower skirt and the notched out shelf.

The process for the smaller table frames is the same, just cut for 2x2-foot squares with the 2x4s so they fit the tops and the shelves.

Step 4 - Join Together

I like decking screws for a nice, secure feeling, but if you prefer heavy metal head banging, nails would also work for joining the 2x4s. Create the top and shelf rectangles first, then fix the legs to the insides of the frames.

You have your basic structure now and can use the wood screws to affix the top and shelf to the frames. I didn’t use glue on my tops with the idea that if the wood eventually wore out, I could easily unscrew and replace it. Having an informal surface like that in the shop is great for everything from painting to jotting down notes on the fly.

Notes on the work surface.

With three tables like this, you’re sure to get plenty of work done. You can add bench mounted jigs or vices, or keep them clear and adaptable for each project. Not to mention the awesome storage possibilities the shelves present. And you have the pride of knocking together your own workbenches. All this without calling in a favor from your friend with a pickup truck to get your lumber home.

Now that you have workbenches, here's a an Enzo Mari style shelf to build with them!