Raise your hand if you have a 2×4 workbench in your garage. Keep your hand up if your garage is still a mess.
It’s time, my friend. Time for an upgrade that will rock your world. Or at least make it so you can find your tape measure. Here’s what we are going to do – we are going to build drawers. Wait, wait! Don’t run away. This is no big deal. But the results, those are a big deal. A life changing big deal.
I’ve teamed up with Rockler to show you step by step (and video!) how to fit, build, and mount drawers into a basic 2×4 workbench – yes, even an already existing one. Naturally, I’ll be using PureBond hardwood plywood for this build, which I left unstained to contrast with the blue paint.
This post is sponsored, which makes it possible for me to bring you projects like this. All opinions are always my own, of course.
Obviously, how much of everything you need will be determined by the size of your bench. This one started off as a 6 foot bench that looked like this:
Eventually I removed the shelves to the side and extended the bench by four and a half feet. The result is a bit cobbled together, but I’m going to show you how to roll with building drawers in even an old uneven workbench.
I’ll also show you how you can take that workbench and make it a woodworker’s version of a sports car in the garage with gear by Rockler Woodworking and Hardware. This bench features organizer systems, silicone mats, and easy access to some of my favorite products, including bench cookies, clamps, and jigs, all by Rockler. Basically, it’s my favorite room of the house.
Here’s what you’ll need:
Materials and Tools
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3/4″ PureBond plywood
1/2″ PureBond plywood
pocket hole jig
1″ pocket hole screws
drill (this set kicks butt, btw)
tape measure and/or straight rule (this one is pricey, but so accurate it will make you giddy)
drawer pulls (I used these)
router with 1/2″ bit and table or dado stack and table saw
clamps for drawer box assembly
Lock-Align Drawer Organizer System by Rockler
Universal Drawer Slide Jig by Rockler
Drawer Pull Jig by Rockler
Rockler drawer front installation clamps
Rockler silicone project mat
Retrofitting your workbench with drawers involves four basic steps:
1. Framing the carcass
2. Building the boxes
3. Installing the boxes
4. Attaching the faces and hardware
Here’s an overview of the entire process from start to finish:
1. Framing the workbench carcass
Measuring is everything. Let me just repeat that – Measuring. Is. Everything. This is where you will not only determine the size of your drawer boxes, but create a divider system that squares up the bench carcass.
Translated: Skimp on this step and you will develop significant anger issues attempting to install the boxes in step 3, and possibly a swearing problem that will stay with you for life. Therapy is expensive, so measure well, Kemosabe.
The drawers will need sides to attach the slides to, and for this you’ll use plywood to create dividers between the sections. I went with PureBond for the dividers, the drawers, and the faces. As with my mudroom build and pretty well every other large-scale build I use PureBond for it’s quality, the fact that it is formaldehyde free, and I love how it looks. I used the maple ply for this project.
Measure the height and width of the areas behind the legs/middle section(s) and cut plywood pieces to fit. You’ll need enough thickness to fill the space if you want drawers on either side. I attached the dividers via pocket hole screws, or brad nails where there was something to nail to.
Okay, I’m not sure that makes sense, so look at this photo:
This particular section (which is where the new section of bench joined to the old) is 4 1/2″ wide, so I used two pieces of 3/4″ ply plus a couple spacers to flush the ply even to the edge of the legs.
If you want to do more than one set of drawers across you will also need to add a divider between them. Take your time to be sure that the areas on either side are even.
Okay, this is the tricky part: Check that the width is the same at the front and back. Adjust the dividers to get those distances the same. If the problem is exceptionally bad you can use spacers.
Here’s what it looks like all set up for drawers.
2. Building the boxes
I used the same 3/4″ plywood from PureBond that I used for the dividers to make the drawers. I could consistently get 23″ length in my workbench, so I got 22″ ball bearing full extension slides from D. Lawless Hardware. They are rated at 100lbs, which is, as you might surmise, well over what I actually needed. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing, right?
I made the drawers 23″ long. The sides are 23″ long, and the front and back piece lengths should be 1″ narrower than the compartment where you are installing them. The drawer slides need 1/2″, so your drawers should always be 1″ narrower. The back piece should also be 3/4″ shorter in height. You’ll see why in a moment.
