Ask MAKE: Small space workbench

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Justin writes in:

I only have a small space available in my apartment, but I would love to have a workbench area. I really miss having a garage where I can setup a full size work bench and leave projects out. Currently I use my computer desk or kitchen table, but I have to put everything away once I’m done working for the day which is a huge hassle. I would love to see other Maker’s small-space inside workbenches.

Justin, I know exactly what you mean. In my first apartment, my room was so small that I had to sit on my bed to use my desk; the (small) furniture went wall to wall. When working on electronics projects, I often ended up with components or clipped leads in the sheets, not to mention all those restless nights when I checked email every time I tossed or turned! It’s important to have a dedicated workspace where you can leave in-progress projects. You may not even have enough space to pull off the Tight-Fit Workbench from MAKE, Vol. 10. Here’s what I recommend:

Use your wall space

Pegboard is great for holding tools on the wall, where they don’t take up any floor space; put it wherever you can. Also, attach shelving to your walls to maximize the vertical space you have. I also love the little wall-mounted tool rack you see at electronics outlets.

Keep as much off your desk as possible

Get a pull-out keyboard/mouse tray. That way, the space in front of your monitor can be used for building things. I just took this very advice, and I’m surprised at how much of a difference this small change made. Ikea sells them for ten dollars. Hang lights from the ceiling, don’t clutter your desk with lamp bases. If you use a laptop, get a stand to raise it off the surface of your desk and use an external keyboard (on the pull out tray, of course).

Make a dedicated workbench (if you can)

When all else fails, see if you have room for even a small dedicated workbench (think shallow and long, even a low shelf mounted to a wall). Adding another tabletop to form an “L” with your current computer desk is ideal, but any horizontal plane you can claim for your projects will suffice.

Do you have advice for Justin’s workbench? Post them in the comments.

Ask MAKE is a weekly column where we answer reader questions, like yours. Write them in to becky@makezine.com or drop us a line on Twitter. We can’t wait to tackle your conundrums!

10 thoughts on “Ask MAKE: Small space workbench

  1. Hey Justin, Becky, Makers,

    I’m living in the Far East (or Near North for an expat Australian) and space is at a premium. People here have many novel ways to save space, and I am often impressed or inspired by what I see. I’m also a big advocate for GTD, minimalism/wabi-sabi, and the Noguchi filing system. And makezine!

    I keep separate projects in their own stackable boxes beside the wall, and a toolbox beside them. When it’s go-go gadget time, I simply take whatever box/project I’m working on, and empty it on the bench/floor/picnic table/etc, at home or away from home. When I am done, it all goes back in the box, and the box goes back on the stack.

    You can make do with what you’ve got if your prepared to change the way you do things.

    My workspace at home is little more than a square meter, but I might stretch that out by laying the next cupboard door I salvage on it, and locking that down with G-clamps.

  2. In our utility room, I hung pegboard and an Ikea wall shelf, as well as a 8 x 12 x 4′ floor shelf unit from Ikea. I usually worked on the kitchen table (albeit the chagrin from my wife) and it worked fine, but then I didn’t make much in the apartment. I had the thought though, to put a removable top (like a counter top piece) on top of the washer and dryer as a workbench. Just think modular and folding. Good luck, I know how frustrating apartment making can be!

  3. The other option–which I’ve done–is instead of compacting the workspace, compact everything else! My wife and I were given this great full-sized work table, and haven’t been able to part with it. She used it as an oversized computer desk for a while. A few months ago, we got a loft bed and moved everything that used to be around the bed to under it, thus giving me enough space to set-up a large workspace in a now-empty corner.

    Also, remember, even with a larger workspace, any of the “make it fit in a smaller space” ideas can be applied, further amplifying your work area (a number of good suggestions have already been made).

    But yeah, the essential problem is not that you need workspace, but that you need space.

    1. You could place an “appliance garage” (those little cabinets with roll-up tambour door)on the kitchen table, then simply shove everything into it when you’re done for a day.

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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