Toolbox: Portable workbench

Toolbox: Portable workbench

My friend, and fellow Dorkbot DC and HacDC cohort, R. Mark Adams made this simple portable workbench out of plywood and basic hardware. He added some nifty features, like a wire spooler underneath the hinged top (with tool storage inside), two working angles (a drafting angle and a flat-top work surface) using hinged “ears” to raise and lower the top, a built-in power bar inside, and alligator-clip “third hands” that clip onto the sides wherever you need them.

Mark writes:

I built the bench over a couple of days, with a total cost of about $30, including the red plastic tool holder. Everything came from the local big-box home store (Home Depot) and fit easily in my car, which is more of a consideration now that I have a Mini.

The primary design consideration was that I could use it for multiple activities, that it was small and portable (so that I could carry it to wherever in the house to work on my projects), and that it could hold everything I’d need for typical small electronics/robotics/papermodeling/art projects.

I wanted it to have the capability of a sloped top, but also, I wanted the top to be capable of being leveled, to keep small parts from rolling away. I also wanted it to contain a dispenser for wire and solder, have lights and electricity, and holders for tools, soldering iron, and boards under construction.


The side view of the bench, showing the hinged ears (front right), the clip-on third hands, and the plastic tool holders.


The power bar mounted inside the back wall of the frame (here with the box shown upside down).


The solder and wire spooler. You feed the solder and other wires out through a hole drilled in the top, and you can pull out as much as needed while soldering, and it all stays neatly in place.

Toolbox: From “miserable old box” to workshop showpiece


Cutting Plan:
Above is the plan showing how the cuts are planned out for a 2′ by 4′ sheet of plywood.

Materials Used:
The workbench is made out of materials from one trip to the hardware store. The lumber is 1/2″ plywood, bought as as a 2′ x 4′ sheet. Mark also used a sheet of hardboard as the bottom, which itself came as a 2′ x 2′ sheet. This made construction very easy, since he didn’t have a table saw. The hinges were in the sale bin for .50 each. Mark also used a piano hinge (24″) and a set of smaller hinges for the “ears” which level the benchtop, if desired. Also used were a few nails/brads and a couple of dowel pegs.


The pieces all cut out (Mark used a jigsaw and a straightedge, but the better-equipped would probably want to use a table saw.)


For additional strength, and to simplify construction, Mark cut rabbets into the edges of the plywood where they were to be joined together. This was easily accomplished with a router, but again, probably better done with a table saw and dado set. This step is not absolutely necessary, as the design should be strong enough without them, as long as you use screws or similar to better support the joints.


Mark says “As soon as I squared up the frame, I glued and nailed the top onto the top of the frame. This not only helped keep the frame square, it added a lot of dimensional stability while it was drying.”


Frame the next day, after drying.


Here you can see how the wire spools are reloaded when empty. Mark says: “This has been fantastic for soldering. I feed the solder and other wires out through a hole drilled in the top, and I can pull out as much as I need, and it all stays nicely in place.”


Above two images show how the “ears” work. These allow the bench to be leveled, and are made from some of the “triangles” left over from cutting the sides. A 5″ length from the long end was used. A cheap pair of hinges with slightly-too-long woodscrews (as you can see from the picture) were attached and then a small 1/4″ peg was added along the edge which mates with a matching hole in the lid. The easiest way to do this is to first drill the hole in the edge of the ear, then attach the ear hinges to the frame. After you have done this, drill and glue in the pegs. Once this is complete, you then mark the exposed end of the peg up with marker and close the lid. This will make a matching mark on the lid in exactly the right place. If you drill a shallow hole (not all the way through- it may take a couple of passes to get exactly the right depth, so easy does it) you will have a hole which keep the ears straight and doesn’t let the raised top close while you are pounding nails on it.


The above two images show the assembly of the clip-on third-hand tools. The basic parts used are copper wire, an alligator clip, and a plywood clip. A hole for the wire is drilled in one of the bent-out tabs on the clip and the wire is soldered on. Mark used a pocket torch and plumbers solder and flux to get a strong weld on the attachment points.


The finished portable workbench, show in its level-surface work mode.

See more pictures and additional info on Mark’s DIY Workbench Flickr set.

4 thoughts on “Toolbox: Portable workbench

  1. Kent KB says:

    Great idea….
    I will not let my wife see this! (I use the Kitchen Table)

  2. davide says:

    very very nice

    But how do you put the plastic tool holder in the back of the mini preventing everything to fall.
    Do the tools go underneath, inside the box?

    A useful one, though

  3. maileys says:

    Where did he get the tool holder?

Comments are closed.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


Maker Faire Bay Area 2023 - Mare Island, CA

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Buy Tickets today! SAVE 15% and lock-in your preferred date(s).