Dado a groove about 1/4″ up from the bottom of the side pieces and the front. Don’t groove the narrower back piece. The shorter back will allow you to slide a drawer bottom in place. Use a 1/2″ router bit for the groove, or use a dado stack on the table saw. You can also use a 1/4″ groove and thinner plywood if you like. I opted for thicker ply to make these extra sturdy.
Pocket hole the drawers from the front because they will be covered with a face, and at the very back where they will not been seen.
Fit the drawer bottoms by sliding them in from the backside down and brad nailing them in place.
Okay, that’s all kind of a pain the butt to read, so I put together a video for you.
3. Installing the boxes in the workbench
Jigs are a life saver for this process. To install the drawers on my workbench I used the Universal Drawer Slide Jig, the Drawer Pull Jig, and drawer front installation clamps, all by Rockler. They made this process a breeze, and
most likely definitely saved me from pulling my hair out.
The other tip I will give you is to save yourself a good deal of heartache and purchase full extension ball-bearing drawer slides. They are pretty well the greatest thing since the invention of power tools. These 22″, 100lb rated slides are from D. Lawless Hardware.
Because this was the number one area of concern for a good number of people when I mentioned I was going to do a drawer tutorial, I decided to put this part on video. Hopefully it will help more than writing it all out.
4. Attaching the faces and hardware
I made the drawer faces to cover the center divider in this workbench, leaving a 1/16th inch gap around each drawer. The common, and quite useful trick, is to use playing cards to set the gap all around the drawer faces.
Because my drawers are inset this was a bit dicey. I couldn’t set where I wanted the face, then pull it out, attach the drawer front installation clamps, and attach it. So I glued up the drawer faces, set the spacing with cards, and let the glue dry overnight. I was then able to do all of the bottom drawers, then set the top drawers after completing the first row. You can see the problem in the photo below, where I was dry fitting all of the faces.
This is also the case with the hardware installation. For the drawer pulls I used this little trick…
To install the drawer pulls I used the Rockler Jig It Deluxe Drawer Pull, and I cannot say enough about how simple to use and awesome this thing is. The problem with homemade drawer jigs is that they are not versatile for many sizes of drawer, and they wear down quickly. What I like about this jig more than others on the market is that it is functional on the small upper drawers as well as the larger drawers at the bottom row.
The jig has spacing for common drawer pull lengths, and a center line to ensure you are placing the pull correctly. The stop at the top allows you to quickly set the jig for each drawer and repeat the marks without having to readjust. Rockler includes a handy center punch to mark the drill positions, which you can see me using here.
All 16 drawers were done in no time with this jig, a job that would have taken all flipping day without a jig.
The pulls I used are also from D. Lawless hardware. I love their hint of copper that adds a little pizzazz to a workshop. Because, hey, there’s nothing that says your shop/garage/creative space can’t be a little fancy and incredibly functional.
The really fun part
The hard work is done. Give yourself a pat on the back for being pretty darn incredible. Now for the organizing part. This project was the result of a trip to Rockler that I made not long ago. While checking my eye caught the Lock-Align Drawer Organizer system, an interlocking system of rubber grids that hold bins and dividers and can be cut to fit any drawer.
Be still, my heart.
The Lock-Align organizers customize easily and have the miraculous effect of making everything easy to find. It’s a revelation, people. A beautiful, perfect revelation.
Bonus: Other ways to bling out your shop and workbench:
Here are some of my favorite ways to up your game around the workbench.
The Grand Finale
There really are not words for how happy this upgrade makes me. The back part of my garage/shop, where this bench resides, has been the repository of just about anything and everything, shop, household, work, remodeling, camping…you name it. The drawers, and the organizer systems in them, allowed me to reclaim that space.
In fact, I was so excited about this project that I went ahead and added a couple drawers to my kids’ workbench, as well.
You may have noticed from the photos that the upgrade also allowed me to declutter the top of my bench. Fortunately I constructed the bench top with PureBond a couple of years ago, and that has held up so well that we were able to sand the top and clean it up. Whether or not yours will come clean, I highly recommend these silicone mats by Rockler to help protect your work surface.
Let’s take another look at those drawers…